Old pros going strong
For the men who play it, summertime softball in Jamestown is more than just a weekly night out with the guys.
When Jamestown’s Tom’s Electric men’s softball team won the Masters 35 Division III state championship in 2009, team member and current coach Greg Nordstrom recalled some of the emotions. It was the first state title for the local team that has been going strong since the early ‘90s.
“We got a guy in a pickle on the last play — the last out — and we got him out between third and home,” Nordstrom remembered. “Everybody threw their gloves up, and a couple of guys were crying. They’re diehards, you know?
“I’m just here for the beer,” Nordstrom laughed. “But these guys had been working on it for a long time, and it was pretty exciting.”
How could it not have been? The team captured a state title in a sport played by numerous former prep and college athletes who are still scratching their competitive itch.
And age? That’s only a number to the members of the old pro team.
“I’ve been playing since I played little league baseball when I was eight years old,” said Tom Johnson, the owner of Tom’s Electric in Jamestown who started the team back in 1993. “It was for the love of the game.”
Johnson, the lone original member, is one of four 54-year-olds who competed with Tom’s Electric this summer. The others were Jamestown’s Paul Monson, Mitch Ostlie and Steve Dale.
But the seasoned crew can still hold its own. The team just finished fifth at the Masters 35 Division I state softball tournament in Bismarck with a roster that tallied an average age of 45.3 years. The team also battled to a fourth-place finish in the Masters 40 Division I state tournament in West Fargo last weekend.
It was the first go around for Tom’s Electric at the state’s top level — Division I — after being moved up from Division II last year, and the competition was stout.
“Boy, can some of those big boys mash the ball. And I have the bruises to prove it,” Ostlie mused after the West Fargo tournament. “We probably gave the eventual champions their closest game in our first game of the tourney. We lost to Bismarck Stadium (the state champs) 11-8, coming up a couple hits short in the bottom of the seventh.
“I believe they 10-runned everybody else,” Ostlie said. “So we felt good about that. We hung in there, and there was a significant difference in talent level.”
The team was bumped up a division after winning its second state title last year, this one coming at the Masters 40 Division II tourney in Mandan, which capped an impressive run for Tom’s Electric at the state’s second tier dating back to 2010.
The team had piled up a trio of Masters 35 third-place finishes, and a second in the Masters 40 in 2012. The team also placed fifth at the Masters 35 Northern Plains Regional that year.
“It’s all good friendship,” Johnson said. “We compete to be competitive, but we’re also best of friends off the field.”
The friendships show. Just ask the 12-year team veteran Nordstrom why he was asked to lead the team as coach this year at the lighter age of 42.
“They got sick of doing all the secretary work so they threw it at me,” Nordstrom chuckled. “But it’s the camaraderie, and hanging out with my mentors — the older guys.”
Numerous players have put on the jersey for Tom’s Electric over the past 20 years. Along with Johnson, Dale, Monson and Nordstrom, team members on the 2009 state championship team included Al Tewes, Darin Peterson, Derick Doctor, R.C. Courtwright, Darin Finck, Greg Lunzman, Tarin Dewald and Jason Koranda.
The team’s 2013 state title team included Mike Johnson, Marchel Krieger, Ryan Carlson, Eric Hewitt and Duane Savegeau. Others to have suited up in years past include John Miller, Ben Maulding, Tom Orr, Donald Meilke, Chris Hoke, Brent Hatlewick, Pat Walter and Tim Johnson.
“We go out, have fun and play softball,” said Paul Monson, who has been on the team since the mid-90s. “We took second at McQuades (2009, Rec 3) with six guys over 50, and we played against 30-year-olds for the championship. We’ve always did pretty good.”
Teams like Tom’s Electric prove men’s softball is still very much alive and well in Jamestown. The Jamestown Men’s Slowpitch Softball Association just wrapped up its 2014 season, where a total of 31 teams competed at Hillcrest Softball Complex Mondays through Thursdays.
Tom’s Electric finished second in the Thursday night league tournament this season. The team won the league championship last year.
Most of the state’s bigger cities have exclusive old pro leagues, but that’s not the case in Jamestown. Tom’s needs the aid of a few younger players to fill in at spots on league night.
Players competing on league night this season included Matt Tewes, Aaron Backer, Nathan Bitz, Nick Pederson, Mike Goulette, Bryce Peterson, Josh Kittell and Levi Gaunska.
“I still love to play and my body — I still obviously take a few shots here and there — but I’ve never really been hurt,” said Ostlie, who just wrapped up his 41st year playing slowpitch softball and sixth season with Tom’s. “This core group of guys is all kind of the same age, and we’re able to mix and match a few younger guys in. We help each other. They help us and we help them.”
“It’s a blast,” Tom Johnson said. “Because we still feel as if we can compete with the young guys.”
The team has lasted 22 seasons, so don’t expect it to start slowing down. A few names might change here and there, but the guys on Tom’s Electric feel as if there’s still another state title or two out there yet to grab.
“We still have the desire to keep playing,” Johnson said. “We’re hanging in there.”
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at 701-952-8461 or by email at email@example.com