Meet the Earl of Slo-Pitch softball.
“Emphasis on slow,” said Earl Millman, who at 90-years of age is still playing organized ball with the St. Albert Men’s Slo-Pitch Association (SAMSPA)--a league boasting over 1,000 players and 60 teams of all ages.
Millman is the oldest but he’s got plenty of close company.
“There are six teams with 100 players in the plus-70 division,” said Joel McGovern, president of SAMSPA. “We started with an open division, a plus-40, a plus-50 and a plus-60. But because of the increased interest we recently added a plus-70 division.
Millman could play in the plus 70-division, of course, but has chosen to stick with some of his buddies in the plus 60-division on the Bad Company team, a squad he has been with since 1984 when he first joined SAMSPA.
“There were three guys - Bob Franks, Greg Mohs and Dennis Schultz - who had all turned 60 while I was celebrating my 60th wedding anniversary. They all wanted to get into the plus-60 division. I’m still playing with them,” said Millman, who is allowed to use a pinch runner when he bats. “I used to play on the Old Vets. Now we’re called Bad Company and the younger guys are quite happy to let the old guy play with them."
“Earl is very much a competitor. He doesn’t miss many games," said Old Vets players coach Wayne Hilsendeger. "He's also a wonderful person. I've never heard him say anything negative about anyone. Never."
Like most of the other guys, Hilsendeger, 72, is young enough to be Earl’s son. “I’m sure Earl will play until he can’t walk. Ten years ago, he was an excellent hitter, hitting to open spaces all the time. When you're 90 I'm sure you're just happy to hit the ball."
Teammate Franks added, "Earl still finds the holes. He leads by example.”
Young Millman started playing catch when he was six and joined an organized team when he was 16 in Strathclair, Manitoba. “I used to be pretty fast. That’s why I played in the outfield. Now my skills aren’t what they used to be. You move down the line and sooner or later you end up at playing catcher, where you don't have to be fast. I’ve been a catcher the last seven or eight years.”
“Except for the years when I and my wife Betty, who died five years ago, started raising a family, I’ve been playing," he said. "My wife always encouraged me. I’m sure she’s watching me play right now.”
Millman said there is much to like about playing baseball at an advanced age.
“It’s good exercise and fantastic camaraderie. But mostly it’s just fun,” said Millman, who uses the ‘Earl of Slo-Pitch’ moniker at home.
“I thought I’d bring a bit of royalty to it. When you call and I’m not home the message machine says ‘You’ve reached the Earl of Slo-Pitch.’”
Playing twice a week at St. Albert’s Meadowview Diamonds - Millman says there is still plenty of excitement for players and spectators.
"Regardless of the level, there are good plays being made every game. I like the action," he said. "But now with my slowed-down pace, I play because of the togetherness of the team.”
If pandemic restrictions allow, Bad Company plans a return visit to St. George, Utah for the Huntsman Senior Games in October. Over 300 teams from the U.S., Canada and even Australia convene. At the Huntsman tournament three years ago, Bad Company won gold.
"After we won, Earl read a speech he had prepared, talking about how much he appreciated letting him play," said Franks. "There wasn't a dry eye around."
"Slo-pitch is my exercise. I cut my lawn and I may shovel snow but that’s about it,” said Millman. “I try and keep my energy for Tuesdays and Thursdays. Slo-Pitch keeps me young.”
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