Toru Fujii and Chris Argianas aren’t reliving their glory days.
In many ways, these have become their glory days.
Both 89 years old, the dynamic duo continue to thrive in the Naperville Park District’s senior softball league, played three days a week at Gartner Park.
While the league may not be as competitive as the national softball tournaments Argianas used to play in, it’s not about trophies. The friendships developed on and off the diamond have endured for decades.
“Twenty years later, I’m still here,” said Fujii, who lives in Aurora. “I love playing the game, but we’ve got a bunch of great guys out there. That’s what keeps me coming back.”
Warrenville’s Rich Fleming, 76, calls himself an “unofficial” coordinator of the over-50 league that started in the late 1990s. The 12-inch, slowpitch play is ideal for the coed games, which feature four outfielders, five infielders, a pitcher and a catcher.
Depending on the weather, games are played from April through October. They don’t play when temperatures dip below 50 degrees, and they don’t play in extreme heat or when the air quality is poor.
“It’s been popular, and the guys keep coming back,” Fleming said. “It’s worked out pretty well.”
There’s a screen in front of the mound to keep the pitcher safe from line drives. Baserunners are allowed to run through each of the bases to avoid collisions or quick stops.
The players ump their own games. Counts start with one ball and one strike, and foul balls with two strikes are considered outs.
But those are just the details.
For two hours each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, dozens of older men and women get together to talk about their families and what’s going on in their lives. The group has become so tightly knit that they share picnics and holiday parties, and many even bowl together.
“Do I love the game? I’ve always loved the game,” said Argianas, who lives in Woodridge. “Every day I’m out there is a blessing. It’s always a good day.”
Several of the players have a deep background in softball and baseball.
Argianas, who didn’t play ball for 30 years while working and raising a family, was at one time a championship-caliber 16-inch softball player in Chicago’s Grant Park. He played fastpitch softball in the Army, as did Fleming in the Navy. Both have won national senior softball titles.
Fujii’s love of the game dates back to his teens in American Legion baseball. He played 16-inch softball for about 20 years before hanging up his cleats.
Then, while he was working as an usher at a Kane County Cougars baseball game, Fujii watched an over-50 exhibition softball game on the field. Next thing you know, one of the players invited him to play in the Naperville senior softball league.
“Part of the reason I feel in fairly decent shape is because I hang out with these guys,” Fujii said. “Not only playing ball physically but mentally interacting with them. I think that’s kept my mind young.”
For all the pulled hamstrings and twisted ankles suffered by players each season, Argianas and Fujii have remained relatively healthy. Enough so that neither has any plans to step away from the league.
According to Fleming, the league has grown to about 85 signed-up players, and another 15 who often show up to games. On some days, as many as five teams rotate on two fields at Gartner Park.
No matter how big the league becomes, though, Fleming believes it’s core players like Fujii and Argianas who keep it thriving.
And they keep everyone feeling young. “These two guys … you talk about inspirations,” Fleming said. “Both of them are just the best people.”