OKC's Boys of Summer

Every Tuesday during the sweltering Oklahoma summer, a unique league of men meet to play softball.

Story by Tariq Lee - photos by Garrett Fisbeck



ndepth drop cap

ack Vaughan made a living selling insurance to Oklahoma residents for 30 years.

Eleven years ago, Vaughan needed a little coverage himself.

Vaughan cracked the cartilage in both knees playing softball and could no longer run the bases for a team he put together.

Share this on Facebook

ndepth series brought to you by newsok advertisers


Vaughan was pitching for the Oklahoma City Royals and turned to talk to his infielders. As he turned, his legs buckled and he fell to the ground.

"I told the guys at the end-of-year-meeting, ‘If I cannot run by next year I won't play anymore,'" Vaughan said.

The guys he was referring to were his teammates from the Royals, a team he founded in 1991 as a 55 years-and-older squad.

The bonds Vaughan had created with those teammates were more than enough to for him to make sure he made it back for the next season.

Vaughan, now 79, worked with a Jack Pugh, a personal trainer from Oklahoma City University, and made it back to his teammates in better condition than when he started.

"(Pugh) worked with me and ... I was running better than I had in 10 years," Vaughan said. "I wasn't pulling any muscles, and I wasn't getting hurt. I owe him a lot."

MEET THE ROYALS

Vaughan's battle against injuries is pretty typical for this team.

The Royals are now a 75-and-over bunch that play in tournaments. They also still play with the younger guys in a 65-and-over league in the Oklahoma Senior Softball Association on Tuesdays.

The team's youngest player is shortstop Ray Rowland, 73, who worked with engine parts at Tinker Air Force Base for 25 years.

Rowland is the team's ironman — he's never hurt and plays like guys 40 years younger.

During a game in early July, Rowland chased down a ground ball hit toward second base and managed to flip the ball to second for a force out.

"I think when he was born the doctor that delivered him said, ‘You will be a shortstop'" Royals manager Lynn Nash said. Nash played against Rowland in the '1950s and '1960s and said he was a shortstop even then.

Warren Wood, 81, is the Royals' oldest player, but you wouldn't know it based on his responsibilities to the team. Wood is a pinch-runner and played catcher for the first time this past Tuesday.

In his time with the Royals, "Woody", as the Royals call him, had never been injured until recently.

"He pulled a hamstring about a month ago in Conway (Ark.)," Vaughan said. "Everybody was shocked because after all these years he had never been hurt."

With most of the Royals' players at or approaching the average life expectancy age in the United States, Woody and the rest of the guys are happy to remain active. Woody even plays tennis three times a week in addition to his duties with the Royals.

Warren Wood, the Royals pinch runner, takes the field
Warren "Woody" Wood puts on his hat after leaving the dugout during a game at the Plex in Oklahoma City, July 19, 2011.

FRIENDS LOST

Even though the Royals are easily more active and vibrant than most others their age, there are times when age and illness catch up with a fellow softball player.

"We've retired seven numbers (because of) deaths," Vaughan said. "All seven of the men that we've lost died of cancer."

Just a few months ago, the Royals lost their second baseman, Ponca City native and Oklahoma Senior Softball Hall of Fame member Arthur Guy Van Arsdale. He died at age 79.

"He was a very, very funny guy, a great sense of humor," Vaughan said. "One of the secrets of our team is we always know how to have fun and laugh. He was one of the guys that kept it loose."

While Van Ardsdale was hospitalized with cancer, his minister asked him if he could borrow his lawnmower. Van Arsdale cracked, "OK, but have him credit it to my tithes."

Despite having to drive from Ponca City, Van Arsdale didn't miss a game for 15 years while the Royals were playing at Boomer Field off Interstate 240 in southeast Oklahoma City.

"Sometimes our games would be at 9:30 or 10 p.m.," Vaughan said. "(Van Arsdale) would get home at about 2 in the morning. He kept driving down there every time. He was one of the finest second baseman I'd ever seen. He was super."

In 2009, one of Vaughan's best friends died at 74. Royals outfielder Gurthrie Hite was a registered pharmacist for 50 years, and his time with the Royals earned him a spot in the Senior Softball Hall of Fame.

"I never saw the guy without a smile," Vaughan said. "Miss that guy big time. We were best pals," Vaughan said. "He never got upset about anything or with anybody. He was just a great Christian man."

GIVING BACK

Cletus Price bats during a game at the Plex in Oklahoma City, July 19, 2011.
Cletus Price bats during a game at the Plex in Oklahoma City, July 19, 2011.
Ray Rowland tries to tag an opposing player at the Plex Sports Complex in Oklahoma City, July 5, 2011.
Ray Rowland tries to tag an opposing player, July 5, 2011.
73-year-old Fred Jones (1) throws a ball from third base during a game at the Plex Sports Complex in Oklahoma City, July 5, 2011.
The Royals' 73-year-old third baseman Fred Jones makes a throw during a game July 5, 2011.
Cletus Price jokes about his leg giving out after a game at the Plex in Oklahoma City, July 19, 2011.
Cletus Price jokes about his leg giving out after a game, July 19, 2011.
The Oklahoma City Royals softball team prays before a game July 5, 2011.
The Oklahoma City Royals softball team prays before a game July 5, 2011.

Softball isn't the only thing that keeps the Royals going. Most of the team's players have spent a good chunk of their lives helping others, too.

Nash, the Royals' 79-year-old manager, was an architect for TG&Y stores for 33 years. Now, in addition to leading the Royals, he volunteers at Crown Heights Christian Church in Oklahoma City. He serves as a deacon and delivers mobile meals with his wife, Della.

"I coached Little League a number of years," Nash said. "I coached my two boys as they grew up and coached my three girls when they came up behind the boys. I coached church softball as well at First Christian Church High School."

Nash hasn't played much this summer because of health issues due to more than 50 years of playing softball.

Spavinaw native Jimmy Richardson spends time in the Royals infield and also spends time delivering Panera Bread to a nursing home after the games on Tuesdays. But Richardson's biggest claim to fame is his ties to a slightly more famous Spavinaw ballplayer.

"I'm not Mickey Mantle's cousin," Richardson says. "Mickey Mantle is my cousin. They don't get that right. "

WHY THEY PLAY

Staying active is big for the Royals, but it's about so much more than that. Faith and camaraderie also keep them coming back.

Before every game, the Royals gather in their dugout and ask God that everyone stays healthy, and they send prayers to those who are sick.

"We start with a prayer, and even if we don't like (the other team), we end with a handshake," Richardson said. "I think (religion) is the glue that keeps us all together — that we're all God-fearing Christian people. If somebody dies, he doesn't have to be on our team. We will go attend their funeral."

The Royals' time together is special. It's about faith. It's about camaraderie. It's about staying active. That's why they come back every Tuesday, even when temperatures are well above 100 degrees.

"If you quit, what's your next step?" Vaughan said. "Are you going to lay down and die? I love the camaraderie of it, the friendships I have, the competitiveness. It all keeps me going."

For some, it's just for the love of the game.

"It's just too much fun to quit," Nash said. "Some people play golf, and some people fish we play softball.

"Our team has stayed together. The only time we replace people is when they get injured and can't play anymore, or they get sick and die. Other teams everywhere we go just keep bringing in the best players they can find shoving the other guys out."

That's not the way the Royals work.

This past Tuesday, the Royals lost to a younger Oklahoma Express team. The Royals haven't beaten the Express all year, but they still walked off the field with smiles on their faces and heads raised high.

They might not be able to compete with the younger guys, but what they get from being around each other and doing what they love is more than enough to keep them playing.

Rules of the Game

The Royals Tuesday night games at the "Plex" off NW 122 have some different rules than softball games involving younger folks.

There are two bases on every stop across the diamond to keep players from crashing into each other. The runner takes the base closest to him on the baseline and the infielder stands on the other base.

If a team scores five runs in an inning, then the inning is over in order to keep the players from passing out due to heatstroke — which can occur with temperatures reaching 100 for most of this summer.

They also have 10 batters in their lineup instead of the usual nine.

A pinch runner can be substituted for anyone who isn't able to run the bases. If you are substituted out of the game, you can continue to play.

Batting Order for Tuesday, July 19

1 3B #1 Fred Jones, Midwest City, 74

2 OF/P Cecil Soerries, Oklahoma City, 71

3 OF/IF/P #21 Jerell Hawkins, Oklahoma City, 76

4 OF #23 Mel Carpenter, Tuttle, 73

5 SS #32 Ray Rowland, McCloud, 73

6 IF #20 Jimmy Richardson, Spavinaw, 78

7 OF #8 Roe Kennedy, Edmond, 77

8 1B #16 Cletus Price, Mustang 78

9 IF #2 Warren Wood, Oklahoma City 81

10 P #26 Al Mallory, Oklahoma City, 78

Disabled List

SS #14 Lynn Nash, Oklahoma City, 79, hip injury

1B #25 Cat Taylor, Perkins, Knee surgery

C/P/OF #7 Loal Buttram, Lawton, nearing retirement, 78

Utility #27 Norm Cobb, Oklahoma City, knee surgery, 76

P/C/OF #6 Jack Vaughan, Oklahoma City, vacation, 79

OF #31 Jim Ruff, Chickasha, shoulder injury, 77

OKC's Boys of Summer