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Strikeout makes man, 83, oldest pro baseball player

7/12/2006

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- No one in the bleachers at the Sioux Falls Canaries game was quite sure what was going on down on the field. They were all quiet, wondering and transfixed on the little old man digging into the batter's box.

The infielders moved up on the grass, giggling, and pitcher
looked as uncomfortable as anyone else would have felt.

But to 83-year-old Jim Eriotes, it was serious business.

Eriotes led off Tuesday's game for the Canaries against the St. Joe (Mo.) Blacksnakes and took four big swings -- even fouling a
pitch off -- before striking out.

The at-bat made Eriotes the oldest man to ever play professional baseball. It was his only at-bat in the game.

The record didn't mean much to the Chicago native and former
minor leaguer.

"I don't give a damn about that stuff," he said, bothered by
his failure to reach base. "If I got a couple more at-bats, I'd
get a hit. Easy."

He wasn't kidding.

Eriotes said he had hit pitches thrown harder than the 83-mph
fastball he whiffed against Blacksnakes starter Jesen Merle.

He has appeared on the "Today" show and said he has hit
pitches near 100 mph -- although they were hurled by a pitching
machine.

He did admit that stepping into the box with a professional on
the mound is a different story.

"He wasn't throwing that hard," he said. "I fouled one off. You can be the best hitter in the world and you might not get a hit if you only get one chance. But it was a great opportunity. It was
cool."

Spectator Derek Johnson, 27, already had bought his ticket for
the game before knowing about Eriotes. But he said he made sure to
arrive on time after hearing about the 83-year-old.

"Guys my age, it's no challenge. They're throwing
like, what, 40, 50 mph? I'd rather hit pitches that are 90 mph and
feel good about myself. If I could just get four at-bats in the
majors, I could get a hit."
Jim Eriotes, 83

"I could not believe he actually got a piece of one. That's
better than I could do," he said.

But Johnson's friend Dean Faynor thought the gimmick was
excessive.

"I don't know, man, a real game? That's kind of bush," he
said.

Former major leaguer Chad Hermansen made sure the Canaries won. Ralph Santana singled and stole second after Eriotes' at-bat, and Hermansen quickly followed with a two-run homer. He later added a double and another homer as the Canaries defeated the Blacksnakes,
5-3.

Hermansen got a good laugh out of his new, and now former,
teammate.

"We didn't really know what to expect until we saw him hanging
out in the dugout," Hermansen said. "As long as it didn't affect
the game, I guess."

But don't expect to see Eriotes in any senior leagues. He's only
interested in facing the best.

"Guys my age, it's no challenge," he said. "They're throwing
like, what, 40, 50 mph? I'd rather hit pitches that are 90 mph and
feel good about myself. If I could just get four at-bats in the
majors, I could get a hit."