Strikeout makes man, 83, oldest pro baseball player
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.
"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."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press