WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - Sports can mean different things to players and fans, from having a minor and sporadic interest to a lifelong passion for it.
For James DeLong, even at 63, the passion has pushed on for the last 44 years playing softball.
“I’d say I just love the game, enjoy playing with other folks on the field, and then enjoy celebrating — win or lose,” said DeLong, who works as a Logistics Management section chief at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center on Wright-Patterson AFB. “I played baseball for all four years of high school, so after graduating, softball became a perfect substitute for baseball.”
DeLong started his softball career in 1977 when he played in a church league and has been playing on at least one team every year since.
He was hired to work in WPAFB’s Personnel Office in 1981 and joined its softball team, which was named the “Clone Rangers.” This summer marked his 41st season in the Wright-Patterson Intramural Softball League.
DeLong pitches for AFSAC-D, which is 8-1 and tied atop the Tuesday Division standings headed into the postseason. He also entered the week batting .727.
“He has been doing this for so long, and he is an integral part of not only the past teams, but this team as well,” said AFSAC-D coach Jeremy Law said.
Making friendships and finding a perfect way to bond with co-workers and teammates is more important than winning or losing, DeLong says.
“What I’ve found through the years is getting to know a co-worker in a relaxed, social environment goes a long ways toward interacting and resolving the work issues with these individuals,” he said.
Playing any sport at age 63 can be an uphill challenge physically.
DeLong said he’s been fortunate to maintain his health these past four decades and attributes that to the reason he can stay active in softball.
“Being a little guy, I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had no injuries and I’m able to play at the same level I did 40 years ago as far as running, throwing and hitting,” he added. “Several of my friends have had to retire from the sport due to knee or shoulder wear and tear or injuries.”
DeLong’s impressive playing streak, however, can also be attributed to the sheer love of sports his father instilled in him many years ago.
“Sports has always been a big part of my life and softball in particular,” he said. “Growing up, my dad encouraged me to play baseball and he coached me in baseball for almost 10 years, so sports was always in my blood.”
Despite the longevity, DeLong understands it won’t last forever. He acknowledges age will eventually catch up to him but maintains the confidence he will carry on swinging the bat until his body says so.
“When I turned 50, I started playing coed leagues with my daughters and found that to be very enjoyable,” he said. “At that point, I decided every subsequent year would be a bonus and the decision to continue playing would be a year-to-year decision and would be dependent on my being physically able to maintain the same level of play with no drop-off.
“It’s 13 years later and I’ve been blessed to maintain the running and throwing skills, so I guess I’ll keep playing until my body says it’s time to quit.”