He’s still got game
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Turning 75 in June, Chicora resident Mike Callihan likes to spend his winters in Florida.
But not resting, exactly.
Playing — as in softball.
Callihan is in his first season playing in the Kids and Kubs league, a seniors softball circuit based in St. Petersburg. The league is in its 93rd year.
“I’ve been playing softball for years,” Callihan said. “I played in Chicora until I was 45. When we started spending the winter months in Florida, I’ve played in the Half-Century League.”
But as he got older, that league became more painful.
Callihan pitched in the league and was repeatedly victimized by hard shots hit back up the middle.
“Guys at that age (50 and over) can still hit the ball with a lot of power,” Callihan said. “I’ve had a broken ankle, had two rotator cuff injuries, got a broken jaw and had to have it wired shut … I finally started to wear a mask when I was pitching.
“I got hit a couple of times since … without that mask, I’d probably be dead.”
But Callihan plays on.
He missed the 2019 season after being diagnosed with prostate cancer and undergoing radiation treatments. An auto accident in 2021 left him with an upper arm injury that took six months to heal, costing him that year as well.
Callihan still wanted to play. His wife, Donna, couldn’t bear to watch anymore.
“It became too rough, too dangerous,” she said. “I was too nervous to go to the games anymore. I was afraid for him.”
Callihan tried out for the four-team Kids and Kubs league late last year. The league is for players age 75 and older. Though he won’t turn 75 for a few more months, Callihan was permitted to try out. Only a select few are chosen as each roster consists of 12 players.
The season runs from October through March. Each team plays twice during the week and teams travel to other Florida cities to face other teams on weekends.
“People in this league are very serious softball players,” Callihan said. “They come from interesting backgrounds. Some are already in the (National Softball) Hall of Fame. There’s no stealing or bunting in the league and it’s slow-pitch.
“Besides that, these people really get after it.”
An example of that is Ethel Lehman, 93, who plays second base and is a member of the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame. She competes in the National Senior Games in softball and has won 10 medals, including four gold.
“She’s gotten the best of me twice already,” Callihan said. “She dove to take a couple of hits away from me. I don’t like her.”
George Bakewell played in the league until he was 101. Edward Stauffer, 75, hit a then club-record .835 in 1972-73 that included a streak of 20 consecutive hits: five home runs, six triples, four doubles and five singles. Don Craven tried out for the Detroit Tigers in 1952. Darwin Shifflet won 28 national tournaments. Dan DeRussy completed six Ironman events and 25 marathons.
Callihan is pitching and playing third base for his team.
“My batting average is below .500 now (.450),” he said. “I’m having trouble timing these slow pitches. I’m used to playing modified pitch — there’s a big difference, but I’ll catch up.”
Teams are permitted to score no more than five runs in an inning. The seventh — and final inning — has unlimited scoring.
“I like this (Kids and Kubs) league a lot better,” Donna Callihan said. “The balls aren’t hit with as much force. They have outings that involve spouses and families. The games are nice social events.”
The games on the field are competitive.
“There’s plenty of great running catches in the outfield and a lot of good throwing arms out there,” Callihan said. “Everyone plays to win, and I love it.”
Being the youngest player in the league means Callihan can play for a number of years yet.
“As long as my body’s able, I’ll be playing,” he said.
And his wife doesn’t mind a bit.
“It keeps him active, keeps him moving,” she said. “He’s enjoying life. That league does a lot of people good.
“The women who play in that league … I haven’t had legs like that since I was 16.”
The Callihans have a daughter who is a heart doctor in the Pittsburgh area. They brought her down to witness the Kids and Kubs league.
“She couldn’t believe what she was seeing,” Callihan said, laughing. “She said she has patients in their 50s who won’t even get off the couch. She was going to tell them about this league.
“It’s not that hard to stay active. All you have to do is push yourself.”