Playing the game the right way motivates these pioneer Solons
By GLENN MILLER
Roy Hobbs Baseball
Their professions took them into the cockpits of 777s, California farm fields and high school classrooms.
They’ve crunched numbers and piloted airliners and coached youngsters.
Lanny Ropke, Lee Jackson and Don Frantz have done extraordinary things in their working lives. They’ve also come together on baseball diamonds to do other extraordinary things and in the process created an enduring friendship based on something one won’t find on resumes.
They each learned the other two love and respect the game. On a baseball field it doesn’t matter what you did off the field. All that counts is playing the game the right way.
Ropke thinks Jackson and Frantz play the game the right way.
Jackson thinks Ropke and Frantz plays the game the right way.
Frantz thinks Ropke and Jackson play the game the right way.
The result is a decades-long friendship for these men on the Sacramento Solons. (A Solon, by the way, is, according to Wikipedia, an Athenian statesman, lawmaker and poet.)
They may not write verse but these friends have carved out something special on baseball fields for nearly 30 years. Maybe these Solons are the Three Wise Men of Roy Hobbs.
The very name of Roy Hobbs Baseball is linked to these teammates. Frantz was part of a group of 5 players who met once a week in the 1980s for lunch in Woodland to plan an adult league. They were stumped at first for a name. Names such as Antiques, Old-Timers and Senior Men were considered.
“As I listened and we discussed, I thought, ‘what interesting name could capture the vision of who we were and what we were trying to accomplish as a league?’ Suddenly I blurted out, ‘What about Roy Hobbs Baseball?’”
It fit. Guys getting a second chance at baseball late in life just like the fictional Roy Hobbs.
“Guys, that’s us,” Frantz said he told the group.
The name has endured and so have these teammates.
Ropke, 68, had to retire from flying because of mandatory age restrictions. There are no age restrictions in Roy Hobbs.
These three started playing adult baseball together in 1987. By Ropke’s reckoning, their original league in Woodland, California had 90 players. Only 3 remain – Ropke, Jackson and Frantz.
They retain some of that joy they felt 28 years ago to be back playing hardball.
“We were just elated to be playing the real game of baseball and not softball,” Ropke said.
They returned with real skills. Jackson pitched at the University of California-Davis, where his name is still sprinkled through the record books after more than 40 years. He led the team in innings pitched in 1969 (79.1) and 1971 (99) and still ranks seventh all-time in innings pitched with 290.2 and his 22 complete games are the second-most in school history.
“Lee and Don, back in the early days of our league, were two of the best if not the top 2 pitchers in the league for several years,” Ropke said. “Don holds the distinction of being the only pitcher to have 2 no-hitters in our 28-year history. … As we aged, of course, we lost some of that greatness and ability, but these guys were still the best in the new older age brackets as they moved up.
“That is one thing that is so cool about men’s amateur baseball, the age divisions that gave us new life, so to speak. Now if being the top pitchers were not enough, both guys always ranked in the Top 10 hitters. Both crush the ball. Still do today!”
In the early years of their hometown league they were rivals more often than teammates.
“We gained mutual respect as teammates,” Jackson said.
Their talent often found them as all-star teammates. And now these Solons have more time for baseball. There are advantages to retirement for Ropke. During his career he traveled 15-to-18 days a month.
“Retirement allows me to play on 5 different teams during the year,” Ropke said.
And to continue playing with his teammates Lee Jackson and Don Frantz.