A longtime group of friends gather for a softball game every Sunday morning, and celebrate their 40th year of playing this July.

Courtesy of Don Rudick & Barry Leder

The venues have changed, players have come and gone, and new players have joined in the fun. For 40 years, a pickup softball game started by friends Barry Leder and Cliff Walkon has been played each Sunday morning from May through September when the weather is good.

About 50 current and former players gathered for a 40-year reunion July 14 at Drake Sports Park in West Bloomfield.

After a nearly 90-minute game, which was decided in the final inning, former players were introduced and everyone enjoyed snacks including Cracker Jack and beverages.

The pickup game was first played at Kennedy School — now Kennedy Learning Center — in Southfield, a few blocks from where Leder and Walkon lived.

It moved to several locations including West Bloomfield High School before landing at Drake Park a few years ago.

Barry Leder and Cliff Walkon started a pickup softball game that has become a four-decade tradition.

“The rules were simple when we started,” said Leder, 68. “You pretty much had to just show up. We didn’t care how you played; we just wanted to be the boys of summer again. Have a game where our kids could watch us.

“We never thought the game would go on for 40 years, and we would still have as many as 28 to 30 players playing each week. It’s like the TV show, Cheers. I know a lot of guys by their first name, but I don’t know their last name.”

One aspect of the game hasn’t changed through the years.

“We’ve had our share of excellent players and many who weren’t so great,” said Walkon, 67. “We’ve had a 90-year-old who could place the ball anywhere and always got on base and a player who never wore shoes. It’s a weekly pickup game, so it doesn’t matter who wins or loses.”

Forty-year player Ron Finegood agrees.

“We’ve had players of all skill levels and players who were more competitive than others,” he said. “But we’re all out there to have a good time.”

About 50 players ages 19-78 are in the current group, said weekly game and reunion organizer Don Rudick, 73, who did the introductions of the former players at the reunion as they lined up along the third-base line.

Rudick has been umpiring the weekly game this year after injuring his knee in the first week. He’s been a part of the group for about 15 years.

“My knee is fine. I could play. But I’m having so much fun umpiring,” said Rudick, who has been a softball umpire for 40 years and a softball player since 1966.

Ron Finegood warms up his pitching arm

Finegood, 68, couldn’t make it to the reunion, but his dedication to the weekly game through the years has been amazing.

He’s been driving 2½ hours, 140 miles to the diamond from his home in Stanton, a small town in Montcalm County, since 2008. His return trip makes it five hours on the road and 280 miles traveled each week.

Finegood has lived in mid-Michigan since 1998, so his long-distance Sunday drives to play softball have been going on for more than 20 years.

“I’m on the road by 6:30 in the morning each Sunday so I can get to the field by 9,” he said. “When do I get back home? Anytime between 4 and 9.”

The time of Finegood’s arrival at home depends upon what he does right after the game. He showers at his son’s home, visits with his father and often takes him to lunch, makes a stop at a bakery for onion rolls and hamantashen, and catches up with family and friends.
“I’ve been playing sports all my life,” Finegood said. “I’m still that little boy who hits the ball off a tee, runs around the bases and slides into home plate.”

That enthusiasm carries over into the hockey rink. Finegood plays hockey once or twice a week.

Finegood said he became involved in the weekly softball game through his friendship with Leder, whom he met in junior high school in Detroit.

 

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