Many of the players were part of the World Championship team back when they were in the 65-year-old AA bracket. In addition to receiving a trophy, each player receives a championship ring.
Jon Thomsen of Park Rapids is the team’s field manager as well as one of the players.
“Some of us started playing senior softball when we were 55 years old,he said. “Most of the team started out as local guys. Now there are five of us from the area, including three from Bemidji, but the rest of the team is primarily from the metro area.”
The team plays about once a month together, with the local guys doing outdoor batting practice in Bemidji every Saturday morning from spring through fall.
Games consist of seven innings. In innings one through six the maximum number of runs that can be scored is five. At that point, the other team goes to bat. This keeps the game reasonably close until the seventh inning, where either team can score as many runs as they possibly can.
Thomsen grew up in Porter, graduating from Canby High School in 1964 where he played baseball, football and basketball. He started playing slow pitch softball in 1974 when he got out of the Marine Corps. He played on the Firemen softball team in Park Rapids when he and his wife, Betty, moved here in 2000.
“There were a number of us in our 50s and we started talking about the possibility of playing senior softball,” he said. “We found enough players to have a team, and that’s what started it all.”
They came up with the name Minnesota Lumberjacks and used it in each age division they’ve played.
“We’ve played teams from all over,” he said. “This year, there were 652 senior teams in Las Vegas. It’s grouped by age and ability. Our classification was AA, so we played against 75-year-old AA players from California, Texas and Washington, winning all six of their games to take the championship.”
This year’s win was even more impressive because it came after a year off.
“We were too laid up to play last year, with some having cancer treatment, knee replacements and other issues,” he said.
Thomsen, who pitches and catches for the team, said the camaraderie is what keeps him playing with the Lumberjacks. “We’ve got a good group of guys,” he said. “At this age, people just want to get out there and have fun.”
Thomsen said he believes it’s good to stay active. “It keeps your mind and motivation going and we look forward to it every spring,” he said. “Quite a few team members go to Arizona and are playing ball two to three times a week. Up here, we mostly just take the winter off.”
He pitches and catches for the Lumberjacks.
Thomsen said a never-say-die attitude and resilience are two of the keys to having a championship team. “We just keep plugging away and don’t give up,” he said. “I enjoy competing against myself to see if I can do better than the year before. I don’t hunt, fish or snowmobile. Softball is it for me, along with taking care of the yard.”
Rich Majcin lives on Kabekona Lake in rural Laporte. At 74, he is the youngest player on the Lumberjacks.
He started with the 60-year-old team almost 15 years ago. A native of Chicago, he played high school and college baseball and has been coaching for 52 years.
He was a softball, basketball and volleyball coach in Walker for about 12 years. “When the pandemic hit, I decided to work a little with the teams from Laporte,” he said. “I’m the assistant varsity softball coach.”
His favorite part about sports is the theory behind the action on the field.
“When I watch baseball, I analyze it,” he said. “I bring that into both my coaching and softball playing.”
He said the Lumberjacks team has two main strengths.
“We’ve very versatile,” he said. “We have guys who can play different positions. We’re also an excellent hitting team.”
Marjcin was the pitcher for the 65-year-old team’s championship but is currently playing second base and rover.
“The camaraderie on this team is incredible with the fellows and their wives,” he said. “We get along well and that translates to our play on the field.”
He said there was one game in the championship where they were behind. “Our hitting was the key in winning,” he said. “You can bat 11 guys and everyone on our team is a potential hitter. We were able to capitalize on that. Some teams were predictable on where they hit the ball but our guys can and do hit anywhere.”
In the off-season, Marjcin said he walks two to three miles a day even in winter. “I don’t care what the temperature is,” he said. “I also do batting and throwing exercises in my garage.”
Teams go all the way up to age 85, but he said how long he will keep playing depends on his health. “Guys on the team are like family,” he said. “ And I love coaching too. I go out in the field and show the kids how to do things. They figure if a 75-year-old guy can do it, they can do it.”
Recruiting new members
New players are welcome. “We’re looking for two or three players for next year,” Thomsen said. “A couple of guys who are 78 are giving it up.”
Marjcin said he’s already looking forward to next season.
“I think it will be a challenge for us if they move us up into the triple A class since we won the world championship which would mean a higher level of competition,” he said.
For more information on Senior Softball USA, go to seniorsoftball.com.