Make room in the Hall of Fame
Lake Wildwood resident Don Runcie once traveled the lower rungs of professional baseball.
More than 50 years later, Runcie was granted admission to the highest rung of senior softball.
Runcie, 77, found out Monday that he would be inducted into the National Senior Softball Association Hall of Fame. Details regarding the where and when of the honor were yet to be decided. Runcie, who knew of the nomination put forth by Jim Stewart and fellow softball players, was still stunned he actually would be accorded such an honor.
“For every one guy who is in there, I am sure there are 10 others just as deserving,” Runcie said. “It just happened to be the right time for me, with the right evaluators, I guess. But it is a thrill.”
As word spread at the softball fields Thursday at Western Gateway Park, fellow Gold Country Senior Softball Association (GCSSA) players were less surprised than pleased that a player many referred to as a class act would receive an honor that he deserves.
“We played with some of those guys at tournaments that are in (the Hall of Fame),” said Jim Pack, a teammate of Runcie’s on Empire Market. “We figured if they can be there, he deserves to be there. I’ve been playing with him for six years, and there is no finer ballplayer, for his age or any age.”
Runcie twice played on national championship runner-up squads with the Southern California Braves of Oceanside. In 1993, he played with the Sacramento Gold Rush, that went on to win the first of two national championships. In 1997, the Gold Rush won another prestigious national tournament in Utah. It would be the last year Runcie would play for a travelling team.
Runcie, who often bats fourth for Empire Market, can still swing a mean stick against players much younger than he is. Heading into this week of GCSSA play, Runcie was second in hitting in the ‘Sexy Sixties’ category with a .626 batting average, with 54 runs scored in 35 games played. At the 14th annual Penn Valley Summer Classic statewide senior softball tournament, Runcie hit 14-for-15 against some of the finest softball teams in California.
“I think there is a satisfaction I get from hitting, throwing and catching a ball,” Runcie said. “All my life, I’ve loved playing softball or baseball. It is challenging, and among sports, the thing I do best.”
In 1946, he played with the Bakersfield Indians, a Class C baseball team. The Indians sent him to New Mexico, where a broken leg cut short his season. In 1947, he was sent to the Texas League; the following year he played in Pittsburgh in Union Town, Pa.
In 1949, he was asked to play in Modesto in the California State League. Runcie took stock of his travels, and decided to opt out of baseball and go to college.
Now as a softball player, Runcie finds himself practicing three days a week to keep his lifetime of skills on the diamond as sharp as can be.
“Don is not satisfied being yesterday’s ballplayer,” said Tony Martin of the GCSSA. “He wants to continue to improve, and he works at it. He is not only a great ballplayer on the field, he is the same thing off the field, if not more so.”
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