ST. CHARLES – Ozzie T. Cougar worked the crowd outside Provena Pine View Care Center in the moments before the tee ball game began Friday afternoon.
“Hey Ozzie, where’s Harriet?” quipped one player, a reference to the mid 20th century radio and TV show that the Kane County Cougars’ mascot probably does not hear much about during his day job.
Then again, generationally speaking, this was not your run-of-the-mill ballgame.
Featuring a roster of elderly sluggers extending up to age 100, residents of the center participated in what has become an annual tradition – a tee ball game devised 12 years ago as a carrot to motivate residents to exercise in the weeks and months building up to the game.
Following renditions of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and the national anthem, about two-thirds of the facility’s 94 residents lined up outside the main entrance – most in wheelchairs, some with the use of walkers – to take their swings. After smacking the ball, they walked or wheeled around the bases with the assistance of center staff.
One of the players, Leona Klapprich, turned 100 on June 8 and said playing tee ball felt “just like old times.” She called the game among the highlights of the calendar.
“So far, yes,” Klapprich said. “We do a lot. We’re going to have a luau. I enjoy the activity we have here.”
In addition to the game, residents were treated to ballpark food such as grilled hot dogs and popcorn. Several residents wore Cubs or Sox gear or even personalized jerseys with their own names on the back.
Several children and grandchildren of the residents came to root-on their loved ones. Holly Orland, business office manager at Pine View, said the residents look forward to the game weeks in advance.
“Just being able to have the ballpark experience – even if they can’t actually get to the ballpark, we can kind of bring it to them,” Orland said. “It brings back memories of things they’ve done in the past.”
Glenn Anderson, 95, considered his at-bat “fair,” but nonetheless relished the afternoon in the warm sunshine. He never had much time for baseball as a younger man, he said, but turned emotional when discussing what the game meant.
“It did me good to see everyone enjoy themselves,” Anderson said. “Life has become too serious for many of us.”