ST. PETERSBURG — Senior softball players outnumbered spectators at Thursday's Kids and Kubs game by 5-to-1, and that's counting the golden retriever in the broadcast booth.
The players, ages 74 and older, didn't care. The November air felt like fall. A lime green softball arched toward home plate in North Shore Park. Nothing else mattered.
Except this: Last weekend, they lost one of their own. Lt. Col. John Alderson, a utility infielder who could outrun most of his teammates, died early Sunday after being struck by a car while crossing Fourth Street N. He was 87.
The pedestrian accident made news coast to coast because of the prominence of his son, New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson.
"We lose a few every year at our age, let's face it," said Kids and Kubs president Andy Devine, 85. "But not (like) him. He played like he was 40."
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A few miles away, Colonel Alderson's family had gathered to share memories of a robust man who had one piece of bad luck, whose vitality makes his loss that much harder to bear.
"People see '87 years old' and they figure, 'Well, that's what happens at 87,' " said Sandy Alderson, a trim former Marine himself. "But this guy — it's like he was 50 or something."
The man they remember had flown bombers in three wars, and lost none of the fighter-pilot swagger. A man who lifted weights twice a week, hit First Night downtown every month to hang with friends and drove his Chrysler Sebring convertible with the top down.
As recently as 2009, Colonel Alderson made his annual pilgrimage to visit his sister in upstate New York. He drove straight through — no motels — the CD player blasting Sinatra.
The man they knew would have arrived at his daughter's house Sunday morning to cook eggs for a family breakfast. That might explain why he left El Cap Restaurant late Saturday, before his friends were ready to go.
Colonel Alderson was to walk the 3.5 miles to his home in northeast St. Petersburg — a walk he had made before, his family said.
Growing up with a dad who was a career Air Force pilot who logged 32 missions in World War II and another 150 in Vietnam wasn't as regimented as one would expect. Colonel Alderson's three children remember him as the "fun dad."
"He wasn't really interested in airplanes," Sandy Alderson said.
But he loved baseball, a game he once played in the minor leagues. He was a spring training regular in Arizona with the Oakland Athletics, where his son served as general manager during the team's glory years in the 1980s. Colonel Alderson and Sandy attended All-Star and World Series games, and pre-Olympic exhibition games in Japan, China and Australia, sometimes accompanied by Colonel Alderson's wife, Gwenny.
Younger peers kept him on the St. Petersburg Half-Century Softball Club at least five years after he passed the maximum age of 75, where he often played catcher, his family said. One time, a batter lost his grip and laid open the back of Colonel Alderson's head.
The blow sent him to a hospital, but what bothered him was the blood, which ruined his commemorative T-shirt of pitcher Dennis Eckersley's Hall of Fame induction.
A native of Gasport, N.Y., John Lester Alderson attended the University of Washington, where he majored in theater. His ulterior motive in taking to the stage was an interest in the theater department's leading actress — Gwenny Parry.
They married in 1946. Colonel Alderson rejoined the Air Force for the Korean War. The family lived in Japan, Illinois, South Carolina and England. He spent two years in Virginia with the CIA, then flew B-57 bombers in Vietnam while the family lived in the Philippines. He retired in 1976 with the rank of lieutenant colonel, and settled the family into his home in Venetian Isles.
He was with friends Saturday, first attending a party in St. Pete Beach, then moving to El Cap. Late Saturday, Colonel Alderson, who had ridden with a friend, was ready to go home.
A Jeep struck Colonel Alderson as he crossed the 3600 block of Fourth Street N, just north of El Cap. He died shortly after midnight. The Jeep's driver has not been charged.
"Not one person who knew him said, 'Well, he had a great life," said his daughter, Kristy Alderson, 58. "They said, 'This is horrible, because he had so much life left to look forward to.' "
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.