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Older "Kids' still aching for softball

Outside of Jim Steeves' mobile home is a crusty hanging bar supported by two long beams. It is not unique or specially designed.

But it represents something significant to Steeves: It's where he is getting into shape. Each day, the 75-year-old hangs from the bar to pull his back muscles into place.

This year, physical fitness is particularly important to Steeves. He is gearing up for his first full season with the Kids & Kubs softball club. To qualify for the team, players must be at least 75 years old.

"This is my last step down the hallmark of life," said Steeves, who will play in the outfield for the Kubs. "All I need right now are three things in life: something to do, something to look forward to and something to love. I have all three with the Kids & Kubs."

The team will open its 61st season this afternoon at North Shore Park, 901 North Shore Drive NE.

"We do everything to preserve the idea and meaning of the team," said Paul Good, who is beginning his sixth year as president of the team. "For many older men, this is their life. The Kids & Kubs is everything to them."

This year the team will play a 60-game schedule that stretches into April, Good said. All games are at 1 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at Northshore Park.

For Steeves, who is the youngest of the 33 active members, Kids & Kubs is a passion.

"I couldn't wait to join the organization," Steeves said. "I can devote the rest of my life to the Kids & Kubs. The fellowship is fantastic and it gives us old-timers an active lifestyle."

Being active, however, takes some effort, Steeves said.

"Us old-timers sit around a lot and those bones take time to bend back in shape," said Steeves, who is a retired railroad worker. "I figured the best way to get those bones back into position was to hang in the air. Hey, it's something to do."

Other players also do assorted exercises to stretch their muscles and prepare for each nine-inning softball game.

"Being this old, we must take every precaution," Good said. "We are very conscientious about safety on and off the field. All of our players are in great physical shape and always lead an active life away from the ballfield."

George Bakewell, who has been with the club for 23 years and is the oldest player on the team at 98, runs up and down the stairs of his second-floor home and also swings a 42-inch iron pipe to strengthen his shoulder muscles.

"Hey, I'm shooting for the year 2000," Bakewell said. "And I want to play when I'm 100-years-old."

Bill Garrett, 76, plays three sets of tennis every morning beginning at 7 After playing tennis, Garrett goes straight to the Kids & Kubs regular practice.

"I wanted to continue staying active," said Garrett, who plays in the infield for the Kubs. "I figured the best way to stay active was to get involved with the softball club until I die or whichever comes first."

Andy McKnight, who is the vice president of the organization and plays infield for the Kids, bicycles 10 miles a day and crafts wood.

"The first thing that goes when you get old is your legs," said McKnight, who is 84 and entering his 10th season. "Bicycling every day keeps my legs strong, and working on wood helps my hand coordination."

When they don the trademark white uniforms and bow ties, teammates agree, all the exercise time seems worthwhile.

"All of us are living on borrowed time," McKnight said. "Playing ball keeps you alive and alert. I can tell you one thing if it wasn't for the Kids & Kubs I probably wouldn't be alive today."

With each creak in their bodies, the players grimace. But in the end, they say, the pain doesn't matter.

"I'm here. This is the fun part of life," Steeves said. "We get to get out of the house, away from the lounge chair and spend a little time talking about our aches, sore muscles and great plays. Remember how they're all great plays as you age?"

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