Whenever old ballplayers convene to reminisce about when they were younger ballplayers, it is natural to think of Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, the two Carls — Furillo and Erskine — and the other boys of author Roger Kahn’s summer.
But during a reunion of the Las Vegas Aces, a former national slow-pitch softball powerhouse, it was a different strain of the species — the “Boys of Summer” immortalized in song by Don Henley — that came to mind.
Nobody on the road. Nobody on the beach. I feel it in the air. The summer’s out of reach …
But: … I can tell you my love for you will still be strong after the boys of summer have gone.
The Las Vegas Aces were boys of summer from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, or thereabouts. At their reunion at Lucky Joe’s Saloon in Henderson, there were trophies and newspaper clippings and hundreds of snapshots scattered across the pool tables. The old ballplayers had a fine time perusing them when they weren’t hugging one another like bears.
But these embraces also seemed familiar to many of the Aces.
They haven’t batted around for years, but they still play golf together and drop in to each other’s homes during the holidays. They stay in touch like family members and attend each other’s family functions.
Ace of Aces
John Huntington probably is the best known of the Aces. Huntington was an outfielder. He was once a baseball pitcher who made it to Double-A Nashville in the Southern League. During a three-year period in the mid-1970s, he was one of nine Rancho Rams drafted by major league teams.
He said the first home run he served up as a pro was to Hall of Famer Andre Dawson. He won a game for the Reds in the instructional league in which Mark “The Bird” Fidrych was the losing pitcher.
That doesn’t make Huntington a celebrity among the Aces. That just makes him a guy who played ball against some other guys who were good ballplayers, too.
“We were the best in Las Vegas,” he said, and in July of 1990 they also were the No. 1-ranked men’s AA team in the United States Slowpitch Softball Association. The only division higher than AA was the open class — stomping grounds for pros like Steele’s Sports of Cleveland, who were featured in Sports Illustrated and traveled to tournaments in first class instead of in the backs of Ford Country Squires.
“We played them one year in Salt Lake City,” Huntington said. “We were down one run going into the fifth, and they threw like 20 (home runs) on us. And the fences in Salt Lake were long.”
He didn’t recall the final score.
On this night, it didn’t seem to matter.
Photographs and memories
The Aces in the hole at Lucky Joe’s — the bar is elevated from the area containing the pool tables — appeared in surprisingly good shape, given slow-pitch softball’s reputation for being able to play the outfield with a can of beer in one’s pocket.
Many were sipping from glasses of wine instead of slugging down cold ones.
“We’d go out and have a good time,” said shortstop Scott Logan, who still plays tournament softball for a well-financed team from Southern California. “But we weren’t like a lot of teams that hung out in bars all night. We’d go back to the hotel and play spades.”
Added Frank Sidoris, who tried out for the UNLV baseball team when Fred Dallimore was coach: “Sixty-four teams invited from all over the country, and we’d finish in the top 10 every time.”
But a quarter-century later, the trophies and majestic home runs and battling back in the loser’s bracket under a Sunday afternoon sun more relentless than the middle of the Men of Steele’s lineup seem almost insignificant. It is more about the photographs and memories and the stories told among friends, a percentage of which probably are true.
“It was a talented group, and we competed at a high level. The fact we could do that and have fun,” said Aces majestic home run specialist Doug Johnson about playing for these particular boys of summer.
Like the lyric from the melancholy song, it was what made the Las Vegas Aces more special than brown skin shining in the sun, with the top pulled down and the radio on.