66-year-old hits the diamond with 20-somethings

BY TOM CLOS | JULY 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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Duke McGrath played first base for the Iowa baseball team in 1967.

Now, 45 years later, his first-base playing days continue just down the road.

McGrath, 66, now lives out his lifelong passion for baseball in the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Adult Softball League each Thursday during the summer at the Hawkeye Softball Complex in Coralville.

"I guess I still have that passion for the game after all these years," he said. "Every time you get that solid hit, there's something about the sweet spot on a bat. There's no feeling like it."

A baseball standout at Independence High in Independence, Iowa, he played one year for the Hawkeyes before joining the Air Force. There he restarted his career while stationed out west in 1972.

"When I was in the service, I played a little bit of fast pitch," McGrath said. "Then I got out and started playing slow pitch before moving back here from Phoenix in 1978."

McGrath has played local softball recreationally ever since, with people spanning in age from their early 20s to their late-50s.

Not even a 108-degree evening could deter McGrath from trotting out to his home at the "other hot corner," in a game in which he went 1-for-3 and scored a run in McGrath Financial's 11-10 loss to US Off on Thursday.

Fellow player Jason McDonnell said nights such as Thursday reaffirm what a force McGrath can still be on the field.

"We're talking about a man who's 66 years old who can out-athelete an entire team on his own," McDonnell said. "Duke has forgotten more about softball than most of us have ever learned."

It's tough to tell that McGrath is over 40 years older than some of his competitors and teammates. He attributes this to a strict regimen of eating right and simply moving whenever he can.

"I work out three times a week and walk two miles each day I'm not working out," he said. "I just try to keep active."

His experience and knowledge of the game is not lost on his teammates. Teammate Forrest Leveille said that you couldn't find a better person to play first base.

"He's great to play with and knows the game very well," Leveille said. "Duke is out here to have a good time."

His never-ending resolve to carry on his boyhood fantasies well into his 60s serves as an inspiration for many around him who wish have half the bill of health that McGrath has.

"Duke was playing shortstop and third base for us when he was in his mid-50s," McDonnell said. "By the time I'm his age, I hope to still be walking."

McGrath's hunger for playing is so strong that it can't be satisfied merely with a summer softball league, so each winter he participates in the Milwaukee Brewers Fantasy Camp in Phoenix.

"My big claim to fame is that I've gone for 12 years to the camp," McGrath said. "I've won two MVPs, two Gold Gloves, one batting and one pitching award."

The former Iowa athlete sees no light at the end of the tunnel yet on a playing career that has spanned more than four decades and two different centuries. Even at 66, he is confident enough that his body has another few years in it.

"I can go another 10 years as long as we continue to have a great group to come out each week," McGrath said. "Only a career-ending injury could stop me."

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