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By Mike Sandrolini
PROVISO | Bill Redis first began playing organized 16-inch softball in 1980, and he’s still going strong.
The Westchester resident, who’ll soon be turning 57, is looking forward to yet another season of softball which gets under way this month. He divides his time and talents for not one, not two, but three, Chicago area clubs.
On Thursday nights, he suits up for the Gillette Strokers’ 18-and- over Open League team which plays at Hutchinson Field in Grant Park—with the Chicago skyline overlooking the field.
“It’s right on the lake (Michigan),” said Redis, referring to Hutchinson Field. “We have to squeeze in the season before Lollapalooza (which takes place in early August). Afterwards, the fields are trashed.”
The next night, he’s at Janura Park in Berwyn with the Leftovers— a 39-and-over squad that’s an offshoot team of the Gillette Strokers. Then, he’s back in Berwyn on Monday nights, playing for the Old Strokes, a 50-and-over team which also is an offshoot of the Gillette Strokers.
The passion for the game remains for Redis, who’s in his third year as an assistant coach with the Proviso West varsity baseball team and also has been an assistant for the Panthers’ varsity football team.
“I’m fortunate to have fallen in with group of guys that have a similar passion (for the game),” he said. “If the body holds up, I’m going to keep going. I’m probably going to step down from the open league soon. I could probably still do it, but I’m going to give it up to a younger guy.
“With this group of guys, whoever joins (the team), they take them in right away,” he added, referring to the Strokers. “As long as you can play, you’re good to go. They treat you like one of their own and it’s always like that.
“The guys can still play at a high level; they know the game and they’re experienced. It just makes it a lot of fun when you’re still competitive. Guys come from all over the city and a few suburbs. Everybody gets along and you become like brothers. That’s what brings me back, plus playing downtown with the backdrop of the city behind you. That’s another thing that brings guys down (to the city).”
The Gillette Strokers and its offshoot teams were inducted last month into the Chicago 16-inch softball Hall of Fame museum, which opened a new building just off the corner of Des Plaines Avenue and Harrison Street in 2014. The Hall of Fame museum honors hundreds of the game’s players (men and women), managers, umpires, organizers and teams.
The building stands next to Inductee Park, where photos and caricatures of each inductee are located. The Hall of Fame also is just west of the three Park District of Forest Park softball fields that plays host to the annual No Glove Nationals tournament.
The Gillette Strokers won the Grant Park Plaza League championship in 2005 and repeated as champs in 2008. Redis and his teammates attended the 21st annual Hall of Fame banquet and induction ceremony held at Drury Lane on April 1.
“There were 800 guys there (at the induction ceremony),” said Redis, who works as an exhibit craftsman at Brookfield Zoo. “Other teams that went in and other individuals that were inducted. It was quite an experience just to see that much talent and experience under one roof—some real big-time players.”
Redis says he plays all outfield positions, but he’s in right field primarily. 16-inch softball players do not use gloves, and Redis explained that teams need a combination of power of finesse to be successful.
“I tell young kids getting in, ‘You think this might be easy, but it isn’t,’ ” he said. “You have to hit line drives and have to have some decent hands, too. “
In 16-inch softball, having a strong arm in the outfield is a necessity.
“Without question, you better have a strong arm to get the ball back in because guys will take bases on you otherwise,” Redis said.
As far as being out of the house three nights per week during softball season, Redis said it’s all good with his wife.
“I know my wife is in favor of it,” he said. “She thinks it’s cool that it’s been going on since 1980. That’s how long I’ve been playing organized 16-inch.”