by Scott Kindberg
November 3, 2020
Better With Age
Charlie LaDuca will turn 69 later this month.
His love for America’s pastime?
It never gets old.
Nor does his quest for excellence.
Last month, in fact, the Fredonia resident added a couple more entries to his impressive personal resume when he and his Los Angeles Athletics teammates captured two age-group Men’s Senior Baseball League World Series championships in Phoenix, Arizona.
A pitcher/first baseman, LaDuca and his squad claimed titles in the 65-and-older and the 70-and-older age groups, bringing his career total to four.
It’s been quite a journey.
After 25 years playing in the MSBL World Series without a crown, LaDuca has come home with the ultimate prize in 2017 and 2018 (both in the 65-and-older division) and now twice this year.
“The ‘why’ of it is the passionate love of the game, the competition,” he said Monday afternoon. “To be able to compete, even at my age, and to prove that you can still do it, and do it at a high level and contribute (is special).”
Contribute he did.
In the 70-and-over tournament, LaDuca was the starting pitcher in the Athletics’ first game against the Volkers, the defending champions.
“I went 7 1/3 innings and gave up one run,” the left-hander said. “I ran out of gas a little bit, a reliever came in and we won that game, 8-5.”
Although the Athletics didn’t hit particularly well, they started the tournament with three straight wins, lost their next two and then edged the Volkers again, this time, 6-5, for the championship.
“We saved our best pitcher for the championship game. I was in the bullpen in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings,” LaDuca said.
The former Pine Valley Central School baseball coach and member of the Chautauqua Sports, MSBL and Cardinal O’Hara High School halls of fame wasn’t called on in relief in the title game, but his talents were needed again in the 65-and-older tournament.
“We were loaded with pitching,” he said. “We had five really strong pitchers.”
That served the Athletics well as they posted a 4-1 record en route to the championship. For his part, LaDuca was the starter in the third game against a team from Chicago.
“I pitched into the seventh inning and left the game with a two-run lead,” he said. “Ultimately, the bullpen didn’t hold it and I ended up with a no-decision. We took a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth, but they scored twice and we lost.”
But the Athletics weren’t about to be denied.
In the championship game, they met the Sacramento Tribe — a team they’d beaten, 2-0, in their tournament opener — and went on to win, 9-3, although LaDuca’s services weren’t needed in that game.
Offensively, LaDuca, who played a few innings at first base, had two hits in five plate appearances.
“It was a very elite team,” he said. “Everybody had a job and that was it.”
LaDuca’s association with the Athletics dates to May 2017 when manager Bob Sherwin contacted him about joining the team. Five months later, LaDuca took the mound in Game 1 of pool play in the 65-and-older tournament, which the Athletics eventually won.
Three years and four championships later, LaDuca is still pursuing his love of the game, even though the global pandemic has presented its share of challenges in 2020. Currently in quarantine at home following his trip to Arizona, LaDuca is awaiting a COVID-19 test.
“Once I test negative, then I have to quarantine three to five days, just to be sure,” he said. “It’s a sad time. There’s nothing to do right now, other than just hang out and try and stay in shape.”
But he still has the memories, the championship ring and a good dose of perspective as he awaits the time he can get to the gym again.
“I could throw one pitch, tweak something in my arm and that could be it,” he said. “In this group, everybody is so appreciative being out there.”
Holding a rather large piece of hardware after the last out was recorded last month was a nice little bonus, too.