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Commentary -- 80 years young and Pete's still in there pitchin'

By Steve Lang

"Baseball is all about the fun you have and the friends you meet."

- Allen "Shorty" Toop (1934-2005)

On the eve of his 80th birthday on Aug. 11, Wayne "Pete" Bright said he has hung up his glove and now just watches baseball.

On the eve of his 70th birthday - 10 years past the mark I am steadily approaching - he was still pitching, in an old-timers league. He "retired" at 58 from the Cyrus town team in a career that spanned 44 years. After a brief hiatus, he pitched 15 more seasons at the senior level, finally quitting at 75.

To put Pete's lengthy amateur baseball career in perspective, he was drafted to pitch for the Glenwood Falcons state tournament team I played on in 1978 - the same year he was inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. Then, merely 49 years young, he continued to pitch for another 26 years.

Three years before I was born, Pete pitched a perfect game for Cyrus against Alberta High School, striking out all 21 batters he faced. This mark still stands in the state high school record book. Twenty-one years later, he watched from the stands as his older son Don tossed a one-hitter for Cyrus High against my Elbow Lake team to win the District 21 baseball championship.

Over the years, he participated in more state amateur baseball tournaments - either for his own team or as a draftee - than the number of seasons the average town team ball player competed. Thirteen in all.

About 1986, he was featured in a Minneapolis Tribune story on state amateur baseball, still throwing high, hard ones at 56 or so.

Pete had a simple mound philosophy: look at the batter's knees, determine the weaknesses, fastball-'em high and tight, curve-'em low and away.

Although I used the same formula, my under-the-radar-gun fastball got in the way of too many bats. My career certainly pales to transparency in comparison. While Pete relied on speed, cunning and good control, on good days I survived with at-'em balls and a fast outfield. On bad days, I survived until the third inning.

Aside from Cyrus, Pete pitched twice a week for Morris in the old Corn Belt League and spent a couple of seasons with Kensington. He kept no records of actual victories, but 300-400 seems a good starting point.

Spring training for Pete meant heading into the Cyrus High School gym at night, setting up a carpet backstop, attaching a box and zipping knee-high fastballs into it.

"We were ready when the season started," he said.

Like Satchel Paige, Pete avoided arm trouble with the exception of an occasionally tender elbow.

"My shoulder is bad these days, though," he admitted, and if one would multiply more than 1,000 games pitched times 100 pitches per game, that's understandable.

But, Pete, thy middle name was and is Durability. Thirty-one years ago about this time, I wrote a column for The Morris Sun Tribune about a 14-inning duel between Pete and my Glenwood teammate John Gloege, who at 22, was younger than either of Pete's sons.

At least twice during the marathon, Doug Anderson, our team manager, strolled out to the mound to inquire about John's stamina.

"I'm not quitting before that old man does," John said, and like "that old man," hurled all 14 innings.

Pete was only 90 feet away from extending the contest. He reached base with one out in the bottom of the 14th, stole second and moved up on another out before Gloege retired the side, with Pete charging a third of the way down the line with each pitch.

In ending our phone conversation, I said, "you don't sound 80."

"I don't feel 80," he said.

"I'll bet you're still walking every day," I said.

"I'm still farming," he laughed.

He noted that son Don, who is my age, has retired from teaching, and son Richard, two years younger, plans to retire after 30 years working for the City of Morris.

I told Pete I could afford to retire tomorrow - if I didn't live past next Wednesday.

Forty-three years after I was told as a cub reporter that journalism was a labor of love, the statement's reality has sunk in.

Steve Lang, who was editor of the Sun Tribune from 1974 to 1979, wishes his friend Pete Bright a great birthday with many happy reruns. Steve now lives in Alpine, Texas, and is director of News and Publications for Sul Ross State University.