LAS VEGAS - Myron Fluegge has been playing slowpitch softball for 46 years, and at 67 he isn't slowing down.
After a summer in which he played for a total of four different teams, Fluegge capped off his season by helping the Minnesota Lumberjacks 65-and-over team earn a second-place finish in the AA division at the World Masters Championships, a combined tournament between Senior Softball USA and the Las Vegas Senior Softball Association at Shadow Rock Park Softball Complex in Las Vegas.
It was the largest national senior softball tournament ever held, with a total of 446 teams playing at 10 different sites over three different sessions from Sept. 29 to Oct. 7.
Myron Fluegge (front row, third from right) and his teammates pose with their medals after placing second in the 65 AA division of the LVSSA/SSUSA World Masters Championships, held Oct. 1-4 in Las Vegas.
Although Fluegge played for three local softball teams this year - he played for Fischer Accounting in the 35-and-over New Ulm league, for River Valley Lawn Care in Courtland and filled in for a Monday evening men's industrial league team in New Ulm - he also found time to play for the Lumberjacks as their only player from New Ulm.
"I'm the only senior softball player from the New Ulm area," Fluegge said. "My teammates are basically from the Twin Cities and Bemidji. Since our manager and about four other players are from Bemidji, thus we get the name, 'Minnesota Lumberjacks.'"
Since the Lumberjacks' players live so far apart, they usually only get together to play in tournaments. After mixed results in nine previous tournaments in 2012 - many of which were played against opponents from higher classes (senior softball teams are classed either as AA, AAA, major or major-plus) - the team headed to Las Vegas in early October for its annual national tournament, which in past years was staged solely by Senior Softball USA.
"Our two previous years we had played in Phoenix, and we kind of ended in the middle both years... Of the six national tournaments I've gone to, this was my best finish," Fluegge said.
The Lumberjacks began their campaign with four pool-play games over the course of Oct. 1-2, earning a 3-1 record that was good enough to give them the No. 2 seed for the knock-out stage of the tournament.
With the No. 2 seed, the Lumberjacks earned a first-round bye, after which they defeated Team Idaho 17-13 in their only game on Oct. 3 to advance to the quarterfinals.
However, the Lumberjacks' busy slate of five games on Oct. 4 began with a 24-8 loss against the Syracuse Cyclones (N.Y.), sending them into the elimination bracket, where they won their first elimination bracket game 21-17 against Physiomotions (Calif.) - the team that had knocked them out of the tournament the year before.
Their next game against L. Hills Coyote Blues (Calif.) turned out to be a game for the ages.
L. Hills Coyote Blues had handed the Lumberjacks their only loss in pool play, and with the Lumberjacks trailing 25-5 going into the bottom of the sixth, it appeared that the two teams were in for the same result once again.
The tournament games were played with no set innings limit, with the teams playing as many innings as they could in 65 minutes. Each inning had a five-run scoring limit, but the final inning was designated as an "open inning," with un-capped scoring.
After scoring five runs in the bottom of the sixth, the Lumberjacks put their open inning to good use in the seventh.
"What the managers can do, if a team is behind by 10 or more, they can do a flip-flop rule, which simply means that home team then would bat first," Fluegge said. "Both managers agreed to do that, so what happened in the top of the 7th is we scored 16 runs to take a 26-25 lead. They only got one in the bottom of the seventh, so it's tied 26-26."
With the international tiebreaker system in place in the eighth (each team starts with a runner on second), the two teams scored four runs apiece to send the game into another extra inning. The Lumberjacks scored seven runs in the ninth and held L. Hills Coyote Blues to one run, capping a dramatic 37-31 come-from-behind victory.
"That was the highlight of our tournament," Fluegge said. "If we had lost that particular game, we would have ended in fourth... I don't think any player on our team has been involved in a comeback like that, it was pretty exciting."
A 21-15 victory against Git-R-Done (Calif.) in their next contest sent the Lumberjacks into the championship game, where they were given a chance to redeem themselves against the Cyclones. The Lumberjacks rallied from an early 15-6 deficit, but ended up losing the game 17-14 to finish in second place.
As the Lumberjacks' main pitcher, Fluegge earned a 6-2 record in the tournament. He was also an impressive 11-for-15 at the plate on the final day.
Fluegge has now been playing with the Lumberjacks for four seasons (three seasons with the 65-and-over team). After returning to New Ulm following 40 years teaching at Lutheran elementary schools in Wisconsin, Fluegge was interested in finding a way to continue his senior softball career, which had already been 14 years in the making at that point.
After making contact with Steve Simmons, a director for Senior Softball USA in Minnesota (who tragically passed away in a boating accident this past August), Fluegge learned of senior softball dome tournaments that are played during the winter in Minnesota.
"When I was playing senior softball in Wisconsin, I just learned to love the sport," Fluegge said. "I knew in 2007 when I was going to retire that we were moving back to Minnesota, so even before I moved back, I kind of started inquiring and found out about those dome tournaments."
While he was at one of the dome tournaments, teams noticed that Fluegge still knew how to play. He was recruited to play for the Minnesota Classics, whom he played with for one year before latching on with the Lumberjacks.
In addition to his current softball commitments as a player, Fluegge feeds his love for sports by officiating local high school sports and amateur baseball games.
"Right now I'm retired from teaching after 40 years, but I officiate five different high school sports and do some amateur baseball, and so on," Fluegge said. "In the fall, soccer's my big sport, and I do just a little volleyball. Then I do basketball, and in the spring baseball and softball. Sports has always been a big part of my life, it's fun."
Fluegge grew up in rural New Ulm and attended Dr. Martin Luther High School (which has since relocated from New Ulm and been replaced with Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School). He then attended Dr. Martin Luther College before commencing his teaching career in Wisconsin.
He played amateur baseball in addition to softball for many years, but at the age of 38 he had to give up baseball.
However, he has never lost his passion for softball.
When talking to Fluegge, you can understand why he owns a t-shirt (dedicated to the memory of Simmons) that reads, "Softball is a game - senior softball is a passion."