Senior baseball league's Rachford inducted into hall of fame
Fred Rachford knows the drill. After years of glorifying the Chicago White Sox by replaying games with his friends in the sandlot and getting acquainted with organized ball at St. Rita High School, Rachford has proven, through his most recent 18 years competing for the Northern Illinois Men’s Senior Baseball League, that age is just a number.
In 1992 at the age of 61, Rachford became the face of the Johnsburg White Sox (later renamed the Woodstock White Sox). He advocated relentlessly for the team and league, helping the Sox establish Emricson Park’s Dream Field as their home turf.
“By the time you pulled up to the park, Fred was already on the field taking the tarps off the diamond and getting the field ready,” said White Sox manager and league founder, Frank O’Sullivan.
In recognition of the legacy Rachford left behind when he retired from baseball two years ago, the NIMSBL inducted him into its Hall of Fame July 22.
“I think the venue that it happened at — on the field, at the ballpark, in front of players, right before a game — touched base with who Freddie was and what he meant for the team,” noted O’Sullivan.
The ceremony took place with Rachford surrounded by his wife of 60 years, Kady, family, friends, neighbors and teammates. Among those present was Don Blaha, the Rachfords’ best man who was Fred’s teammate at St. Rita.
“We had a terrific team [at St. Rita],” said Blaha. “At that time there was no Catholic baseball league. We beat the Chicago Public School champs two years in a row.
“The sport of baseball brought us together.”
Rachford carried the same sense of team-building when he joined the Johnsburg White Sox nearly 40 years later. With every play, he showed his teammates and opponents, how to persevere despite an aging body. Even in his final games, he turned to creativity to make plays happen.
“Freddie for the most part would play third base, and I would be over at first base,” said O’Sullivan. “In the back of my mind, I would always be somewhat afraid that he would get hurt, so I would always kind of cringe if a guy would hit a screaming liner toward third.”
“But every time something like that would happen, I would marvel at the fact that Freddie would come up with the play,” added O’Sullivan. “He’d knock it down, or he’d catch it, or he’d record the out or throw the guy out.”
Rachford vividly remembers a game when his son, Tim Rachford, was pitching.
“I said, ‘Tim, if the ball comes to me, I’m going to throw it to you,’” said Rachford. “The hit came to me, but it still startled him when he got the ball. He did throw the runner out at first base, though.”
“The lesson learned is age has nothing to do with it,” said Tim. “The trick is to enjoy it, and he did.”
An adventure that really helped Rachford get back into top shape for the White Sox was participating in a fantasy baseball camp in Florida. Such camps give amateurs direct access to advice and training techniques used daily by Major League Baseball players.
“There were some very good ball players there,” said Rachford. “We had a game where they put me in the lineup to bat. They didn’t see much future for a guy who couldn’t out-throw a 4-year-old.”
“The guy threw, and it was a fast throw. I swung late, but I hit the ball down the first base line and got a base hit.”
“Freddie, you’re my hero!” said one young player who darted out of the dugout to congratulate Rachford on the play.
The experience pumped him up and caused many a NIMSBL first-time pitcher to shake his head in disbelief when Rachford not only hit the ball, but connected well enough to get on base.
“He had real game,” said Billy Quoss, who pitched for opposing teams before joining the White Sox in 2011. “I can tell you that in his younger day, he was a pretty good player. He wasn’t too bad at 70 either.”
How did Quoss come to this conclusion? On the field, of course, 12 years ago.
“It was pretty clear when I got up on the mound and he got up to the batter’s box,” recalled Quoss. “I thought, ‘Hmmm. This is an old guy. I’d better be easy on him.’
“Next thing I know, he lines one for a base hit, and then I’m thinking, ‘You know something? This guy can play.’”