At age 80, crafty softball pitcher often outfoxes younger players

At age 80, Arthur M. Day continues to stymie Church softball foes with his steeply arched pitches and hard-hit line drives.

And he seems to be getting better with age.

This year, the great-grandfather pitched his Provo 6th Ward team to a 5-1 regular season record and top finish in the Provo Utah South Stake tournament. The sole loss came at the hands of Day's teammates and fellow ward members from a year ago, before boundaries were altered to land him in his present ward."I told my friends in his previous wardT that I trained them too well," Day said, laughing. "I had pitched thousands of pitches in batting practice, and they knew my pitches. But in the stake tournament, we played them for the title and beat them, 13-9."

He is quick to credit his teammates for the success, but it is obvious listening to him that he loves softball and the excitement of competition. And he knows the game inside and out.

"Baseball was my first love, but I enjoy softball a lot," he declared. "The sport has changed a lot. The last few years, everything has gone to slow pitch, where it used to be fast pitch. Slow pitch is more fun, really, because there's more action. Most everyone hits, and it puts the burden on the defense.

"To succeed, you have to be willing to practice and work at it. You can't just go out and play. You've got to really concentrate and put yourself into it with all you've got if you're going to be a good softball player."

The 80-year-old pitcher, who throws right-handed but bats left, feels his age and experience help compensate for any decline in physical skills.

"I can't run as fast as I used to, so I can't compete in the field," he admitted. "But as a pitcher, I can compete because I don't have to run long distances. When pitching, accuracy is everything. I try to get the ball 12 feet high and let it die, so it's coming down when it crosses the plate. Batters tend to pop up or hit rollers. If they get to hitting line drives on you, that's when it's bad. I just try and mix it up. You've got to use your head when you get as old as I am. You can't move as fast, so you've got to be like an old fox."

Another of his tricks is to drop the ball 2 feet in front of the plate, enticing batters to lunge at it without hitting solidly. His techniques work - in one game this year he struck out five batters.

When the tables are turned and the octogenarian is at the plate, he continues to try and outthink his opponents.

"I like to hit line drives just over the first baseman's head and out of reach of the right fielder," Day said. "When the outfielders pinch over into right field, I try to swing slow and hit one over the shortstop's head. You've got to try and outwit them some way."

He approaches other activities with the same zeal he demonstrates for softball.

"I've always subscribed to the theory that people rust out before they wear out," explained Day, who directs his ward's Family-to-Family Book of Mormon Program, teaches the temple preparation course and, with his wife, Ida, spends two days a week as an ordinance worker at the Provo Temple. "I believe in keeping active in a variety of things."

He played clarinet and saxophone in dance bands for 30 years and sang with numerous groups. He still plays harmonica solos, accompanied by his wife on the piano.

Being physically, culturally and spiritually active is something he grew up with.

He was born in tiny Fairview, Utah, the 13th of 13 children. He started milking cows and helping with other chores at the age of 8.

"When I was just a kid, my older brother, George, got interested in physical education," he recalled. "George took a magazine called `Physical Culture,' which got us into living and eating right. It recommended a person eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole wheat bread, not much meat and few cakes, pastries, pies and puddings. Most of our desserts when I was a youngster were an apple, orange or grapefruit. I've tried to live that way ever since. I don't eat much red meat - mostly chicken, turkey and various kinds of fish."

As he and his brother adopted their pursuit of fitness, they got up at 5 a.m. and did all kinds of exercises - "from the tips of the toes to the top of the head, even one for the scalp," according to Day.

After 20 minutes of exercise, the brothers wrestled or boxed for another 10 minutes, drank two glasses of warm water and went out and did the chores.

Their regime was in conformity with the principles espoused in "Physical Culture."

Day started playing baseball at age 17 and has been playing ever since. He started out as center fielder on a city team in Fairview, Utah, played in the Sanpete-Sevier League in central Utah and adopted softball when the game became popular after World War II. Although he spent many long hours farming during his growing-up and adult years, he stayed involved in Church softball.

A serious arm injury at age 60 could have ended his still-blossoming pitching career. He tore many of the ligaments, and a surgeon told him he would be lucky to regain 60 percent use of the arm.

"Before the operation, I had two of the priesthood brethren come and give me a special blessing," he said. "I told them, `You know how I love to play ball, and that I need this arm in my work.' They gave me a special blessing. When the cast came off after nine weeks, the doctor started working with it. Within a few months it was just as good as the other one. I give the credit to the blessing I received through the power of the priesthood."

Through the years, Sister Day has watched her husband compete, but has preferred to sharpen her own skills in music and art instead of on the playing field. For many years she served as ward organist and continues to play the organ at the temple.

"I'm not the athletic type," she said. "Arthur has loved ball games all of his life. I think it's something that has kept him young all these years."

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