Clarence “Khaki,” left, and Bob Markel talk strategy prior to last Tuesday’s Cooper-Varney Ecumenical Church League softball game in Delmar.
Age is nothing but a number to Clarence Markel.
The 83-year-old man plays softball year round between his regular home in Florida and his summer home in his native Capital District. And he plays it well.
Pitching for the Delmar Fire Department team in the Cooper-Varney Ecumenical Church League, the man friends call “Khaki” is more effective than pitchers less than half his age. Two weeks ago, he needed 59 pitches over seven innings to post a 6-1 playoff victory against Delmar Reformed Church.
“I still have the good pitches,” said Khaki. “I don’t have the fast ball anymore, but I still have the curve ball, the sinker, the slider, the riser and the change-up.”
“They look at my father, and they don’t think he’s in his 80s,” said Khaki’s son and catcher, Bob Markel. “They see him and think he’s going to pitch slow, but they’re not ready for what he can throw.”
Khaki has been playing softball for more than four decades. He got his start playing shortstop for the 1019 VFW post team in the 1960s, but it wasn’t long before he tried pitching.
“There was a guy on the team by the name of Joe Shubert, who thought I’d make a good pitcher,” said Khaki. “I copied my pitching style from another guy on the team by the name of Hank Kohler, and he threw a straight riser. But my riser had a natural curve to it.”
As Khaki developed his pitching style, he added pitches to his repertoire. One of his pitches, the slider, he discovered by mistake on a hot day.
“My hands were sweaty, and at one point the ball slid off my fingers and dipped down and away,” said Khaki. “My catcher at the time asked if I had ever tried that pitch before, and I said no. So he said, ‘You should keep doing it.’”
Khaki continued to torment local softball players with his arsenal of pitches until he retired and moved to Florida. When he joined a 70-and-older league, he went back to playing shortstop and considered his days as a pitcher to be over.
That was until three years ago when Bob convinced Khaki to pitch for the Delmar Fire Department team while Khaki was visiting for the summer.
“He was coming up here to watch the games, so we got him into the game a little bit,” said Bob. “At first we had him pitch an inning or two, but now he’s gotten into a nice groove and he’s doing well.”
The added appeal of playing softball with his son for the first time was all the convincing Khaki needed to join the team.
“I never would have pitched again if not for [Bob],” said Khaki. “It’s a special thing for me to pitch to my son.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” added Bob, who is a detective with the Bethlehem Police Department. “I never really got the chance to play with him until now because of work. It’s given me an opportunity to have some fun and play with him.”
Bob said the two will continue to play together until Khaki can’t step on a softball field any more.
“I plan to continue playing in this league, and I know he’ll continue to play as long as he can,” said Bob.
“I’ve always been competitive, and I always try to strike batters out,” said Khaki. “I always want to win.”