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Foss: I'm having a ball later in life

NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- Who would have ever thought I'd turn into a ballplayer in my senior years? A bit ironic, that is, I thought as I beat the snowstorms on my drive from Grand Forks here on Tuesday to spend Christmas with my mother, Maebel, 101 ...

NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- Who would have ever thought I'd turn into a ballplayer in my senior years?

A bit ironic, that is, I thought as I beat the snowstorms on my drive from Grand Forks here on Tuesday to spend Christmas with my mother, Maebel, 101 blessed years and still one sweet and spry Swede.

Coming through Minneapolis, I drove past where old Met Stadium used to stand. Past where the Twins and Vikings used to play ball. Past where I sweated on hot summer days and froze on frigid late fall Sunday afternoons many years ago.

Coming into Northfield, I drove past the snow-covered baseball field and swung in to take a look where the outdoor hockey rink used to stand, back when I was a goalie at St. Olaf College here. An Ole goalie, if you will.

It's all different now. The baseball field has been relocated to the other side of the campus. The outdoor rink is long gone, the college team playing in an indoor rink shared with the city.

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Life moves on, the old replaced with the new.

And that gets me back to being a ballplayer.

For a while, I've been thinking of getting a dog again. Been too long without one, since my beloved cocker spaniel Liberty passed on.

Early this fall, my granddaughter Tess spotted a 6-year-old English cocker spaniel available for a modest price near my Bemidji cabin and alerted me to that.

So, for $50, into my life came this four-legged furry fellow I've named Ole, who just might be the second-best ballplayer I've ever seen, ranking only behind Liberty.

Ole will chase a tennis ball from sunrise to sunset if my ancient arm held out that long, which it doesn't.

So, as snow was falling at about an inch an hour here Wednesday night and the wind was howling, Ole and I were outside, playing ball. I throw the tennis ball, he fetches, time after time.

It's like I've come full circle in life. As a ball playing kid who loved every sport and played it from sunrise to sunset, I've now got a dog who wants the same thing.

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Of course not all ballplayers are alike. Some become superstars, most never make it to the big leagues, and the majority of us got there only in our childhood dreams.

Not all ballplaying dogs are alike, either. Liberty, my previous cocker spaniel, didn't have to see where the ball was thrown. She had an amazing nose that could track every bounce the ball made on its way to its destination, and eventually find it.

Not so with Ole. He's a see-and-chase dog. If he doesn't see where the ball is thrown, he'll get this look on his face that says "huh?" In those cases, I must throw and fetch. Good boy, Virg.

There's one other annoying difference in my two cockers. Liberty would race up and down any set of stairs, no problem.

When I checked into my motel here Wednesday night, I learned something disturbing about Ole -- he doesn't do stairs.

So, I must lug the 34-pound mutt 16 steps up and down from my second-floor motel room to the great white outdoors for potty breaks, car rides and of course, ballplaying, always that.

The Twins, the Vikings and the St. Olaf hockey team all took their games indoors sometime after I left here as a college kid.

Guess I'm a throwback. Thanks to Ole, I'm a kid again, playing catch at all hours of the day.

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Virg Foss, who wrote sports for the Grand Forks Herald for 36 years until his retirement, writes a weekly column for the Herald. Contact him at virgfoss@yahoo.com or at (701) 772-9272.

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