A 56-Year-Old Playing Competitive Baseball

By Jason Nark, The Philadelphia Inquirer | April 19th, 2023

Back to school, and the baseball diamond

A 56-Year-Old Playing Competitive Baseball: Jim Fullan, 56, who is a member of the Montgomery County Community College baseball team, takes a practice swing during their game in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, on March 5, 2023. (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

Changing out of a U.S. Postal Service uniform to don a baseball uniform, this 56-year-old playing competitive baseball still has dreams.

BLUE BELL, Pa. — When the ballplayers first saw Jim Fullan swinging a bat last year, they figured he was just someone’s dad, hanging around practice.

Fullan, 56, is a dad. He has nine grandkids too.

On a rainy, windswept afternoon, last month, the Montgomery County Community College Mustangs were practicing inside, fielding grounders in the gymnasium and taking pitches in the batting cage before a busy week of games. The pitching machine was set to 85 mph and no one dialed it down when Fullan stepped in. He uses a shorter bat, to get around on Gen Z fastballs. He’s got a longer glove too, because he can’t jump as high. Any trick in the book to keep the dream alive, he said, including yearly medical checkups.

“I’m gonna have to miss on Friday,” he told his coach afterward. “I have an appointment with my cardiologist.”

Recently retired from the U.S. Postal Service and rounding third on middle age, Fullan, by most standards, could have eased into a life of beer-league softball or weekend fantasy camps. Sipping cocktails on a beach somewhere would have worked for most people too. Fullan was itching to play fast-pitch hardball, though, and yearned to represent a school. Montgomery County Community College gave him a shot. He moved from the Poconos to Ambler to enroll for the fall semester. He takes a full course load of college classes and swallows a lot more aspirin.

“You know, the more I talked about this, the more people laughed at me,” Fullan said. “That made me want to do it more. It seemed like a joke at first, but I will see it through.”

Robert Grady, a longtime friend and former co-worker in the postal service, told Fullan to skip baseball and just become a motivational speaker or coach.

“I love the guy. He’s an inspiration. But he’s crazy. I told him that,” said Grady, “I don’t think Jim knows his physical limitations.”

Fullan, who is divorced, said his arm went south after 40. The bases seem miles apart these days and he can’t sprint 100% unless a game’s on the line.

“I’m sore every day,” he said, “but I’m in decent shape and I can still hit.”

Baseball began with Little League in Long Island but after he moved to Pennsylvania, Fullan was cut from his team at Bishop Egan High School in Fairless Hills in the 1980s. He joined the U.S. Army after high school, then spent 36 years working for the Postal Service. He was 39 when he last played in a hardball league with his oldest son. Fullan admits he’s no Roy Hobbs. He’ll spend more time on the bench than in the batter’s box this season and probably next year, too.

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Fullan’s father, Art, 88, thinks his son was a late bloomer in baseball, better at 56, maybe, than 16.

“I guess I had two feelings when I first heard about it,” he said. “I was surprised at first, but after a short period of time, I thought ‘this sounds like Jim.’ It’s a very ‘Jim’ thing to do.”

Most junior colleges in Pennsylvania dismissed Fullan’s dream, gently. Some didn’t respond. Montgomery County coach Mike Fitzgerald, just five years older than Fullan, laid it out plainly.

“If you’re good enough, you can play,” Fitzgerald told him.

Jim Fullan, 56, who is a member of the Montgomery County Community College baseball team, takes a practice swing during their game in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, on March 5, 2023. (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)
Jim Fullan, 56, is a member of the Montgomery County College baseball team. Fullan watches during their game in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, on March 5, 2023. (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

Fitzgerald sized Fullan up quickly. He wasn’t as spry as the younger players, of course. He leaned on his front foot too much when batting but would also “catch anything hit to him.”

“And if I have a runner on third to tie the game and I have batter on deck that struck out three times, I feel confident I can put Jim in to hit,” Fitzgerald said. “I know he’s going to make contact.”

Fitzgerald played and coached at Boyertown High School, along with the local American Legion team. He knows enough about young men to know Fullan brings more to the team than a possible RBI.

“I mean, he’s a mature presence, obviously,” he said. “When these kids see how hard he’s working, that he’s doing everything they’re doing at his age, I hope it motivates them.”

Most of Fullan’s teammates have long hair curling out from their ballcaps. Fullan sports a graying buzzcut. The players don’t really overthink it.

“We’re all ballplayers and so is Jim,” said Connor English, one of the team’s power hitters. “He’s always happy. He loves to be here, ’cause he loves baseball.”

A few days later, on the first Sunday in March, Fullan was in his crisp, white uniform before Montgomery County’s game against Central Penn College out of the Harrisburg area. He helped groom the field, chalking out the batter’s box before the first pitch. Montgomery County outscored opponents, 31-6, in its first two games.

“We’ve got a pretty good team,” he said. “So I’m pretty low on the depth chart.”

Central Penn families sat in the grass along the first base side. Most figured Fullan was a coach.

“For real? 56?” one woman said.

Bob Stern, Central Penn’s skipper, already knew about Fullan.

“I do my scouting,” Stern said as he filled out his lineup. “He used to work for the post office. I think it’s great he’s out there. God bless him.”

Central Penn got on base early, threatening to score, but Montgomery County settled down, building up a 4-0 lead by the bottom of the fourth. That’s when Fullan got up and started stretching out.

“I’m just cold,” he said.

In the bottom of sixth, the score still 4-0, Fitzgerald motioned to the home plate umpire.
“38 for 30,” he said, announcing a pinch hitter.

Fullan tightened his gloves and walked to home plate. The Montgomery County bench came alive with terms of endearment about his advanced age.

“Let’s go, pop.”

“Let’s go, Jimmy.”

“Come on now, unc.”

Fullan swung on a 3-1 count and connected. The ball buzzed down the line, past the third baseman, into the outfield. It might have been a double if Fullan’s hamstrings could handle it. His teammates erupted, for a second, until the ump called it foul.

Fullan fouled again, then struck out. Still, he was happy to be playing college baseball on a blustery Sunday in March.

“Damn, I thought that was in” he said. “That was awesome.”

©2023 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

A 56-year-old playing competitive baseball is one of many second acts that adults can choose from.
Read “Tips for Finding the Courage to Start Again,” a four-part series by Rev. Brenda Walker.

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