Sacramento Solons Teammate Story

Playing the Game the Right Way Motivates These Pioneer Solons

By GLENN MILLER
Roy Hobbs Baseball
RHWS 26

Lanny Ropke

photo courtesy of Lanny Ropke Lanny Ropke from 1989 Roy Hobbs
World Series.

Their professions took them into the cockpits of 777s, California farm fields and high school classrooms.

They’ve crunched numbers and piloted airliners and coached youngsters.

Lanny Ropke, Lee Jackson and Don Frantz have done extraordinary things in their working lives. They’ve also come together on baseball diamonds to do other extraordinary things and in the process created an enduring friendship based on something one won’t find on resumes.

They each learned the other two love and respect the game. On a baseball field it doesn’t matter what you did off the field. All that counts is playing the game the right way.

Ropke thinks Jackson and Frantz play the game the right way.

Jackson thinks Ropke and Frantz plays the game the right way.

Frantz thinks Ropke and Jackson play the game the right way.

The result is a decades-long friendship for these men on the Sacramento Solons. (A Solon, by the way, is, according to Wikipedia, an Athenian statesman, lawmaker and poet.)

They may not write verse but these friends have carved out something special on baseball fields for nearly 30 years. Maybe these Solons are the Three Wise Men of Roy Hobbs.

The very name of Roy Hobbs Baseball is linked to these teammates. Frantz was part of a group of 5 players who met once a week in the 1980s for lunch in Woodland to plan an adult league. They were stumped at first for a name. Names such as Antiques, Old-Timers and Senior Men were considered.

Lee Jackson

photo courtesy of Lanny Ropke Lee Jackson from 1989 Roy Hobbs
World Series.

“As I listened and we discussed, I thought, ‘what interesting name could capture the vision of who we were and what we were trying to accomplish as a league?’ Suddenly I blurted out, ‘What about Roy Hobbs Baseball?’”

It fit. Guys getting a second chance at baseball late in life just like the fictional Roy Hobbs.

“Guys, that’s us,” Frantz said he told the group.

The name has endured and so have these teammates.

Ropke, 68, had to retire from flying because of mandatory age restrictions. There are no age restrictions in Roy Hobbs.

These three started playing adult baseball together in 1987. By Ropke’s reckoning, their original league in Woodland, California had 90 players. Only 3 remain – Ropke, Jackson and Frantz.

They retain some of that joy they felt 28 years ago to be back playing hardball.

“We were just elated to be playing the real game of baseball and not softball,” Ropke said.

They returned with real skills. Jackson pitched at the University of California-Davis, where his name is still sprinkled through the record books after more than 40 years. He led the team in innings pitched in 1969 (79.1) and 1971 (99) and still ranks seventh all-time in innings pitched with 290.2 and his 22 complete games are the second-most in school history.

Don Frantz

photo courtesy of Lanny Ropke Don Frantz competed in the first Roy Hobbs World Series, 1989.

“Lee and Don, back in the early days of our league, were two of the best if not the top 2 pitchers in the league for several years,” Ropke said. “Don holds the distinction of being the only pitcher to have 2 no-hitters in our 28-year history. … As we aged, of course, we lost some of that greatness and ability, but these guys were still the best in the new older age brackets as they moved up.

“That is one thing that is so cool about men’s amateur baseball, the age divisions that gave us new life, so to speak. Now if being the top pitchers were not enough, both guys always ranked in the Top 10 hitters. Both crush the ball. Still do today!”

In the early years of their hometown league they were rivals more often than teammates.

“We gained mutual respect as teammates,” Jackson said.

Their talent often found them as all-star teammates. And now these Solons have more time for baseball. There are advantages to retirement for Ropke. During his career he traveled 15-to-18 days a month.

“Retirement allows me to play on 5 different teams during the year,” Ropke said.

And to continue playing with his teammates Lee Jackson and Don Frantz.

DON FRANTZ

Age: 68
Hometown: Woodland, Calif.
Occupation: Former corporate financial manager, high school teacher and coach.
2014 World Series team: Sacramento Solons
Positions: Pitcher, first base, outfield
Favorite Baseball Memory: “Lanny Ropke was batting and I was on third. The coach signaled suicide squeeze. I think I broke for home a little too soon, tipping the right-handed pitcher off to the suicide play. He fired a fastball at Lanny’s head, Lanny coolly defended himself with his bat, laying down a perfect 15-foot bunt. By time the pitcher fielded the ball, I had crossed home plate and was headed to the dugout.”
Quote: “Lee Jackson is the strong, silent type, and Lanny Ropke is the strong vocal type. I think I’m somewhere in the middle.”

LANNY ROPKE

Age: 69
Hometown: Woodland, Calif, for six months and Phoenix for six months.
Occupation: Retired airline captain
2014 World Series team: Sacramento Solons
Positions: Third base and first base
Favorite Baseball Memory: “Playing on the team with my sons, Chad and Skye.”
Quote: “Both (Don and Lee) love baseball just like me and appreciate the camaraderie that goes along with playing. Both are competitors yet mellow, respectful of opponents, and don’t take themselves too seriously. True gentlemen.”

LEE JACKSON

Age: 65
Hometown: El Macero, Calif.
Occupation: Retired faculty member of plant sciences department at the University of California, Davis.
2014 World Series Team: Sacramento Solons
Positions: Pitcher, first base, outfield
Favorite Baseball Memory: The 1988 World Series victory by “no-name” Woodland-Davis 40-plus team in the first World Series tournament in Phoenix.
Quote: “Decades long friendship (with Lanny and Don) based on mutual respect and common interests in playing baseball the way it should be played – both as rivals in league play and as teammates in end-of-season tournaments.”

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