Fredricks keeps on hitting

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Tom Miller
Thursday, July 27, 2017

Matt Fredericks was sitting in his pool late Tuesday night.


The plastic pool that is filled with ice.


“Once you get past the first five minutes, it's OK,” Fredricks said, without a trace of chattering teeth.


That ice tub has gotten a good workout this summer.


Fredricks has been playing baseball twice a week with the Milton Raptors, hitting 421 with 14 hits. He's a regular at Koshkonong Mounds Golf Course, where he shoots in the high 70s. And before he slid down into the plastic pool of ice, he had refereed games at an Edgerton basketball sweat league with his former baseball teammate and now longtime referee partner Tom Imhoff.


It should be noted here that Fredricks is 56. In 2013, he had hip-replacement surgery.


That surgery forced him to curtail his baseball activities.


Doug Welch, the longtime manager of the Raptors, had grown use to Fredricks serving more of a coach than player the past few seasons.


After--as Welch jokes--Fredricks “bowed to the younger guys” when the bench was filled with players, this year there was a shortage of available bodies. When there was one game that the Raptors were in need of a player to avoid a forfeit, Welch turned to his Mr. Reliable.


Fredricks might be 56 with an artificial hip, but he seems to be forever-20 on the green grass of a baseball field. Fredricks went out, played first base and delivered a hit.


And that scene has been repeated over and over for the Raptors, who are 9-3 in the RRL.


“With our numbers, he was kind of pressed into duty, and, my god, if he isn't second on the team in hits,” says Welch.


Not only is he older than all of his Raptor teammates—he's older than their fathers. But now some of the younger guys sit while Fredricks plays.


When you're hitting .412, there is no generation gap.


And no one on the Raptors has as much fun hitting the diamond on Thursday nights or Saturday or Sunday afternoons.


Fredricks also still plays in the city basketball leagues. Imhoff and Fredricks work 25 to 30 high school varsity basketball games during the winter.


He and his wife, Chris, have two sons, Brett, 26, and Aaron, 25.


One of his biggest thrills on the baseball field came when he was playing second base with the Raptors and Zach Bayreuther was at shortstop and his son, Brett, was pitching.


There was a runner on first and a grounder went to Bayreuther. He flipped it to Fredricks, whose throw to first completed the double play.


“I'd been coaching those guys since they were little kids,” Fredricks said. “And now I'm playing with them. It was kind of fun.”


The 1981 Janesville Craig High graduate patrolled shortstop in his younger years. He played on the Janesville Aces squads that featured Tom Klawitter, Bill McQueen, Imhoff, Dan Davis and Jim Coulter when the Aces were in the Wisconsin State Baseball League until the early 2000s.


He then joined Welch in a Madison senior league. In his early 40s, he was too much for his over-30 league counterparts.


“He was just an animal up there,” Welch said. “He was the quickest guy on the diamonds. It was aluminum bat, and he would hit home runs and stuff.”


When their team got too good for the league, Welch and several others it to Milton and joined the Rock River League.


And after a few years of mainly coaching and getting 20 at-bats or so a season, Fredricks has shown the kids that the “old guy” still has it.


He plays mainly first base, but has played a few times at second, but the artificial hip has reduced his range.


“He's still a great glove man,” Welch said. “His hands are so good. He never hurts us.”


Against first-place Clyman on Saturday night, the Raptors faced Brock Vredeveld, a standout pitcher at Lakeside Lutheran High, who is going into his senior season on the Wisconsin Lutheran College baseball team. Fredricks went 2-for-4 and started a winning four-run rally with a single.


Klawitter, who is pitching coach at UW-Whitewater, still pitches some for the Raptors in the Thursday Night League and in a Chicago area senior league. In a recent game against Jefferson in the Thursday night league, Klawitter went from the mound to first base and Fredricks moved to second.


“I said, 'you know Klaw, we have 114 years here on the right side of the infield,” Fredricks said.


Fredricks' arm is almost as durable as Klawitter's. Fredricks pitches batting practice for the Raptors.


“The hands and the eyes are still real good,” Fredricks said. “The legs not so much.”


That has forced Fredricks to enforce a baserunning rule to the rest of team, especially since he has reached base so many times this season.


“I tell them, 'There's no passing the old guy.'”


That “old guy” plans on playing as long as his eyes and hands remain keen.


And as long as that 6-foot pool keeps the ice cold.

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