WAILUKU - At 92 years old, his handshake is as firm as his grip on the ball. But after 32 years of playing softball for the Maui Raiders team in the Maui Seniors Softball League, Joseph "Joe" Kaawa Range has retired.
"We're sorry he has to stop playing," said coach Elroy Stupplebeen. "At this age, everyone comes in, but every once in a while he would conk one over their heads. He's still got that pop in his bat."
Range is hard of hearing, and loud attempts to ask him questions Sunday morning were greeted only by a broad smile.
Joe Range holds a honorary softball and plaque Sunday given to him by Stephen Cramer, commissioner of the Maui Seniors Softball League. Mayor Alan Arakawa proclaimed the day as “Joe Range Day” in honor of his 32 years as a softball player and commitment to the sport.
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
Mayor Alan Arakawa had proclaimed Feb. 10 as "Joe Range Day" at the Little League Fields in the War Memorial Complex, and Arakawa's executive assistant, Bill Medeiros, was on hand to honor Range in front of about 200 softball players and fans.
"Everybody knows him because he's the last of the last," said Stupplebeen, who joined the league 12 years ago. "He was always lean and mean, and not an ounce of fat on him. . . . If it wasn't for his license, he'd probably be playing today."
Range recently lost his driver's license, and he also has decided to spend more time at church and with his family, including Williet, his wife of more than 60 years.
Shortly after the Maui softball league was formed in the 1980s, Range started playing. He had played baseball in the U.S. Army and for the Catholic Youth Organization League in Keanae - as a catcher and in other positions - but at the age of 60 he moved to softball.
The league had only three teams at the time - now there are 12 - and commissioner Stephen Cramer said Range had been playing since.
"He always reminded me of the rules, like, 'Hey boy, that's not the rules, this is the rules.'" said Cramer, who has been commissioner of the Maui league for 20 years but arrived long after Range had established himself as a veteran member. "So in the first couple of years in running the league, he was instrumental (in helping) me establishing the league to be what it is today."
The World War II veteran and Silver Star recipient has lived on Maui his entire life and would drive to games from his ranch in Kailua. Range was an avid pig hunter and accomplished spear fisherman, and he still raises cattle.
"Mr. Range would drive out of Kailua, Hana, all the way here every Sunday morning to play," he said. "That's a long drive. I would say if we have 54 bridges to Hana town, he probably crossed 50 of them on his way to the stadium."
Teams in Honolulu would regularly recruit him to play in softball tournaments across the nation, and nearly every year, he would play in Las Vegas to represent Hawaii's senior softball players, said Stupplebeen. He played for teams 70 or older, 75 or older, 80 or older, and 85 or older.
"Over the years everything slows down, of course, but he can still run, he can catch the ball, he can hit," he said. "He's a good player."
Aside from Range's abilities and consistency, Stupplebeen and Cramer said they will always remember his legendary "vice grip" handshake.
"It was beyond a vice grip; it was like two vice grips," Cramer said. "The first time I shook his hand, he squeezed it. After that, when I went to shake his hand I always prepared myself."
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.