Mike Brady, first row, center | Provided

Mike Brady has been a model of discipline and determination. It takes discipline and a no-nonsense mom to have perfect attendance in grade school and high school. It takes determination to fulfill a lifelong goal of visiting all 7 continents and 50 states. Both of these strengths were on display during Brady’s 50-year softball career. That is why he is being honored this year with his plaque being displayed on the 16-inch Softball Wall of Fame.

During his long career, Brady was never involved in a fight. He has only been ejected once and his only significant injury was to an ankle. It’s even more remarkable that Brady is still playing softball at 69. “I have been incredibly blessed,” he said.

Those blessings began at St. Maurice Parish in the McKinley Park neighborhood. Brady attended the school and joined the Cub Scout troop. He was 8 or 9 when he first played softball for the troop’s team.  Softball was just one of the many sports he enjoyed back then. “We were always outside playing softball, basketball and touch football,” Brady recalled, “We didn’t need organizations to play sports.”

When it came to attending high school, Brady was destined to attend St. Ignatius College Prep. His mother, Eileen, had emigrated from impoverished County Mayo and had heard from a fellow émigré how great Ignatius was. Brady joined the high school’s baseball team which was managed by the fiery Greg Klatecki. Brady tried out for the team by hitting off a pitching machine. When he scored 18 out of a possible 20, Klatecki declared, “You’re my leadoff man.”

As a left-handed batter with good speed, Brady was an ideal leadoff man. After his freshman team finished at .500, Brady took his manager’s advice and played hardball all summer. In his senior year, the St. Ignatius baseball team won their league championship. That marked the end of Brady’s baseball career and the beginning of his softball career. 

When he started his studies at IIT, Brady played in a 19-and-under league at nearby Armour Square Park. IIT wasn’t a good fit, though, so Brady transferred to Loyola University. Brady took advantage of the school’s study abroad program and spent two years at Loyola’s campus in Rome. Needless to say, he didn’t play softball there.

After graduating with a degree in economics, Brady earned his master’s in finance   from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. This degree earned him the nickname “The Professor” on softball diamonds. Brady went to work for R. R. Donnelley printing company and played for the company softball team at Grant Park. He later switched to telecommunications, where he still works full-time. 

Brady also moved on to a more competitive level of softball at Kelly Park. The South Side park levied mandatory bets on games to ensure that teams played to win. It wasn’t an “earth shattering amount” but a player might spend $900 over an 18-game schedule. Brady was 25 and single and at the top of his game. “I used to play 10 games a week. Every park had a league with a waiting list. Softball was our life.”

Brady was a slap hitter, who infuriated opposing infielders by beating out routine grounders. “I drove players nuts,” Brady said, “A lot of people hated my guts.” They hated him even more when he started whacking instead of slapping. “When they played me too shallow, I started whacking gappers.” He was playing for The Byrds at the time and was named MVP in a national tournament. “I got hot at the right time.”

When he was 30, Brady married Shirley and they went on to have three kids. Shirley was tolerant of softball but when kids started arriving, Brady had to cut back on softball. “I played hard until 1989. I took off from playing in weekend tournaments in the 90’s. I also morphed into coaching.” Brady coached his two sons and daughter in youth sports.

Brady played in the No Gloves in the 1980s and still attends the tournament every year. “No Gloves is the way softball is meant to be played.” His team never won the tournament. Their best finish was in the top eight. Brady also played in many glove tournaments. “Gloves made a gigantic difference in the outfield and they didn’t hurt my hitting.” 

Brady moved into senior softball when he was 57. “I was playing in a 50-and-over league, when I led off the game with a hit and made a one-handed catch in the outfield.” He was immediately “carded” to make sure he was old enough. Brady was later forced to move from the outfield to designated hitter. 

Softball has helped him to stay in shape and led to many friendships. “I got to play against all kinds of nationalities and players of different economic levels. In softball, everyone is equal.” 

That may be true but not every player gets to be on the Wall of Fame. 

Brady’s family knows how important softball has been for him. They are all coming to Forest Park to see his plaque installed. They are also attending the Hall of Fame banquet, where Brady will make a brief acceptance speech. 

“I’ll mention the people who introduced me to different levels of softball, all the greats I played with and against. I have more great memories than I can count.”

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.