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16-inch softball tradition continues in Chicagoland

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No glove, no problem. Chicago's 16-inch softball players are keeping the sport alive in its native city. Meet Hall of Famer Larry Downes in the latest Faces of Chicago - and subscribe on Facebook Watch to see more stories like this in the future.

Here's Larry's story – in his own words:

I spent the last 35 years or so playing 16-inch softball. It's 131 years old.I think the first ball was a boxing glove, tied with rope. It didn't cost a lot of money, and I think that's how it kind of started.

I mean, all you need is a ball and a bat, the bases. You don't need gloves, you don't need anything. We used to use boxes from the softballs that we use here, get three of them and those are bases. Home plate's dug in the ground. It's there forever.

We all started with some park league team and we got plucked by all these guys, and these teams, you know people you don't even know. They'd just come and talk to you and, "Hey, you wanna do this?" You don't even know what you're getting into, and all of a sudden you're playing 80 games.

You know, you made the 6:15, the 7:30 and you're jumping from park to park. If we could get three games in one night, we did it. In the mid nineties and early eighties into the early two thousands I was playing at least 150 to 185 games a year.

I was expected to be at every game. They didn't care if there was a wedding, a funeral, a wake, you're gonna be at the game. And that is what it takes.

I got a lot of friends with bent fingers. I got one right there. That happened last year, after 35 years. I came in on a routine fly ball and took it right the pinky. All comes with the game I guess.

Everybody asks why I still play it; I'm 51, and I still bat second on my team, and still playing at the major level. It's like, is it 'cuz we're still good? Or is it just 'cuz no one's pushing us out. You know, to me it's a sign that the talent pool is drying up a little bit, or people, just don't wanna play, or they don't have the commitment to play 80 games say in a year, whatever it takes.

I just think if you play a lot of years,  playing a lot of games like that, you  gotta enjoy it. You don't really enjoy it just because you're good, it doesn't mean anything unless you love it.

In the outfield, when the guy hits the ball in the gap and it's flying out there, you know everybody is "hoo-hahing," and then you run it down and catch it, that feels good. You always hope you can get it. You don't get 'em all. Some balls are hits.

Note: This interview was edited for content

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