When Harold "Buster" May was a kid, guys played fastpitch softball and girls played slo-pitch.
Things tend to change over the passage of eight decades.
But some things never change: As long as games are played, the very best athletes in any sport eventually will be honored with inductions into halls of fame.
Buster's time came on Oct. 27, 1991, when he was enshrined in the Summit County Softball Hall of Fame. As part of the festivities, he received a huge ring featuring a red stone and an engraving of his nickname.
He wore it proudly until the following summer, when somebody ripped him off.
After finishing a round at Chenoweth Golf Course in Green, Buster and his buddies headed inside for food and drink. When they came back out, he discovered that his cherished ring, which he had left in his golf bag, was gone.
So was $15 in cash and his Discover card.
Fast forward 27 years, to December 2018.
Buster, 90 and living in the Gables of Green senior living facility, gets a phone call.
“We found your ring,” a man says.
“What ring?” Buster says.
“Your Hall of Fame ring.”
He was stunned. He figured he'd never see that ring again if he lived to the age of 200.
Buster was told that the wife of a local man who died was going through her late husband's possessions and discovered the ring. She had never seen it before and had no idea what it was. But she read the inscription and knew it had something to do with ballplayers. She got a hold of a friend who played; he figured out what it was and returned it to the Hall of Fame.
Bernie Factor, president of the Akron Amateur Softball Commission, delivered the ring to Buster.
Buster figures the guy who died was the guy who stole it.
“I wonder what else he stole,” he says, sitting in the expansive lobby of the handsome senior facility, which is tucked behind the Acme Fresh Market on state Route 241 near Interstate 77.
“This he couldn't wear because it had my name on there. It's in mint condition. He never wore it at all.”
Buster said he was told the dead man's identity, but “I didn't know the name, so I didn't pay any attention to it. I should have.”
Sort of surprising for a former cop.
Still razor sharp at 90, Buster was known on the diamond for his blazing speed and solid hitting. During his prime he played mostly center field. When he lost a step, he shifted to catcher. But his love for the game never waned.
He preferred it to baseball because the games were much faster. “It's fast-moving. There's no hesitation. It's bing, bing, bing.”
He first tasted softball success in 1942 when, at the age of 13, he starred for a team in a YMCA league. He would continue to play until 1968 with a variety of teams on ballfields all over the region.
Buster's career with the Akron Police Department was wide-ranging as well.
It seemed like a natural career choice after he returned from serving as an military policeman in Korea.
Buster recalls that his final job interview, in 1953, involved the police chief and Mayor Russell Bird.
“The mayor asked me, 'Are you a Republican or a Democrat?' I says, 'What do you want me to be?' ”
He chuckles, as he often does.
Buster quickly made a name for himself within the department when, while working parking enforcement downtown, he wrote a ticket for an APD sergeant who had been parked, motor running, for half an hour in front of busy O'Neil's department store, reading a newspaper.
“Word spread through the department. 'Hey, that Mays, he don't horse around.' I was a big hero for a while.”
After three years on the force, he got “the best job in the department” — riding a Harley-Davidson with a sidecar.
“When I'd find you, you got to ride that sidecar. But it was one-way — all the way to jail.”
Up the ladder
Buster rose to the rank of sergeant and finished his career in the identification section, taking photos at crime scenes. “We were the ones who put the circle around the dead body.”
It obviously wasn't pleasant work, but it was infinitely better than the time he served in Korea, where he spent a seemingly endless 19 months, traveling around the country to direct tank and truck traffic. Although he was not directly involved in the fighting, he was often right next to it and drew his share of fire.
The South High graduate, twice married, has two daughters, both of whom still live in Akron. Doreen is a home health care nurse and Sandy works at Summa Akron City Hospital, signing in surgery patients.
He also has a “lady friend” from Cuyahoga Falls who visits on the weekends. They first met as teens at South High School.
A fine storyteller, Buster is delighted to have added another tale to his arsenal, perhaps the unlikeliest of them all. The one about the ring that returned to his finger after a quarter-century in hiding.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31