Ed Stauffer, deep in the shortstop hole, dug out the grounder and sidearmed the ball to first, where Jim Waldie snagged it with a full stretch.

It wasn't such a bad play for two guys who were born before the start of the 20th century.

The shortstop, who once pitched to Babe Ruth, will be 80 soon. The first sacker is 91.

These days they feel like kids again, playing ball almost every day down at North Shore Park by old Tampa Bay.

They are just two of the regulars on the Kids-and-Kubs, the Three-Quarter Century Softball Club Inc.

The rules for being a Kid or Kub are simple. You must have entered your 75th year of life and "feel you are still able to play a favorable brand of ball."

"My eyes aren't as good as they used to be," concedes Waldie, who batted only .313 at age 90. "Sometimes a pitch gets a little blurry. But I can't complain. I figure if I keep feelin' this good, I can go nine more seasons easy. Then I'll be a century player and they can plant me."

When Stauffer, who made it to the majors one year with the St. Louis Browns, retired from business a dozen years ago, he figured his time was about up.

"I thought I had about five years to do a little fishing before I departed this mortal sphere," said Stauffer.

And his life might have run out that fast, he believes, if he had not found the Kids and Kubs, and before that the Pels (Pelicans) and Gulls, a league for those over 50.

"A man in good health wouldn't know what the hell to do if it weren't for something like this," he said. "I'd just sit in the damn rocking chair and die or go stir crazy."

Now, 20 pounds lighter than when he retired, Stauffer feels rambunctious enough that a week ago he got into a test of fisticuffs with a young umpire.

All the Kids and Kubs are a bit shamefaced about that. It took 20 minutes to clear the field of honorary Irishmen and one of the teams, neither admits it now, played under protest. It took a while for them to remember there was no one to protest to.

As Waldie said, "Three things happen when you get old. You lose your memory and I can't remember the other two."

The Kid's captain, Irving (Doc) Dinneen, 77, a former dentist, did something-or-other during the fracas that merited club disciplinary action. He is temporarily out of uniform.

"The older we get," grins Dinneen, "the more we fight."

"You have to remember," said stalwart fan John Higgins, who seldom misses a game, "that old people are very determined. They'll come down here in a pouring rain and want to know why they can't play."

The Kids and Kubs play for fun. Wives sit under their parasols in the wooden bleachers of the lovely, manicured, little stadium and tell their husbands, "Keep your knees together, Papa. That is the key to accosting ground balls in the twilight years.

The 79-year-old Stauffer may not have stood the Baseball Encyclopedia on its ear as a cup-of-coffee Brownie, but he'll have you know he hit .335 in his first year as a Kid. "They tell me that's a 47-year record," he said.The clubs' miscellany, its history, statistics and lore are condensed in a 12-page flyer available at the ball park. The day - Feb. 2, 1967 when the Kubs had those two triple plays, remember that? - the combined ages of the players involved was 543.

Each player has a writeup, a photo. The pamphlet is full of slogans, poems: "Due to our arthritis and lumbago we are very apt to take a fall . . . but if we make a mistake we are not childed at all."

From the singing of "America" before the game, through the midgame intermission, down to the upmire's last raspy "all right, next up," the games are a quixotic defiance of the inevitable.

No one denies the presence of ailments and death. Fans ask Fred Broadwell about his 90-year-old wife, "Is she in much pain?" He either gives a serious answer, or makes a joke about his bad fortune at being saddled with just one woman for 65 years.

The bat girl is Ruby Simpson. Like all the players, this spry grandmother wears white shirt, black bow tie and white long duck trousers. Her husband, Bob, started the season as Kubs captain. He was a man at 76 with a face both strong and benevolent.

"He hit two home runs one day," said Ken Padget, 65, a friend, "and the next day we heard he had had a heart attack and died."

Simpson's wife stayed on as bat girl. It would be hard for those here to imagine her doing otherwise. As Thelma Charnock, a newcomer to St. Pete, put it, "Everyone who comes to the games everyday becomes part of one family."

Everyone knows everybody else's troubles. Higgins, 68, who sits in the same first-base line everyday, looks at one of the Kids best players. "His wife is bad off and he knows there's nothing he can do to help her. He can't wait to get out of the house in the morning to get away from her and clear his mind," said Higgins. "But before the game's half over, he's fidgeting to get back to her. What are ya gonna do?"

What the Kids and Kubs do is just keep on persevering. There is a quiet pride that in 47 sessions no player has ever been stricken while playing, although a fan dropped dead this year from the excitement.

"Most of them players can take care of themselves," said Higgins. "If they can get here, they can get away from here. Let me put it that way."

The death of the fan by heart attack convinced the club that it should install an emergency phone to call paramedics. But the Kids and Kubs point out that its not for them, but for the "older people" who watch them.

"This is the place to be," said Higgins, his crutches tucked under the bleachers. "My arthritis disappeared as soon as I came over the state line. A matter of mind."

Higgins looks out over the rich, green playing field, the semicircle of fence, the center field scoreboard. Behind him the sun is sparkling on Tampa Bay. The motorboats kick their heels.

"Arizona's not for me," he says. "Too dry. It's so dry the trees go looking for the dogs."

Higgins swings over to talk with the 92-year-old hellion, Broadwell. "Fred," Higgins says, "what's that brown stuff all over your shirt."

Broadwell, one eye on the game not to miss his turn at bal, glances at his soiled breast. "The damn wind," he says, "keeps blowing the tobacco juice back at me."