By Dorothea Tsakiris
It's 1914. Woodrow Wilson is the president, the Panama Canal opens, World War I looms for the United States and Baltimore's hometown phenom Babe Ruth takes the mound before he's about to be snapped up by the Red Sox.
Herbert "Hunkie" Matz joins a family that will eventually include 10 children. They reside in a small home in East Baltimore and his father's business, cap-making, operates out of a large room in the back of the house. Like many boys, the young Matz loved all sports and enthusiastically played baseball, soccer and football. But his passion was for basketball.
Age hasn't kept Herb "Hunkie" Matz from staying fit. "Ever since I was born I've been working out," Matz said. (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
The 5-foot-6 Matz eventually captained both the City College and University of Baltimore teams. Matz played standing guard in the early and mid-'30s.
"Back then, the game was entirely different, more scientific than it is today," he said. "There were no tall players, no constant running up and down the court and no high-scoring games."
Matz played "pick-up" at the old YMCA. For years, he played for the Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA). The team won a championship in the Baltimore Basketball League.
"Hunkie," which was the nickname given to him by his parents, still sticks with him today. The 93-year-old remains in good shape, working out three days a week at the Baltimore Tennis and Fitness Gym at the Hilton Hotel in Pikesville.
Matz only had good things to say about his gym. He feels like he has become a part of the "family" in the past five years.
It goes beyond the gym. There's a man there that won't leave the men's bathroom until Matz has gotten out of the shower, just to make sure he's alright. The women who work there throw him a birthday party every year. When there's bad weather, another gym member calls Matz to see if he needs anything.
"Not only from a physical standpoint but from a mental standpoint as well this is good for me because you get to see and talk to people," said Matz. "You get to know the people at the gym. I know people's fathers, grandfathers and even great grandfathers."
Although he only works out for an hour at a time, his workouts are intense.
"Ever since I was born I've been working out," he said.
Matz uses the treadmill and the bike to stimulate his circulation. His regimen consists of working out on the treadmill for a half an hour, then moving on to the elliptical machine to cross-train his muscles. But it's not as easy as it once was.
"You just work out to the best of your capability, not ability," Matz said. "When you lay off, you can't wait to get back, you feel rusty. At my age it's more difficult for me to get back on track."
He admits to a few aches and pains, but doesn't let them get him down. He eats sensibly, watches his weight and takes a few vitamins and supplements. Matz doesn't foresee stopping his workout routine any time soon.
"I do everything pretty much that I used to, just in moderation. I drive, I walk, what else do I do? I better keep my mouth shut," said Matz, laughing.
He advises others to stay as active as they can, regardless of age.
"Everyone's body changes, and moderation becomes the key," he said. "Just keep moving!"
Times change. A century ago, one waited for the paperboy to get the sports news. Now there are plasma widescreens and in-house media rooms. But ordinary athletes still sweat it out in local gyms and squint in the sun at neighborhood tracks, courts and sandlots. The love of sports and the discipline that physical activities require are the thread that runs through the decades for men like the wise and witty Matz.
And for anyone who's keeping score that makes him a winner at the only game that really counts.
Matz is the uncle of PressBox publisher Stan "the Fan" Charles. Nancy Yoos contributed to this article.
Issue 2.18: May 3, 2007