In a little more than a month, an aging group of men will dust off their spikes, oil their gloves, and head back to the softball diamonds for another season of fast pitch. There are young players too, but not as many as before. The younger players, many of whom are terrific athletes are all moving towards slow pitch. Back in its heyday, in the mid to late 1980s, there were over 5,000 mens fast pitch softball teams in the United States. Today, that number is less than 2,000, with more teams disappearing every year.
Fast pitch softball is a fascinating game. It has all the strategy of baseball. You can steal a base, bunt, be intentionally walked, and yes, even get plunked in the back by a fastball on occasion. A good fast pitch pitcher can throw a 70 mph fastball. Underhand. With the pitcher standing a mere 46 feet away, the batter has the same reaction time as if he were facing a 92 mph major league fastball. That’s a good pitcher. There are pitchers I’ve faced that can throw upwards of 80 mph and more. It’s tough to hit something you can’t see.
What is interesting about the sport is the camaraderie. Not unlike the SQL Server community, everyone seems to know everyone else. In fact, many players will play on several different teams a year, depending on the tournament. I’ll play on one team for league ball, but I’ll also end up playing on two or three other teams in various weekend tournaments.
For reasons unknown, Wisconsin seems to be the hot-bed of men’s fast pitch. Some of the best teams in the country are found in Middleton, Appleton, Green Bay, and even in the tiny towns of Montfort and Denmark. I’m lucky enough to play in the same league as the team from Montfort, which has won the AA Major World Series 3 out of the last 4 years. No small feat, since at that level they’re playing great teams from Colorado, North Dakota, and California. I’ve faced their pitcher perhaps 75 times in the last 5 or 6 years, and I think I’ve gotten exactly three hits off of him. He has never walked me. And I’ve probably struck out 70 times.
Every year teams from all over the country get together by ability (A, AA, AA Major, and AAA) to play in a World Series. Usually it is a team from Wisconsin that wins. At the end of the season many of these players will get together in teams based on age and play in what is called a “Masters” World Series. I was fortunate enough to have taken a team down to Rockford last year to participate. We won a couple of games, and although I thought I had a pretty good weekend, I never expected to be named to the All World team. It was a very humbling experience to be honored by my peers.
As I said, we’re all getting older, we move a little slower, but for us die-hards, there’s no other game in town. It’s fast pitch softball. Play ball!