Friday Flashback: Softball

softball2This week I have been thinking back to my own personal experience with the sport of softball.  Before you get excited about this story, I will tell you up front that I was never any good at the sport and never thought I was compared to some people I have known through the years who played softball.

What position did I play?  Catcher.   Yep, that probably tells you how “good” I was at it.

Getting on the flashback machine, I remember the summer of July 1984 when I was stationed at Thule Air Base in Greenland.  We had a one-month softball season when the temperatures were in the tropical 40s.  Our softball field was made up of dirt and rocks where a ground ball could easily become a home run depending on how many rocks the ball bounced off of in the outfield.  Because of the field conditions, sliding was not allowed.  In one game the fog was so thick, you couldn’t see the outfielders.  It was quite an experience to play softball in the most northern location you could play it.   In the postseason tournament, we played the Security Police Squadron which was always a tough team to beat.  As fate would have it, the game came down to one batter with the bases loaded and two outs.  Yes, that batter was me.  What happened?  I struck out.  In my opinion of course, the third strike should have been called a ball.  To add to my legendary at-bat, the opposing pitcher was a female.  Not a good start to my softball resume.

I played a lot of pick-up games after that but no organized leagues until I was coerced by my pastor to play in a church league in Macon, Georgia years later.  At the time, Macon was definitely a popular place for softball.  The church league was pretty competitive.  One church – which I will not name – was a powerhouse.  Mostly because I think they had a team made up of softball ringers.  All their players were big and beefy and could easily swat home runs without much effort.  They also cussed a lot which was a good sign that they may have been ringers.  They dominated the league and games we played against them.  In fact, everyone dominated us that season.  We won one game the entire season as I once again took the position of catcher.  I got to play mostly because we barely had enough players to field a team.  My pastor was the pitcher and he took the game seriously – very seriously.  He would get irritated if my throws back to him were a bit off the mark.  He was very entertaining even if we weren’t very successful on the field.  After the season, the person who sponsored our team decided not to do it again the next season.

I tried to play with another church the next season but I quickly learned the harsh reality of my lack of ability and being on a church team.  I was again talked into playing.  The coach told us at the beginning of the season that players who showed up for practice would be the ones who would play first.  Well, that wasn’t true.  Shocking right?  When a popular guy (cough…deacon’s son…) showed up only for games, he was always inserted in the game while I ended up riding the bench in spite of showing up for every practice.  Before the season was over, I decided to retire from softball.

In the mid-1990s I worked part-time for the Macon Telegraph newspaper and was given the opportunity by the sports editor (Thanks Kevin and Ivan) to cover local sports teams and write game stories.  During this time, Macon hosted the Flag City Shootout which was one of the nation’s largest softball tournaments.  In the years I covered the tournament, they boasted having over 900 teams in the tournament.  I had the opportunity to cover some games and write stories along with our photographer.  That was a lot more fun that attempting to play.  Some of the games were exciting.  Central City Park was filled those weekends with a buffet of softball.  Teams like Jus Us, Deuces Wild and Forsyth Sharks would be in my reports.  It was fun to see people who were awesome players and those, like me, who were just there to make sure the team had enough players to play the game.  I was definitely suited to report on the game rather than play it.

Years have passed and I can’t say that I have played or watched a softball game since the 90s.  I read recently where the sport of softball is suffering a decline.  Quite honestly if you aren’t playing or know someone who is playing it is difficult to be a spectator of the sport.  This week our office sent around an email to recruit players for a team in a local softball league.  They need players but I’m not biting.  Lesson learned.

 

Friday Flashback: American Professional Slow Pitch League (APSPL)

softball

In a sport where you have more people who play it than actually watch it, there was actually an attempt in the late 1970s and early 1980s to make it into a professional sports league.  The APSPL began play in 1977 with 12 teams divided into three divisions.  The Detroit Caesars posted the best record in the league (42-14) and won the APSPL World Series by sweeping the Baltimore Monuments 4-0.

The league signed a few retired Major League Baseball (MLB) players such as Norm Cash and Joe Pepitone.  Even former NFL player, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson appeared in 25 games for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1980.

Most games opened the inaugural season with scores in the 10-8 range but Detroit won its first game over Chicago 28-21. The Storm then gained a split of the first-day doubleheader 27-25. Former Major League player Cash hit a home run the next day, but it was practically forgotten in the face of what his less famous teammates did to Chicago pitching. In the first game of another doubleheader Bert Smith blasted four homers in four at bats to lead the Caesars to a 31-17 win. In the finale of the series Ronnie Ford hit four home runs and knocked in nine runs as Detroit won 46-24. Cash’s blow was merely one of 16 Detroit home runs in that game, and during the weekend the two teams hit a total of 84.

By the end of the weekend Ford had league-high totals of 15 hits, nine homers and 20 RBIs, while Smith went 8 for 11 with six home runs and 12 RBIs. The first-day attendance of 2,100 was encouraging—and right around the league average—but only 600 turned out to see the second-day slugfest.

Ford (Detroit) led the league in home runs and RBIs with 80 HR/201 RBI in 1978 and 43 HR/122 RBI in 1979.

The teams had some rather interesting nicknames such as the Kentucky Bourbons, Cincinnati Suds, Minnesota Goofys and Milwaukee Copper Hearth.

The league lasted longer than expected but eventually ran out of fan and financial support.  The APSPL merged with the North American Softball League (NASL) to become the United Professional Softball League (USPL) in 1981 but only last two seasons before men’s professional slo-pitch softball drifted into extinction.

Championship Game Results:

  • 1977 (APSPL) Detroit Caesars 4, Baltimore Monuments 0
  • 1978 (APSPL) Detroit Caesars 4, Minnesota Norsemen 0
  • 1979 (APSPL) Milwaukee Schlitz 5, Kentucky Bourbons 3
  • 1980 (APSPL) Rochester Express 5, Pittsburgh Hardhats 4
  • 1980 (NASL) Milwaukee Schlitz 5, Detroit Auto Kings 2
  • 1981 (UPSL) Kentucky Bourbons 5, New England Pilgrims 3
  • 1982 (UPSL) Milwaukee Schlitz 5, Detroit Softball City 1

Currently, only the women’s National Professional Fastpitch (NPF) is the only professional softball league.  The league has five teams entering into the 2017 season (Akron Racers, Chicago Bandits, Scrap Yard Dawgs (Houston, TX), Texas Charge (San Marcos, TX) and USSSA Pride (Kissimmee, FL).