Fast-Pitch for Men Dying a Slow Death

Article excerpt

Byline: Thom Loverro, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

There was once a game. It was a great game. And just like that, the game has all but disappeared. Now it is a game dominated by women, which is wonderful - but it is not the same game.

I found men's fast-pitch softball on the road trip my son and I took along Route 66, heading from Los Angeles to Chicago. I found it in an appropriate place for a game that has become a relic - a museum, the National Softball Hall of Fame here.

Men's fast-pitch softball is all but extinct. Slow-pitch has overtaken the men's game, which may say something about us men. As a gender, we should be ashamed that we have opted for a glorified beer league game, while women have stepped in and made the much tougher fast-pitch softball their domain.

Bill Plummer, manager of the Hall of Fame, which has 284 members, including slow-pitch and fast-pitch players, both men and women, and coaches, umpires and officials, chalks it up to failure to cultivate young men to play the game - particularly pitchers.

"Players have gotten older and haven't been replaced, especially pitchers," he said. "And we are living in a different society today. People don't want to make the commitment it takes to be a pitcher. Some of the old greats would practice three or four hours a day to perfect their abilities."

Fast-pitch was a game of nuances and opportunities, with little room for mistakes. Games were won by scores of 3-2 and 2-1, and home runs were hard to come by. That certainly doesn't fit into today's sports landscape.

But when I was growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania in the late 1960s and early 1970s, fast-pitch was the game, and people came to watch it. Former high school baseball stars would graduate to play fast-pitch on teams sponsored by businesses and industries. There were legendary players - such as the great pitcher from Reading, Pa., Ty Stofflet, who was once featured in Sports Illustrated, and who played up until the age of 59.

Stofflet was the Randy Johnson of fast-pitch and likely will join some of the greatest men's fast-pitch players enshrined in Oklahoma City. There's "Shifty" Gears from Rochester, N.Y., the first inductee into the hall, who had an 866-115 record as a pitcher, with 61 no-hitters, nine perfect games, 373 shutouts and 13,244 strikeouts. And there also is Bobby Forbes, who began playing for the legendary Clearwater Bombers fast-pitch team at 14 and became one of the greatest left-handed hitters in the game, once leading the national championship tournament with a . …