Minnesota loses fastpitch legend Leroy Jolstad

Written by Bob on August 27th, 2013

Jolstad.Leroy.5web
Leroy Jolstad shown in a mid-1990s photo, was one of Minnesota’s greatest fastpitch softball pitchers, spanning a career that lasted five decades. Jolstad passed away on Sunday, Aug. 25 at the age of 64. Happy Chef media guide contributed photo

MARSHALL, MINN – Minnesota has a celebrated history of producing great men’s fastpitch softball pitchers. There’s Al DeWall and Dutch Elbers; Johnny Vollmer and Dale Root; Ron “BoBo” Johnson and Don Olson.

But perhaps the greatest of all was Leroy Jolstad.

Jolstad stood tall on the rubber, an imposing figure at 6-foot-5. He threw hard and his explosive drop ball – his signature pitch – was among the best in the sport.

“Leroy never had a great change up or even a great rise ball,” said Dan Nessler, a teammate of Jolstad’s on Mankato Happy Chef for several years in the 1980s and ‘90s. “He did however have a great drop ball and could spot it where he wanted. People knew what they were getting most of the time and he still got them out. I didn’t see all of (Minnesota’s best pitchers) throw, but from what I saw, Leroy is at the top of the list locally.”

    HAPPY CHEF’S TOP HURLER

Jolstad retired thousands of the world’s best hitters in a career that spanned five decades, starting as a 15 year old in 1964 playing for the Cottonwood Knights. He quickly rose to the top of the sport, eventually landing in Mankato and pitching from 1977 to 1995 for some of Mankato’s greatest teams – including Happy Chef.

A ball club that enjoyed its share of success against Minnesota’s best.

“We always had great local battles against All-American Bar (St. Paul), Band Box and the James Gang (St. James), Stewart Taylor (Duluth), Junker’s Bar & Grill (North Mankato),” Nessler said, “and Leroy won most of those battles.”

    WORLD TOURNAMENT SUCCESS

In the International Softball Congress (ISC) World Tournament, Jolstad ranks with some of the ISC’s best pitchers, winning 20 games from 1977 to 1999 (20-14 overall), according to ISC statistics. That places him in the top 50 pitchers with 20 wins or more in the 67-year history of the organization.

“He came very close to winning the ISC World Tournament in 1978 in Kimberly (Wisc.) and in Tempe (Ariz.) in 1980,” said Marley Lloyd, who was Happy Chef’s general manager and centerfielder from 1977 to 1990. “I would put him in the same class as Dale Root and Al DeWall. They were fierce competitors and cool under pressure.”

Jolstad.Leroy.3web Noted for his drop ball, the 6-foot-5 Jolstad won many games at the state, regional and national level. Happy Chef media guide contributed photo

    LOTS OF WINS

Jolstad’s fastpitch resume includes over 25 years playing at the Open level with a record of over 750 wins and less than 300 losses, including innumerable Most Valuable Pitcher awards. And in 1988 Jolstad was selected an ASA All-American pitcher for leading Happy Chef to seventh place in the 33 team ASA Major National Championship.

But arguably his greatest success came later in his pitching career. When Jolstad turned 40, he began pitching in masters’ national tournaments. He played with seven national championship teams, including Super Sound Tapes of St. James, Minn., and the Pomen of Memphis, Tenn., among others.

“Winning those seven national championships has been a nice highlight,” Jolstad said in an earlier story. “But it’s been being able to compete against the best in the country, or in the world.”

    HALL OF FAMER

Jolstad helped Happy Chef win 10 consecutive Minnesota ASA state championships, said Lloyd. And for his outstanding career, Jolstad was inducted into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame in 2008.

“I know a lot of people who I have played with or played against who are very good,” Jolstad reportedly said. “To be inducted with them is nice.”

But Jolstad, who set down some of the sport’s best hitters in his remarkable career, will pitch no more. Jolstad passed away on Sunday, Aug. 25, at Avera-Mckinnon Hospital in Sioux Falls. S.D. at the age of 64.

When the news of Jolstad’s passing reached the fastpitch community, words of praise for his pitching prowess and for his equally admirable character poured in from those who played with him and against him:

    FONDLY REMEMBERED

“Leroy was one of the good guys…He was always a class act when I played against him, and it felt like he was pitching forever…Leroy was a great pitcher, but even a greater person…It was an honor to watch him compete…I faced him in our first ISC tourney (1982-’83) and got to play with him 25 years later, and it was a joy…Leroy was a great guy and a great pitcher…

… Enjoyed watching him pitch in several ASA Nationals I attended…He was one of a kind as well as a gentleman…”

For Nessler, he will remember Jolstad as a wonderful teammate, friend and a warrior when toeing the rubber.

“Leroy was always so low key, but there was a fire burning in there that was very intense,” Nessler said. “(He) never got too worked up, but he also had you walk away a loser most of the time. He was a great competitor!”

Leroy is survived by his wife Cindy; four children Cody (Jessica) VanOverbeke, Cassie (Arthur) Thares, Lisa and Lori Jolstad; four grandchildren, Phinley, Jaeda, Brian, and Piper; his brother Richard (Marge) Jolstad; and many nieces and nephews.

For obituary visit, Leroy Galen Jolstad

8 Comments so far ↓

  1. Kevin says:

    I had not heard that. My condolences to the family. I only met him a couple times, but had to marvel at how well he threw at nearly 60 years old. Made you wonder what he was like when he was 30.

  2. Bob says:

    I saw and even pitched against him in the early to mid-70s, and he was as good as advertised. The drop ball just disappeared below the batter’s bat, and I always thought he had a good raise too. Certainly in a class with DeWall, Elbers, Root and company. And perhaps because of his longevity, the best of all time in the state.

  3. Jerry "Chips" Davidsavor says:

    My condolences to Leroy’s family, friends and team mates. Leroy was a great pitcher on some very successful teams. The Happy Chef teams rank as among the best ever to come out of Minnesota. Softball has lost one its ambassadors.

  4. Cam Lind says:

    Rest in peace LeRoy, I will always remember your hiss when you cut one loose. You were tops.

  5. robert vollmer says:

    JOHNNY VOLLMER WAS THE BEST PITCHER MN EVER HAD. 2000 WINS 85 LOSES 60 NO HITTERS 5 PERFECT GAMES HE ALSO BEAT EDDY FIEGHNER TWICE IN 1959. JOLSTAD MIGHT HAVE BEEN A GOOD PITCHER BUT HE WAS NO JOHNNY VOLLMER THATS FOR SURE. VOLLMER WAS THE BEST IN THE ENTIRE REGION HE WAS BETTER THEN DEWALL ELBERS AND WHOEVER ROOT WAS I WOULD LIKE YOU TO GET YOUR INFORMATION CORRECTED.VOLLMER IN 1938 STRUCKOUT 289 BATTERS A RECORD THAT HAS NEVER BEEN IN DANGER HE AVERAGED 13 STRIKEOUTS PER GAME

  6. robert vollmer says:

    VOLLMER WAS NUMBER 1 IN MN. THERE IS NO DOUBT ABOUT IT

  7. robert vollmer says:

    YOU DIDN;T LOOK FOR VOLLMERS PITCH YOU LISTENED FOR IT

  8. Bob says:

    I’ve heard of Johnny Vollmer, but he was way before my time in fastpitch. By what you’ve stated, I’m sure he was a great pitcher and one of Minnesota’s all-time greatest. It appears you are related. Perhaps Johnny’s son or brother? He’s certainly someone to be proud of. What great accomplishments he had in his illustrious career. Wish I could have seen him pitch. Thank you for furnishing this terrific information.

Leave a Comment