Men’s fastpitch developmental league popular in Springfield, Missouri

Written by Bob on October 24th, 2013

Springfield.Artisan.FP.1web The Springfield Artisan Construction team sponsored by Missouri Hall of Fame pitcher, Charley Slavens, finished 13th in the 2013 NAFA World Series A Division with a 4-2 record. The team includes three members who are trying to expand men’s fastpitch in Springfield by starting a fall developmental league. The three men are Danny Brown, top row, first player on left; Donovan Nelson, top row, second player from right, and Ken Franck, top row, third player from right. Courtesy photo.

SPRINGFIELD, MO – First came the talk, then came the idea, followed by the most important part: a Plan of Action.

At the 2013 NAFA World Series, Donovan Nelson and Danny Brown started talking, basically posing a question among themselves: “How can we expand men’s fastpitch in Springfield?”

From that conversation, Nelson, Brown and Ken Franck organized the Springfield Men’s Fastpitch Fall Developmental League that played its games at Players Complex, owned by men’s fastpitch advocate Jeff Barnes.

The league has been a resounding success, attracting 30 new players between the ages of 22 to 30. Along with 10 former and eight current players stepping forth to form four teams.

And from the feedback, the newcomers have taken a liking to the sport.

“Positive reaction is all that I’ve heard,” said Brown, who is retired from playing, but continues to co-manage a men’s fastpitch team with his brother, Berrah Brown. “Most new players have always wanted to play men’s fastpitch, yet they either have no connection in getting picked up as a player, or simply there is just not enough pitching to offer them a team to play on.”

    PITCHING THE PRIORITY

Ah yes, pitching. The most critical position and the one most lacking in the men’s game. Brown, Nelson and Franck (new to the sport in 2013 as a catcher after playing college baseball) realized that developing pitching had to be the top priority.

Nelson, an active pitcher, manager, and college softball pitching coach has taken the lead in that task. Four pitching prospects emerged in the fall league that he hopes to work with along with others who show an interest.

“I’m going to offer to bring the pitchers together this winter to get some work in and offer some thoughts on mechanics and ball movement,” said Nelson. “We will work on power and ball control through good mechanics and allow that to develop a change in speed and ball movement. The hope is to create a foundation they use in our league and allow it to expand. (And) as they develop, into national tournament opportunities. NAFA is the perfect place for that.”

But Nelson didn’t stop there.

He’s undertaken an equally challenging mission: convincing smaller high schools in the Springfield area that do not have a football program to offer boys’ fastpitch as an alternative sport in the fall.

    NO FOOTBALL? PLAY FASTPITCH

Several northern Missouri high schools that don’t have football programs have instead conducted a boys’ fastpitch league and state tournament since 1992. That includes Winston High School, which won the 2013 state tournament, and is coached by Eric Lewis, a veteran pitcher and advocate of expanding boys’ fastpitch.

So if it works for some of the smaller northern schools such as Winston, why not the southern schools?

Nelson said that school administrators aren’t opposed to his idea as long as the funding is available. But there are roadblocks he’s trying to maneuver his way around.

“I’m fighting a battle with the coaches,” he said. “The coaches are resistant because they don’t know the game and they’re afraid of the unknown.”

    HARDBALL & SOFTBALL, PERFECT COMBINATION

Another avenue worth pursuing, added Nelson, is convincing young baseball players to play both sports.

“When their opportunities with baseball are over, then we’ve got them,” he said. “My teams have been filled with just these types of guys and they can adjust to this game much faster than a non-ballplayer coming from slowpitch.”

Springfield, once a hotbed of men’s fastpitch, has fallen off drastically in numbers – as with most parts of the country – to four teams. But Brown is hopeful that number will rise with the fall developmental league serving as the primer.

    STRONGER SUMMER LEAGUE

“We are hoping to get a minimum of one new team out of the league, and would be really lucky if two teams developed (for the summer league),” he said, adding that the goal is to reach six teams and then expand the league to additional nights.

But for the sport to thrive once again in Springfield, it comes down to one crucial priority that Nelson and Brown agree on: developing pitchers.

“We both agree that without locally growing the pitching aspect of men’s fastpitch, the game will just fade away,” Brown said.

And that is what motivates Brown, Nelson and Franck to keep from happening.

To learn more about Springfield men’s fastpitch and how to become involved, visit:

Springfield, MO, Fastpitch on Facebook and leave a message.

Or contact:
Danny Brown: DBrown@greatsouthernbank.com
Ken Franck: kfranck.kf@gmail.com
Donovan Nelson: NelsonD@evangel.edu

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