St. Paul fastpitch great Jim Rubbelke looks back on the good times

Written by Bob on March 26th, 2014

“During warm ups, the umpire gave DeWall the ball. It was a DeBeer day ball. It was like handing Al an ice-cold beer. You knew he was going to have a good night.” – St. Paul manager Jim Rubbelke on Al DeWall pitching against the Long Beach Nitehawks in the opening game of the 1976 ISC World Tournament.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A smile spreads across Jim Rubbelke’s face when he looks back upon his years in the fastpitch game.

Now, 63, and retired from fastpitch since 1990, Rubbelke’s received some of the highest honors in the sport: He managed for 19 years, and led a team to an ISC World Championship in 1976. He played for 13 years and was an ASA All American.

He’s a member of the St. Paul and Minnesota Softball Hall of Fames. And he’s about to enter another.

In August he joins the greatest of the greats when he gets inducted into the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame during the 2003 ISC World Tournament in Kimberly, Wisconsin. Rubbelke recently agreed to a Question and Answer session looking back upon his 32-years in fastpitch softball.

How did you get your start in fastpitch? “I was 17 and my uncle Ben needed players for his fastpitch team. Myself and a few friends played for him twice a week and on some weekends. That lasted for about two years. I played outfield, third base and batted left handed.”

How did you break into the Open level? “I started playing in the St. Paul Classic League for 7-Up in 1960. I was 20. We won the Metro playoff, northern regional and went to the ASA national tournament in Long Island, New York at Jones Beach. That first year was a learning experience for me. The pitching was better than I’d seen before, but my team mates kept encouraging me and teaching me how to play. Our record that year was 1 and 2.”

You had great success at that level, how? “We always had excellent pitching and players, and we worked hard to stay there.”

You played for the great Raybestos Cardinals of Stratford, Conn. How did that come about? “In 1962, Eddie Mathias a team mate of mine and I made the All Star team. So in 1963 at the All Star game in Clearwater, Florida I met and played with players from around the United States. Two of the players from Raybestos, George Adams and Bill Massey, asked me if I was interested in moving and playing for the Raybestos Cardinals.

“In March of 1964 my family moved to Stratford where I worked and played for Raybestos Company. During those four years I had the pleasure of playing with some great ball players such as Massey, Frankie Williams, Howie Johnson, Jim Lowe. Pitchers, Dick Norenberg, Metro Syzerck.”

Raybestos was a softball dynasty. Describe your time there? “We played against the best teams in the country. We played in the Eastern Seaboard League and every year we took a trip south for a week and played Clearwater, Florida and Canton, North Carolina. We spent a week in the Midwest playing Detroit with Bonnie Jones; Aurora with Harvey Sterkel; St. Paul, Eau Claire, Wisc., and others. Those were a lot of great memories.”

Raybestos was known for treating its players well, how so? “To work and play for William Simpson, owner and sponsor…this man was as fine a person as you will ever meet in a life time. He loved his ball teams, men and women’s. The Raybestos Brackettes were world champions many times over. Mr. Simpson was just an every day down to earth person who cared about his people that worked and played for him.”

How would you like to be remembered as a player? “A player who gave 100 percent all the time.”

Best big-time clutch player you ever played with or managed?

“Al DeWall, Jerry and Dan O’Connor. When the game was on the line, Al wanted the ball. When you needed a key hit with runners on second, Jerry and Danny were the ones you wanted at the plate. Oh, they were players!”

Did you ever go the “Kiwi” route? “We never saw a New Zealand pitcher until we went ISC. We never thought about getting one until then. We (got) Jimmy Seaman. He was 17. Paul Magan told us to call this kid. I talked with his mother and assured her we would take good care of him. This kid gets off the airplane; he’s so doggone big he was unbelievable. He was with us one year. We went to Saskatoon, finished fourth or fifth. Both our losses were to Aurora 1-0 in about 11 innings, and the other 2-1 or 2-0, something like that. That’s how he (Seaman) ended up in Sioux City. They offered him…and he had to go, and you can’t blame him. It got down to who ever who had the most money.”

Everyone raves about your fund raising ability, explain: “We had silver plate dinners. A ticket was $100. We had raffles, prizes, to raise even more money. Two hundred people would come. The bar (All American) was absolutely beautiful with a very, very nice restaurant. They’d give us the free dinners – we’d have prime rib. It sure helped.”

It’s been said you raised about $60,000 a year to run your team. Could you operate on that today? “Oh, you couldn’t. Now you have to travel so far to get decent softball games.”

You quit playing young and began managing. Why? “In 1971 Whitaker Buick lost its manager. I was interested and they offered me the job. I felt you can’t do both play and manage, so I quit playing unless of an emergency.”

You’ve been an ASA and an ISC man. Describe that: “In the 1970s the ASA was a little stronger pitching wise. The players were about the same (talent). In the 1980s the ISC was the place to play.”

“All the good teams from the U.S. and Canada were playing ISC. Long Beach Nitehawks; Decatur, Ill; Sioux City, Iowa; Victoria, B.C., and The Farm, Madison, Wisc.”

1976. First year ever in the ISC World Tournament. You won it, what was the key? “Opening night we’re going to play the Long Beach Nitehawks, defending world champs. We knew they were a very good team, but so were we.

“During warm ups, the umpire gave DeWall the ball. It was a DeBeer day ball. It was like handing Al (DeWall) an ice-cold beer. You knew he was going to have a good night.”

“So it was whether we could score some runs. We finally scored in extra innings to win the game. DeWall threw a shut out. His drop ball was like falling of the table. That was the start of good things to come as it turned out.”

You managed under four sponsors in 19 years. Tell us about them. “From 1962 to 1973, Bill Whitaker, owner of Whitaker Buick, sponsored us. A teammate of mine, Jerry Schaber, worked for Bill. That’s how Whitaker came about. In 1974, I contacted Mike Sikema, owner of Arctic Cat. That lasted two years. They were both excellent sponsors.”

Then came the great All American Bar years, how did that come about? “My daughter played floor hockey with Earl Montpetit’s daughter. One night we were talking softball and he said he would be interested in sponsoring if Arctic Cat didn’t want to. That’s how All American Bar – Stroh’s Gatsby got started. Earl and John Keena owned the bar and restaurant. For the next 15 years they sponsored until we called it quits (1990).

“They were great people to work with and very interested in how the team did. Earl and his wife, Bev, traveled with our team every place we went. We had some great times together.”

Did you believe in paying players to play? “We didn’t have a lot of money, but we would try to give meal money on trips, or gas money whenever possible.”

Who are some of your all-time greats? “Pitchers would have to be Harvey Sterkel, Chuck Richard, Wade Garrett, Bill Massey, Bonnie Jones, Jimmy Moore, Peter Meredith, Michael White, Paul Magan, Steve Schultz, Jim Seaman, Dutch Elbers, Al DeWall and Ty Stofflet.

“Players would be Rickey Tomlinson, Bob Kukendal, John Sheehan, Dan and Jerry O’Connor, George Adams, Frankie Williams, Carl Walker, Leroy Hess and Terry Muck.”

You were quite the road warrior, explain: “Whitaker Buick always gave us new cars to drive to the national tournament. Back then it would take 30 some hours to drive to Florida. There weren’t freeways, all single lanes. But they were all brand new Buicks. They were quite the trips.”

One of your most memorable games? “Bonnie Jones and DeWall hooked up down in Clearwater in the ASA (national tournament). The final score was 1-0. We ended up winning when DeWall hit a home run off him. It was just a super game. There were some good ones back then.

“Al could hook up with any of them. Years a go he was in the top-15 in wins in the ASA national tournament. Back then there were a lot of good pitchers. He had many offers to go anywhere in the country, but he was a Minnesota guy.”

How did you prepare your team for the season? “We started in the gym in March. Hopefully get outside in April. In May we played decent teams. June and July we played tournaments. Come August, we’d play every weekend; Aurora, Decatur, Clearwater, or have Santa Rosa in from California.”

When you started, what was the sport like in Minnesota? “There were a ton of teams in the state. Johnny Volmer (pitcher) got the game on the board here. Cloquet was very good; over the years Mankato became very good – always had good pitching.”

You took on a lot of duties, who was there when you needed help? “Our players, wives and fans were the key. They were all needed. Certain players, Tom Rubbelke (brother) and Jerry Duffey were always there when I needed that little extra. Ken and Millie Anderson who traveled with us where ever we went, were our number one fans, and were there to help in fund raising for our team.”

What has made your career special? “The opportunity to play and coach against some of the greatest players and teams in the world. The great trips we made. The great teams that came to St. Paul to play us. But the biggest reason was the special people I was involved with all year long – players, coaches, sponsors, fans and their families from St. Paul and throughout Minnesota.

“We played teams from all over the world. Our team was rated as one of the top-ten teams year-after-year. Not only did we have good ball players, they were also excellent people that I was really proud to be associated with.”

Retired from the game, what do you do with your free time? “I have 15 grandchildren and they are all involved in softball, baseball, football and hockey. Dancing and bowling keep us very busy all year long. My wife Barb and I also travel a little, mostly to Las Vegas.”

1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Jim Quick says:

    Jim Rubbelke is one of the finest individuals that i have had the pleasure to meet.

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