For the love of the game

Written by Bob on June 15th, 2015
Loren Lathrop has served as NAFA Vice President of The Midwest since 1993, and 37 years as the tournament director of the Rice Lake Invitational Men's Fastpitch Tournament.

Loren Lathrop has served as NAFA Vice President of The Midwest since 1993, and 37 years as the tournament director of the Rice Lake Invitational Men’s Fastpitch Tournament.

Rice Lake man has devoted much of his life to men’s and boys’ fastpitch, raising the sport to new levels in Wisconsin, nationally and internationally.

RICE LAKE, Wisc. – Loren Lathrop has been described as tenacious and passionate, a crusader and a promoter. When it comes to fastpitch softball, those attributes fit Lathrop perfectly.

For over 50 of his 71 years, Lathrop has been at the forefront of men’s fastpitch in his home state of Wisconsin and on the international scene with the North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA).

“He is tenacious in promoting men’s fastpitch,” said NAFA President Ronn Kopp, allied with Lathrop in revitalizing the sport in Wisconsin. “He spends whatever time it takes to make Wisconsin NAFA events the highest quality ever. His willingness to make phone call after phone call recruiting teams to sanctioned tournaments is remarkable.”

    BRINGS NAFA TO WISCONSIN

Lathrop wasn’t blessed with the greatest of talent when he began playing fastpitch in the 1960s. But he does have a talent that has served fastpitch well: organizing.

Because of Lathrop and Kopp, Wisconsin is a NAFA stronghold. Wisconsin has a NAFA travel League; Wisconsin has a NAFA state tournament. In fact, the Badger state is one of the very few states offering such services for its players.

“Having the travel league and the state tournament when so many states no longer have either makes me proud,” said Lathrop, NAFA Vice President of the Midwest. “But it isn’t my achievements that make it so. I have had a lot of help. A lot of good fastpitch people have helped make this so.”

    BUILDS THE BOYS’ GAME

But long before he joined NAFA in 1993 when the organization formed, he was the consummate fastpitch grassroots organizer. He and Kopp were the driving force in making Rice Lake and the state a stronghold in boys’ fastpitch.

“Loren was the state’s first (ASA) youth director and began the boys’ state tournament,” Kopp said. “He started the state tournament program for boys ages 18-under, 15-under, 12-under.”

And in those state tournaments, Rice Lake was always one of the favorites. But Lathrop didn’t just settle for state titles. He set much higher goals for the Rice Lake boys – national championships. In fact, Rice Lake can lay claim to six national titles among the various age divisions.

    BOYS REACH INTERNATIONAL ACCLAIM

But there’s one tournament that Kopp and Lathrop are really proud of.

“In 1985, Rice Lake represented the United States in the Junior Olympics,” Kopp said. “We took second to New Zealand that had Mark Sorenson and Jimmy Seaman on the team.” (Sorenson went on to become one of the greatest players in the history of fastpitch, and Seaman was an outstanding pitcher at the open level.)

In 1993, when NAFA formed, Lathrop shifted from the ASA to the upstart organization that wanted to offer more opportunity for all caliber of players.

It’s a move he’s never regretted.

“Bringing NAFA to Wisconsin has kept the game alive,” he said. “The ASA made my job very easy by concentrating on slow pitch and women’s fastpitch.”

    HARD WORKING TOURNAMENT DIRECTOR

No doubt Lathrop is a devoted NAFA man. But he’s also devoted to keeping men’s fastpitch alive and well in Rice Lake. For 36 years he has served as the Tournament Director of the Rice Lake Invitational Men’s Fastpitch Tournament (June 19-21, at Fred Tate Memorial Park).

This year, 12 teams (NAFA AA, A-Major, A caliber) will battle for the championship. Getting twelve teams for a men’s tournament isn’t an easy task these days. But no one works harder than Lathrop to fill the tournament.

    APPRECIATES DAD’S WORK ETHIC

Lathrop’s son Bryan, 43, who pitches for the Rice Lake Orangemen, has witnessed his dad’s devotion to fastpitch since he was a young boy.

Bryan Lathrop got his start in fastpitch in the Rice Lake boy's program when he was 12 years old.

Bryan Lathrop got his start in fastpitch in the Rice Lake boy’s program when he was 12 years old.

“The time and promotion he puts into fastpitch, nobody puts as much into it as he does,” said Bryan, who began pitching at 12 in the Rice Lake boy’s program. “He is devoted more than anyone can imagine. He loves the game and has a great passion for the game.”

Lathrop’s passionate, no doubt. But there’s a few things that do rile him: for one, the tiebreaker rule; and also time limits and courtesy runners. And those garish yellow balls? Hates them. And it irritates him that fastpitch is thought of as only “a girls’ game,” by many.

“Loren is currently leading the effort to stop bastardizing the game with such ill-conceived gimmicks,” Kopp said. “He’s a crusader for examining how fastpitch was played during its heyday and returning the game to that format. He is dismayed that the national associations are now ‘tournament-only’ organizations and do nothing to promote the game at the grassroots level.”

For his tenacious, passionate and crusading efforts for fastpitch, Lathrop was inducted into the NAFA Hall of Fame in 1999. A great honor, certainly, but not one he self-promotes. Instead, he’d like to be remembered for why fastpitch became such a big part of his life when he first stepped on a ball diamond over 50 years a go.

“I fell in love with the game,” he said.

4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Loren Lathrop says:

    Thank you Bob for this article and all you do for fast pitch. Thanks to Ronn Kopp and my son Bryan for their

    kind comments. Think I get more credit than I deserve. One thing for certain is that I have gotten more from the game of men’s fast pitch softball than I have been able to give.

  2. Bob says:

    Loren, you are very welcome, and also very deserving of the accolades Ronn and your son Bryan said about you. See you at NAFA WS.

  3. Benjie says:

    Great story Bob, all very true about a very special person. Thanks for giving him some kudos that are well deserved.

  4. Bob says:

    I enjoyed it, and it’s long overdue. And he’s one person I absolutely could not leave out of the NAFA book.

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