Remembering great fastpitch times with New Zealand pitcher Jim Wana (Seaman)

Written by Bob on July 30th, 2015
Jim Wana (Seaman) pitching in the 1995 ISC World Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, where he was named a Second-Team, All-World pitcher for hurling the Broken Bow Travelers to sixth place. Photo By BOB OTTO

Jim Wana (Seaman) pitching in the 1995 ISC World Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, where he was named a Second-Team, All-World pitcher for hurling the Broken Bow Travelers to sixth place. Photo By BOB OTTO

Jim Wana shares his memories of pitching in the ISC World Tournament, and the great pitchers, players and teams he competed against from 1987 to 1996.

“Being a pitcher, I loved to watch pitchers ‘bring it.’ Pitchers like Peter Meredith, Brad Underwood, Darren Zack, Paul Magan…” – Jim Wana

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – Even now, 18 years after his last appearance in the ISC World Tournament, Jim Wana can feel the adrenaline start to simmer when he thinks back on pitching against some of the greatest teams in the most prestigious men’s fastpich tournament in the world.

“The ISC in my mind was the best tournament in the world,” said Wana, who was once known in fastpitch as Jimmy Seaman. “Back in the days when I played there was any number of teams that could have won the championship.”

And Wana can lay claim to a few championships himself.

His ISC World Tournament career started in 1987, when as an 18-year-old, he left his homeland of New Zealand for Stroh’s Gatsby (formerly All American Bar) of St. Paul, Minnesota. He quickly made a name for himself by helping Stroh’s Gatsby finish fifth in the 1987 World Tournament.

Along with that, he was selected a second-team, All-World pitcher. Wana had an incredible world tournament, finishing with a 5-2 record, 0.53 ERA and 78 strikeouts. This put the young right-hander in the elite company with All-World pitchers Michael White, Mike Piechnik, Brad Underwood, Brent Stevenson and Chris Nicholas. And Wana’s strikeout total was second only to Underwood’s 98.

No doubt, that kind of debut launched Wana’s meteoric rise in his world tournament career. Wana went on to pitch for four championship teams and one runner-up.

As for personal success, he was named an All-World pitcher three times (1987, 1988, 1995), along with a Most Valuable Pitcher award (1988). And when he retired from World Tournament play after 1996, the ISC record book shows Wana won 23 World Tournament games.

That places him No. 21 (tied with Nicholas and Stevenson) among pitchers with the most wins in the 68-year history of the World Tournament.

But it all started from an SOS sent out by the Stroh’s / Gatsby manager, searching for a pitcher.

“(Manager) Jim Rubbelke asked Paul Magan, who was pitching for Penn Corp if there were any young pitchers in New Zealand who would come over,” Wana said. “Paul mentioned me and I was in Minneapolis two weeks later.”

And what an awakening for the 18-year-old.

He was thrown right into the Midwest fastpitch fires against the likes of the Farm Tavern of Madison, Wisc.; Penn Corp of Sioux City, Iowa, and Teleconnect of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“The Stroh’s team was fantastic to me and we had a great bunch of guys,” Wana said. “We took our team to Saskatoon (Canada) to the ISC World Tournament and finished fifth.”

1988 found Wana pitching for Penn Corp where he stayed for five years, helping the powerhouse win four world titles. After skipping the 1993 season, he pitched for Summerside PEI in 1994, and in 1995 and ’96 finished his world tournament career with the Broken Bow, Neb. Travelers.

In 1995, he was picked a second-team, All-World pitcher (4-2) for leading the Travelers to sixth place. And in 1996, he threw his final World Tournament pitch at Sunset Park in Kimberly, Wisconsin, where he was 2-1, in helping Broken Bow finish 10th at 2-2.

The World Tournament and pitching in the United States bring back fond memories of a special time in his life. Wana shares some of those memories with us.

When you think back on pitching in the World Tournament, what do you remember most fondly?
“I was fortunate to meet a lot of great people like umpire Les Novak and Larry Heilman, and managers like Jim Rubbelke, Gale Kurtz, Russ Boice and Doc Simmons of Broken Bow.”

Who are some of the great pitchers you remember?
“Being a pitcher, I loved to watch pitchers ‘bring it.’ Pitchers like Peter Meredith, Brad Underwood, Darren Zack, Paul Magan, Steve Schultz, Mike White, Terry Bell, Mike Piechnik, Graeme Robertson, Dave Scott and Chris Nicholas, just to name a few.”

How tough was it to compete against these great pitchers and teams in the World Tournament?
“There was never an easy game. I remember in 1988 we lost our second game and had to come all the way back through the losers bracket and beat Harold’s Supermarkets (Lexington, Missouri) twice to win the tournament. (Magan beat Doug Middleton in the first game, and Wana defeated Robert Newhart in the second.) 1988 was a special tournament for me.”

You burst on to the ISC scene in 1987 barely out of your teen years and led Stroh’s / Gatsby to fifth in the World Tournament. Any special games that stand out?
“In terms of battles, we beat Meredith, 1-0, Underwood, 1-0, Alberta (Canada) 2-1 with Glen Jevne. And against Home Savings (Aurora, IL), we lost 1-0 in 11 innings to Chris Nicholas.”

Who were some of the toughest hitters you faced in the World Tournament?

“Wow, that’s a tough question, but the likes of Brian Rothrock, Ted Hicks, Brian Martie, Mitch Munthie, Jim Clark, Darryl Clarkson and Jody Hennigar were all hitters I respected. Luckily enough for me, Mark Sorenson, Marty Kernaghan, Bill Boyer and Randy Burnside were on my team (Penn Corp) for five years.”

Penn Corp was one of the best United States teams you played for. What made those five years so special?
“Playing with that Midwest powerhouse with players such as Boyer, Kernaghan, John Ege, Steve Kerian, Magan, Pete Sandman, Sorenson, David Boys and many, many more was special. (It was) a great team! Sioux City and the Diamonds of Champions would always attract good crowds and Penn Corp was the show to go see across Siouxland.”

How did you get your start in fastpitch in New Zealand?
“I started playing softball at 10 as a first baseman and outfielder and started pitching the following year as I was the biggest kid on the team, and our pitcher had moved. My Dad was quite an accomplished player who used to pitch and was a feared hitter playing for the Army, and combined services teams for many years…”

Any down side to those Sioux City times?
“I left after the 1992 season and returned to New Zealand. For me, things were never the same when my mates Paul Magan and Steve Schultz were tragically killed in a car accident after the 1990 season. There were so many fond memories with Paul and Steve from 1988 to 1990, and we all had a connection as we were all from New Zealand.”

You certainly enjoyed your share of your success in the United States, but what was your career like in your homeland?

“I played for the New Zealand Black Sox (1988-2004) and the Junior Black Sox. In 1985 at the ISF Junior Men’s World Championship in Fargo, North Dakota, we beat the Canadians in the final. I had retired in 2000; however, in 2002 it was announced that the ISF World Championship would be held in New Zealand, so I decided to come out of retirement and try and make the team.”

How did that go?
“We won the tournament (9-1 record) and I went 6-0, shutting out the USA and beating Canada twice, once in the semifinal, then in the championship game (9-5).”

Mark Sorenson was your catcher for many years and is now the New Zealand men’s national head coach. You two formed quite the battery in your heydays.
“Mark and I are good friends and he was my best man this year when I got married. We played many years together in New Zealand for our provincial team, Hutt Valley, and for Penn Corp, the USA, plus the New Zealand Black Sox.

“In 2004 we both came out of retirement to play and win the world championship. I pitched the final and Mark was catching.”

If you were to advise a young pitcher, much like you were back in 1987, about pitching in the ISC World Tournament, what would you tell him?
“The World Tournament is the SHOW, and you need to bring your game every day. As a pitcher, you have to take it one pitch at a time and make hitters swing at the pitches you want them to swing at. Don’t get beaten on your second best pitch. The ISC is where legends and friendships are made. Always treasure the opportunity to play in this great tournament.”

In summing up your career, what’s it been like?

“I have a lot of fond memories that go beyond the championships we won and accolades we collected as teams. What I remember most is the great people I met and friendships I made. Softball took me to the USA, Canada, Japan, Italy, Samoa, Africa and all around New Zealand…a lot of fond memories through the game we all love.”

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