Fastpitch connections lead to three good careers

Written by Bob on July 16th, 2013

otto.bob.9webThrough two chance meetings threaded to fastpitch softball, Bob Otto has enjoyed three careers in insurance, newspaper and freelance reporting, and photography.

YUCAIPA, CA – While out covering ball games I sometimes run into former insurance clients who ask, “How did you ever get into newspaper work?”

The better question would be, “how did someone like you ever get into the insurance business?”

It all started when I walked into the field house at Minnesota State University (then Mankato State) in 1973. In the far corner I spotted a left-hander windmilling a softball.

In the dead of winter – December – with the season five months away.

So I stopped to watch. I could tell he was pretty good. “Whap! The ball exploded into the catcher’s glove.

“Who do you pitch for?” I asked.

“The St. James VFW,” he said.

“Work out every day?”

“Yah, pretty much except for the weekends.”

I introduced myself and said I would like to find a team to pitch for come Spring.

He stuck his hand out. “I’m Craig Brown,” he said.

He also said that there were lots of teams in the area that play in the Mankato City League, New Ulm League, or the Southern Star League.

“The Southern Star is the best league with quite a few good teams,” Craig said.

Craig and I went on to become good friends over the years often times pitching against each other, or occasionally on the same team.

Now fast forward to 1979. I needed a job. “Get into insurance,” urged Craig. “It’s a good business with a good income.”

I had my doubts that someone like me who lacks an outgoing personality could succeed in insurance. But hey, I was unemployed with few good job prospects, so I had nothing to lose by trying, I figured.

By that happenstance meeting and getting to know Craig, I went on to a successful 23-year insurance career.

“So what’s the big deal?” some of you are asking.

Of late I’ve been doing some connecting the dots with my life. Sort of a “what if” this or that scenario had or had not happened.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had three careers: Insurance agent and owner, writer, and photographer. And I owe all three to two connections I met through fastpitch softball – Craig and the late Jim “Tater” Crates, who helped me realize my second and third careers.

My photography and writing careers were launched when I met Tater at the Beaumont Coyotes Men’s Fastpitch Tournament in 1985. Tater was the sports editor for the Yucaipa News Mirror. He was also a huge fastpitch fan and former player in Ohio.

I told him that I had bought this fancy new camera (Nikon N60) with a pretty snazzy lens. But I didn’t know one end from the other and needed some practice.

“How about shooting some sports for me?” Tater asked. The first assignments didn’t go so well.

“A lot of blurry pictures,” he said gruffly as he shuffled through some Yucaipa High School football game photos. “Can’t use many of ‘em. Can’t you hold that camera steady?”

“I’ll get better,” I said. And over the years I believe I have. From photography, Tater started giving me a writing assignment here or there. And as they say, the rest is history.

Had I not met Tater at a fastpitch tournament, and had he not befriended a green, untested, aspiring shutterbug, would I have gone on to become a reporter and photographer? Maybe, maybe not.

But as with Craig, the connection with Tater is tied to fastpitch softball.

So I thank you Craig. I thank you Tater. And most of all, I thank you fastpitch softball for connecting the dots to a pretty good life.

2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Craig Hindall says:

    What a great story. Tater is my grandfather. I was searching the web trying to find any websites about him, He is truly a wonderful man, He raised me from time of birth. He has been my father for most of my life and who inspired me to have courage and never quit. Thank you for writing such a nice article mentioning my grandfather.

    Craig Hindall

  2. Bob says:

    Tater was one of my best friends. I could always count on him for friendship and we had wonderful lunches and times talking and laughing together. I still run into Yucaipa folks, who remember him and miss his sports coverage and column in the News Mirror and the way he came to befriend everyone he came to know. A truly fine and caring human being. Thanks for finding my web site and commenting Craig.

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