The Loews: A fastpitch softball family

Written by Bob on June 11th, 2009

By Bob Otto
Freelance Writer / Photographer

RICE LAKE, WI – If you’re looking for the Loew family, they won’t be too hard to find. Just swing by Tate Park or the high school softball field and one, two, or perhaps all six boys and their dad can be found pitching, catching, or hitting a softball.

And only fastpitch style. You won’t catch this clan playing slowpitch.

Gary Loew – the father of Travis, 32, Tristan, 30, Mike, 22, Mark, 20, Max, 17, and Morgan 15 – proudly states: “We are a fastpitch softball family.”

This family of athletes, love, live, and breathe fastpitch softball in this town of 8,320 in the northwest part of Wisconsin. A state revered for it’s legacy in men’s and boy’s fastpitch softball.

And the boys have dad and their mother Debbie along with the Rice Lake – Cameron Boy’s Fastpitch Softball League to thank for launching and nurturing their fastpitch careers.

Gary Loew began playing in the boy’s league when he was 9. But he figured that was a bit late to start his boys in the sport. So he launched their careers at the tender ages of 3, 4, and 5. And for 26 years, Gary Loew has coached his boys and hundreds of others in the league.

Currently he has 15-year-old Morgan pitching for his Red’s team that Morgan says carries a 3-1 record in the early going.

“If it wasn’t for my dad or the league, I would have to look for somewhere else to pitch,” Morgan said. “With my older brothers playing, I have shoes to fill. I’m lucky to have a brother like Max to work with me.”

Learning to pitch hasn’t come easy, Morgan said. It’s hard work, takes lots of practice and time, with so much to learn and absorb. He’s got the fastball and change up under control, and now has focused on making the rise ball hop and the drop ball sink.

Always watching and always coaching are dad and Max. “They started me the right way learning the pitching mechanics and Max works with me on my pitches,” Morgan said.

Mark might only be 20 years old, but he’s a veteran of the sport having played 12 years in the boy’s league and the past six mixing it up with the men. Last season, Mark and Max played for the Rice Lake Orangemen. But this year the brothers form the battery for the Rivers Edge team.

They still play some weekend tournaments for the Orangemen, but for now it’s just Mark and Max teaming up with some boyhood friends.

“Just about all the guys on our team started in the boy’s league,” Mark said. “We have players from 17 to 24 with one guy in his 40s.”

While most baseball players shun softball and think of it as only a “girl’s game,” Mark said the sport did him wonders in developing as a Rice Lake High School baseball player. He had never played baseball until his junior year. He went out for the team and anchored third base and the outfield. In his senior year he carried about a .400 average. The adjustment from fastpitch to baseball was easy, he said.

“In fastpitch your bat speed has to be so much quicker and in fielding you have much less time to react to the ball,” Mark said. “Playing fastpitch made the transition a lot easier, but I like fastpitch better; it’s a much quicker game, a constant up tempo game.”

Next weekend, Mark and Max will either lead their own team into the 29th annual Rice Lake Invitational Tournament, or suit up for the Orangemen. And dad, Debbie, and Morgan will be at the ball diamond watching them play. It’s a ritual Gary has gotten used to over the years.

“One time we had five sons playing in the tournament,” Gary said. And at the ripe old age of 15, Max made his debut in the tourney. “Teams couldn’t believe he was only 15,” Gary said. And while he was still playing in the boy’s league and tournaments, Max tossed no hitters in the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) 10-Under and 12-Under national tournaments.

“He is pretty devoted to the game,” Gary said.

And so is Gary. “In the history of the boy’s league that started in 1958, Gary is the best coach I’ve ever come across,” said Ronn Kopp, the city’s Park and Recreation Director, and the man many point to for the continued success of the boy’s and men’s fastpitch leagues in Rice Lake. “He can spot the slightest thing and get it squared away. The kids believe in him.”

With so many of his sons playing fastpitch it was bound to happen that Gary would eventually coach against one of his boys.

“We have had some sibling rivalries,” Gary said with a chuckle. “There was one game where I was coaching and Mark hit a walk off home run off his brother Mike.”

Over the 35 years in the sport, Gary has many fond memories of the sport. Sure there have been lots of wins and championships. And the house is filled with trophies the boys have won. But what he remembers most is the kids themselves and the fun they had playing the sport he loves to teach them.

“We had one boy who didn’t get a hit all year,” Gary said. “But he got his first hit in the playoffs. It was like Christmas for him. It was a cherishing moment that I’ll never forget.”

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