Ultimate competitor Dan Nessler twice a Hall of Famer

Written by Bob on December 11th, 2016
DAN NESSLER of Happy Chef covers second base during the 1995 ISC World Tournament in which Happy Chef finished fifth. Nessler was selected an All-World player four times and was inducted into the ISC Hall of Fame in 2009. Photo By BOB OTTO

DAN NESSLER of Happy Chef covers second base during the 1995 ISC World Tournament in which Happy Chef finished fifth. Nessler was selected an All-World player four times and was inducted into the ISC Hall of Fame in 2009. Photo By BOB OTTO

MANKATO, Minn. – With a grunt and a leap, the pitcher hurls the softball from 46 feet, causing the violently spinning missile to jump or plunge a foot just before crossing home plate and slamming into the catcher’s mitt at 85 miles per hour.

The degree of difficulty of hitting such a frustratingly elusive projectile?

Nearly impossible for batsmen of modest ability. But for the very best, an improbability they handle with great aplomb.

Mark Sorenson was one of the best, as was Bill Boyer, Shawn Rychcik and Colin Abbott. This esteemed class also includes Dan Nessler of Mankato, Minnesota.

Nessler was a magician with the bat from the left-side batters box. He played small-ball as well as anyone, said pitcher Pete Sandman, a teammate with Nessler on the world championship Penn Corp teams of Sioux City, Iowa.

“Dan was a great hitter,” said Sandman, who pitched for Penn Corp and later National Health Care Discount (NHCD) from 1981 to 1991. “He was smart, could slap, drag bunt, hit balls to left, center or right. He was gifted with the bat.”

    ACCLAIMED PLAYER AND LEADER

With the likes of Sandman, Nessler, Sorenson and Boyer leading a stable of stars, Penn Corp / NHCD won four (1988, ’89, ’91, ’92) International Softball Congress World Tournament championships. During that reign, Nessler made ISC All-World twice.

Interspersed in those Penn Corp years, Nessler also played for Happy Chef of Mankato, helping the team finish fifth in the 1995 ISC World Tournament, and claiming the ASA Class A National Championship the same year.

During the Happy Chef years, Nessler earned two ISC All-World honors (1985, 1992), along with being selected ASA Second-Team, All-American.

Nessler took over as player / manager in 1992. A post he held for 10 years. He was a leader and an example to the younger players, said former infielder Scott Christensen, a three-time ISC All-World player with Happy Chef.

“He was always thinking about game situations and our strengths and what the other team might do,” said Christensen. “He was a very intelligent player who could anticipate and be in the right place to make a play. You can’t teach that. He could adapt (at bat) and bunt or hit the other way.”

DAN NESSLER played in 16 ISC World Tournaments. In the four world tournaments in which he was selected All-World, he batted .407 with 15 runs and nine RBI. Photo By BOB OTTO / 1995 ISC World Tournament

DAN NESSLER played in 16 ISC World Tournaments. In the four world tournaments in which he was selected All-World, he batted .407 with 15 runs and nine RBI. Photo By BOB OTTO / 1995 ISC World Tournament

    TITLES, AWARDS, INDUCTION

When Nessler’s fastpitch career came to end after the 2000 ISC World Tournament, his numbers rank with some of the top players to ever play the sport: 16 ISC world tournaments; three world tournament championships; four all-world selections (.407 batting average, 15 runs and 9 RBI); four USA Olympic Festivals and two gold medals, a silver and bronze; a state championship and ASA honors.

And in Minnesota fastpitch, he helped Happy Chef win three ASA Class AA state championships, and the one national title.

So with such a glowing resume, Nessler was ushered into the ISC Hall of Fame in 2009. He becomes the only player in Minnesota fastpitch history to be so inducted.

    MINNESOTA FASTPITCH ICONS

He joins four Minnesota ISC Hall of Fame inductees, including manager James Rubbelke (2003); administrators Dennis Johnson (2010) and Dutch Elbers (1988), and umpire Les Novak (2002).

Being seated in the ISC Hall of Fame with such Minnesota luminaries is an honor said Nessler, adding that his induction wouldn’t have been possible without having teammates blessed with the talent to compete for world championships.

But there’s more to the Nessler saga. In October he was inducted into the Minnesota Sports Federation Softball Hall of Fame.

Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame members, Dan Nessler, left, and Craig Brown, who were inducted in 2016, and Jeff Nessler, Dan's brother, who was inducted in 2004. Courtesy Photo

Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame members, Dan Nessler, left, and Craig Brown, who were inducted in 2016, and Jeff Nessler, Dan’s brother, who was inducted in 2004. Courtesy Photo

“No one ever plays thinking about these types of awards, you play because you love the game and just like the competition,” said Nessler, 53. “I’ve been fortunate to play on many great teams with awesome teammates, which translates into winning. When you win enough, players start to receive personal honors. I’m honored to be in the ISC and Minnesota Hall of Fames.”

    FOLLOWING OLDER BROTHER’S LEAD

As he looks back on the fastpitch memories that abound and trace back to his hometown of St. James, he reflects on the influence of his older brother Jeff. Both starred at St. James High School in baseball, football and basketball. Both won state championships in either baseball or basketball.

And Jeff and Dan went on to play baseball in college, with Dan starring at Mankato State University where he earned all-conference honors.

“I always tried to emulate Jeff,” said Dan. “He set the bar very high and helped make me the competitive athlete I am.”

The brothers also share something quite unique in the sport: In 1984, Jeff was selected ISC All-World, and in 1985 Dan was awarded his first All-World plaque. And on October 29, 2016, Dan joined his brother in the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame, where Jeff was inducted in 2004.

“Being inducted into the hall of fame with Jeff is real exciting and special,” Nessler said. “It is awesome to be in with him.”

    SO LONG BASEBALL

But one has to wonder: If not for the folding of a baseball team, would Dan Nessler’s fastpitch career soared to such great height?

While a sophomore at Mankato State in 1983, Nessler had planned on playing summer baseball, but those plans went haywire, so he turned to a second option: fastpitch softball.

Soon enough he was playing 85 games with Happy Chef against some of the best hurlers in the sport.

“We faced some of the best pitchers like Peter Meredith and (Ty) Stofflet,” Nessler said. “It for sure improved me as a baseball player.”

So much so that Nessler went on to earn all-conference honors at MSU. But once his college days were over, fastpitch became his primary sport. For several years he played with Happy Chef outfielder and manager, Marley Lloyd.

“He was a great hitter and leader,” said Lloyd, also a Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame member. “He was fast, could bunt and was hard to get out. He played a great second base, but he could have played anywhere. Dan regularly led the team in batting average and on-base percentage. He was very competitive, tenacious.”

    COACH COACHES SON

After his playing days, Nessler became a girls’ travel club coach, and recently was appointed head softball coach of Bethany Lutheran College of Mankato.

But he also helped coach the USA Junior Men’s National Team in World Baseball Softball Federation World Championship.

And on that team was a Nessler: Dan’s son Steven.

With all that he’s achieved and the honors that have come his way, being on the ball diamond with his son was truly special.

STEVEN NESSLER played on the 2016 USA Junior Men's National Team with his dad, Dan Nessler, coaching third base. Courtesy photo.

STEVEN NESSLER played on the 2016 USA Junior Men’s National Team with his dad, Dan Nessler, coaching third base. Courtesy photo.

In fact, while coaching third base, Dan watched as Steven came through in the clutch.

In the ninth inning in a close game with Australia and Team USA trailing, 3-2, Steven came to bat and drove in the tying run, helping the United States to go on and win the game, 4-3.

“That was a ‘proud dad moment,’” Nessler said. “Being on the field with Steven was a great experience.”

    MINNESOTANS OF LEGEND

Nessler scans his memory bank for more pleasurable nuggets. In his mind’s eye, once again he sees some of Minnesota’s greatest players showcasing their skills: Such as the O’Connors, Jerry and Dan, of St. Paul Whitaker Buick fame, Chad Boom of Junker’s Bar, and Don Olson of Duluth.

And he pays homage to his Happy Chef teammates: brother Jeff, Marley Lloyd, Gary Lunds, Wayne “Lefty” Haefner and his sons Matt and Marty; pitchers Leroy Jolstad, Dale Root, Gary Watland, and Craig Brown.

“When I reflect on them, every one of them was the ultimate competitor,” Nessler said. “They were warriors who refused to lose. I would like to be remembered as a team player. Before every game, I would ask myself, ‘what can I do to help my team win today?’”

And win Nessler did.

2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Marley Lloyd says:

    Great article Bob. Well written & very informative. Dan Nessler is well deserving of this wonderful recognition.

  2. Bob says:

    Thank you Marley. You made it happen. I appreciate your input. I’m glad I got to see Dan play. Those Nessler boys could play the game!

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