By DON CAMERON
Missouri ace savors NAFA WoodBat Hall of Fame induction
ST. JOSEPH, MO – “It’s the way the game should be played.”
That’s how Ray Foster, the pride of St. Joseph’s, Missouri, describes the game of wood-bat fastpitch. It also aptly reveals Foster’s approach to the game of fastpitch itself, an approach founded in competitiveness, passion and sportsmanship.
“Softball has been my life, my blood supply,” said Foster, 58, the newest member of the NAFA WoodBat Hall of Fame.
After being named to the NAFA WoodBat All-Decade Team for leading J-Train (Newton, Kansas) to the 2009 and 2011 NAFA WoodBat World Series titles, right-handed ace Foster was the sole 2016 inductee into the NAFA WoodBat Hall of Fame.
The ceremony was held during the 2016 NAFA WoodBat Western National Championship Aug. 27 at Los Altos Softball Complex in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I am very happy for Ray,” said Dave Parker, NAFA WoodBat commissioner. “His contributions to our WoodBat national program are tremendous, on and off the field. Ray is the definition of a quality pitcher and even a better man.”
Foster was Most Valuable Pitcher of that 2009 NAFA WoodBat World Series in Longmont, Colorado, for J-Train, and he steered J-Train to the crown again in 2011 in smoldering temperatures in Anadarko, Oklahoma.
A highlight of that tourney was a titanic Sunday pitching duel between Foster and Dave Beets of SuperChief. Beets emerged victorious, 1-0, in 10 innings in a game played in 108-degree heat, but Foster and company rebounded to secure the title, with Foster again earning Most Valuable Pitcher honors.
In 2016, Foster hurled for the Topeka Wizards. A pulled muscle in his back prevented Foster from making the trip to Newton for WoodBat Nationals. But he professes his love for the wood-bat game.
“When I first started in fastpitch, I was 16 years old and it was before aluminum,” Foster said. “I think that’s the way the game is supposed to be. It’s a much safer game for your pitchers and infielders. With aluminum, the ball can come off the bat pretty hot. With wood, you can still hit it pretty hard, but you’ve got to square it up. That’s the way it should be.”
Foster got involved in fastpitch at age 16, after high school baseball, eventually landing with a team run by Dave Polsky, who owned a car dealership in St. Joseph.
“He put a lot of money into fastpitch and always fielded a pretty good team,” Foster noted.
Polsky Motors was one of a handful of powerhouse clubs to emerge from the “field of dreams” environment of Walnut Field located in the stockyards of St. Joe’s South End. Foster was a catcher before finding the urge for pitching.
He took the initiative to talk to some of the more established veteran pitchers in town to learn tips on the craft of pitching.
“I talked to them about how they gripped it, how they rotated it, how they stepped,” Foster said. “I put a lot of hours into it practicing.”
Decades later, Foster’s flawless, efficient mechanics in the pitcher’s circle have helped propel him to prominence on a regional, national and even international level.
“I would consider myself a rise ball pitcher,” Foster said. “That’s what I throw the best. I get real good jump on the ball, but over the years, I have become an accurate pitcher, to where I hit the spots well, and I think that’s where most of my success has come.”
Foster’s NAFA career began in 2005 with the Kansas City Eagles. The next year, and for four consecutive seasons, he catapulted the Houston Diablos to the championship of Latin states, which has a storied 67-year history and has featured legendary talent with Latin American roots over the decades. Foster won two Most Valuable Pitcher accolades at Latin states.
He’s worked with a handful of superb catchers over the years. Most recently, the Wizards’ Jeff Tarwater has been his receiver. In his 20s, Foster spent a few seasons throwing to Donnie “The Doctor” Richardson, whose surgical precision behind the dish earned him that moniker.
“He’s a riseball pitcher with an unhittable change-up at times,” Tarwater told Bob Otto of the otto-in-focus men’s fastpitch website in 2015: From the Land of Oz a Wizard of a men’s fastpitch team
“Most batters know the rise ball is coming,” added Tarwater, “and it can still be unhittable. Ray is also the best pitcher I have ever caught on hitting a spot. For fastpitch, I would toss Ray in with anyone in that aspect. He never misses the glove. He’s just that good.”
Foster played for a powerhouse Harold Market’s team out of Lexington, Missouri, winning Masters 50 and Over national titles in 2008 and 2010, with staffs that also included Michael White, Doug Middleton, Clayton Fleeman and Allen Speckels.
Foster also won the 2012 and 2013 ASA 50 and Over national titles with the Bay Area Merchants out of Hayward, California, bolstering a staff that also included Pete Meredith, Ray Camacho and Richard “Snake” Rivera.
He also played for the Maynard Dirtbags (Texas), finishing second in the NAFA A Major division behind the Topeka Toros in 2009. Austin, Texas, ace Ricky Barker joined Foster on that elite staff for the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, tournament. Foster also won an ASA title with the Ohio Battery and lost in the 2012 ISC Legends finals to Darren Zack.
Aside from 1976-79, when he served his country in the Marine Corps, Foster has been playing the game of fastpitch his entire adult life.
In 2017, he’ll be in for a new adventure, as part of a New Zealand team competing in the World Masters tournament from April 19 to May 7.
The Olympic-style tournament is held every four years. Work commitments — he owns a locksmith company and drives semi trucks for Fedex Freight — prevented Foster from playing in 2013 in Milan, Italy. But he anticipates investing in a rigorous offseason workout program to be in top form when next April rolls around for this global experience.
Foster will compete for the Demons out on Invercargill, which has the distinction of being the southernmost and westernmost city in New Zealand.
Foster volunteers as an assistant coach with Missouri Western State University women’s softball team, a Division 2 power. He often throws batting practice to the team and helps in other capacities.
A father of three who has been married for 35 years, Foster is a role model and among the game’s finest competitors, something that is evident in his quiet, humble demeanor when he’s not between the chalk lines.
Nicknamed “Nasty” and “Flaming Raymond” by his National Investors ISC travel team and other teams, Foster is a grade-A addition to the NAFA WoodBat Hall of Fame.
“I always wanted to make it until I’m 60,” Foster said. “I’m about year and a half away from 60. I’m at least going to do it a couple more seasons.”