Bill Hopeman put Hingham, Wisc. on the fastpitch map

Written by Bob on May 18th, 2017

Since the late 1930s, hundreds of softball players have played fastpitch at the Hingham ballfields. Courtesy Photo

“I have skipped class reunions and some marriages because of ball. It was probably wrong, but nothing was more important than playing ball. I just loved the game.” – Bill Hopeman

HINGHAM, Wisc. – When he was six years old, Bill Hopeman got his first taste of fastpitch softball on Hingham’s grade school playground.

Swinging a bat, catching and throwing a softball soon became a passion. His favorite position?

“Anywhere they would let me play,” said Hopeman, who was younger than many of the school kids back in the early 1950s. “But mostly I played third base, shortstop and some first base.”

But over the ensuing years, “let me play,” became a plea of sorts to “please pitch for us,” as Hopeman switched from infielder to pitcher. An outstanding one at that – who many claim the best to hurl a softball in the Hingham fastpitch league.

“Bill Hopeman is known as being the greatest pitcher of this area,” said Jerrod Dulmes, commissioner of the Hingham Fastpitch League for the past 13 years. “He dominated the 1970s to 1990s.”

    ALL ABOUT CONTROL

But Hopeman’s fastpitch star didn’t start out bright and shiny. All because of a frustrating ailment most young pitchers are inflicted with: wildness.

“I was wild that first year in the Hingham league,” said Hopeman, 19 at the time. “I actually threw some balls over the backstop and hit batters now and then. My catcher told me, ‘if you ever get your control, you will be good.’”

That was back in 1967. The Vietnam war was raging and Uncle Sam sent Hopeman his draft notice. After army boot camp, Hopeman found himself in the midst of the war.

But in a somewhat strange turn of events, his pitching blossomed amidst the bombs and the bullets. It seems Hopeman’s administration unit, in which he was a clerk typist, had a softball team that played in the base camp league.

    SOFTBALL THE ARMY WAY

And admin needed a pitcher. Hopeman tried out and was handed the game ball.

“I pitched every day and got out of a lot of (military) duty,” he said. “That’s where I got my control, in Vietnam.”

With Hopeman leading the charge, the admin team won the base championship and qualified for a tournament that would send the winner to Tokyo for the Pacific Regional tournament. Hopeman’s team lost a close championship game, but he can only wonder what might have been if discharge orders hadn’t interfered.

“We lost our two best hitters and players,” he said. “Our shortstop and third baseman’s (Vietnam tours) ended before the tournament. They were two of the best players I’ve ever played with. With them we might have won and gone to Tokyo. But we will never know.”

Hopeman’s army tour came to an end in 1968, and his softball career picked up right where it left off: pitching in the Hingham league and as a much sought after ‘pick-up’ pitcher for several teams in the area.

    CONTROL, MOVEMENT, SPEED

That youthful wildness? All gone and replaced with pinpoint control and ‘stuff’ on the ball. And Hopeman could – in the vernacular of fastpitch – “bring it.”

“Bill was very fast,” said Wayne Dulmes, 89, who once played and has since served the league for 47 years as a scorekeeper and announcer. “He had a lot of stuff on the ball. When he got two strikes on you, he would come at you with that hard rise ball. You could bank on it.”

Though Hingham is a small town (population 900) about 15 miles southwest of Sheboygan, it has a long and distinguished history in supporting men’s fastpitch.

    GAME LIVES ON IN HINGHAM

The sport has died in many towns in the area. But the game lives on in Hingham, largely through the effort of the Hingham Athletic Association. The HAA started a softball league in the 1940s. A brief stoppage occurred, but the HAA and committed fastpitch enthusiasts restarted the program and it’s back up to speed.

There’s never been an easy path to winning the Hingham league or its annual tournament – that Hopeman can attest to.

“My team probably won it 15 of the 30 years I played,” said Hopeman, who sponsored the team through his business, Hopeman’s Inc. “In the tournament, there were darn good teams from all over the place like Appleton, Green Bay and Milwaukee. And they had extra pitching.”

Meaning of course, a pitching staff of two or three pitchers.

That’s a luxury Hopeman didn’t have. At 6-foot-4, strong and powerful with a right bicep that measured two inches bigger in diameter than his left, more-often-than-not, Hopeman was his team’s only pitcher.

Some would say with a chucker like Hopeman, that’s all a team needs.

“He was real competitive and very good,” said Barry Huibregtse, 71, a Hopeman teammate for many years who played shortstop and second base. “He threw hard and had that good, fast rise and curve. Because of Bill that’s why we won so much.”

    MEMORIES OF THE KING

When Hopeman looks back upon his career, there’s many great memories. But one stands out: facing the King.

Hopeman had the pleasure of battling Eddie Feigner of the King and His Court fame four times. It’s an experience he relishes to this day. During the first match-up in 1974, Hopeman struck out star first baseman Al Jackson. It was the first time he struck out that season after some 400 games.

“We had close games,” Hopeman said. “Big crowds came to see Feigner. He put on a great show.”

Hopeman recalls getting a hit off Feigner. But he admits, there was bit of a set up to make it happen.

“Eddie came up to me before I was going to bat and he said, ‘I can tell the crowd wants you to do something,’’ Hopeman said, adding that Feigner grooved a pitch that he belted for a hit and later came around to score. “Feigner didn’t want to embarrass us. There’s a reason he was called the king.”

Hopeman must have impressed Feigner, because after their first game in 1972, he asked Hopeman to be his understudy. But newly married and working in the family business, Hopeman had to decline.

Hopeman has a vast store of memories that he enjoys rehashing with old teammates and rivals at the Hingham ballpark when he stops by to watch the younger generation play the game he has enjoyed and that consumed much of his life.

“I have skipped class reunions and some marriages because of ball,” he said. “It was probably wrong, but nothing was more important than playing ball. I just loved the game.”

Hopeman hurled hundreds of innings. But all that windmilling finally exacted a toll: an injured rotator cuff that made pitching a painful ordeal. Reluctantly he retired in 2002.

How many wins did he chalk up in his career that spanned an incredible six decades?

“Well, I know we won more than we lost,” Hopeman said with a chuckle.

For many years, the Hingham Athletic Association kept statistics of its ball players. But unfortunately, a trove of stats were lost that covered much of Hopeman’s prime years in the league.

But when he retired, he had certainly established himself as one of the league’s winningest and all-time great pitchers.

Along with those 15 league titles, Hopeman teams won several tournament championships, while best estimates have him hurling around 550 games and winning about 400.

    AS GOOD AS TODAY’S TOP HURLERS

League Commissioner Jerrod Dulmes remembers facing Hopeman as a youngster. He struck out twice and popped up. He was just 15 at the time, but that experience left an impression on Dulmes, 36, who pitches for his dad’s team, Countryside Remodeling, in the Hingham league.

Over the years in tournaments throughout Wisconsin, he has faced some of the state’s top ‘modern-era’ pitchers, and Hopeman ranks with the today’s best.

“Bill threw hard in the upper 70s with that good rise and drop,” said Dulmes. “Today he would be (rated) in the NAFA (North American Fastpitch Association) AA-Major to Open level. In the same class as a Todd Lubkeman.”

That’s high praise because Lubkeman is a NAFA Hall of Fame pitcher, a NAFA 20-year anniversary team selection, and he is the reigning 2016 Wisconsin NAFA Pitcher of The Year

So, comparing Hopeman to the likes of a Lubkeman is valid, says former teammate Don Wilterdink.

“Bill was overpowering with a great rise-curve that came in at the knees and moved two-feet up and out,” said Wilterdink. “He was pinpoint and put the ball where he wanted. He was ultra-competitive and didn’t like to lose. Bill is ‘Mr. Fastpitch’ for Hingham. He put Hingham on the softball map.”

4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Justin Colombo says:

    Never played against Bill, but have got to play in the Hingham league tourney a number of times over the years. Love playing out there. Such a great atmosphere. A lot of good players have played in that tourney. Best announcer in the game is out there.

  2. Bob says:

    I grew up in a small Minnesota town (Wanamingo) which at the time had a population under 500 in the 1960s; it’s grown to around 1,000 now. So I could identify with Hingham fastpitch. We never had a pitcher in our league near Bill Hopeman’s caliber, but Wanamingo did have a five-team, competitive league. Fastpitch softball was a popular sport with the town folks and with the farming community that surrounded the little village. On game nights, being at the ball park watching the local teams play with ball players nearly everyone knew, was a popular fan activity. So, yeah, I really could identify with Hingham fastpitch. Here’s a tip-of-the-hat to Jerrod Dulmes, who gave me great information about the league, about Bill Hopeman, about the Hingham Athletic Association, and some history about the town. Thank you Jerrod.

  3. Jerrod says:

    Great article, Bob! Thank you for capturing it. Many people have been commenting on it.

  4. Bob says:

    Thank you for the compliment Jerrod, and I’m happy that people like it. You’re doing a great job keeping the sport going in Hingham.

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