The future of fastpitch in ‘good hands’ with today’s young stars

Written by Bob on August 14th, 2017

Catcher DEVIN MARTIN tags out an A1 Rockies, Calif. runner in R.M. Kurtz, 5-1, victory in the NAFA A-Major Division, during the 2017 NAFA World Tournament.

FARGO – Sometimes we old timers grumble that today’s youngsters don’t appreciate fastpitch softball like we did. And that they don’t play the game with the same devotion we had.

I sometimes fall into that negative trap.

But that perception got shattered at the North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) World Series in Fargo this past week.

On nearly every team, and in every game I covered and photographed, I saw young talent. I saw enthusiasm, competitive spirit, and they appeared to having a lot of fun.

That tells me that fastpitch is in good hands and will be around for a very long time.

Let’s meet a few of these young stars of today that were so impressive at the NAFA World Series.

DEREK MARTIN, 20, pitches for R.M. Kurtz of Ephrata, Penn. and also played for the USA Softball Jr. National Team in the World Softball Tournament. Photo By BOB OTTO / 2017 NAFA World Series.

The Martin’s…There’s three brothers who range in age from 20-year-old Derek, to Kenton, who is 27, and Devin in between. They’re from Ephrata, Penn., and can they play fastpitch.

So well in fact, that they helped R.M. Kurtz take second in the 30-team, A-Major Division.

Derek’s a pitcher and has played on the USA Softball Jr. National Team, and he threw a masterpiece in beating a good A1 Rockies from Calif., 5-1, in the A-Major division. Kenton also pitches and plays the outfield, while Devin anchors second base.

Along with the three brothers, cousin Matt Martin plays shortstop.

When the All-World selections were announced, Matt, Derek and Kenton made the team.

Derek started playing at 13, largely due to his father, Kenny’s influence, and due to some brotherly competition.

“We got a lot of work in the back yard learning (fastpitch),” Derek said, adding that the Kurtz’ ball clubs strengths are, “we make defensive plays, we have a lot of speed, and we put pressure on by stealing bags.”

COLLIN HOPKINS won two games to lead Bowen Fastpitch to the NAFA 23-Under World Series championship at Northside Softball Complex, Saturday. Photo By BOB OTTO / 2017 NAFA World Series

Collin Hopkins… He’s one of those ball players that you get the two-for-one deal. He pitches, plays first base, and he swings the bat well. He played a huge role in pitching Bowen Fastpitch to the 23-Under title.

Collin’s grandfather Gary and father Mike were stars of the game in the Decatur, IL, area. Perhaps that’s why Collin made the USA Softball Jr. National Team in 2014.

“If not for my dad I would have stuck with baseball,” he said. “My dad made it easy for me to get into fastpitch. His best advice about pitching was, ‘if it was easy, every (player) would do it.’ He’s always encouraged me to work at it.”

The Lewis brothers…Eric Lewis is a coach who builds a team from local talent. Of course it does help if you’ve got three sons to build the team around.

CRAIG LEWIS, 18, is one of three brothers who played for Young Thunder of Missouri in the NAFA 23-Under Divsion in which the team finished second. Young Thunder also competed in the A-Major Division. By BOB OTTO / Aug. 12, 2017

There’s 18-year-old Craig, a promising young pitcher and outstanding hitter, who tied for top honors in batting average at .500 (5-for-10) with at least 10 at bats in the 23-Under division.

With Craig pitching and hitting, Young Thunder of Missouri took the runner-up spot after getting nosed out by Bowen Fastpitch.

Along with Craig, younger brothers, Jacob, 16, and Brian, 14, saw plenty of action in both the 23-Under and A-Major tournaments.

Yusef Davis, Jr…. In just three years, this 22-year-old from Long Beach, Calif. has seen his star rise like rocket headed for the moon.

This past season, he has accumulated thousands of frequent flier miles, flying in every direction in the United States playing in various Open-rated tournaments.

Possessing speed, quick hands, an aggressive style and commitment to the game, YUSEF DAVIS, JR., 22, of Long Beach, Calif. is well on his way to becoming one of the bright, young stars of men’s fastpitch, Here he is seen playing for CR Bartels Farms of Portland, Ore. that won the NAFA AA-Major World Series, Aug. 11, 2017. Photo By BOB OTTO / 2017 NAFA World Series

At the NAFA World Series, he helped CR Bartels Farms of Portland, Ore. win the AA-Major championship. It’s his first NAFA title, and he’s feeling pretty good about it.

“It’s an unreal feeling,” he said. “It’s my first NAFA title. All the hard work is starting to pay off. Playing in NAFA has helped me get ready for the ISC (World Tournament).”

After playing in the World Series, Yusef was up in the air once again, flying to Grand Rapids, Mich. to play in ISC World Tournament. He’ll try and help the Farmersville Haymakers of Ephrata, Penn. win a world tournament title.

18-year-old BRADEN THOMPSON caught for Cero Gordo,Minn. in the Recreation Division of the 2017 NAFA World Series, while his twin brother, Braxton played shortstop, and the boys’ dad Jerry Thompson anchored third base. Photo By BOB OTTO / 2017 NAFA World Series

The Thompson’s of Cero Gordo…I happened to catch a recreational division game between Cero Gordo of Minn. and Ramona Fastpitch of Fargo. On the field for Cero Gordo were the Thompson family – dad Jerry anchoring third base, and his sons, 18-year-old twins, Braxton and Braden. Behind the plate was Braden, while Braxton patrolled shortstop.

Leo Dunham…Leo’s from St. Paul, and I’m guessing in his early 20s. He was a pick-up for Duluth (MN) Fastpitch. He’s fast, a good hitter, and I spotted him in the circle in a relief role.

Though Duluth lost, 6-5, to Threshers of Fargo, after the game, Leo was back in the circle getting some pointers from a veteran pitcher to further his pitching career.

“I’m learning to pitch,” he said. “It’s what I want to do.”

KYLE FRY pitching for the Northwest Braves of Oregon in the 2017 NAFA A-Major World Series. Photo By BOB OTTO / 2017 NAFA World Series / Fargo, N.D.

Kyle Fry…This tall, 19-year-old from Canada was the talk of the tournament. He already throws in the mid-70 mph range and his pitches dip, rise and dart with some of the best throwers at the NAFA World Series.

The Kurtz boys… For over 40 years, Ralph Kurtz has sponsored a men’s fastpitch team. And he will most likely be sponsoring for some time to come as his two young sons play – Lance and Lane.

They along with a roster filled with 20-somethings, caught the eye of many an old timer in Kurtz’ run to a second-place finish in the A-Major division.

This team is fast, plays solid defense, has speed to burn, can drive the ball, or play small ball.

Sponsor Ralph Kurtz is understandably proud of his young team. Proud of the way they play; proud of their integrity.

“My kids love softball,” he said. “We had to raise money to come here, and the boys had to raise their own money, too. I have my two boys playing and Ken Martin has his thee boys playing. Our team is disciplined; they will listen and will run through a wall if you ask them.”

Is the future of the game in good hands? I think so.

4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Tom Stasik says:

    Great to hear of these young players. Hopefully they continue, and encourage more of their friends to play. I would love to have them play ISC ball too.

  2. Bob says:

    No reason young players can’t play in both organizations as both the ISC and NAFA offer outstanding venues and opportunities to showcase their skills, and tend to offer national tournaments at times that don’t conflict with each other. A few of the teams and several of the players playing Fargo (mostly in the AA-Major class), left for the ISC after they had finished playing.

  3. Bill says:

    Nice, but I hate when I hear these young guys say that they gave up or are giving up baseball. You play fastpitch when your baseball days are done or you know you don’t have a future in baseball.

  4. Bob says:

    Many play both sports.

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