Fastpitch softball, a Hunhoff family tradition

Written by Bob on December 18th, 2009

By BOB OTTO
botto3@verizon.net

HARRISBURG, SOUTH DAKOTA – First there was Tony then John. Next came BJ then Andy. And these Hunhoff’s all share something in common. They’re fastpitch softball pitchers.

Tony, 52, who now lives in northern California, started the foray as a 13-year-old back in Sioux Falls, South Dakota pitching in a Tri-County Boy’s Fastpitch League. Then John, his younger brother by four years came along and took up the windmilling trade.

“Our dad wasn’t a softball player,” said Tony Hunhoff. “But softball was so available to us. I remember me and my friends watching the men play and thinking, ‘we can do this.'”

The two brothers went far in the sport. Tony rose to stardom first and has pitched at the elite level in the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) Open division, and at the International Softball Congress (ISC) World Tournament level.

John’s star was shining bright too, until cancer claimed his life in 1997 at the age of 36. But in his short time he played in national tournaments, and pitched his team to a South Dakota state championship.

John’s legacy most certainly includes that of being the father of Benjamin “BJ” a 20-year-old rising star in the sport, and 17-year-old Andy, who is just coming into his own.

“BJ” as he’s called, has many of his dad’s characteristics: Big, strong, left-handed, and a hard thrower with a determined will to compete. And to win. Which he’s accomplished in ASA Boy’s national tournaments, ISC World Tournaments, as well for the USA Men’s and Junior Men’s national teams.

It’s not uncommon to find a family of fastpitch softball players – as the tradition of the sport has carried on this way.

But all pitchers?

To explain how all this came about and share their thoughts about the game, Tony and BJ agreed to answer a few questions.

Tony, you got started in a boy’s league. Where did your career take off from there?
“I went on to play (ASA Div.) A ball in Yankton (So. Dakota) and then I went to pitch for Interstate Battery in Massachusetts when I was about 25. I also pitched for the Des Moines (Iowa) Bombers, in Ohio, and for the Long Beach (Calif.) Painters.”

What are a few of the honors you achieved that you’re most proud of?
“I made the (ASA) first and third All-American teams, played in the Sports Festival, and had a tryout with the USA Men’s team. But they had a stable of great pitchers back then like Jimmy Moore in his prime.”

BJ, your fastpitch path has progressed much like your uncle, do you look to him for pitching advice?
“My uncle has given me pointers as I’ve gone along. He’s been down this road before, so I call him to ask advice about pitching and certain teams I might play for. He’s been a mentor.”

BJ, what was it like during tryouts with the USA Junior Men’s and USA Men’s teams?
“It was very structured and intense. We worked on game type situations. I learned and worked on different grips (pitching). You’re expected to dedicate the time on your own and then at tryouts show what you’ve learned. It was a good bonding as a team.”

BJ, as the youngest member on the 2007 USA Men’s team, what was that like?
“I didn’t know if I would make the team. When I got the email I was pretty excited. It was a huge honor, and cool to be the youngest on the team. I went knowing that I was the youngest guy there, but would benefit from learning so much. I got to play in two games and we finished second.”

Tony, you’ve seen your brother John pitch, and now BJ. How are they alike and different?
“He looks a lot like his dad, a very close resemblance, but he’s not quite as tall as his dad. John was a stepper, and BJ’s got a hop, a little different style. John had a pretty good drop and BJ does too. They’ve both had to work on the rise and curve. But their speed is pretty close to the same.”

Tony, regarding the ASA B Nationals in Prescott, BJ pitched with you. How did that go?
“We’ve actually pitched together in the last two (ASA) nationals. It’s one of those moments you cherish. It was nice to be family again and bond.”

Tony, what are some of the things you’ve advised BJ about?
“We talk pitcher stuff. About release points, grips, how to create more power and movement on the ball, and advice on being strong overall. He’s still growing, still learning.”

Tony, we’re you surprised that BJ made the USA Men’s national team at such a young age?
“No, I wasn’t surprised. If (USA Softball) wants to develop pitching, they have to look at theses young guys. There’s a handful of other young pitchers too. Australia has some great young pitchers coming through. That’s something that needs to happen here.”

BJ, what team at the Junior Men’s ISF World Championship impressed you the most?
“The Australians were very disciplined with great leadership, and they know their strengths and weaknesses. They are fundamentally sound because they play the whole season together. They had a great pitching staff in 2008, but not like in 2005 when they had Adam Folkard. He throws the ball so hard and has good rise and drop ball movement.”

BJ, you took part in the ASA / ISC Pitcher Development Program. How did that help?
“I would send a tape of myself (to assistant USA Junior Coach, Gary Mullican) and he would give me advice. The best advice I got was on the rise ball. My rotation wasn’t right and he got me to throw it with the right rotation. It was a big improvement. Now I love to throw it and it’s getting better with repetition.”

BJ, you’ve pitched with and against another up and coming young South Dakota pitcher in James Hartman. Tell us about him.
“He’s a great pitcher. It’s always a pitching battle. Sometimes he wins, sometimes I do. He’s very intense on the field and very disciplined.”

BJ, you played with the Sioux Falls Scarlets, which has a connection to your dad, tell us about that.
“Two or three of the older guys on the team played with my dad on the Chiefs. It was cool to play on the same team with guys that played with my dad.”

Tony, now that you’re in the twilight of your career, what’s the toughest part of keeping going?
“Finding someone to catch me during the week. While I’m pitching (in tournaments) I’m OK. But on Monday and Tuesday it kills me. My (objective) is to help out and not pitch every game.”

BJ, what is your attitude about being the number one pitcher?
“I like being the horse. It’s a mindset thing that gets me ready physically and mentally to do it.”

BJ, you pitched in the 2008 and 2009 ISC World Tournaments. What did you learn from the experience?
“I learned that no matter how hard you throw, you can’t throw it by those great hitters. You’ve got to mix your pitches up, or they will sit on one pitch.”

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4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Tony Hunhoff says:

    Mr. Bob Otto,
    I want to commend you in honoring the “Hunhoff family” in the game of fastpitch in both articles. You did a fantastic job in sharing to all how one family originating from the sticks of South Dakota has gone on to play, in the biggest shows in the fastpitch.
    Thank you again,
    Tony Hunhoff

  2. Bob says:

    Hi Tony,
    I really enjoyed writing the stories and talking with you, BJ, and Lori. If you and BJ are ever playing in a tournament down south in the Riverside / San Bernardino area, or L.A. / San Diego, let me know and I’ll try to stop by and meet you.
    Thank you for writing, much appreciated.
    Bob

  3. BJ Hunhoff says:

    Mr. Bob Otto
    I just wanted to take a second and tell you thanks for doing a wonderful job with my family softball story. You hit the nail on the head as far as how it would be said in words. It is an honor to recognize my dad and uncle in the game i love to play as well. If i am ever in California i will have to let you know
    Thanks Again
    BJ Hunhoff
    Happy Holidays

  4. Bob says:

    Hi BJ,
    Thank you for your compliment. I enjoyed talking with you and your family and writing the story. The Hunhoff’s have quite a tradition in fastpitch and I was happy to tell of it. If you’re ever at a tryout camp or tournament just let me know.
    Happy Holidays and good luck in the coming fastpitch year,
    Bob Otto

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