Twin Cities fastpitch scene could use more Buzz Connors

Written by Bob on March 3rd, 2010

…One girl told me, ‘if he plays slowpitch, I’m going to leave him.’” –George Connor


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ST. PAUL, MINN – A dead arm was the best thing that ever happened to George “Buzz” Connor’s ball playing career.

Back in 1969, the then 36-year-old Connor’s baseball pitching arm went dead. He had nothing left overhand. The solution? Start whipping the ball underhand.

“My arm just went dead pitching baseball,” said Connor. “My catcher Hap Holmgren said, ‘you’re going to start throwing softball.’”

And Connor’s been windmilling a softball ever since. And at age 77, the 5-feet-9, left-handed pitcher has no plans on retiring. That’s no misprint. Not age 47. Or 57. Or even 67. But 77.

Connor still loves putting on the uniform and lacing up the spikes as he first did, five decades ago.

The weather’s cold this time of year in Minnesota. Snow covers the ball fields at Dunning Field in St. Paul. Most ball players wait until the weather warms in late April or May before they oil the glove and polish the spikes.

But not Connor. He’s already started throwing twice a week getting in shape for the upcoming Dunning League.

“A couple of nights a week, I throw, and we’ve got guys in there (Northstar Storage) hitting and throwing,” Connor said. “It took me about five years to learn to pitch; that’s what I tell the young guys. I tell them not to play any other positions. Just work on your pitching and practice.”

Connor is the dean of the Dunning League. He loves the game. Can’t wait for the season to start. But he doesn’t just pitch. He’s also manages the Halftime Recreation and Groom Construction team.

Already, his phone’s been ringing. Players eager to join a team, and returning team members ask about the upcoming season. When is practice is going to start? When are we going to have a team meeting?

“I’m just trying to keep the game together,” he said. “I’ve had about eight calls from guys asking if I had room on the team. Everybody is looking forward to getting going.”

And no one more than Connor.

“When the game starts you rarely see him sitting on the bench,” said Kevin Kammueller, who pitches for Jordan Realty and the Minnesota Angels. “He’s coaching third base or reminding the infielders where the batter hit the ball the last time, or trying to come up with some angle to get an easy run.

“He is all business. (And he can be) out there throwing an inning or two. He knows how the game is supposed to be played and is trying to instill some of this in the younger guys.”

And for young pitchers looking for advice, you may want to heed the words of the wily veteran.

“I tell them that they’ve got to throw every day,” Connor said. “They’ve to work at it and winters are the best time. Master one pitch that you can get over the plate, then work on another pitch.”

When it comes to St. Paul men’s fastpitch, Connor remembers some of the all-time greats. He says that Mike Payton, Danny O’Connor, and Jerry Schaber, were some of the finest players and hitters to grace a ball field anywhere in Minnesota – as well as throughout the country.

And there was Herb Brooks (1937-2003), former NHL, collegiate, and USA Olympic national hockey team coach, who spent some summers playing fastpitch in St. Paul.

“He was a left handed hitter and a good first baseman,” Connor said. “He wouldn’t swing at a bad pitch. He made you throw strikes and he could hit to all fields.”

As far as pitchers, Al DeWall and Dutch Elbers top his list as two of the best St. Paul and the Twin Cities has ever seen. Elbers was inducted into the International Softball Congress (ISC) Hall of Fame in 1988.

“Al threw hard with the good raise and drop,” Connor said. “And Dutch had all the pitches too. Al’s catcher, John Sheehan, made him good. He told Al, ‘I’ll catch you, but we’re going to work out during the winter to bring your control around.’ Al would walk a guy and John would come out to the mound.”

Although the game isn’t like it once was in St. Paul and Minneapolis, he isn’t ready to declare it dead.

“People said 10 to 12 years ago that we wouldn’t have fastpitch in another four to five years,” Connor said. “But we’re still playing and we’ve had good young kids coming up. They played baseball, so they can hit and field. I’m seeing more young guys wanting to play.”

And he credits the girls for getting some of the young guys to cross the line to the fastpitch side of softball.

“The girl friends who played fastpitch are encouraging the guys to get out of slowpitch and into fastpitch,” he said. “One girl told me, ‘if he plays slowpitch, I’m going to leave him.’”

Connor will never claim to be in the pitching class as a DeWall or Elbers, but he’s had his own share of fame. In 1997, or ’98 – he’s not quite sure of the year – Connor was inducted into the “Old Timers’ Fastpitch Softball Association of St. Paul” Hall of Fame. It’s a great honor and one he’s proud of.

But he doesn’t play for honors or for fame. “It’s a pleasure to play with guys that love the game as much as I do,” he said.

“Buzz is just great for the game,”Kammueller said. “The Twin Cities fastpitch scene could use a lot more Buzz Connor’s.”

5 Comments so far ↓

  1. Terry Dunham says:

    I have had the honor of not only playing with, but also against “Buzz” and he is a true ballplayer and sportsman. Buzz always participates with class in a game that at times can get heated….I consider him a true friend, Terry Dunham Farmington fastpitch

  2. Troy Westley says:

    I have known Buzzy for 11 years and could never get his age revealed. He is truly a class act and is one of the main reasons that St. Paul fastpitch still fields teams with top caliber talent.

    He plays the game with a no nonsense fashion and expects his teams to do the same. Buzzy gives everyone a fair shake and deserves every bit of adulation that this article will produce. Congratulations Buzzy, you are still the man!!!

  3. Gary Bougie says:

    I found out about Buzzy, as a kid growing up on ST Paul’s West Side where fast pitch was big, as it was in SSTP and all over the city. I watched Buzzy play against my dad, Joe Bougie, who also pitched for many years. Other notable pitchers from the West Side were Edmund VanDenbosch,Al Costillo and Dave Bougie…just to name a few.

    We played for many years in South St Paul on 15th ave and Dunning field. As I got older, I actually played against Buzzy and with him as well. We had Buzzy pitch for us in a tournament at McMurray field in the early 1980’s. We were fortunate enough to win…..and it was because of Buzzy Connor’s. He was also the MVP of the tournament. Buzz was always consistent, excellent control, good junk and made very few mistakes.

    I miss those days and I agree, we could use more “Buzz Connors”

    Keep carrying the torch, Buzzy

  4. I first met Buzzy in 1994 playing in the Sunday morning League in S. Mpls. Pitching for Whiskey Junction. I hadnt played fast pitch since 1971 and in one afternoon and evening at the Junction he convinced me to play on his team in St. Paul. I have enjoyed his company and insight, managment. Over the next 13 years He litterly taught me how to pitch. One of our best moments was taveling to the annual Las Vegas Invitational national tournament . I got married, [ 56 ballplayes & gueata attended] We had 2 teams from St. Paul and Buzzy and I were given the [rejects] from the A team LOL. We surprised everyone and went 4-0 with Buzzy shutting out the Las Vegas Aces in the final game. Dont ever ask him who his friends are, he’ll tell you he dosent have any friends, just aquaintences and then with a little smile will go back to chewing on his cigar. I have been blessed to have known this man and have laughed, cried, argued, drank, and roomed with him. His dedication and love for the game has been more than anybody could achieve. He is truly a ambassador for the game of Softball in St. Paul. He belongs in the State Hall of fame. Tank you Buzz.

  5. Brian Groehler says:

    Buzz — I know you through my Dad, Walter Groehler, and I appreciate reading your comments. My Dad played with Al DeWall and Dutch Elbers. He had the batting championship in 1954 and he also had two world championships in 1956 for the Newbar. And, in 1957 for the Belmont. Herb Brooks played 1st base on my Dad’s team, The Eagles Area #33, as you might know and my Dad played 2nd base. My Dad’s career stretched from 1946 with Brown and Bigelow to 1971 with Benson’s Bar. I remember all of the old names because I attended all of the games. We attend the annual Old Timer’s game in August and we’ve seen you pitch many times. What happened to Eddie Mattress? We have a question … who plays left field for the Old Timer’s blue team … his first name is Terry ?? It would be nice to see my Dad’s name mentioned :). Thank you!

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