Palm Springs SCIFL Tournament wrap up

Written by Bob on April 28th, 2010

Photos By BOB OTTO

PALM SPRINGS, CA – It’s been a few years since I’ve covered a men’s fastpitch tournament. It was good to be back. Good to run into some old friends at Demuth Park in Palm Springs last weekend.

But one thing I don’t like. Those garish yellow-neon balls. I’ve covered plenty of high school girl’s games and of course that’s what they use. But those yellow balls seem out of place in the men’s game.

I picked one up. Rock hard. And when a batter smashes one, those yellow rocks leave the bat like a missile launched for outer space.

Former Long Beach Black Sox retired pitcher, Chuck Vranich, was spectating at the tournament. He said the reason he retired from pitching was because of those yellow missiles. After having them whistle over his head a few times, he decided it was time to give up pitching. Just not worth the risk for a 66-year-old disfiguring his face or breaking his bones.

I saw a couple of two-bouncers headed into the shortstop – second base hole. I was ready to pencil in a 6-to-3 groundout, but the ball shot into centerfield before the shortstop could react.

So ball players, what do you think? Do you like them? Or would you prefer to go back to the old style cork-centered Dudley’s or DeBeers?

…I saw some great plays, but the catch Maccabi USA centerfielder, Dan Winnick, made in the championship game against the Panteras topped them all. Winnick – about as fast as they come in the sport – made a great over the shoulder running catch in left-centerfield to track down what I thought was a sure triple.

Clyde Bennett may be the most devoted man in fastpitch. He umpires. He manages a 23-under team. And each year he recruits three or four young players and brings them into the game. Clyde brought his son, Mark, into the sport and Mark has gone on to become a top-level ASA Class “A” and ISC pitcher.

…For years, Clyde’s Santa Barbara men’s teams were competitive with the better teams in California as well as the U.S. He no longer has a men’s team, but he has kept the men’s game alive in Santa Barbara. There’s still a four-team league going, he said.

…The Southern California Independent Fastpitch League (SCIFL) is one of the last bastions of men’s fastpitch in Southern California. And much credit goes to NAFA Pacific Coast Vice President, Robert Hernandez, who serves as the SCIFL Tournament Director. The league is competitive and it’s well run.

…Co-ed fastpitch anyone? Debbie Day, a right-hander, pitched for Maccabi USA, and she did well against the men. Day pitched the University of Arizona Wildcats to the school’s first NCAA Division I National Championship in 1991. Debbie has been windmilling her screwball and rise ball at the men for about 10 years with the “Damn Yankees” in the Burbank League.

The difference?

“I think the women are more disciplined than the men,” she said. “But the men are so much stronger. You make a mistake and the ball goes so much further.” Day is also the head softball coach at Cal Lutheran University

…Frightening moment. San Diego PrimeTime pitcher Dan Zupp was standing in the on deck circle when a foul ball came screaming at him. The ball hit Zupp flush on the inside elbow of his pitching arm. His elbow had a knot the size of tennis ball. But there was Zupp pitching in the next game. And he threw well before losing 3-2 to the eventual champion Panteras.

…If it weren’t for older pitchers like Zupp, Dave Blackburn (Maccabi USA), Ron Rupp (Long Beach Black Sox), Russ Snow (Maccabi USA), and several others fighting off retirement – the game would already be toast in Southern California.

…Since 1993, Vicki Oltean has been a staunch ally of men’s fastpitch in Palm Springs. Every year, she welcomes the men to Demuth Park for tournament play. And under her leadership as Tournament Director for Palm Springs Parks Recreation, the ball fields are in excellent playing condition with the games running on schedule.

…22-year-old Cory Avery of Nova Scotia, Canada is a hot ticket in men’s fastpitch. The right-hander is toeing the rubber for Rude Pac of Sunland, California this season as well as pitching for Murphy’s Fish and Chips in the Canada Junior Men’s National Championship. On Sunday I saw him pitch against the Norwalk Panteras and he looked good.

Avery’s thoughts on facing California hitters versus Canadians: “They are equal if not better,” he said. “They put the ball in play.” Rude Pac has kept Avery busy. He’s pitched in the Las Vegas Road Trip III, St. George, Utah, and the Palm Springs tournaments since landing in La-La Land.

…I’ve talked to a few folks about the ISC World Tournament format. The format has all 48 teams in the same bracket in the early rounds. Then the first 24 teams eliminated move into a single elimination ISC II Championship. Nobody takes the middle ground. They’re either for it, or against it.

…One of the top pitchers in the world said that there should never have been an ISC II in the first place. I disagree…the ISC II has replaced the ASA Class A National Championship (in my view). And the ISC II has earned its distinction as the best national tournament for teams a notch under ISC World Tournament teams.

…Let’s hope enough ISC World Tournament teams return next year so that the ISC can once again offer World Tournament and ISC II Tournament of Champions championships.

…Avery pitched against fellow Canadian, Travis Price (Panteras), losing 2-1 in Sunday’s first playoff game. His thoughts?

“I’ve heard about him, but I’ve never seen him pitch,” Avery said. “I wish he would’ve given me a pitch to hit.” Avery swings the bat about as well as he throws the ball.

Yellow ball part two: I saw pitchers wearing protective helmets with face guards. I’d think all pitchers would be wearing them. I wonder how many other pitchers like Vranich retired early rather than risk injury from the yellow rocks? As you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan.

For more great fastpitch news, visit these websites:
Al’s Fastball
Fastpitch West
International Softball Congress
North American Fastpitch Association
2010 ISC World Tournament, Midland, Mich.

10 Comments so far ↓

  1. […] Story and photos by BOB OTTO Click here for the original story with photos at Bob’s blog, “Otto in Focus” […]

  2. eric legge says:

    biggest mistake in the history of
    the ISC was starting the ii division.

  3. Kammueller says:

    All the leagues and tournaments in MN have converted to the new optic balls. Everyone really like them. We use the Dudley’s which are a pretty fair ball. They are not rocks, but they stay round and if you hit one it will go. There was the usual grumping from the traditionalists, but most people statred to realize that you could actually see these balls at night. Unlike the Nafa ball which turns grey in about and inning or black once the Major pitchers get a hold of them.

  4. Kammueller says:

    I think the Deuce was a good idea at the time, but seems like Fastpitch has gone the route of slowpitch. The masses seem more interested in playing at their lowest possible level of play.

  5. Rich Markham says:

    More great writing! I have enjoyed your writing and photos since I was in San Diego, 1998-2002. Keep it up! Your article on the yellow balls was thought provoking, which I belive is one of the graat characteristics of your pieces. I should point out that as of 2002 when I returned to Ohio, we were using the white 0.50 COR balls in SoCal. The yellow ones that we use in Ohio are 0.47 COR. Last week I pulled out some of the white balls that I purchased in SD. I was amazed at how much faster they came off the bat than the yellow 0.47 COR balls. I will not allow them in batting practice! Another point though is that the bats have become more lively in that same 8-year period. I wear a masked helmet when I pitch now (I’m 69) and advise everyone to do so. An alternative is wood bats. We play a tournamnet in Burgettstown, PA that uses wood bats. (See posts to from a couple of years ago.) Great games and my players love it!

  6. Bob says:

    Hi Rich, great to hear from you, and it’s good to hear you are still involved in the sport. Wow, pitching at age 69 – great, keep it up.

  7. Steven Parks says:

    Hi Bob, great writing as usual. I will however disagree with you on the topic of pitching in SoCal. Recently, we’ve seen a surge in young pitchers in both our Burbank and Sherman Oaks leagues. Not only is Rupp, Blackburn, Barnes, and Ms. Day throwing great fastpitch, but now there are several younger guys who are bringing it. Very fun leagues to play in. You should check it out because its great. The sport is not dying, its coming back. Keep up the great work.

  8. Bob says:

    Hi Steven, this is great news. That’s what it’s going to take, the young guys winging the ball. Hey, you should write a story about some of those youngsters and give them a boost to keep ’em motivated. What nights do the leagues play? Maybe you could write a press release letting others know who to contact about playing. Or if the league directors would write press releases, I’ll post them. And I’m sure Al Doran and Jim Flanagan would as well. Thanks for writing.

  9. Bob, great reporting, keep it coming!


  10. Bob says:

    Thanks Al for posting the stories on alsfastball. The sport needs a revival, but yet with a little looking, there’s still a lot of ball being played across the country(s). Maybe not at the ISC World Tournament caliber. But like Greg Alder said, it starts at the bottom up.

  11. Bob says:

    Unbelievably, someone I talked recently had never heard of “Alsfastball” or “Fastpitchwest”. (I was so shocked that I passed out on the ball diamond and had to be revived mouth-to-mouth by a Lakers’ cheerleader flown in for this special assignment…-:)

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