The best of times for young pitchers

Written by Bob on August 17th, 2011

YUCAIPA, CA – I’m borrowing a phrase from the English novelist, Charles Dickens, and tweaking it just a bit. “These are the worst of times and the best of times.”

At least for men’s fastpitch softball.

Let’s start with the worst of times and be done with the negative stuff. The numbers of men’s fastpitch teams keep dropping each year. Let me use Southern California as an example.

I moved to Yucaipa (near Riverside and San Bernardino) in 1977. I hooked up with a team right away, and there were plenty to chose from.

FASTPITCH GALORE
Leagues? San Bernardino had three, plus a Sunday church league. Riverside had two leagues. Little Banning, just 14 miles east of me had an eight-team league.

The Western Softball Congress (International Softball Congress affiliated) was the king of all leagues in North America and thriving. And the Pacific Coast Softball League was tops among ASA Class “A” teams.

Well, all that’s gone now. The only travel league left is the Southern California Independent Fastpitch League. Along with a few city leagues.

The reason the game is fading away is simply because of a lack of pitching.

OK, so none of this is new, news. But need it be that way? I don’t think so.

THE BEST OF TIMES FOR YOUNGSTERS

Now let’s move on to the “Best of Times.”

I recently talked with and wrote a story about John Peterson, “Minnesota connection, a California manager’s dream” a pitcher from Lake Crystal, Minnesota. While talking with John, the proverbial light bulb went on that these are pretty good times for young pitchers.

I mean, just think of the opportunities. Peterson was recruited to pitch for the Cal-State Builders of the San Francisco Bay Area. On tournament weekends, he catches a flight on Friday to play ball in California. And the same goes for Canada’s, Cory Avery, who pitches for Rude-Pac, another California team.

Peterson is 26, Avery, 23.

GOOD BUT NOT GREAT YET
Both are good pitchers still climbing the upward arc of their craft. But are they “great” pitchers? No, not yet anyway. I’ve seen Avery pitch. In the 1970s through late 1980s he would have been classified as a good “A” pitcher, as would Peterson, I believe.

In the 1970s, ‘80s, and into the early ‘90s it was unheard of to import a pitcher of “A” caliber to pitch clear across the country. Why? Because we still had that class of pitcher in adequate numbers to fill the need.

So here’s my point. Never in the history of the game has there been more opportunity for the less-than-open-caliber pitchers to determine their destiny. Thus for this class of pitchers these are “the best of times.”

It all comes down to supply and demand. When the numbers (commodity) are lacking, the demand goes up. So, listen up young pitchers – and aspiring pitchers. If you haven’t figured this out yet, you are in big demand. Huge demand!

If I were young again and I wanted to carve out a name for myself in a highly competitive sport in which I control my own destiny, this is what I would do.

WORK, LEARN, THRIVE
I would bust my butt learning the fundamentals of the pitching trade – about a one to two-year process. Getting the mechanics down, learning the spins on the riser and drop, and learning how to throw the change up.

And I would go watch the girls and women play. Why? Because their pitching mechanics are very, very good.

Watch, listen, ask questions of the girls and the coaches, and then apply what you’ve seen and been told.

REMEMBERING IULI
I remember back in the early 1990s meeting a young man by the name of Jason Iuli. He was in the early stages of learning how to pitch. He told me that he became interested in pitching while going to his (female) cousin’s softball games. He said he learned from her and practiced, and soon young Iuli was on his way.

I’m certain that if you ask Jason, “what does this sport have to offer?” he will gladly fill you in.

No it’s not easy. But anyone with modest athletic ability can become a fastpitch pitcher. It just takes hard work and dedication.

GIVE THE YOUNG GUY A CHANCE
And this message is to all you teams out there. If you’ve got a ball player showing an interest in becoming a pitcher, you have an obligation to teach and give that young man an opportunity to reach his goal. If you don’t, you’re helping bring about the demise of this sport.

I admire the pitchers in their 50s, 60s, and 70s still chucking the ball. But guys there comes a time when you’ve got to share the rubber. A time when you’ve got to give the young guy a chance. A time when you become the mentor and the teacher. After all, when you were young, some one handed you the ball. Now it’s your turn.

Young pitchers, if you haven’t realized it yet, this is a PITCHER’S game. Without a pitcher there is no team, no game, no league, no tournaments.

Ask yourself: What position in any sport rivals the demand greater than that of a fastpitch pitcher? I can’t think of one.

And here’s how it works when the supply doesn’t meet the demand.

FANTASTIC OPPORTUNITIES
Live in Canada, Minnesota, or Hoboken, New Jersey and want to pitch in California? Sure, someone will pay your airfare. How about Texas or Wisconsin or somewhere back east? Most likely there, too.

And just think what else fastpitch has to offer young pitchers (and position players): ISC, ISC II, ASA, and NAFA National tournaments in several divisions. A USA Junior Men’s Team that plays international competition.

And don’t forget about the “connections.” It’s no secret that those with the talent to help a ball club have been offered some pretty good employment opportunities. What more could you possibly want from a sport?

So young, aspiring pitchers, the fastpitch world is your oyster. These are the best of times for you. Take advantage of it!

Just ask John Peterson and Cory Avery. I think they’ll tell you the opportunities in this sport have never been greater for young pitchers.

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.

5 Comments so far ↓

  1. eric Legge says:

    good article Bob.

  2. eric Legge says:

    young hurlers are in great demand

  3. Bob says:

    In our sport, they’re as valuable as gold.

  4. doug noble says:

    Pitching with two feet on use to be an art. One foot on ruined the game. Girls still throw two feet on. The crowhop and replant was enforced and called at the WCWS. The better pitchers hid the ball and threw peel drops at the WCWS. Girls fastpitch is huge and there are many pitching coaches making big money teaching and trying to figure out that roll over drop they teach. Girls should learn the peel drop and how to hide the ball in the glove and not do the back arm swing. jmho doug

  5. doug noble says:

    I would not watch girls, most don’t hide the ball and most throw roll over drops. Watching this “fastball” game of today is uncomparible of the real “fastpitch” game of the 50’s 60’s and 70’s. Since the day the one foot on rule went into law around 1980, it changed the game and definitely made pitching easier. How could anybody compare Zack to Joe Lynch. If Lynch,Sterkle,Stoflet,and myself were allowed to throw one foot on they would have been more unhitable and unbeatable than they were. I helped beat all three by giving ups less runs than they did when I played them many years ago. I was 18 when they put the circle around the rubber to speed up the game. With the crowhop/replant guys were landing outside the circle, which is imposible to do with out the replant.
    If the guy who thought up one foot on rule had thought about making the rubber a little wider instead.

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