Exceptional fastpitch men to know

Written by Bob on June 26th, 2010


Jon Gwizdala, 19, on the pitching rubber. He’s a product of the Vassar League and its commitment to develop young pitchers.
Courtesy Photo

“Fastpitch here is making a comeback, we’ve developed quite a few pitchers.” – Andy Wadsworth

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REESE, MI – What shape would fastpitch softball be in without the “fastpitch doers?” I think we all know the answer to that.

Recently, I found out about some remarkable men, who live in or about the small towns of Reese, Vassar, Frankenmuth, and Munger, Michigan.

Most of you like myself probably never heard of Don Petro. Del Benson. Pete Bouvy. Ryan Truemner. Andy Wadsworth. Or Eric Rupprecht.


Mark Gwizdala gets congratulated after hitting a home run by Don Petro during a Vassar League game.

These guys are doers. They don’t just talk about reviving the game of men’s fastpitch softball. They go out and get the job done.

Now I’m going to give Don Petro a pass because I’ve already written story about him. But the other men are well deserving of our praise.

But first some background about fastpitch in the towns that I mentioned. In the mid-1990s the Flint and Bay City leagues were dying out. And the Vassar League was down to three teams.

But because of men like Petro, Wadsworth, Benson, Bouvy, Rupprecht, and Truemner, the Vassar League is back up to 10 teams.

But it took hard work and a love for the game to get it done.

Let’s start with Truemner. He’s 28-years-old and began pitching at 14. He’s now an established pitcher and could well play for several “veteran” teams. Instead the young man from Reese chooses to pitch for and mentor a team of 18 and 19-year-olds in the Thumb Travel League – one of the strongest leagues in southeastern Michigan.

Why? Because Truemner believes in giving something back.

“Fastpitch has given me so much and I owe everything to Don (Petro),” Truemner said. “So the least I can do is give something back. The kids are young and they’re going to make mistakes. That’s why I’m there, to give advice. My role is more as a teacher now.”

And one other thing about Truemner. He has offered to give free lessons to three youngsters wanting to learn the art of pitching.

Now for Wadsworth. Back in 1995, he called Petro offering to help him develop new pitchers and players for the “Reese Developmental League” which later merged with the Vassar League.

He lives an hour’s drive away from Reese. And for 15 years he made trips back and forth from his Lapeer home during the summer fastpitch season to help teach kids how to pitch and play the game. In fact, Petro said that if not for Wadsworth he may well have given up.


Don Petro and Matt Spiekerman

“The Spring of 1995 left me a little bummed out,” Petro said. “I felt the game had hit bottom and I heard from one veteran player after another that they weren’t going to play (in the Vassar League). I was ready to call fastpitch dead in that league. Then Andy called me out of the blue and offered to help.”

And from 1995 to 2010, Andy Wadsworth’s long trips to help out have paid off big time.

“I was motivated to help because I love the sport,” Wadsworth said. “I had been playing since 1978 (every position including pitcher) so I felt I could help nurture a basic love for the sport in young players.

“Fastpitch here is making a comeback, we’ve developed quite a few pitchers.”

I don’t know Del Benson, but his name has come up a time or two. He’s a Michigan Softball Hall of Fame member and a staunch supporter of men’s and boy’s fastpitch.

“Del takes the time to develop players,” Petro said. “His team has pitchers about 14 and 16-years-old. He’s had two teams in the Vassar League and he’s had a team in the Thumb Travel League.”

And we can’t forget Pete Bouvy. He has taken a group of kids that played in the Vassar League and molded them into a team for the Thumb League this season.

Eric Rupprecht also bought into the Vassar developmental philosophy. When Petro suggested ‘splitting’ teams to create new ones, Rupprecht said, “count me in.”

“He realized it meant a lot less winning and the inability to be competitive in rebuilding years,” Petro said. “He simply said, ‘I’m with you.’ Like the commercial says, ‘he’s priceless.’”

And finally, Petro leaves us with a closing that we could all abide by:

“What’s valuable is when a former player reenters the scene to help coach and mentor and form a team.”

Amen.

(Michigan native and pitcher Doug Gillis also deserves credit. He has held pitching clinics to aid the Vassar League in its commitment to develop young pitchers. And I know there are many, many others deserving of recognition, of which we are all grateful for your devotion to the sport.)

5 Comments so far ↓

  1. Hey Guys,
    Keep up the great work of mentoring while enjoying the fast pitch game. Kudos to all of you!!!
    I have a very personal interest in this story, you see, Don Petro is my younger brother. I couldn’t be prouder of all of the significant contributions he continues to make in his community.

  2. Dinah DuRussel says:

    Great article on people that care and take the time to volunteer.

  3. Dinah DuRussel says:

    Great story on community volunteers. Keep up the good work.

  4. Jon Gwizdala says:

    The photo of Mark Gwizdala is taken at a National Tournament. We have taken a few groups of kids out of State, and given them a chance to compete with youths from across the country. Fastpitch has broadened many horizons.

  5. Bob says:

    If not for the efforts of concerned people bringing kids into the game, the sport would have died out years ago. It will continue to take more involvement by those who have played the game to give something back in some capacity for the boys’ and men’s side of fastpitch to make a comeback. Southern California is about finished, I’m afraid.

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