Todd Budke, from the bleachers to the ISC Hall of Fame

Written by Bob on September 15th, 2011

LANCASTER, CA – Back in the early 1990s, Todd Budke sat in the bleachers at a Palmdale city league game dressed in attire more befitting a day at the beach than on the ball diamond. Then came the call. A team on the field was short a player.

“You want to play?” the manager asked him.

Budke thought, hey, why not.

“They pulled me out of the stands and I was wearing shorts and flip-flops,” Budke says with a chuckle. “The first batter was a slapper and he hit me with the ball. I had three at bats and did put the ball in play, so they asked me back.”

From that less than stellar start, Budke went on to become one of the most feared and respected hitters in International Softball Congress (ISC) World Tournament history.

And at the 2012 ISC World Tournament in Midland, Michigan, Budke will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The 47-year-old Budke established some remarkable numbers in his 15-years of World Tournament play: Some of his achievements include, All-World six times; .538 batting average in 2009, which garnered him the batting title; his .647 average (11 for 17) in 2006 is fifth-best, all-time. And his 16 hits in 2001 ranks second-best, all-time.

Budke will enter the Hall of Fame with some of the ISC’s greatest stars and leaders: Paul Algar, Shawn Rychcik, Adam Smith, Dick Mason and John Miller. Inclusion with such a distinguished group is an honor, and one of the biggest thrills of his fastpitch career.

“This was very humbling when I found out, to say the least,” Budke said. “I had fun, had great teammates who put me in a position to achieve, and I got to meet a lot of people. It makes me think, how can anyone be any luckier than I am.”

But Budke, who started playing major-league fastpitch at 35, didn’t exactly shoot to the top of the game overnight. His was more a gradual climb.

In 1994, the Long Beach Painters picked him up for the World Tournament at Summerside, Prince Edward Island – and again in 1997 and ’98. Long Beach folded after the ’98 World Tournament, and Budke thought, that’s it.

“I thought softball was all done at the open level for me,” he said.

But when one door closes, another opens.

The Ballston Lake, New York, Heflin Smokers needed a shortstop. They called Budke, and he signed on. That year proved pivotal.

“That was my first year of seeing a lot of good pitchers,” he said “I had an average year, and I didn’t stand out by any means.”

Well, perhaps a little more than he thought.

In the spring of 2000, Rod Peterson, sponsor and manager of the Farm Tavern of Madison, Wisconsin came a calling, but with some prodding from long-time Farm pitcher, Todd Martin.

Martin did some checking, and found out that Budke was a quality player and quality teammate. He coaxed Peterson into signing him. And that began a seven-year stint (2000-2006) in which the Farm finished six of seven times in the top-four in the World Tournament.

That stretch helped solidify Budke as one of the premiere hitters in the game.

Martin says that the 2001 season became somewhat of a turning point for Budke.

“At the World Tournament in Eau Claire (Wisc.), that’s when he took the step to becoming one of the most feared hitters,” Martin said, in which the Farm finished second to the Broken Bow (NE) Travelers.

“He was always good, but that’s when he became a lethal hitter,” added Martin.

At the 2001 World Tournament, Budke put himself in the record books with 16 hits (16 for 29) in the tournament, tying four other players for second place, all-time in World Tournament history. He was a first-time, All-World selection with a .552 batting average along with four RBIs.

Certainly Budke had the talent, but that only goes so far with Peterson. Fitting into the Farm mold was just as important.

“To play for Rod, you had to be Farm material,” Martin said. “Budke typified that. He was a great teammate. He kept everyone loose, and he couldn’t wait to get to the ball park.”

Once Budke got to the ballpark he went to work. Just the way a good Farmer does, and that’s the kind of work ethic Peterson expected from his players.

“He’s a real good ball player,” Peterson said. “Told to bunt, he bunted. Given a signal, no questions asked. Play different positions, no questions asked. He was the ideal ball player.”

Peterson said that he recalls one game in which Budke hit a big two-run home run, and other games that he came through with clutch hits. He was a hitter Peterson could count on – in the same mold as Colin Abbott, Paul Rosebush and Jody Hennigar.

“I wanted him at bat when we needed a run,” Peterson said.

With all the honors that have come his way, the one thing eluding Budke is a World Tournament championship. “I’ve been in (two) finals and we lost them,” he said, referring to the Farm’s second place finishes in 2001 and 2005.

That 2005 game stands out as both disappointing and exhilarating. Certainly one he’s never forgotten.

“We were up 3-0 in the seventh and just three outs away (from the championship), and County (Materials of Marathon, WI) tied it up,” Budke said. “They won it in the eighth, but it was fantastic to be in a game like that.”

In 2007, player and manager parted ways. Not because they wanted to, but because of the ISC’s prawn rule which only allows a select number of world-caliber players on a team’s roster.

“I would have played my whole career with Rod without a doubt if not for prawn,” Budke said. “He was a fantastic sponsor and manager. He was the best. A handshake was his word.”

Budke joined the Kitchener Waterloo Twins for the 2007 season then went to the Broken Bow (NE) Gremlins, and finally to the California A’s where in the past two of three World Tournaments he was selected All-World in 2009 and 2011.

He’s had a long career wearing the colors of some great ball clubs, played in some great World Tournaments, had some memorable a bats. But at 47, he knows the sun is setting on his career.

Is Budke retiring? Possibly so. He says that catching up to 78-mph rise balls and drops has become a bit more challenging.

“I’m not the player I used to be,” he said, “and that’s a hard pill to swallow.”

If Budke does retire, he can revel in a career in which he faced some of the best pitchers in the history of the game. Such as Paul Algar and Darren Zack.

“In 1999, Paul Algar was awfully tough to hit,” he said. “Paul threw the rise ball harder than the drop and he threw hard back in the late ‘90s. And big “Z” was no fun. He threw hard and had that devastating change up – (Todd) Martin the same thing. They were nasty change ups and when those two weapons are working they are hard to beat.”

Of the ISC’s leading hitters, he rates Colin Abbott, Rob Gray and Paul Rosebush as three of the best.

“Day-in, and day-out, they were consistently good hitters,” he said. “Colin and I would talk hitting. You need a level swing and the bat has to stay in the hitting zone. I always wanted to use the whole field and hit the ball where it’s pitched.”

Will fastpitch fans see him again in World Tournament action?

For one, he will be in Midland next August for his Hall of Fame induction. That, he says, could be incentive to play one more year. But that may be all. He admits it’s getting tougher to compete with the young stallions of the sport.

“The pitchers are younger and throw hard, and I’m getting older,” Budke said. “My swing is slower. Now I foul back pitches I should hit out of the park.

“I took father time into extra innings, but he’s always going to win.”

3 Comments so far ↓

  1. eric legge says:

    What was Todd doing before 1994
    when he began playing softball?
    A former baseball player? that was
    checking out the fastpitch game?

  2. Dave Blackburn says:

    Todd was a pitcher in the Minnesota Twins Minor League System for several years. An arm injury ended his baseball pithing career prematurely. I believe that during the MLB strike he played for the NY Yankees replacement Ball Club, and may have been their leading hitter at the time the strike was settled. He was probably a better hitter than half of the actual Yankees at that time. George Steinbrenners loss was Rod Peterson’s gain.

  3. Joe Avila says:

    I was just reading this and thinking back to our days of fast pitch,a big invitational tournament was being held in Bakersfield,Ca. and a young man with a radar gun came over to our warm up area(Clovis Cowboys)sidelines and assked who was Herman Duinkerken and our shortstop said jokingly I,m Duinkerken and the kid put his gun on him as he began to throw,(Gary Hubbard was a very good shortstop and could throw hard but was certainly not in Ralph or Herman’s catagory yet that young man read the gun and said 95) now I’m sure those first guns were not as accurate as the lasers of today but doesn’t that sound like to big a diffarential?

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