Superstar sponsor enters the ISC Hall of Fame

Written by Bob on September 21st, 2011

DENMARK, WI – When asked about his playing career, John Miller quickly downplays his abilities by saying “I was an average hitter and terrible fielder.”

He might be shortchanging his talent some, but when it comes to his contributions to men’s fastpitch softball, the man is a superstar.

Miller will certainly go down in fastpitch history as one of the greatest sponsors ever to field a ball club. And there were more than just one.

The 73-year-old Miller has been involved in the sport since 1952 when he began playing as a 14-year-old. But the turning point in his still ongoing 60-year fastpitch career can be traced to 1967.

That’s the year he bought Circle Tap, a sports bar located near Denmark (pop. about 2,000 near Green Bay). And that’s the year that Circle Tap began building its way to a Wisconsin fastpitch hot spot. All because of moving some earth and raising a fence.

“The only way I could get on a team was to build a ball diamond at Circle Tap,” Miller said.

THE KC AND BOYS OF SUMMER
Then in 1970, Miller along with his late, good friend Don Kane started hosting the Knights of Columbus (KC) tournaments. The KC tournament eventually joined forces with the “Boys of Summer” classic, drawing top teams from throughout the country.

Though Miller gave up playing after 25 years, he didn’t toss fastpitch aside. Instead, he turned to sponsoring teams such as the Denmark Dukes, Circle Tap and The Bar of Green Bay, among others.

“I’ve always liked the game, playing, managing and sponsoring,” he said. “I first looked at it as a business venture, then it became an enjoyable hobby. I’ve had as much fun (sponsoring) as the players playing.”

But Miller didn’t forget about the younger generations. In the early to mid-1990s, he helped sponsor young men’s age 19 and 23-under teams under the banner of Denmark Coin, says Dean Kane, who played on those teams, along with later playing for Circle Tap.

“He helped sponsor many of my youth teams growing up,” Kane said, who has assisted in running the Boys of Summer Tournament for 10 years. “The creation of the KC (now Boys of Summer) Tournament by John and my late Uncle Don (Kane) helped expose me and so many others to the game we love today.”

Because of his devotion to the sport, the International Softball Congress (ISC) will induct Miller into the ISC Hall of Fame during ceremonies at the 2012 World Tournament in Midland, Michigan next August.

JOINS THE SPORT’S BEST
Miller will take his place in the Service Contributors category with other great sponsors such as the Sonnentag family (Tim, Billy and John), also of Wisconsin, and Larry H. Miller and Carl Hansen, both from Utah – all great sponsors of men’s fastpitch.

Miller says that he’s honored to be included in such select company. Adding a touch of humor to his induction.

“When (son) Mark called and told me, I said, “gee, I didn’t think I was that good a ball player,’” Miller said. “He said, ‘you weren’t.’

“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Rod Peterson (Hall of Fame sponsor and manager of the Madison Farm Tavern), and being along side someone like that in the Hall of Fame is a great honor,” he added.

Fastpitch in the Miller family doesn’t start and stop with John. Not by a long shot. There’s his sons, Mark, Bill and Jess, whom like their father have had long careers.

Their years add up impressively: Bill played 30 years; Jess 22. And Mark? He’s still going strong, taking after his Dad as a sponsor, and recognized as one of the best in all of fastpitch. Mark’s years as a player and sponsor number 26.

So adding the boys’ years to their Dad’s 60, comes to nearly 140 years that the Miller’s have devoted to fastpitch softball.

DAD STARTS THE TRADITION
But it all began with Dad, says Mark Miller, who this past year sponsored three teams that played in the ISC World Tournament and NAFA World Series. And like his father, Mark will also be inducted into a Hall of Fame in 2012: The NAFA Hall of Fame during ceremonies at the 2012 World Series.

“My Dad did a lot for fastpitch, running the (Knights of Columbus) tournament and sponsoring numerous teams,” said Mark, 49. “I am glad to see him get the recognition for his contributions and accomplishments.”

As he looks back over the years, John Miller said many helped create the great fastpitch atmosphere at Circle Tap and in Denmark. Including Darren Derricks, who bought Circle Tap from Miller in the mid-1980s and continues to sponsor teams and host the Boys of Summer tournament.

RAISING THE BAR
Together, the two men can take pride in the caliber of players and teams that have graced the Circle Tap ball diamond. But, says Miller, they realized that to compete with the likes of Green Bar All-Car and the Farm Tavern, and ISC World Tournament teams, required world-class pitching.

“We had to go after pitching,” Miller said.

So Miller made a call to New Zealand in the early 1990s, he said, and landed Steve Jackson. Then came others, such as Mike Roberts and Mark Long.

But it was Jackson that raised the bar.

“Jackson made our team, he took us over the top,” Miller said. “Winning the Wisconsin ISC State Tournament was a big thing and got you into the World Tournament.”

And there was that hotly-contested league in Kimberly.

“Jackson was one of the top caliber of pitchers in the Classic League in Kimberly,” Miller said. “If we didn’t have the best team, we had real top-notch pitching.”

BACK IN 2012
John Miller doesn’t attend as many games as he once did. But he still plans on helping sponsor a team in 2012. And of course he will be in Midland for his Hall of Fame induction.

He says that he would like to be remembered as someone who liked to win. Someone who enjoyed the sport. Someone who gave something back.

“I’ve met a lot of people and made a lot of friends,” Miller said. “I always had respect for this great game and love it.”

4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Dean Kane says:

    Congrats to John. Well deserved. He helped sponsor many of my youth teams growing up. The creation of the KC(now Boys of Summer) Tournament by John and my late Uncle Don helped expose me and so many others to the game we love today.

  2. doug noble says:

    I played with a John Miller in 1976 out of Camarillo, Calif., in the WSC. He was as good as Darrel Day of the 73 Aurora – Home Savings team.

  3. Bill Colombo says:

    Congrats John…. I am D’s brother-in-law and enjoyed watching the teams you put together for many years. You can also be very proud of Mark, he has done a great job following in your footsteps as a great sponsor and supporter of the game…..

  4. fred "fritz" allen says:

    I played for The Bar fastpitch team back in the classic fox valley league. It was the opportunity for young fastpitch players to learn, play, and compete at the highest level in the area. The relationships and friendships among sponsor and teammates we developed back then still carry on today, undoubtedly as do the thousands of others due to Johns’ sponsorship. congrats and thanks.

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