How they got started, and why they continue to play fastpitch softball

Written by Bob on October 22nd, 2012


Rickey Kolda has worked hard to become a pitcher on the K-Club team based in the state of Washington.
Contributed photo

I thank God every day for letting me enjoy this game that I watched my dad playing, while I was growing up.” – Frank Hendrix III, Missoula, MT

BELFAIR, WA – Most people can recall a time, a place, an instance when something memorable happened in their lives. For many of us who play fastpitch softball, we remember the time, the place, and the circumstance that got us started in this sport that has become such an important and special part of our recreational lives.

Rickey Kolda of the K-Club men’s fastpitch team, asked a question on his Facebook page recently:

“To all men’s fastpitch players: how did you get introduced to fastpitch and why do you continue to play the game?”

The replies poured in manyfold. So I thought I would share those replies to Rickey’s question. Replies that bring back fond memories of how, why and when men young-and-old started playing the game we call fastpitch or fastball. And why they continue to play.

Ricky Kolda:

“I started like a lot of you by following my dad (Dan Kolda) from city to city watching him play fastpitch with my brother, and playing catch or throwing a tennis ball against the dugouts. I wasn’t introduced to the “other” softball game until I was 17. The main reason that I play is for the competition, the fast pace of the game, and the pitcher versus batter duels. It’s also pretty cool seeing my summer weekend family at different ballparks across Washington and Oregon.” (Rickey, Michael and their dad, Dan Kolda, started the K-Club team based in Washington.)

Kyle Sherwood: “My dad asked if I wanted to play with his company team when I was 18. I keep playing for the love of the game.”

Gilbert Gardner: “I started playing at 15 through the Park and Recreation Department. I have watched a lot of players come and go. In Seattle at the age of 18 in 1974, there were over 107 men’s teams. There were nine different leagues with approximately 10 to 12 teams in each league. There was no women’s fastpitch. It took two weeks of double eliminations, every night of the week, to just win a berth to go to an ASA national tourney. (Now they award) two-plus berths in every class from open, A, B, C. I’m now 56 years old and they give the berths away. Those were the days…fastpitch is better than baseball!”

Leon Grundstein: “I was introduced by friends and have been playing on teams where I like the guys.”

Randy Bittermann: “I grew up with the Nokes family, and I still play because it’s in my blood.”

Duane Christensen: “I was introduced to the game by my friend and University of Washington coach Lance Glasoe right after college. I liked the challenge and enjoyed it because not everyone can play it like slowpitch. You have to be an athlete and work to be better. I love it for the people I have met and played with and against. It is like a family.

I still play because I love to see my friends, and I am still a good hitter. And also because I have a son who started playing on my team when he was 14 years old. He is now 18, and is a really good player who I hope will represent the USA at ISF (International Softball Federation World Championship) this year.”

Michael Loder: “My manager Rich Leffingwell at my first job in Seattle asked me to come give it a try! I struggle that first year. I love the fast pitch community, and great friendships competing against those same friends. I also enjoy traveling to play ball…”

Frank Hendrix III: “I started playing at 18. In hardball I was a catcher. At 15 I had a life-changing accident. I fell off a 60-foot cliff. It tore my leg and my left hand off. It also crushed my nose and cheek. I was in physical therapy working on walking again. The last day I ever set foot in physical therapy was my first day on the diamond at Spurgin Road. I started playing fastpitch and never went backwards. I thank God every day for letting me enjoy this game that I watched my dad playing, while I was growing up. I’m 33 now, and started in 1998 as a catcher and corner infielder. Now I’m a pitcher. This game has brought me closer to some great people.”

Ryan Daly: “I was working for Renton parks and Jerry Sanders told me to come by later that night for a fast pitch game. They were short of players… typical (of how many of us got started playing).”

Bob Otto: “I was 15 and working for a farmer who was a catcher on a city league team in Wanamingo, Minn. I went with him to a few games, started imitating some of the pitchers in the league like Don Kunde, Kenny Lother and Lloyd Kunde, and began throwing the ball hour after hour against the block wall on the barn. The next year I was pitching in the league, which started a 34 year love affair with the ‘underhanded’ game.”

Chayce Christensen: “I traveled around with my dad and watched him play, and I wanted the challenge and to be able to play with my dad because not everyone can do it. I still play for the thrill of the sport, and the people I play with. All of my teammates are good guys who look out for each other, just like a family.”

Dan Kolda: “in 1974 I was the little brother who got to shag balls in the outfield for my brother’s team until I decided to start a team of my own. I played first base, but when no one could throw strikes, I tried my hand at pitching. I have had mixed results ever since. I still play for the people. I have met the best people in my years of playing and want to stay in touch as long as possible. Playing is the best way to do that.

The icing on my cake is getting to play with my kids on a team (the K-Club). I never dreamed I would get this opportunity to create some of the best memories of my life, and hopefully, theirs too.”

Jeff Hannan: “in 1990, the summer after I was out of high school a guy I knew said he was trying out for some softball team and he invited me. That first day coach Wayne Hardy had everyone throw underhanded and I was chosen and have chucked the ball ever since. I was a good basketball player turned pitcher / shortstop in a first year “C” league at Bucknell Park. I am very proud to say that I am one of two guys left from the six teams still playing the game. The other is Dave Carlton. The two of us go back over 20 years now with Slabby and Johnnie and Darin.

“Fast pitch came along at a time when life could have gone differently after my father passed away when I was a high school senior. The mentoring I received from the Akramoff’s, Kapsandy’s, and others was amazing and something that makes the game the way it is: family. We are all brothers in my eyes.”

Jerry Sanders, Sr.: “I was driving past Liberty Park one fall evening around 1990 or ’91 and saw the Old Timers League. I stopped to watch a while and our friend Juan Silva invited me to play with Joe Puich’s Old Road Runner team. I’ve been playing ever since. Of course the ultimate thrill for me is when I get the privilege of stepping across the chalk line with JR every night. Thanks for all the good memories and friendships fellas, with a special cap tip to the people who go over and above to keep the game going.”

Carlos Gonzalez: “the first time I tried to play I wasn’t able to make contact and I quit after that game. But two years later Bobby Harris asked me to play in Yakima and I went 3-for-3. Since that time I’ve been playing fast pitch, but I started really having fun last year when I had the opportunity to play with the K-Club, a good group of guys.”

Harv Wiens: “I have been around the game far, far too long to remember when I started. I play for the love of the game now and I am still a little too competitive to quit!”

Cameron Ackley: “I wanted to see what competitive, not recreational softball was about. I tried out for General Store of the Portland Metro league on my own in 1982. That was back when you had to qualify for postseason (national tournaments). I think we all play for the challenge of having the ball come in on a line (from the pitcher), then trying to send it right back out on a line. It’s a privilege to play this game with its specialized pitching. We must bust ourselves on defense because we don’t want our pitcher thinking he’s the only one working hard out there on the field. The competition, exercise and travel is what’s great.

There’s nothing more fun than winning tournament games on the road as a team. The best thing for me is just being a part of the Northwest fastpitch family for so long. I’m fortunate to have had Bob Rider and Charlie Bendock, two of the best, for coaches. Thank you guys and thank you Rickey for the good question.”

(For those who want to share their fond memories of how and why they play fastpitch, just type in a comment.)

30 Comments so far ↓

  1. Mark Seward says:

    Its been in my blood for a long time. I use to go down to Dunbar field and watch my oldest brother Tim Seward play with Oles place and other teams. I was the 8 year old that as soon as the game was over I was the one running the bases and and sliding into home even as they were handing the trophies out after all the tourneys that Yakima would hold. Peach bowl Apple cup etc. I can still remember to this day, at the end of the week the league standings and stats would be posted on the board outside the field and there were 35-40 teams. Wow. I of course started on the Jrw 23& under team. Now, I just play league and a tourney here and there. I run the Yakima tourney the best I can. Its not easy. Ask Charlie or Bob Rider. Lol. Fastpitch is always on my mind. Every single day I ask my self what can I do to make this game get bigger… I think I have a great idea today. Lets see if its works. Great question Ricky!!

  2. Bob says:

    Hi Mark, thanks for your response. If it weren’t for guys like you who work tirelessly to run tournaments and leagues, there would be no fastpitch softball left. I’ve been seeing Bob Rider’s name here and there, so I believe he’s another of the northwest’s finest men’s fastpitch promoters and supporters.

  3. Bob Rider says:

    I started playing the game in 1972. My brother and I put a team together and played in the lowest commercial league. At the time there were about 190 teams in Portland with commercial, industrial and church leagues. We moved up the ranks every year till we hit the top league I was a player coach for a lot of years and had the privelege to play agianst Eddie Feigner twice, go to 25 national tournaments and counting and meet some of the greatest people in the world. Some people ask me when am I going to quit? Why should I.

  4. Scott says:

    Nice article. I too played because of my father and it was huge in my hometown in WI. I played this over baseball in high school. Mostly because I grew up on a farm and baseball was a summer sport for us at that time. living 15 mile from school for baseball was tough and the softball field I played at was 3 miles from from the farm. Plus fast pitch was just that much of a better game for me.

  5. Bob says:

    I love your last comment…why should I (quit)? That’s the attitude from those committed to the sport that keeps it going. Bob, I think we need to clone you. 🙂

  6. Bob says:

    Scott, we pretty much got the same start in fastpitch growing up on a farm. I couldn’t play recreational or high school baseball because of all the farm work and chores, but fastpitch could be played at nights or Sundays, so that was my sport. Did I miss baseball? Some. But the rewards of playing fastpitch far, far outweighed what I lost not playing baseball.

  7. Scott says:

    Bob,

    I agree. I wouldn’t trade anything from the farm or fast pitch. 20 years of fast pitch for me and still going.

  8. Not playing was never an option, even though I was told my whole life to “never play this game”, to “not fall in love with a dying sport”… I started playing when I was 17, a tag along to the NAFA AA and Open Nationals as a runner with Hobnobber (I actually got a start at 2nd in the Open tourney).
    From there I was picked up by JRW to play in the 23U nationals at Fort Dent in WA… bouncing around and playing with the Nighthawks, Hobnobber, Washington National, Rascals, CR Adidas…finally I decided to wuit relying on being a pickup and start my(our) own team, K-Club… We are now in our 4th year and will be hosting our own tourney in Moses Lake in May… If, like my dad always told me, this is a dying sport, I hope I, at the very least, had the privilege of delaying “the end” a little longer… I love fastpitch softball and we’ll be here til the end, one Kolda or another

  9. Mike Nevin says:

    Well, I’m now 64 and still playing. I have always though that getting into the batters box against a great pitcher is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Still is. But in addition to still having the opportunity to compete the reason I still play is being able to enjoy my teamates and my competitors. There are no phonies in Fastpitch Softball.

  10. Bob says:

    Great comments from Mike Nevin and Michael Kolda. One in the twilight of his career, still relishing the competition, but finding that the sport is as much about fun, friendships and camaraderie as it is about victories; and the other, young and in his prime, making a name for himself and his ball club, and competing as only young, talented athletes can: putting it all out on the field. But regardless of what stage in their fastpitch careers they’ve reached, both can proudly claim, “I play for the love of the game.”

  11. dave judy says:

    well it started in 1982 for me at 16. we have a diamond in our city park,so when i was growing up that was the place to be.thats when it creeped into my blood. three games anight those where the days,but i never dreamed where it would take me.now i run the city league the best i can so i can relate to the hard work and detication it takes.im 46 now this game has took me all across this great nation and i will never be able to give back what its given to me.i think i will die playing this game what a way to go.i want to thank all the fastpitch player out there we will never let this sport die.

  12. Mike pheasey says:

    It started some 30 years ago in a park with me watching some beer league ball , i was playing baseball and started the change right away. Just had to learn to hit that dipper!!! I am long retired again , The game may slow down in interest but it wont die. far too many old guys around still promoting.

  13. Jon Selchert says:

    I got my start in fastpitch at 15 when I filled in on my dad’s rec league team after watching them play for many years. Ten years later I can officially say that I have fallen in love with the game. After giving up playing baseball I now play fastpitch 2-3 nights a week as well as playing in as many tournaments as I can during the summer time. The friends that I have made over the years are all great and they treat me like a second family.

  14. Kevin Kammueller says:

    I was in college when a long time friend of mine mentioned that his dad had played fastpitch. He gave it up to be a family man, but since both the kids were now in college he wanted to start playing again. We rounded up the neighborhood kids and put together a team. There are still two of us from the original team that are still playing and I can’t imagine a summer without tournaments. I keep playing for the most of the same reasons i fell in love with the game. When we first started we hardly ever won, but we got better and started beating some teams. No matter how good you get though, there is always another team out there to test your skills against. You might never beat them, but it is sure fun trying. I have been extremely luck to have played with some really outstanding players. None of them have ever won an ISC championship, or ASA Major, but even now that we are in our 40’s and 50′ the last I looked we were still out there trying. Who knows…..

  15. Bob says:

    Great memory, thanks for sharing. I like the last line…”last I looked we were still out there trying. Who knows…
    Congrats on winning Vegas. Good luck at the Calif Classic.

  16. Rickey Kolda says:

    Wow, I am so glad that so many of you decided to share. It started as a simple question to my small fastpitch community in the Northwest and has spread to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Thank you Bob for putting this together and spreading the word. Once again thank you all for playing the best sport i have ever played. Keep it up and this game of ours will never die.
    Rickey Kolda

  17. Merle Brendeland says:

    I got started in fastpitch by going to chase foul balls on Sunday evenings in a small Iowa town of 500 people. They had lights and had been play fastpitch since the 1930’s. It was convenient to get other teams to play a Sunday evening doubleheader and make a nickel for each foul ball. From there, after college, I started with the team again and remained loyal to fastpitch and the many treasured memories of the friends and teams there.

  18. Bob says:

    You’re welcome, but the timely question was your idea. 🙂

  19. Dave Michalak says:

    Thanks to my dad and his years on the mound, I got the bug and started by throwing at home against a slate slab in junior high. Then Gale McGrath and others helped me along and I joined my first team as a high school sophomore (1979). Toed the rubber for 18 years, retired, then after life events changed, got back into it as a coach for the Lacey team. You may leave the game, but it doesn’t leave you. We have as unique game with unique guys playing it. It’s part of our identity.

  20. Rick Vargas says:

    I started playing fast-pitch in 1971 , out of the Hayward Recreation Dept. under 18 instructional league with Hank Atoviano as our coach.After being cut from Babe Ruth League I had something to prove to my self.A few of my team mates from that league went on to compete with and against me for over twenty years…Teddy Moniz and Paul Woodmansee. A long they way through my twenty some odd years , I had the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the country , along with that came some life lessons and many great friends..It’s great to see Dan Kolda’s kids picking up where there dad left off…Back in the day 24 teams started on Friday night…every week..a different city ..all for the love of the game and a great challenge…

  21. Troy Olson says:

    I got started with my father and uncle, we didnt have a baseball program at our school so I begged my uncle to play mens league when I was in seventh grade. I started going to practice and the first night I went to a game they were short players, so I got my chance and never looked back…. That was 1986 and I still love to play this game…

  22. sandra burton says:

    my dad Russ “Rusty” Brooks was a pitcher1950’s no hitters one article in the paper said that he could carve himself a niche in southland softball hall of fame by having a second no hitter does anyone know how to find out if that happened. He played for Dow Chemicals, mobil oil,Sierracin corp and many others any help or anyone that played with him email me sandraburton27@yahoo.com

  23. John Younger says:

    I grew up 4 blocks from a park ( Goetz Field) in St Joseph MO.Many State & Regional tour. played in the 50s & 60s. Worked a summer (1965) with 2 kids who invited me to their game in Agency MO.When I arrived they were short a player so I had to play.Those same kids called me in 1970, ask if I wanted to play,I said yes & I’m still playing.This game has taken my family & I all over the US & Canada.I went on my 1st air plane ride to a tour. My son (Brian) followed me in the game & now pitches with Topeka KS. Toros. I also have managed a team the last 25 years. What a great game & great people!

  24. Gary Stutzman says:

    John Younger,
    I, too, was born in St. Joseph and remember going to Goetz Field (in the 1950s). I remember asking players for their autographs, thinking this was big time. I remember Goetz Field being not far from Krug Park and near Lafayette High School. I went to the old Washington School all eight years, before my family moved to Illinois. I later played baseball and Fastpitch in Aurora, Ill. In the Navy, I played for the Sublant Sea Raiders (Submarine Force of the Atlantic Fleet) in 1967-68′ and returned home to eventually play for Home Savings and Loan, catching such all-time greats as Harvey Sterkel, Dick Brubaker and “Rocket”Richard, as well as Gary Hutchins and others. I quit playing in 2000, at the age of 58. Love the great days in Aurora, where we regularly played before crowds of 1,000 to 2,000 spectators. It was a great time. We finished second in the ASA National Tournament in 1984 in St. Joe. At that time I was not on the roster, but was covering the tourney as a sports writer. In St. Joe, I remember the covered stands at Goetz Field and the lighted diamond. For a young kid it was pretty impressive.

  25. John Younger says:

    Gary Stutzman , I remember you, we played against your team in the 40 nationals San Antonio TX 1994.I went to Lindbergh School & Lafayette. You went to school with Ronnie Lowe.I played in Aurora in 1980 with Springfield MO & 1983 with Jefferson City Mo. Great park & teams.Good to here from you.

  26. Andy Watson says:

    I started playing in the spring of 1977 when a buddy talked me into playing a game for Holgate Truck, coached by Fred Camp Sr, in the old Evergreen League at Lower Woodland. We swept thru the league, won the Seattle Knockout Tourney, which had about 167 teams in it…and 35 great years later I am still trying to figure this great game out!

  27. I started back in 1995 (age 19), after Brian Hull asked me and Casey Johnson to come out and give it a try. I ended up playing with Freeth in the church league until it folded. I then played in league with Jimmy on JRW. I moved to Everett in 2005 and couldn’t find fastpitch until I moved to Kent in 2006, and on my way home on the bus is when I saw Cleon on the rubber at Liberty Park in Renton. I got in my car and drove right over. I ended up playing that night with Jerry Sanders Sr. The following year I created the Seattle Men’s fastpitch website. I now run the Spring league, and appears I am taking over the Fall league as well. I consider myself privileged to know so many good people. Both of my daughters now have the “bug” and I look forward to going to their games. My current goal is to revitalize Kent Little League fastpitch. I have taken on the role as fastpitch director, and hope to grow the program so other kids to enjoy the game.

  28. Boone says:

    I just remember going to Carson Park in Eau Claire for the classic back in the mid 90’s and Dan Smet yelling at my friend and i for looking through Farm merchandise in the parking lot behind Geleine. Good times.

  29. Rick Appiano says:

    I started playing in the Hayward Area Recreation Department youth league in 1973. Fell in love with the speed of the game and all of the competition. One of my best friends had a brother playing named Mike Nevin. He made All American at the Major level and instantly became the guy I wanted to play like, I even remember copying his batting stance. I am still playing because I love the game,love the competition and enjoy all the friends I have made over the years in this game.

  30. Rod says:

    I started playing in the ol Independence WI Labor Day tourney. That was alot of fun in the late 90’s. I remember the team “The Drunken Fastpitch Team From Iowa” or something like that the shirt said, ha. Of course playing in the York days was fun as well, usually the Packers pre season game would be on Friday night or Saturday night to make for a great evening. But good brews, good women and yes i did ride the bull.

Leave a Comment