Pueblo Bandits celebrate milestone in men’s fastpitch

Written by Bob on May 3rd, 2012

The Pueblo Bandits have had several top-10 finishes in the ISC World Tournament, including 10th place in 2009 at the Quad Cities of Moline and Rock Island, Illinois. Courtesy Photo / 2010 ISC World Championship Guide

PUEBLO, CO – Some will claim men’s fastpitch softball is well past its prime. That it’s a sport wobbling and reeling on the ropes like an old, worn out boxer awaiting the knockout punch.

If you’re preaching this kind of blasphemy, beware: Because if this nonsense talk reaches the Santos boys – brothers Chris, Mike and Jerry, and the youngster, Nick – it will certainly cause a collective and menacing growl. And probably a stern reprimand.

The Santos, along with their late father Joe, have been playing this sport collectively for better than 150 years. And they have no plans on stopping now. Or folding their beloved team, the Pueblo Bandits, which celebrates a special milestone this year.

2012 marks 25 consecutive years of Bandits fastpitch. It all started back in 1988 when Jerry Santos and a few of his friends decided they wanted to start a fastpitch team.

And they kicked off their birth with a bang by winning the Colorado ASA Class C state championship, and advancing to the ASA C National Championship tournament.

“That’s how the Pueblo Bandits story begins,” said Chris Santos, 52, who has played, sponsored and managed the team since also joining the ball club in ‘88.

The Santos’ didn’t stick around at the C level for long. Like hunters stalking bigger prey, they set their sights much higher: at the International Softball Congress level. Where the best teams compete for the coveted title of “World Champion.”

Aiming higher is a trait the Santos boys learned from their father, who brought his sons into the game when they were about eight years old.

The Santos’ love for fastpitch all started with their father, Joe Santos.

“We all grew up on the Pueblo softball fields watching my dad play and umpire,” Chris Santos said. “My dad had a huge influence in mine and my brothers’ lives, and his love for the game was one of those special things he passed on to us.”

The Bandits are an open-division team. But they operate on a modest budget. So you won’t find their roster dotted with New Zealand, Australian or Canadian all-stars. Instead, Chris Santos favors homegrown talent. Except for top-shelf pitching, which must be imported because of the scarcity in the U.S.

“My dad taught me from his playing days that if you want to play with the big boys you have to have pitching,” Chris Santos said. “And you must play against the best pitching possible to compete. So we have always tried to make sure we had good pitching and played a tough schedule.”

But other than imported pitching – which this year includes Max Montero of Argentina – the Pueblos roster is decidedly Colorado with ten from the Rocky Mountain state. Only three players come from other states.

Jerry Santos and Shawn Vanduvall are exclusive Bandits earning 25-year player pins. Jerry, 45, has caught all 25 years, while Vanduvall patrols the outfield and is the designated hitter. Jerry chose the catcher’s gear because that’s what dad did.

“I started playing fastpitch when I was eight years old, and since my dad was a catcher, that’s the position I tried out for,” he said.

Over the 25 years, the Bandits have enjoyed much success on the ball diamond. Chris figures they’ve won over 800 games, and lost less than half as many. That’s a great mark in any sport.

The Bandits have always trotted on the field professional and in style. Here they receive the “Best Dressed” team in the 2004 ISC World Tournament.

“We’ve had several top-ten finishes, and I believe the highest was eighth in the ISC World Tournament,” Chris said. “We have also had several top-five finishes in the ASA Major National Championship and the NAFA AAA World Series tournament.”

And there’s been much success for Bandit players. Chris Santos figures that at least ten have achieved ASA All-American status over the years. Jerry adds that former Bandits’ pitcher Jeremy Manley and infielder Tyson Byrne were ISC All-World picks in 2009, and Mike Kelly, Brad Sprau, Mark Mojeiko, Kyle Kouka, and Jerry himself have been selected to NAFA All-World teams.

And that Vanduvall guy who remains unflinchingly loyal?

He’s a first-team ASA All-American who won the batting title in 2009 with a .529 average. He could have moved on elsewhere, but he prefers the Bandits and the Santos.

“We have strong friendships on this team,” says the 43-year-old Vanduvall, who grew up with Jerry. “A lot of us are local guys who love to play ball together, and we share a special bond. The Santos’ got their passion for fastpitch from their dad, and they want to play against the best. For them, it’s like, ‘if you don’t play against the best, why play?’”

While Jerry, Chris and Mike Santos are reaching their twilight years, Jerry’s 23-year-old son Nick is just coming into his own. His biggest thrill, he says, is being able to play side-by-side with his dad.

“Not too many players can say they played in a few ISC World Tournaments with their dad on the field as well,” he said, “and I have my two uncles coaching.”

Nick began playing fastpitch at 14, and played second base for the USA Junior Men’s National Team in the 2008 International Softball Federation World Championship.

His goal?

“I want a top-five ISC World Tournament finish with the Bandits in the near future,” he said.

Jerry Santos says his competitive juices refuse to dry up. Stepping into the batter’s box and swinging at the risers, drops and change ups off world-renowned pitchers such as Peter Meredith, Michael White and Darren Zack has been a challenge he’s yet to tire of.

“It’s just the thrill of competing against those legends,” he said, “and against teams we’ve played like County Materials (Wisc.), Larry Miller Toyota (Utah), the Hallman Twins (Canada), and All-Car (Wisc.). And we have held our own against them.”

But the Bandits and the Santos are more than just about competing for championships and individual awards. Much more. Each year they host two tournaments: the Buddy Baker Memorial in honor of a former teammate who lost his life. And the Joe Santos Memorial, in honor of their father.

“We have had a Pueblo invitational tournament since 1989,” Chris Santos said, adding that the Buddy Baker Memorial is played on May 5-6. “In 2004 we started the Joe Santos Memorial, and it is played on Memorial Day. At this tournament we remember our dad, and give away scholarships to Pueblo youth.”

But the Santos men can’t do it alone. The Santos women pitch in at the tournaments, says Jerry.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” he says of his sister-in-law Sue Santos, and his mother, Frances Santos, and several other Santos’ women. “They take care of all the food, beer, t-shirt sales and raffles. These things are very important to have a successful tournament and ball club.”

When it comes to sponsoring the team, Chris Santos has undertaken this yeoman’s task. But there are no free rides. Players still must pay some of the freight.

When the Bandits travel to tournaments, the players have a choice: ride with Chris and carpool, or pay your own way.

“Guys either have to pay for their own airfare or get in my Suburban with me and drive,” he said. “We have driven all over the United States and Canada to play against the best. When I retired my ’95 Suburban a few years a go, it had well over 250,000 miles, primarily from softball road trips.”

And there have been some memorable trips.

Chris Santos said the 1994 ISC World Tournament in Prince Edward Island (Canada) tops his list. But world tournaments in Victoria and Kitchener (Canada), and Kimberly, Wisc. are close seconds.

The 18 trips to the ISC World Tournament all started with the 1994 ball club.

“To me our first World Tournament in Prince Edward Island has to the most special,” he said. “This was us achieving a goal we had set when we started in 1988.”

Except for missing the World Tournament in 1995, the 2012 World Tournament in Midland, Mich. will mark the 18th year the Bandits have competed in this decorated event. Few teams can match that longevity.

Chris Santos leads the Bandits with undying devotion. But his dedication extends beyond the ball diamond. Since 1996, he’s served the ISC in various capacities, including on the Executive Committee, as well as U.S Western Vice President, and Regional Commissioner.

He says the ISC is the best in men’s fastpitch. And he savors the challenge of helping the ISC put on the most prestigious men’s fastpitch tournament in the world.

“Although, it has gotten tougher, I still believe we do have the best tournament,” he said. Jerry too has served the ISC as a U.S. Western Region Player Representative.

“The ISC does listen to the concerns of the players,” he said. “I enjoy being involved and giving back to the game.”

25 years. A great milestone for sure. But just how much longer will the Bandits grace the ball diamonds and world tournaments across North America?

A few years a go, Chris Santos told the team the final season was at hand. But that didn’t happen.

“Well, we are still playing,” he says. “So I am not sure what the future holds. All I know is that my wife told me to never say we are done unless I truly mean it.”

Let’s hope that day lies far in the future.

The 2012 Bandits: Max Montero, pitcher; Gerald Gomez, pitcher; Mike Bobian, pitcher; Jerry Santos, catcher; Mike Ramirez, infield; Nick Santos, infield; Sam Christensen, infield; Mike Armitage, infield; Chuck Smith, outfield; Jason Shea, outfield; Shawn Vanduvall, outfield; Allen West, outfield; Mike Kelley and Russ Gozzola both playing the infield. Chris Santos, field manager, and Mike Santos, coach.

3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Deb Doose says:

    We love & support the Pueblo Bandits

  2. Bob says:






  3. Ken Chavez says:

    Class A organization!!!!!!

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