Best of the West and Santa Barbara, perfect partners for men’s fastpitch

Written by Bob on February 21st, 2013


“The Best of the West bucks the trend of encouraging teams and (players) to play down and encourages them to play up and take on the best.” – Dave Blackburn, Best of the West tournament director for 13 years.

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF – Many open level men’s fastpitch tournaments have vanished in Southern California. But there’s one that continues to survive, and many would say thrive: The Best of the West.

Come the first weekend in June, the Best of the West will celebrate its 23rd consecutive year in offering a tournament for “all comers,” as former 13-year tournament director (1998-2010), Dave Blackburn would say. Ten teams entered last year, and Blackburn and current tournament director, Clyde Bennett, are expecting another strong field.

But first a little background.

Back in 1991, Al Ruegsegger, sponsor of the Long Beach Painters, wanted to host a tournament to prepare teams from the western U.S. for the International Softball Congress World Tournament.

And Ruegsegger succeeded in reaching his goal. And the Best of the West was born.

During his rein (1991-1997) – and that of Blackburn’s – many of the sport’s top teams from the southwest and beyond, competed in the Best of the West. Just how good was the talent on some of the ball clubs?

“I can recall at least a dozen national team pitchers (representing their various countries in international competition) who competed over the years,” said Blackburn, an ISC Hall of Famer, and ISC Commissioner of Streaming and Broadcasting.
“These would include Peter Meredith (USA and New Zealand), Travis Price (USA), Tony Peoples (USA), Sean Whitten (Canada), Panfilo Perez (Mexico), Sebastian Gervasutti (Argentina)…”


Those exceptional pitchers hurled their explosive risers and drops and devastating change-ups for such heralded ball clubs as Utah’s Page Brake, Larry Miller Toyota, and Innovative Communications.

California also had its best represented in the likes of the Guanella Brothers Floormen, Lakewood Jets, Vista Bombers, Casa Trejo Bombers, Team Rainey, California A’s…

And other top clubs as well came from Canada and Mexico, and states throughout the southwestern U.S., planning and plotting to capture this most prestigious tourney crown.

Sure, the best wanted to battle the best in preparation for the ISC World Tournament. But, says Blackburn, another goal was in mind: exclude no one.

“The Best of the West bucks the trend of encouraging teams and (players) to play down,” Blackburn said, “and encourages them to play up and take on the best.”

Blackburn says that the average ball player could compete against, and at the same time learn from some of the sport’s greatest stars, including several ISC Hall of Famers. ISC Hall of Fame


“Over the 13 years that I ran it, Hice Stiles, Greg Sepulveda, Jerry Hoffman, Todd Budke, Alan Rohrbach…played in the Best of the West,” Blackburn said. “Lots of Southern California’s lower level players had their eyes opened to a whole new world of fastpitch that they had never witnessed before.”

The Best of the West has known several tournament sites, but most recently the beautiful city of Santa Barbara has played host. With Clyde Bennett directing the tournament since taking over for Blackburn in 2011.

Bennett is an icon in the sport. He started playing in 1954 as a catcher. And at the age of 75, he can still be found crouched behind the dish. Then in 1967, he started running tournaments and managing teams in Santa Barbara. His teams – from young men’s age 23-under to adult – have won or finished high in the ISC, ASA, Masters, and NAFA national tournaments over the years. NAFA Fastpitch

Last year, Bennett had 10 teams in the tournament with the Sooke Loggers from British Columbia, Canada, taking the title with a 5-0 decision over the Cal-State Builders (Seattle).

Some the fastpitch softball’s greatest have played in the Best of the West.

Sooke manager, Len Banner, said the competition – especially Sunday’s championship playoffs – “was the best and hardest day for us in the way of better teams to play. We played teams ranked (ISC rankings) at the same or better than us; it was good for our club to play these better teams…”

But, added Banner, the city itself turned out to be a pleasing part of the trip. “A few (players and wives) headed down early for shopping and sightseeing, and raved about the beach and the pier,” Banner added.

Santa Barbara’s many attractions are one of the reasons why the tournament stays put. Why move way from such a gorgeous city? A city that cuddles up to the sparkling blue Pacific with its miles of tranquil beaches, offering all that a ball player and his wife or girlfriend could ask for: exquisite dining, shopping and a vibrant night life.

“Santa Barbara is one of America’s great destination cities,” Blackburn said. “Not only do the players love (it), but their wives and girlfriends unanimously love to come there for the weekend…it is as nice a surroundings as any fastpitch destination in the USA.”

Beautiful Elings ball diamonds overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Bennett, who begins his 60th year in fastpitch, is already busy working on the tournament. He’s invited the Sooke Loggers to return and defend their title. So far the Cal-State Builders and his own team, the Clydesdales, are in.

“But several others have inquired,” he said, “including the Silverhawks, Macaabi and Robert Chapel’s team (of the West Coast Fastpitch Association).”

2013 Best of the West tournament information:
Date: June 1-2
Entry fee: $400
Location: Elings Park in Santa Barbara
Qualifier: ISC World Tournament and ASA National Tournament berths
Format: Saturday pool play (1:45 time limit) with single elimination playoff on Sunday (no time limit).

Tournament Contact: Clyde Bennett (805) 964-2114; (805) 895-9007.

For years Rob Rainey entered his team, Team Rainey, in the Best of the West.

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