Timeless St. Paul team makes first appearance in NAFA World Series

Written by Bob on August 14th, 2013


ST. PAUL, MINN – Matt Fitzenberger has played for Morelli’s Fastpitch for about 15 years. But he’s just a youngster when it comes to the storied history of this St. Paul team, and the countless numbers of players who have come long before him and worn the Morelli’s uniform.

Morelli’s Market in St. Paul has been sponsoring a men’s fastpitch team for over 40 years.

A baseball player fresh out of college, Fitzenberger was asked by Jim Morelli to play for his team. He accepted and has never left.

“A lot of original team members got into the game because of Jim,” said Fitzenberger, 30, who is the player / manager of the team.

Morelli’s has had its share of success over the years. In 2011, led by the pitching of Randy Walker, Morelli’s won the ASA Class C State Championship with Walker, now 63, going 5-1, said Fitzenberger.

“In the first game in the state tournament, Randy won 1-0 and had a two-hitter,” Fitzenberger said. “Randy has played for Morelli’s for many years. He defies the ageing process. Every year he comes back and finds ways to get batters out.”

Walker, a right-hander, who in his heyday had one of the best rise ball pitches in the state and Midwest, started pitching for Morelli’s in 1977.

“Matt Morelli, the owner, was a great sponsor. Then after Matt passed away, his son Jimmy took over the sponsorship, and he was also my catcher for many years,” said Walker, adding that several sons of his former teammates are now playing for Morelli’s. “We always fielded a competitive team and always had a lot fun. Everyone got along.”

Morelli’s won the ASA state tournament – a great accomplishment for sure – but now they’re treading into new territory: the NAFA A World Series. They will battle some of the top NAFA A-caliber teams in the country and Canada, starting at noon tomorrow against Mazon, Illinois. A team they know nothing about.

And that’s a big reason why Morelli’s entered the NAFA World Series.

“We’re excited about playing teams we haven’t seen before,” Fitzenberger said. “We will be seeing competition throughout the U.S. We’ve heard good things about NAFA and are excited to be a part of it.”

To compete and possibly win the World Series, Morelli’s will rely on its sound defense, a few key players who make the team go, and the steady pitching of a staff of hurlers with varying styles and pitches.

One of those go-to players is third baseman Ryan Thomas, who also sees time at second. “He always comes to the ball park with a fantastic attitude,” Fitzenberger said. “He can put a team on his back and carry it. He’s a leader for us.”

Thomas will bat in the No. 4 spot and is a line-drive hitter who can drill the ball into the gaps on both sides of the field, Fitzenberger said.

Another key player is catcher Chuck Riehle.

“Defensively, he’s a fundamentally sound catcher who calls the entire game for our pitchers,” Fitzenberger said. “He’s one of the best catchers I’ve ever played with.”

The pitching staff is a three-way anchor of diversity: Dean Koopman, Gregg “Chopper” Lammers, and Chris Isaacson have such a differing assortment of risers and drops, curves and change-ups that gives Fitzenberger lots of options if a hurler gets in trouble.

Koopman, a left-hander, mixes speeds, makes the ball move, and has a heavy drop ball and good riser. But his out weapon is “a curve that is really effective,” Fitzenberger said. “And being a lefty is always a little challenging for hitters.”

Gregg Lammers, a right-hander, and Minnesota softball Hall of Fame member (2012), has a good riser, but his best pitch is his change-up. But what Fitzenberger likes the most about Lammers is his heart.

“He will drive anywhere and everywhere to play softball on the weekends,” he said. “He has an incredible love for the game.”

Now, if Lammers and Koopman stumble, Chris Isaacson can be waved in from the bullpen. The right-hander has a sharp sinking drop ball as his out pitch, but hitters can’t sit on it because he’ll mix in a change-up and riser to the unsuspecting.

“We have the luxury to interchange our pitchers,” Fitzenberger said.

But there’s someone on Morelli’s that does as much off the field for the sport as on: Richard Quigley.

“He’s another one who is helping to keep fastpitch alive in the Twin Cities,” Fitzenberger said. “He gets young guys out and has the old veterans show them how to play the game.”

And if these young guys are lucky, they may one day wear the Morelli’s uniform.

    The 2013 NAFA A World Series Morelli’s Fastpitch roster

Steven Halverson, Brooks Albrecht, Adam Connolly, Dean Koopman, Ryan Thomas, Blair Selk, Adam Johnson, Chuck Riehle, Matt Fitzenberger, Gregg “Chopper” Lammers, Austin Bouley, Ron Bouley, Tyler Bouley, Matt Gable, Chris Isaacson, Tim Wabbe, Mike Oehlke, and Richard Quigley.

3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Scott Emerson says:

    Nice Story. These are a great group of guys on and off the field. I wish them good luck at NAFA. I will be following the the NAFA website as the weekend unfolds.

  2. Mary and Paul Fitzenberger says:

    Morelli’s is a class act on and off the field. Wonderful group of guys and we wish them the best of luck!!!!

  3. Mary and Paul Fitzenberger says:

    Morellis is a class act and a wonderful group of guys. We wish them the best and much success.

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