U.S. men’s softball

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Border Battle falls short for real softball fans

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

This is how the men’s fastpitch softball game is played with pitching, defense, and timely hitting. And no outlandish 30-23 scores.
Photos By Bob Otto / Freelance Writer & Photographer

YUCAIPA, CA – When I opened the sports page this morning my eyes opened wide and my anticipation soared. Until I realized what version of the men’s softball game would be showcased on TV today.

Under the heading of SOFTBALL were three listings: Women’s World Cup, Canada vs. U.S. at 10 a.m. followed by Men’s slow pitch, Canada vs. U.S. at 1 p.m., and finally Women’s World Cup, Japan vs. U.S. At 5 p.m.

All scheduled on ESPN.

I thought that surely the listing for the men’s game must be a programming error, that it should have read: Men’s International Softball Federation fast pitch, Canada vs. U.S.

So I logged on ESPN’s website to check, and sure enough the day’s featured softball game was indeed slow pitch and a game billed as, “The Border Battle; Men’s Slow Pitch Softball, Canada vs. U.S.”

Watching The Big Game
Although disappointed that an ISF game (strictly men’s fastpitch) wouldn’t be televised, I resolved to watch at least a few innings of the heralded contest between Canada and the U.S. I haven’t watched slow pitch played at the highest “elite” level – as the game announcers proclaimed – so I wanted to find out first hand how good these Border Battle teams actually were.

My impression? The players are huge, they hit the ball a long way, and lots of runs are scored. Probably no secret there.

But after seeing the U.S. hit 10 home runs, and I believe Canada whacked eight, in the, 30-23, slugfest won by the U.S. by virtue of a 17-run (no misprint) fourth inning, I grew bored.

Lots Of Runs
But I suppose there are fans who come to the ballpark and want to see the ball hit hard and lots of runs scored. However for those fans that relish the pitcher vs. batter duel, in slow pitch it simply doesn’t exist.

The slow pitch pitcher tosses the ball in an arc between six and 10 feet and then backs up to field his position, hoping the batter hits the ball hard (they all hit the ball hard) at a fielder.

In fastpitch the pitcher vs batter duel is one of the most exciting aspects of the sport – just as it is in baseball.

I mentioned big men? The players are all big, muscular, and strong. So where in the slow pitch game does the little guy fit in? He doesn’t. So that rules out the need for talented and speedy slappers. Unless of course they can slap the ball over the fence. And slow pitch has little need for slick fielding shortstops and second basemen who can turn the double play.

And in slow pitch, a team must strategically time its home runs. Hit over 10 and the rest are nothing but long outs. Solo home runs? Bad, oh so bad. Hitters want to avoid those because they’re considered wasted if the bases are empty.

Shameful Home Runs
I saw a couple of U.S. players who actually hung and shook their heads in disgust as they trotted around the bases after hitting solo home runs. Imagine feeling bad about hitting a home run.

And the hit and run? In fastpitch, a great strategy. But in slow pitch it has no place. The big guys just simply try to crush the ball.

The stolen base? In slow pitch, no. In fastpitch an exciting and again strategic play that often times wins ball games.

Near the end of the game the camera panned to a young girl in the stands holding a poster that read, “Team USA (I’m) a pitcher in training.” Sorry little girl, but you’re waving your sign at the wrong ball game.

Will I tune in for the next Border Battle? Not anytime soon, unless of course it’s a game featuring the U.S. and Canada’s very best men’s softball players.

As in men’s FASTPITCH softball.

Check out the International Softball Federation World Men’s Fastpitch Softball Championship

Follow Al Doran’s play-by-play reports of ISF games