Western Softball Congress

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A Step Back In Time: Best Field Yet in 1960 ISC World Tournament

Monday, July 24th, 2017

Joe Rodgers was the founder, owner, manager and shortstop of the Long Beach Nitehawks. During his managerial tenure, he led the Nitehawks to seven ISC World Tournament championships. Rodgers also served as an ISC Vice President from 1952 to 1967. He was inducted into the ISC Hall o f Fame in 1970. But Rodgers’ impact was even deeper than that in Long Beach: He was actually the original owner of the land where the Nitehawks softball field (since named Joe Rodgers Stadium) was put together, and he donated it to the city to ensure kids would continue to have the opportunity to play the sport that he loved. Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram Photo, Aug. 27, 1960

(Joe Rodgers’ column appeared Aug. 27, 1960 in the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram on the eve of the ISC World Tournament being held in Long Beach. The Nitehawks’ manager writes about his team, his players and the competition in the 21st ISC World Tournament.)

By JOE RODGERS
Manager, Long Beach Nitehawks
Aug. 27, 1960

LONG BEACH, Calif. – With the ISC World Softball Tournament starting tonight, (sports reporter) Hank Hollingworth graciously offered me the opportunity to write his column and devote it to my favorite sport – fastpitch softball.

And any of my friends know there is very little else I really care about. Softball is a great game and we here in Long Beach see the finest softball in the world.

It seems strange to me that people who have never seen softball say that they don’t like it because the pitchers are too good and there is not enough hitting. These same people I see at the Dodgers’ games saying they enjoy seeing a good pitching duel.

Anyone who has ever seen my Nitehawks first baseman Larry Silvas, outfielder Lucky Humiston or Second baseman Cleo Goyette can never say we win by pitching alone. Those boys swing from the heels like the best baseball players.

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Reminiscing about one of California’s revered fastpitch ballparks: Mayfair Park in Lakewood

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

MAYFAIR PARK, once the home of the Lakewood Jets, played host to many of the elite men’s fastpitch teams in the country. If it could talk, oh the stories it would tell. Photo By BOB OTTO

LAKEWOOD, Calif. – For at least three decades, Mayfair Park was hallowed ground for men’s fastpitch. It ranked at the top of Southern California ball diamonds along with Joe Rodgers Field in Long Beach as two venues where the best teams in the sport battled for league and tournament supremacy.

Though long past its time in hosting men’s fastpitch games, Mayfair evokes many fond memories for the players that once played there.

“I pitched in 1976 for the Camarillo Kings. George Kinder was the manager. I wasn’t there long, but I did all of the pitching while I was there. Jackie Newman was our other pitcher, but he didn’t pitch a game. I did beat the Lakewood Jets two games on a sunny Sunday afternoon (at Mayfair) a few weeks into the season of the Western Softball Congress. Hice Stiles sat out the second game that afternoon. I think he hurt himself swinging at my change-up. I also pitched a pre-season game in Lakewood, after driving from Illinois. I got a room after midnight and was woken up early in the morning to pitch a game in Lakewood. We won about 8-3…,”

Doug Noble

“Played here many times. Once hit three home runs in a men’s fastpitch rec league here. Park is still immaculate. I live 10 minutes from it,” – Fred Hanker

“I played many, many times there. I remember a play there by Dennis Stilwell (pitcher), my teammate from Phoenix who fielded a bunt off Bobby Vandeburg’s team near third base and threw it behind his back to first to get a speedster. Saved the game. Great Yard….some good times there and some tough ones…,”
Paul Rubin

“It’s been a while since I played there. The Western Softball congress has been done for 20 years. – Mark Bennett

“I played there 1986 with Albuquerque. I’m not sure, but the (Lancaster, Calif.) Chameleons were in the tournament. I’m thinking they played out of Lakewood that year,” – Rex Giberson

“That’s Mayfair Park home of the Lakewood Jets. I played many games there and at Joe Rodgers park. Roy Burlison, The Western Softball Congress league was the toughest league I ever played in, lots of great talent in that league. And UCLA also hosted an NCAA regional there,”
Thomas C. Mclauchlin

CIF championships were held there for years…I won a couple and coached a couple,” – Tracy Compton Davis

“Tuck Bedford Jackie Newman, Pete Carlson, K.G. Fincher, Buck Brown, Jim Cheeseman, Ted Brown, Don Sarno, Art Bungee, McGinnis and several others… Las Vegas hAd the weakest pitching but strongest hitting,”

Roy Burlison

“Simon pitched and moved the team to Lakewood and kind of replaced the Jets. I came back with The King and His Court in 2000 against the Long Beach Nighthawks on Eddie’s (Feigner) birthday, Rosie Black and nine former court members played. An amazing night somewhere on tape. That was when fastball was King – Rich Hoppe

“I was fortunate to have a try out there. I was 19 years old . Greg / Brian Harper and I were in the outfield. I was in center he was in left. Fond memories. My first ISC World Tournament was in 1971 in Tulsa. I was fresh out of high school and played with La Tapatia Tamale Kings from El Paso. That was where I met legendary Red Mears, Don Sarno, etc. I closed my eyes and hit a grand slam off K.G. Fischer. I didn’t know who he was at the time. We finished second in the ISC World Tournament that year. That meant we were there all week and the rest is history. I got hooked on fastpitch softball. Great memories,” – Frank Del Toro

“Mayfair Park was our home field with Lanny Rupp and the Lakewood Jets from 1988-’94. Also the Lakewood Brewers from 1985-’87. Good times,”

Kenny Schwartz

“Very cool park. Our Arizona teams loved playing there. Note: I didn’t say winning there, but we got in a few,” – Steve Betts

For ‘Red’ Simmons, respect, love of the games keeps him going

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

012805-RedSimmons115web Richard ‘Red’ Simmons is an outstanding softball player, but his love for athletics throughout his life led him to become an official, a profession that has become an important part of his life. Photo By BOB OTTO

YUCAIPA, CALIF – Richard ‘Red’ Simmons is the first to admit that he can’t cover the infield like he once did in his 25-, 35-, or even 45-year-old playing days. But the sure-fielding glove, whiplash swing of the bat and love for the sport remain as strong today as in his younger days.

Simmons loves softball, and he punches the playing clock without miss every Tuesday and Thursday in the Valley-Wide senior softball program. But the 75-year-old Simmons is also well traveled outside of the San Jacinto Valley as a member of the Top Gun Gold, a senior slowpitch All-Star team from San Diego.

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Where Softballs Still Fly Fast, Hard

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Snow.95WTSiouxCityRuss Snow pitching in 1995 ISC World Tournament. Photo By BOB OTTO

“It hurt when the military bases dropped fast pitch and stopped developing young pitchers. (San Diego) city used to have 125-150 teams in 10 or 12 divisions in the ’70s before slow pitch took over.” – Russ Snow, fastpitch pitcher

(A timeless story about pitcher Russ Snow and the Vista, Bombers, which were led in ’92 by owner and general manager, Jim Flanagan, editor of Fastpichwest. Flanagan will be in Santee, Calif this weekend broadcasting some of the 2013 California Classic games via Ballpark Radio.)

July 23, 1992|DANA HADDAD | LOS ANGELES TIMES STAFF WRITER

Russ Snow, 35, spends his life pretty much dedicated to three things: gathering and selling firewood, breeding and selling catfish – his two businesses – and playing softball.

In fact softball is one of few things that takes Snow away from the picturesque 160-acre ranch that his family owns at the top of Highland Valley in Escondido. His home there is an 1800s caboose, one of the first ever built by Southern Pacific Railroad Co., and he has lived among the orange and avocado orchards that cover the rocky, rolling hills for most of 22 years.

But, as a left-handed pitcher on the nationally known Vista Bombers men’s fast-pitch team, Snow has taken his game to the big time. In fact, had he been able to throw a baseball as he throws a softball, Snow would have undoubtedly made the major leagues.

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For ISC Hall of Famer Lanny Rupp, softball was his life

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011


The late Lanny Rupp was inducted into the class of 2011 ISC Hall of Fame and he is also a member of the Long Beach (Calif) Hall of Fame.
Courtesy Photo / Ronnie Rupp

LONG BEACH, CA – In the 1970s and ’80s, great players, great teams and great managers abounded in southern California’s Western Softball Congress.

But when it came to recruiting, no one was greater than the late Lanny Rupp.

Rupp was the general manager and manager of the Lakewood Jets. If Rupp wanted to sign a top-caliber player, he went after him with a salesman’s charm and a bulldog’s gusto.

Most times, he landed his target.

“He worked, he plotted, he planned and he recruited, recruited, recruited,” said Hice Stiles, who played with and against Rupp in the Western Softball Congress (WSC).

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Mark Smith, the Canadian who chilled Southern California batters

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010


Mark Smith, Head Coach, Canada Senior Women’s National Team

“He was wild back then and very intimidating. I got hit by him a couple of times. He had that old pitchers mentality, ‘if you dig in against me, you’re fair game.’” -Greg Sepulveda, ISC Hall of Fame, 2006

By BOB OTTO / Yucaipa, CA
(first written on Oct. 24, 1999)
www.ottoinfocus.com
botto3@verison.net.

NOVA SCOTIA, CA – He blew into Southern California from Canada like a bone-chilling, north wind. He had powerful biting pitches and the God-given speed that only the truly great fastpitch softball pitchers possess.

Much like Nolan Ryan, when Mark Smith was “on” no one touched him. Including the great hitters of Southern California and the Western Softball Congress.

Along with his blazing speed was a touch of youthful wildness. Wildness that froze hitters in the box. Wildness from a 80-plus mph under-the-chin rise ball that made batters creep back to the outer reaches of the batters box – for safety’s sake.

There were two possibilities when facing Smith: It was damn near impossible to hit him, but quite possible to get hit by him. Hitters feared the possible and came to accept and respect the near impossible.

When Smith arrived in California to pitch for the Camarillo Kings in 1981 no one expected the sudden transfer of power that was about to take place in the Western Softball Congress. Sure the Kings looked good on paper. Sure they had signed this 21-year-old fire-baller from Canada.

But California had great pitchers up and down the west coast. This after all was the WSC, one of North America’s most powerful men’s fastpitch softball leagues.

The Kings appeared to be competitive, but the establishment – the Long Beach Nitehawks, Lakewood Jets, Lancaster Chameleons, and Vista Bombers – were still expected to rule. That is until Smith arrived.

Smith was tough. Downright menacing. Built more along the lines of a linebacker at six-foot and 225 pounds, he was an intimidating presence say some of the WSC’s top hitters.

“You couldn’t dig in against him,” said Greg Sepulveda, who played shortstop for the Lakewood Jets and Lancaster Chameleons. “He was wild back then and very intimidating. I got hit by him a couple of times. He had that old pitchers mentality, ‘if you dig in against me, you’re fair game.’”

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Zane Smith shares memories of the bygone era of military fastpitch softball

Monday, December 14th, 2009

YUCAIPA, Calif. – It took but one game and Zane Smith was forever hooked on fastpitch softball.

In 1962 Smith was a young Navy Corpsman. And the Naval base he was stationed at had a fastpich team with a key position to fill. So Smith raised his hand.

“The manager asked, ‘can anybody catch?’” said Smith. “I said I could. I didn’t know anything about the game and I used a baseball catcher’s mitt.”

Little did Smith know at the time that warming up on the other side of the diamond was one of the all-time great military and civilian pitchers, Buck Brown.

“I was warming our pitcher up and I heard this Pow! Pow!” Smith said. “I turned and looked and it was Buck Brown warming up. He was really bringing it.”

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Greatness measured in nanoseconds

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

WANAMINGO, MN – Oh, how I was jealous of him in my high school years. He had athletic ability, and he was smart. Oh so smart – especially on the ball diamond, football field, and basketball court.

I had little of the afore mentioned qualities that separate the good from the great. But blond haired, blue-eyed Grant Hoven had both.

Now 42 years later, I recently stumbled upon a picture of Grant while researching old Wanamingo area news from the now defunct Wanamingo Progress at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.

The pictured showed Grant ready to launch a jump shot. The year was 1967. The picture highlighted an article about Grant breaking the all-time Wananmingo High School basketball scoring record with 961 points.

So what separates an athlete – such as Grant – from the rest of the athletic pack? After all at about 5-foot-9 with good, but not blazing speed, and of modest jumping ability, Grant wasn’t showered with an over abundance of physical gifts.

What then made him special? Nanosecond thinking.

Grant and athletes like him have that special ability to make decisions very, very quickly. While the rest of us are still thinking about what to do, athletes such as Grant have already made the play.

During my fastpitch softball career, I’ve been privileged to have played with some very fine ball players – Teddy Dominguez, Ron Quinn, and Jeff Nessler will be remembered as three of the best in my book. They, like Grant, weren’t blessed with exceptional physical abilities such as foot or bat speed, size or physical strength.

But all three were exceptionally intelligent athletes. Exceptionally quick-thinking athletes.

Let’s start with Teddy. The stocky left-handed hitting outfielder played with the Lakewood Jets and Lancaster Chameleons during the heyday of the Western Softball Congress in Southern California.

Teddy had this uncanny ability to wait on the ball. Regardless of how fast the pitch, Teddy seemingly followed the ball almost into the catcher’s glove before deciding if the pitch was a ball or strike and whether or not to swing or keep the bat back. Even though he waited and waited, and waited some more, Teddy still had the lightning-quick thinking to judge the pitch a ball or strike, and the timing and power to drive the ball.

Ron Quinn was the best catcher that I’ve ever chucked a ball to. Ron was of average height, speed, and arm strength. But squatting behind the plate, Ron was a mastermind. He remembered every hitter’s weakness and strength. I never doubted his pitch selection when he flashed his fingers signaling he wanted either the rise, drop, or change up. And I never doubted the location where Ron set his glove.

I once asked him how he remembered so many hitters. How he decides what pitch and where to throw it to each and every batter we faced.

“I watch where they set up in the box, where their hands are, their body language, and how they swing the bat,” he said.

“But how do you do all that and still catch the ball?” I asked.

“It’s all done at once physically and mentally,” he said. Ron made it sound easy, but never have I had a catcher call and catch a game like Ron Quinn. He once said: “You just throw the ball and let me do the thinking.”

Jeff Nessler played shortstop for one of the finest ball clubs in the U.S. back in the 1970s and ‘80s when the great Mankato team was a frequent qualifier in ASA and ISC national tournaments.

Jeff had average foot speed, good bat speed, and a good glove. Although those skills can make for a very good ball player, it doesn’t constitute greatness.

But the ability to think and react in a split-second, Jeff – as with Grant, Teddy, and Ron – had that innate gift in abundance.

A gift that the some of us can only wish we had. With a bit of jealousy, I might add.