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Pitching -- A commentary by Dennis Gilbertson in 1988

Pitching
By Dennis Gilbertson
(Written at the ISC in Decatur in 1988)

Publisher’s Note: This is another of Dennis’ hand-written articles. He wrote it early in the 10-day ISC World Tournament in 1988 in Decatur. 

It’s time to put to rest once and for all  the myth that the best pitchers are the power pitchers. The ones that throw hardest and fastest, the one that late at night the catchers can’t catch and the spectators, after a long day at the park, marvel that they can hardly see the ball. Well, they aren’t.

Here’s few reasons why.

  1. They’re wilder. Wild pitchers hit batters, they contribute to runs eventually being scored in a game where one run is big. More pitches are thrown,, tiring the pitcher, and working from behind in the count forces the pitcher to come with a more hittable pitch. 

  2. They’re harder to catch. Passed balls may be considered the catcher’s fault but the take your hats off top any guy willing to ply this trade. And sometimes the eyes and reflexes just aren’t up to it. Peter Meredith Madison were eliminated in ‘85 in Kimberly when neither Dan Hvam or Rocky Vitale could catch Meredith and John Becker all of a sudden lost it with Mike Piechnik in the usual ridiculously late Eau Claire championship game this year. 

  3. Batters are up more for the power pitchers. See who gets the publicity and mention; listen to which pitchers are being talked about. The adrenaline flows when one steps in against a hard thrower. You’re not embarrassed when you strike out. You need a shot of something to get up for the challenge of Gil Aragon.

  4. Home runs. The ball jumps off the bat when a hitter guesses right against these guys. Meredith vs Rothrock in 85, two home runs off Piechnik this year. Meredith’s losses with his no-hit team last year. The game is lost with one swing of the bat. 

So what’s important in judging a pitcher? 

  1. Location, location, location. Real estate and fastpitch have the same most important facet. Move the ball around, keep it down and away. Move it back in when the batter starts leaning in. Be able to pick the right location for each pitch. Intelligent location.

  2. Control. Avoid the wild pitches, passed balls. Be able to put the ball in the location where the batter has the hardest time doing something with it. Often this is down and away., batters are often undisciplined and free-swinging. Witness Decatur against Portage La Prairie or Page Brake versus Brad Underwood. Since few batters will go with the pitch to the opposite field, control is the advantage.It also avoids those base on balls. 

  3. Changing speeds. Today’s power pitchers don’t possess effective change-ups. So batters can sit on each pitch  trying for that big home run. 

Let’s review the last eight years of championship play and see what history tells us. 

        ISC         ASA
1980        Colglazier    Arnold
1981        Smith        Scott
1982        Smith        Moore
1983        Herlihy        Walford
1984        Stevenson    Finn
1985        Moore        Moore
1986        Moore        Moore
1987        White        Robertson

Only four times, Smith twice, Scott and Robertson were real power pitchers the winners. But look at the tams they had behind them. A power pitcher needs a better team to get the job done. And Robertson would never had gone all the way last year without the best manager in fastpitch running the show. 

Why haven’t astute softball observers recognized this fact? Maybe some have, but don’t want to buck the majority. Junk-ball pitching isn’t macho, it’s not impressive. One can remember Meredith;s first appearance in Kimberly in 85. After a few preliminaries building anticipation, his first warm-up pitch drew 5,000 “Oooooo----s.” He was just so much faster than the half dozen other throwers seen before him.

Possibly more importantly, why isn’t this recognized by sponsors and managers who do the recruiting and spending all the money? Talk especially now centers around Meredith, Robertson supposedly is already committed. Well, it’s the sponsor’s money and they can spend it how they want. There haven’t been too many championships bought lately anyway. It;s enough of a challenge to an overpaid prima-dona at the key position.

Poor Mike Piechnik wore and tired under the title of “most-feared” pitcher this year, mainly because of speed and success last year at Saskatoon. How did his rival maintain such a low profile?

Mike white was the best and most effective pitcher last year and this until the tough loss to Owen Sound. The question marks after last year was how successful his season-end arm surgery had been. But White more than anyone else fills the bill as the pitcher to build a team around, just as Jimmy Moore was before him. But you don’t hear Cedar Rapids complaining about the lack of recognition. Perhaps they remember being pillaged by Decatur for players in the early 80’s and would like to be able to benefit from the talent they have a little longer this time. 

Yes, let everyone be awed by power, but most often it’s intelligent and multi-faceted pitching, managerial excellence, and team togetherness that ends up the winner. 

 

The Farm Report from September of 1988 from Dennis Gilbertson

Men’s Major Fastpitch Softball from 1988 - A Great Look Back In time

The Farm Report
By Dennis Gillbertson - Written in Cursive for the Fastpitch Chronicle

In the spring of 1988 I was coaching a high school girls’ fastpitch game in McFarland, Wisconsin. The umpires that day were Dale Ferron, longtime Wisconsin ASA Commissioner and Dennis Gilbertson, a longtime, avid fastpitch softball fan and serious Farm Tavern follower. As close a follower as Buddah, Dean Oscar or any of the other avid Farm Tavern faithful. 

Before the game got started Dennis and I were talking about the loss of Ray Anderson’s Fastpitch Softball News Bulletin. We were two of the 700+ subscribers to Ray’s publication. Ray had suffered a stroke during or right after the ‘87 season and a fella from Pennsylvania who was publishing a slow pitch softball publication cut a deal with Ray and wound up with Ray’s subscriber list and promised to honor the paid subscriptions that Ray and Ann still owed copies to. That never happened and before we knew it the rumor was that the fella in Pennsylvania had gone under and everything was tied up in the court system. 

I told Dennis that day that after getting “stiffed” after only a couple of issues toward my renewal that I had thought about starting up the Bulletin myself. Dennis laughed very hard at me for even thinking that I could pull off something like that. I listened to all the reasons he listed as to why it would never work. He included factors such as: I had no network or writers like Ray did. I had no mailing list to reach the people who had been subscribing to the Bulletin. Even if I were to get the mailing list which Dennis claimed was in the thousands I’d never be able to afford the postage just to get people to send me subscription money without a first issue. He rattled off a bunch of other factors as well. I listened intently to all of them.

One thing I knew for sure was that if I was going to fire up a fastpitch softball publication on a global scale I surely was not going to use the same process that Ray and Ann had been using. I could type fast and with computers just beginning to show up in people’s homes there were word processing programs that could spell check etc. 

That softball game in McFarland was in late April. Our team got crushed by a really good McFarland bunch. The score was about 26-2 in five innings. They had no mercy on us but that is a great story for another time. 

After the game was over there was a bus ride back home. That was about 40 minutes where thinking about a 24 run loss in five innings wasn’t worth it. Instead I thought about Dennis’ challenges to the possibility of me getting a publication going from scratch. On the bus ride instead of looking at that score book I started jotting down the things Dennis had mentioned. From that list rose a recipe for a successful fastpitch publication. What I needed to do was obtain the most important ingredients. 

In the spring of 1988 I was 38 years old and had just taken on the position of playing manager of the Martin Security men's fastpitch team. That was not a small job to say the least. We played in the Portage Mens’ League and for the first time we entered the Wisconsin ISC Travel League in Kimberly. There we would play teams such as The Farm Tavern, All Car, the Denmark Dukes, Kimberly Merchants and some teams from around the Fox Cities area. By the time the first ISC weekend rolled around I had gotten a good start on the Success Recipe. I saw Dennis at the travel league weekend and told him I was getting close to firing up a publication. I told him the name would not be The Fastpitch Softball Bulletin but instead I had settled on The Fastpitch Chronicle with a goal of publishing on newsprint and not mimeograph machines as Ray and Ann did. He laughed at me again but I countered him with a proposal. I asked him if he’d be one of my monthly contributors. He had submitted articles to Ray afte rall. Laughing at me all the while he said, “If you pull this off it will be a miracle and yes I will write articles for you, especially about the Farm.

I did mix up a great recipe and a great batch of issues of The Fastpitch Articles in the process learned a lot more about the fastpitch softball world. A lot more! I also met some real “characters” and that word is another story for another time.

Here is one of Dennis’ handwritten articles covering the Farm Tavern.

The Farm Report
B
y Dennis Gilbertson - Madison, WI

Close but no cigar!

It could have been, it very well should have been, but an ASA national championship for Rod Peterson’s Madison Farm Tavern team was just not to be.

All that was needed was just one run off former teammate Peter Meredith in any of the first fifteen innings of the first championship game. Elkhart finally scored one in the top of the sixteenth. Of course it had only taken the Farm twenty innings to score off Meredith three nights before. Mark Paulsrud did make it to third twice with two outs, each time only to be stranded as Meredith struck out the final batter.

It looked more difficult but still possible in the seven-inning nightcap as Elkhart used three and then two consecutive singles in the first and then third to jump to a 2-0 lead. The final half inning of the season was one of its most exciting, as a Jim Soehnlein single and a Mickey Selmo pinch-hit, two-strike, two-out double provided a threat before Meredith again reached back, one last time for a final strikeout. 

It was still the best national championship finish ever for the Farm, after an ISC third in 1982, an ASA fourth in 1984, and an ISC third in 1987.

Although small consolation, it was also the third time in the last five years that the team that was undefeated going into the last day failed to take home the ASA title. Last year’s victim, Sioux City Penn Corp., turned the tables this past August to take the ISC title in Decatur. Just wait till 1989!

The Farm warmed up, heated up so to speak, for their season-ending run at a title at the same ISC in Decatur, where the scoreboard thermometer peaked out at 116. The heat got to most everyone, including Mike Piechnik, who yielded consecutively, a single, triple and home run to Midland batters to fall behind early in the Farm’s opener. Jim Sohnlein countered with a four-bagger, and with the Farm on its final at bat, the score was 6-3. With two outs and two runners on, Gary Backus lifted a fly ball to left that caused one well-known, well lubricated fastpitch aficionado to leap from behind his seat in expectation. But spirits fel quickly as the left fielder gathered in the final out. Following were 6-0 and 2-0 wins over Dallas and Saskatoon, before elimination 2-0 at the hands of Aurora with Piechnik yielding yet another round tripper. The path to a high finish was there for the taking as Midland finished fifth and Aurora fourth.

The real excitement occurred one month later one hour north of the Illinois prairie in Bloomington. The Farm started out using a fourth-inning Jim Sohnlein RBI triple to defeat Mankato Happy Chef 1-0. Tom Kneebone and Dave Johnson drove in runs early and Rick Pauly stroked a two-run home run in a 4-0 win over Findlay, Ohio. Soehnlein’s base running keyed a 2-0 victory over Salt Lake City.

The next game had to be seen to be believed. Meredith vs Piechnik. Twenty innings. Forty strikeouts giving up but three hits for Piechnik, 30 strikeouts for Meredith while yielding eleven safeties. A lead off triple by Sohnlein not wasted as Pauly singled sharply up the middle with two out in the top of the 20th to provide the run that was the winner.

The winner’s bracket final saw Piechnik as sharp as ever, throwing his second no-hitter of the tournament, while Pauly continued his timely hitting with a second inning two-run home run. Dave Johnson had an RBI and John Becker two hits as the Farm downed Hayward, California 3-0.

Then came Saturday. Hayward took Elkhart 10 innings before a mishandled two-out pop up from a line drive off pitcher Hayden Smith;s forehead let Meredith have another shot at the Farm. And this time he was Piechnik’s equal. Thirty strikeouts each in the opener. Seventeen for Meredith and only nine for Piechink in the final as Peter took home the gold. Oh, it should have been!

But it’s coming close that keeps the fire burning. Peterson already has another top pitcher in town in Graeme Robertson, who led Seattle back in 197 from an opening loss to claim the ASA crown. Rick Pauly ponders the move to 40 and over play after gaining first-team ASA All-American honors. The ASA sanctioned ISC will be in Kimberly, Wisconsin in August while the ASA final in September is slated for Midland, Michigan. With Mike Piechnik leading the way, can a national be far behind?


Writer’s note: I bet most readers may have forgotten or are not eve aware about the ASA actually sanctioning the ISC World Tournament for 1989 in Kimberly. At the 1989 World Tournament in Kimberly, longtime fastpitch fan from Kenosha, Wisconsin, Dick Brombeck gifted me his collection of those Fastpitch Softball News Bulletins.” The ISC bigwigs at the time referred to Dick as “Free Pass Dick.” Dennis was just one of the many writers I was able to bring on board over the years 1988-2004 with The Fastpitch Chronicle. For fear of forgetting to mention even just one of those writers and contributor I will just say, “Thanks to all of them.” They were the paper!