artist - musician - craftsman
and furniture maker
[April 18, 2021]
slowpitch softball (1968)
I wasn’t alone ... sitting patiently on the sloping hillside. My friends, Willy and Knute, were also in attendance that day, flanked on each side of me, exuding the same mutual apprehension as fans of all ages gathered at the Mickelson North Side Softball Complex, diamond number 2. It was the Summer of 1968 and we were forced to sit on the grassy knoll that day, only because the aluminum bleachers were fully occupied. Excitement was in the air ...
... and you could cut it with a knife, as we waited for the home team to take the field. We were about to become witnesses to a new sport being introduced to the Fargo community. A sport that would change and alter my life for more than 40 years.
The three of us were on the edge of our grass-stained numbed backsides, as we observed the “Air National Guard Mustangs” take the field for pregame warmups. The agra-lime infield had been meticulously raked, and the over-seeded thick outfield grass had obviously been mowed by a professional, as it had the appearance of suede on an expensive winter coat. This was a big deal, as it should have been. Life was very simple in 1968. We didn’t have much else to do. [Or look forward to for that matter.] Our ticket for today was punched. We were immensely ― and essentially ― preoccupied, as today we were witnessing history, albeit an exhibition game, appropriately called “slow pitch” softball.
I peered over at Willy as we observed the first warm-up pitch. The red-stitched, blue-dot ball was artfully lofted into the air, with at least a 10-foot arch, as we then watched it plop down a few inches behind the diamond-shaped home plate. Thud. It was a thing of beauty. The three of us were unquestionably perplexed, as we were all veterans of pee wee baseball growing up, and were used to battling a fast ball, or even an occasional curve ball. Some of us with variably limited success.
I, for one, struggled in pee wee baseball. It seemed like I either struck out, walked, or was unfortunately struck by the pitch. I don't recall ever hitting it out of the infield. Before today, my future with the red-stitched hard ball was limited. Until now. This new game of slowpitch softball was made for me. Manna from heaven.
It wasn’t until the summer of 1969, that the Fargo Slowpitch Association was established, consisting of only four teams. Fastpitch softball was still “king” as it had been for decades, and had a tendency to attract the local “athletes.” We soon discovered that if you played slowpitch, you were considered a pansy. Or a chump. But to put things in perspective, there are now at least 1,000 slowpitch teams in the state, with fewer than 30 fastpitch teams. I’m quite confident that the “athletes” eventually found another game to play. All this being said, we were pioneers, and I was proud to be one of them, even though, at the time, I was considered a chump. I got over it.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress
The sponsor of one of those four teams was Wimmer's Jewelry. Brad Wimmer had a reputation for acquiring great talent, and we soon began a softball dynasty as one of the top softball teams in the state. [It would last for 17 years.] As the game of slowpitch quickly ― and exponentially ― expanded year to year, we also developed a reputation. I never considered myself to be an intimidating figure, but we, as a team, decided that we were in a position to use that tactic as a continued key to our success. We were young, wearing white spikes, colorful and snazzy uniforms, long hair, pierced ears, (me included), had blazing speed, great defense, and a team-wide menacing scowl, that we utilized with great affection against our competition. No trash talking. Just a continual stare down, with the scowl conveniently attached.
Most of us had frightening nicknames as well, that we used to our advantage ...
... were just a few. Yes, we were one of the best teams in the state, yet one of the most hated as well. We, admittedly, were a bit on the cocky side. If you need proof, look at the picture (above) after one of our many weekend tournament victories. Do you see any smiles on these faces? Only the late great Arnie (The Joker) Opp (bottom row, left end) seemed happy about winning that day. Me, (top row, second from right), seemed content in showing no emotion with the rest of my fellow hooligans. We were an enigma. Mysterious. It is what made us great.
in closing ...
... if I had the time or the space, I could spin hundreds of softball stories that occurred over a long career, so I will spare you. What I can tell you is this. I played on only two teams over a 37-year span of time:
My career ended in 2006, at the age of 53, after rotator cuff surgery.
In 2008, I was inducted into the North Dakota Softball Hall of Fame. What an honor it was!
Our state's Hall of Fame is celebrating its 64th anniversary this summer, when they induct four new players from around the state, as they have every year.
Men, women, Slowpitch and Fastpitch included. A total of 256 inductees since 1957, and I am honored and humbled to be in the company of such great talent.
Before leaving for Jamestown, ND, for the induction ceremony, I was advised by my wife to leave my scowl at home, housing it in a closet with my personalized aluminum bat and my old weathered leather glove. As I have for years, I rely on her judgement and wisdom to guide me.
See you next weekend!