July 08, 2008
Not too fast, not too slow

I confess, I didn't know men's fast-pitch softball leagues existed in Houston.

The Lone Star State was a men's fastpitch mecca in those days. And Houston was one of its epicenters.

"Going back 20 to 30 years, Texas was definitely a hotbed," said Ken Hackmeister, executive director of the International Softball Congress. "We have numerous Texans in our Hall of Fame."

[George] Perez, 61, remembers a time when each park in Houston had its own fastpitch league. Church, industrial, company and town leagues would play each other in 80 to 100 games from the middle of March until the end of August.

"It was a lot like how you describe high school football is now in Texas," Perez said. "Everybody goes to watch the high school teams play.

"Back then, everyone went to watch the fastpitch teams play. ... The pitching was so dominant that most games were 1-0, and they were very intense."

Thirty-eight years later, things have changed.

Local participation in men's fastpitch is at an all-time low. Perez can count on one hand the number of teams in the private league he organizes with pitcher Henry Munoz. Including his own squad -- Geo-Per Fastpitch, named for the welding and welding inspection business he owns -- that number stands at four.

Munoz, who has been with the team for two years and works for Perez as an operations manager, has helped organize the league since the Houston Parks and Recreation Department decided not to fund it this summer because of escalating costs and the dwindling number of teams interested.


Benjie Hedgecock, executive director of the North American Fastpitch Association, says the instant-gratification attitude of today's society has increased interest in slowpitch at the expense of fastpitch.

"The key draw of slowpitch is you can have a 3-for-4 night every night," Hedgecock said. "Going 3-for-4 is a heck of a lot better than going 0-for-3 -- that's fastpitch. That contrast is a definite draw."

Some would argue more skill is required of fastpitch players.

"I think that's a measure of the game," said fastpitchwest.com editor Jim Flanagan, an attorney in California. "Slowpitch, just about anybody could play.

"Fastpitch is just a smaller pool of talent."

I agree with Flanagan. I've played in a couple of slow-pitch leagues in the past. What they have in common is that they're accessible for large, slow, out-of-shape people, exactly the kind of person who would be unable to get the bat off their shoulder in time to take a swing at a fast-pitch offering. Fast-pitch is for serious athletes; slow-pitch is for the more casual types. Nothing wrong with this, of course - it takes all kinds, after all - but there's no doubt in my mind that fast-pitch draws from a smaller talent pool.

Just a guess, by the way, but I'd theorize that the recent popularity of women's fast-pitch softball has made it seem more like a women's sport. Again, nothing wrong with that - I enjoy watching the NCAA softball tournament on TV - but I'd bet if you asked people what their impression was of fast-pitch softball, those that had opinions would mention names like Kat Osterman and Jennie Finch. They wouldn't think in terms of men playing the game.

Finally, the article doesn't mention a third option for softball, which is medium-pitch; my dad played on a medium-pitch league for years when I was a kid. It's similar to fast-pitch in terms of being more conducive to a higher level of athleticism and competitiveness, with the main difference being in restrictions on the pitcher. Basically, at least in that league, the pitcher is not allowed to raise his arm above his shoulder on either the windup or the delivery; in other words, no big windmill-style windups. That still allows you to bring some heat, just not Eddie Feigner-type heat. It strikes a balance between the free-scoring slow-pitch game and the pitcher-dominated fast-pitch, and was a lot of fun for participate in. Maybe that's a direction these guys should consider.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 08, 2008 to Other sports

As interesting as a men's fast pitch league is I'm a bit more intrigued by the opportunity to see live cricket in Houston.

Check it out - http://www.houstoncricket.org/

Posted by: Patrick on July 9, 2008 9:09 AM
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