MEDFORD, Ore. — The US Junior Men’s Softball Team is a unique collection of talent. You have a group of 19 teenagers, and many of them rarely play softball.”
“A lot of them are baseball players year-round,” coach Tim Lyon said.
It may be unusual to think that players on the US National Team rarely play that sport, but there aren’t many opportunities for players to find competitive leagues.
“There used to be a huge scene in Decatur. Not so much anymore,” Collin Hopkins said. “We have to go about an hour and a half away to some games.”
“We’ve got about two leagues that I know of,” Junior Centeno said. “I play in the one in Pleasant Grove because I live a little more south and I still have half-hour drive to get there.”
In addition to trying to get some practice in before the World Championships, Team US made its way through Oregon to re-kindle interest in men’s fastpitch.
“Well the hope is people see oh there’s a boys national team, I’d like to do something like that, so we’ve actually asked each stop to try to get some young players to come out, see what we’re doing,” Lyon said.
“We have so many great high school baseball players that play in Southern Oregon and a lot of times there’s not opportunities for them to play in the summer and back in the day that’s what we did,” Larry Binney said. “We just went and played men’s fastpitch.”
Part of the reaston it’s tough to recruit young men’s players is the stigma that comes with playing softball.
“The easiest and best thing is to try and find somebody whose dad played because then you don’t have to convince them that softball’s the sport their girlfriend plays,” Lyon said.
“At first I was kind of like softball, girl’s sport, but as I got playing and got in to it I actually had a lot more fun than I do in baseball,” Centeno said.
For those who give it a chance, may of them find out it makes them much better during the high school season.
“We also know that any kid that plays with us for a summer then goes and has the best baseball season they’ve ever had because their hands become much faster,” Lyon said.
“The reaction time between baseball and fastpitch is quite different because somebody throwing 75 miles an hour, the reaction time is going to be like 108, 109 mile per hour fastball,” Mike White said.
“People don’t realize how difficult it is to hit men’s fastpitch,” Binney said. “It’s a lot tougher than hitting baseball it really is because the ball goes up and down and in baseball it doesn’t go up.”
While the men’s fastpitch game won’t be resurrected overnight, those who were at Fagone Field on Thursday said it was nice to bring the sport back for one night.
“I told the guys today that they’re the last link between yesteryear and today,” White said. “I’m just happy to help out and see if we can build this program back up and get the men’s game going like it should be.”
“Well I think it’s tremendous what the ASA softball and USA softball is doing with these young boys playing,” Binney said. “They’re just, they’re going to be the ones that hopefully carry this in to the future.”