I would like to open this week’s column with a “thank you” to Tribune-Star sportswriter David Hughes for his excellent article featuring local softball star Kevin Kull, which ran in Wednesday’s paper.
The article, which chronicled Kull’s rapid rise to prominence, was a much-discussed topic around the ballpark Wednesday and Thursday evenings. In addition, it provided me with an idea for this week’s installment of “Softball Scene.”
With Kevin Kull occupying the top rung of the local men’s slowpitch talent ladder, I thought it might prove interesting to mention some of the Wabash Valley’s other past and present claimants to that lofty perch.
Before undertaking this project, I would like to offer the following:
• My criteria for inclusion on the list.
• An apology to those deserving whom I fail to mention.
For me, the most important criteria for being included is how individual players fared in tournament play, both locally and statewide. As many softball observers will note, batting .700 in local league play or in the coed game is often not an accurate barometer for ability. Having cleared that up, let’s move on to my list.
Looking back to the late 1970s and the beginnings of the slowpitch game in the Wabash Valley, one cannot do so without mentioning Howie Johnson and Larry Bird. Johnson was the area’s first superstar. As the lead-off hitter for Carpet Center/500 Platolene, Johnson helped lead it to two state championships and two runner-up finishes in a six-year stretch. Much sought after by other state-caliber teams, he opted to stay with his local team throughout his playing career. He was elected into the ASA Hall of Fame in the early 2000s.
Bird brought legitimacy to the game at a time when slowpitch competed locally for attention with the fastpitch game. A talented player, Bird’s interest in the game earned attention it might not have received otherwise. Bird too was a member of the Carpet Center/500 Platolene team that captured the 1978 ASA Class A state title.
Moving into the 1980s, one cannot avoid the name Brian “Boney” Jeffers. According to many, Jeffers was the single greatest talent to ever play the game locally. Starting with the Modesitt Insurance team, he eventually moved on to the Worth Astros team out of Indianapolis and then played for the national powerhouse Steele’s.
A defensive whiz at shortstop with a cannon-like arm, Jeffers also was known for his power offensively. In short, he was the complete package.
Another name of note locally was Tom Kirchner, who became the leading power hitter for the Ballyhoo Tavern team that dominated Terre Haute softball for several years.
More recently, players such as Kevin Wilt, Rick Robins, Clay Huffman and Tyler Akers have made their mark on the local softball scene.
Wilt is the offensive leader for the Outkast team, at present Terre Haute’s best travel team, while Robins, Huffman and Akers performed for the local Budweiser team.
In closing, I would like to congratulate Kull for occupying the top rung of our local softball talent ladder. It has had many worthy occupants in years past.
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Dates for the Show-Me’s-sponsored city slowpitch tournament are close to being announced. As of this weekend, the dates are tentatively set for the last two weeks of July. Tournament play is being offered for men’s, coed recreation and coed competitive teams.
Interested teams should contact me at (812) 877-2566 or Brandy Lanahan at (812) 232-0147.
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Interested coed teams looking to play and contribute to a worthy cause at the same time can participate in a fundraising tournament July 17 at Mecca. Proceeds will go to the Williamson family, which recently suffered great loss as the result of a DUI-induced traffic mishap.
Interested teams should contact Brad Sanders at (765) 592-5438 or Rob McMullen at (812) 870-6293 for more information or to enter.
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See ya at the park.
John Benton can be reached by phone at (812) 877-2566.