Enjoyed the note in this article about Larry Walker playing fastpitch softball. Am curious to know if any other major league baseball players have played fastpitch.. I do recall reading a story about Mike Piechnik getting a look, but not finding it this morning.
Expanding the list to fastpitch players who played professional baseball would of course be a much larger pool. A few So Cal players that I had the pleasure of playing on the same team with in fastpitch come to mind, Fred Hanker, (OAK 1987-88) Todd Budke (MIN/1984-86) Tom Biko (MIN(1978-80, SDP 1981-84) and Doug Stodgel (LB Nitehawks/NYY/1970-74/CWW and CHC 1975-77).
New Zealander Travis Wilson (ATL/1997-2004) of course had a long run in the Atlanta system, including several three seasons in AAA.
Travis Wilson is now coaching women’s collegiate softball, as an Assistant coach for the Florida State Seminoles. 2022 will mark his 11th season at Florida State in 2022
Fred Hanker is a fellow Long Beach fastpitch player, an outstanding fastpitch hitter that I never had much luck pitching against. I think I got him out once. (so I finally got on a team with him, the Long Beach Black Sox. Won an early California Cup tournament, thanks in large part to Fred’s hitting. Fred, a teacher by profession, also teaches hitting at a local indoor facility in Signal Hill, CA.
Todd Budke was one of the best hitters in fastpitch for over a decade, playing in a number of ISC World Tournaments with Rod Peterson’s The Farm Tavern team, including their runner-up finish in 2005. Budke also starred for Al Ruegsegger/Al Savala’s Savala Painter Teams that did well in several ISC World Tournaments.
Tom Biko was a longtime fastpitch player in the Central California region. He played 3 seasons playing for the Visalia Oaks (based near Fresno) the same minor league team that my late-brother Bobby worked as assistant GM in the 1990’s.
I spent a weekend pitching in Fresno for Tom Biko’s team back in the 1990’s. One of his other pick-ups, to my good fortune was Todd Budke. Two true professionals in the same dugout. I learned more about the game from Budke that weekend than some full seasons.
Stodgel was a former roommate of the great Yankee pitcher Ron Guidry. Stodgell played 2 seasons in A ball, 4 in AA and 2 at the AAA level. I owe Stodgell a debt for teaching me to bunt. True story, after I popped up a bunt to end a championship game in a tournament, he made me stay after everyone left and practice bunts until I had it right. Stodgel was a pro’s pro, who I enjoyed watching in his days as shortstop for the Long Beach Nitehawks. Doug had tremendous power, and hit one of the longest home runs I have ever witnessed. Well, OK, maybe not as far as the one Glen Harper hit off of me in Burbank.
I guess we could also make a list of fastpitch players who had brothers in Major League Baseball. Glen Harper‘s brother Brian (MIN), Frank Chambliss‘s brother Chris (NYY) and Donnie Johnson‘s brother Randy (ATL). (No, not that Randy Johnson) The latter two fastpitch players shared our Vista Bomber dugout in the mid-1980’s. Ironically, both Chris Chambliss and Brian Johnson were teammates on the Braves, while brothers Donnie and Frank were Vista Bombers.
Craig play MLB for the White Sox, Angels, Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays and the Red Sox. Brian spent 6 years in the Angels system, and also minor league teams for the Blue Jays and Astros. After Craig and Brian finished their baseball careers, the three brothers played fastpitch together on the same team. I suppose you could put Craig on the list with Larry Walker, i.e. MLBers that played fastpitch, though in Walker’s case, it was a prelude to his baseball career while Grebeck’s fastpitch came after retirement. Stanley gets the nod as the best fastpitch player, playing for a number of good So Cal teams. Besides his prowess at the plate and defensively, he had he closest thing to a photographic memory that I’ve ever seen. I arrived after one of their games at Nationals, and asked him about the scoring details for my report. He recounted the action, as if reading from a scorebook, right down to the count that the game winning hit came on. Amazing. As a pitcher, I always wanted to be reminded as to what hitter had done in prior at bats. Never played with Stanley, but would loved to have. As an aside, Stan Sr. was a longtime umpire, well liked at that.
And my late-brother Bob Flanagan who played in Visalia with the Colorado Rockie’s affiliate the Visalia Oaks. Just kidding. He worked in the front office, but the players invited him to take BP 😉 Oh, I should stop before this list of lists gets carried away….
Perhaps readers can drop a note in the comments below if you know of any others for these lists?
Update September 16, 2021
Some great comments at Facebook. The list is longer than I imagined. Note to Facebook readers — the blurb that shows up is only an excerpt of the story I posted. Be sure to click the link below the excerpt, to read the complete article, which included a lot more names and some baseball cards of the former pro/fastpitch players. Here are some of the comments for those who don’t visit Facebook:
Tom McAvoy (ISC Hall of Famer)
I loved the note from Tom Berube about Tom McAvoy striking out Ted Williams. That’s pretty elite stuff. Tom was a great supporter of the game, loved seeing him each year at the AAU International tournament in Orlando. I’m laughing at myself that I missed that one, especially as I did a post ten years ago mentioning his MLB experience.
Mac began a professional baseball career in 1956, signing a contract with the former Washington Senators’ Baseball Club. This rangy left-handed pitchers career, although very promising, was cut short after breaking his pitching arm during a game in winter ball in Nicaragua in 1959. The following year, after rehabilitation, his arm broke again while warming up in the bullpen. After another long rehab, he was never able to regain his original form, and was released by the Minnesota Twins in 1961. Mac was always proud that as a rookie, during spring training, he struck out the hitting immortal, Ted Williams.
In the early 1960’s Mac’s interest turned to fast pitch softball. For almost 50 years, Tom loved softball and was involved locally, nationally and worldwide. He mentored many young men on life, as well as softball and was able to attend softball tournaments across the USA, Canada and the Caribbean for the better part of the last 30 years, as a well known, well respected coach and manager.
Now in Hall of Fame, Walker’s ‘hard work paid off’
By Thomas Harding @harding_at_mlb
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Imagine that the plaques in the Hall of Fame Gallery speak, when the visitors are gone and the lights are dimmed. What would the new one of Larry Walker — the first with the Rockies’ interlocking “CR” on the cap — have to say?
Tracked down between a couple of his many commitments in Cooperstown on Wednesday, Walker pondered the fantasy briefly. Then he figured the bronze, imaginary Walker was as delighted and frazzled as the real one.
“First, I don’t know how you pick one — how do you pick one out of 1 percent of every player to speak to?” Walker said with his familiar rumbling chuckle. “One percent of the greatest are hanging on that wall.
“So can I not just have a beer with each one of them along the way?”
Honored for a 17-season career, including 10 spent with the Rockies, Walker joined Yankees captain Derek Jeter and switch-hitting catcher Ted Simmons as players in what is officially the 2020 Induction Class. The late Marvin Miller, the influential head of the MLB Players Association, also was inducted.
Never one to take himself too seriously, Walker dressed in a dark gray suit, a black shirt and light tie, and offset the outfit with a SpongeBob SquarePants lapel pin — a nod to the shirt he wore when he learned in January 2020 that he had been elected.
Walker began his speech by pulling out his cellphone to pan a crowd that was mostly in attendance for Jeter. Walker broke in with the Montreal Expos (1989-94) before joining the Rockies (1995-2004) and finishing with the Cardinals (2004-05). During his time with the Rockies, Walker won the 1997 National League Most Valuable Player Award as well as five of his seven Gold Glove Awards, but he recalled making the 1995 playoffs as a particularly fond memory.
“What an incredible way to be introduced to the fans of the Rockies,” Walker said during his speech. “I thank the Rockies fans for always showing your support, and I hope real soon, that ticker tape parade comes rolling down Blake Street.”
“We didn’t have high school baseball or any serious travel ball,” Walker said. “I played no more than 15-20 baseball games a summer until I was 16. But I did play lots of fast-pitch softball with the Maple Ridge Lanes team with my dad and my three brothers, all wearing the same uniform.
“Some of my earliest memories include my mom sitting in the stands while we all played. My mom, Mary, my dad, Larry, and my brothers, Barry, Carey and Gary — the rhyming family.”