Palm Springs SCIFL Tournament wrap up

Editor’s note: More great writing from the pen of Bob Otto:

Story and photos by BOB OTTO
Click here for the original story with photos at Bob’s blog, “Otto in Focus”

PALM SPRINGS, CA – It’s been a few years since I’ve covered a men’s fastpitch tournament. It was good to be back. Good to run into some old friends at Demuth Park in Palm Springs last weekend.

But one thing I don’t like. Those garish yellow-neon balls. I’ve covered plenty of high school girl’s games and of course that’s what they use. But those yellow balls seem out of place in the men’s game.

I picked one up. Rock hard. And when a batter smashes one, those yellow rocks leave the bat like a missile launched for outer space.

Former Long Beach Black Sox retired pitcher, Chuck Vranich, was spectating at the tournament. He said the reason he retired from pitching was because of those yellow missiles. After having them whistle over his head a few times, he decided it was time to give up pitching. Just not worth the risk for a 66-year-old disfiguring his face or breaking his bones.

I saw a couple of two-bouncers headed into the shortstop – second base hole. I was ready to pencil in a 6-to-3 groundout, but the ball shot into centerfield before the shortstop could react.

So ball players, what do you think? Do you like them? Or would you prefer to go back to the old style cork-centered Dudley’s or DeBeers?
…I saw some great plays, but the catch Maccabi USA centerfielder, Dan Winnick, made in the championship game against the Panteras topped them all. Winnick – about as fast as they come in the sport – made a great over the shoulder running catch in left-centerfield to track down what I thought was a sure triple.

…Clyde Bennett may be the most devoted man in fastpitch. He umpires. He manages a 23-under team. And each year he recruits three or four young players and brings them into the game. Clyde brought his son, Mark, into the sport and Mark has gone on to become a top-level ASA Class “A” and ISC pitcher.

…For years, Clyde’s Santa Barbara men’s teams were competitive with the better teams in California as well as the U.S. He no longer has a men’s team, but he has kept the men’s game alive in Santa Barbara. There’s still a four-team league going, he said.

…The Southern California Independent Fastpitch League (SCIFL) is one of the last bastions of men’s fastpitch in Southern California. And much credit goes to NAFA Pacific Coast Vice President, Robert Hernandez, who serves as the SCIFL Tournament Director. The league is competitive and it’s well run.

…Co-ed fastpitch anyone? Debbie Day, a right-hander, pitched for Maccabi USA, and she did well against the men. Day pitched the University of Arizona Wildcats to the school’s first NCAA Division I National Championship in 1991. Debbie has been windmilling her screwball and rise ball at the men for about 10 years with the “Damn Yankees” in the Burbank League.

The difference?

“I think the women are more disciplined than the men,” she said. “But the men are so much stronger. You make a mistake and the ball goes so much further.” Day is also the head softball coach at Cal Lutheran University

…Frightening moment. San Diego PrimeTime pitcher Dan Zupp was standing in the on deck circle when a foul ball came screaming at him. The ball hit Zupp flush on the inside elbow of his pitching arm. His elbow had a knot the size of tennis ball. But there was Zupp pitching in the next game. And he threw well before losing 3-2 to the eventual champion Panteras.

…If it weren’t for older pitchers like Zupp, Dave Blackburn (Maccabi USA), Ron Rupp (Long Beach Black Sox), Russ Snow (Maccabi USA), and several others fighting off retirement – the game would already be toast in Southern California.

…Since 1993, Vicki Oltean has been a staunch ally of men’s fastpitch in Palm Springs. Every year, she welcomes the men to Demuth Park for tournament play. And under her leadership as Tournament Director for Palm Springs Parks Recreation, the ball fields are in excellent playing condition with the games running on schedule.

…22-year-old Cory Avery of Nova Scotia, Canada is a hot ticket in men’s fastpitch. The right-hander is toeing the rubber for Rude Pac of Sunland, California this season as well as pitching for Murphy’s Fish and Chips in the Canada Junior Men’s National Championship. On Sunday I saw him pitch against the Norwalk Panteras and he looked good.

Avery’s thoughts on facing California hitters versus Canadians: “They are equal if not better,” he said. “They put the ball in play.” Rude Pac has kept Avery busy. He’s pitched in the Las Vegas Road Trip III, St. George, Utah, and the Palm Springs tournaments since landing in La-La Land.

…I’ve talked to a few folks about the ISC World Tournament format. The format has all 48 teams in the same bracket in the early rounds. Then the first 24 teams eliminated move into a single elimination ISC II Championship. Nobody takes the middle ground. They’re either for it, or against it.

…One of the top pitchers in the world said that there should never have been an ISC II in the first place. I disagree…the ISC II has replaced the ASA Class A National Championship (in my view). And the ISC II has earned its distinction as the best national tournament for teams a notch under ISC World Tournament teams.

…Let’s hope enough ISC World Tournament teams return next year so that the ISC can once again offer World Tournament and ISC II Tournament of Champions championships.

…Avery pitched against fellow Canadian, Travis Price (Panteras), losing 2-1 in Sunday’s first playoff game. His thoughts?

“I’ve heard about him, but I’ve never seen him pitch,” Avery said. “I wish he would’ve given me a pitch to hit.” Avery swings the bat about as well as he throws the ball.

…Yellow ball part two: I saw pitchers wearing protective helmets with face guards. I’d think all pitchers would be wearing them. I wonder how many other pitchers like Vranich retired early rather than risk injury from the yellow rocks? As you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan.

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