Stars of the International Softball Congress – – – March, 2004
(Story by Tim Smith, Sports Editor of the Morris Daily Herald)
It’s often said that the acorn does not fall far from the tree. The only
difference is that some will occasionally go on to grow into a far more majestic tree than the one from which it came.
This has largely been the case of All-World softball superstar Doug
Middleton of Blue Springs, Missouri. The youngest of three children, while growing up in Springfield, Missouri, Middleton has been living the life of a grand and majestic oak tree. And while his siblings may not have fallen into fertile soil and matured into a top-level athlete the way Doug did, there is no questioning that his athletic roots took hold at an early age and, with the nurturing of his father Chuck, Middleton certainly stands high and tall to this very day.
It all started in the early 1970s when Doug and his boyhood baseball mates of the day showed enough softball promise to Chuck Middleton that he entered them into a morning youth league in Springfield. They had promise, all right.
Enough talent, too. So much so that coach Chuck was able to guide them to four Missouri state titles while Doug was just a lad between the ages of 13 and 18. It was then that “Double-Duty” Doug was made.
Through these formative years, the youngest Middleton was attending Kickapoo High School in Springfield and though the Chiefs only broke moderate athletic ground, Doug and his summer fastball team certainly doing so. At first they played under the sponsorship of Empire Bank and later, a beer distributor picked them up and they became the Schlitz Bulls. Really.
Not content to just conquer Missouri and its best, led by the hitting and pitching of Middleton, the Schlitz Bulls won the ASA Nationals in their age group. Four times.
“Fastpitch softball in the 60s, 70s and 80s was pretty popular. My dad coached the teams,” Middleton said in a recent interview. “We started playing baseball and he took our team and he had us playing softball, too. It was kind of neat playing for him but we also had a bunch of good guys on the team that played together for years.”
Of course, Doug also remembers hanging out at the softball diamond from an early age – shagging balls and bats for his dad’s team for whom Chuck played as a catcher.
“Yeah, I was a bat boy and I remember hanging out at the softball field from an early age,” Doug Middleton said. “This was at a time when people were packing the stands for games. Me and my friends would be there hanging out and running around.”
Eventually the Empire Bank/Schlitz Bulls were tearing things up and, while Doug was pitching “halfway decent” (his own assessment), his team was storming the nation. Doug was not just limited to playing baseball and softball though. By the time that he graduated from Kickapoo, he also was a grandeur on the gridiron, too. In fact, the 6-2 and 205-pound Middleton went to Central Missouri State, a D-II school, where he starred as an outside linebacker.
In total, Doug didn’t miss a start in his four years with the team and he was a four-year letterman each of the four seasons that he played with the Mules. Remember that he was playing baseball in a Mule uniform, as well. “I think I did pretty decent,” he assessed. “It was just about playing sports every day that made me better.”
It was back in 1983 that Doug started playing major fastpitch. And his peers throughout the world learned to cringe at his imposing
diamond demeanor and performance. By 1986 while playing for Harold’s Supermarket, Middleton once again tasted success at the National level when his team captured third at the ASA Major Nationals.
It was in 1988 that he moved up the ladder and played on a team that finished second at the ISC World Tournament held in Decatur, Illinois. Fast forward three years later and Middleton was a centerpiece of one of the greatest softball teams ever assembled.
A little team put together in Sioux City, Iowa.
“That first year the team had a record of 125-4,” Middleton informed. “We had some guys on that team. It was very well put together and everything was first class there.”
The result was two ISC World Championships and an ASA National title. “It was great but there was so much travel involved at that time,” Middleton recalled. Especially when you consider that he was also now playing ball for Team USA in and around that same time. Since then, he’s played in three Pan-American Games and for four U.S. International Softball Federation teams.
Eventually, Middleton would find his calling back closer to the tree from which his acorn originally fell. He went back home to play for a team out of St. Joe, Missouri where he once again rose up to the highest of platforms. And oh, did he perform.
Just two seasons ago, Middleton, along with the Frontier Casino crew and fellow pitcher Mike White won the ISC World Tournament in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, as well as the ASA National Tournament. “We actually lost that first game in Kitchener, but then Mike and I combined to throw seven straight shutouts to win it,” Middleton said proudly. Wow. Simply wow.
“I’d say that was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. Winning both
tournaments in the same year,” he added. “Then, after that, I went and played in the 40-and-over tournament, went out and won that one, too. I’d have to say that it was a career year.” That speaks volumes for a guy who’s been named as an ISC All-World player three times, a second teamer once and has been named as an All-American six times by the ASA. This from a guy who has made a name for himself as a pitcher and as a prodigious four-spot hitter.
“Well, I hit fourth mostly. Except when I played for Penn Corp,” he stated. “They had a lot of quality hitters and I moved down in the lineup there.” Having been so accomplished as both a pitcher and a hitter, Middleton was asked which facet of the game that he takes more pride in – wielding the stick or shooting the pea.
“In the early 90’s I’d have to say as a hitter. In my 20s and 30s I really enjoyed hitting,” he said. “But the last four or five years, it’s been pitching. I like both, actually. It’s really nice to win a game as a pitcher by a 1-0 score when you also hit the game-winning homerun.”
It’s hard to imagine what more such an accomplished athlete could want from life. Middleton recently expressed his candid thoughts about that very thing. “You’ve got to remember that softball is just a hobby,” he confided. “When the weekends are over you still have to go to work. It takes its toll.
“Right now I’d have to say that I’m currently retired. I just got back from an ISF event in New Zealand with the U.S. team and I think it was my last tournament,” he continued. “I have been debating it because I have been playing so well. However, I think it’s time for me to spend more time with the family.” That would be his wife Kristin and his two sons Jake (11) and Justin (10). After all, fastball has already been very, very good to Doug Middleton.
“I really can’t complain. Softball has been good to me. I’ve been a lot of places and it’s been nice to play fastpitch softball,” he said. “It would have been great to be a professional baseball player, but softball has been nice to fall back on. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of great people.
“It’s like a fraternity,” he added. “I think that’s what I’ll miss most
about it, not seeing everybody on tournament weekends. I can tell you this – – I’ve had a lot of fun.”
If Middleton’s day in the sun is truly over at the tender age of 41, then the thing that most will likely remember is standing in the shade of the shadow that his mighty oak cast when he was in his glory while on the diamond.
By: T.G. Smith
Morris Daily Herald