Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Sports

September 8, 2013

KEIM'S KORNER: Softball a path to lifetime memories

GOSHEN — They were like a band of brothers, more of a family than a softball team.

Back in the early 1980s a group of Goshen area men joined together on a fastpitch softball team sponsored by Everett’s Supermarket and the venture culminated in a Class A Indiana state championship in 1983 and a share of ninth place in the national tournament in Bloomington, Illinois.

The bonds of friendship formed during that magical season are as strong today as they were 30 years ago.

Nine players from the squad got together to share stories and relive those glory days that produced one of the last great fastpitch softball memories in Goshen history.

Dewayne Yoder was responsible for the gathering and hosted it at his house on C.R. 34 across from the Elkhart County Fairgrounds.

“We played 92 games (65-27 record) that summer and we traveled all over,” Yoder said. “We really became a family. I have a lot of fond memories of the season. Fastptich softball was really popular then. Looking back now one thing that amazes me is we were playing a game that we enjoyed and we were having fun doing it. We were playing for trophies and patches on our jackets.”

Another player, Tim Torrance, echoed Yoder’s thoughts about the atmosphere.

“I remember how close we became. We were playing for fun. It didn’t seem to matter whether we won or lost, but we won more often than not.”

Randy Brandt, another member of the team,, agreed.

“We were buddies off the field. It was a very special group. It was not unusual for parents of players to travel with us. We always had a cheering section. The 30 years seem like yesterday.”

Bob Henke was another player that enjoyed the family feeling.

“In my whole life I don’t think I ever connected to a group like I did with this team,” he said. “We had common goals and this season was clearly the highlight of my career. We all came from different backgrounds yet we seemed to blend together. We were a bunch of guys doing what we did best.”

The Goshen All-Stars led by standout pitchers Brice McCann and Wendell Whitehead won a state championship in 1945. Paul’s Mobile Homes captured a state title in 1977 behind the hurling of Canadian left-hander Pete Froese and Gonderman Coin turned the trick in 1980 aided by the pitching of Darrell Bender.

That era was one of the highlights of fastptich softball in Goshen, a sport that has pretty much gone by the wayside in the local area now.

One of the top players to come out of the Goshen area was Steve Fisher who was both an excellent pitcher and power hitter.

Fisher played on Everett’s and along with catcher Steve Swihart were named to the Amateur Softball Association of America All-American team in 1983.

“I don’t miss playing, but I sure wish there would be a place to go watch games,” Fisher said. “I’m not really sure why it died out. I just wish my boys would have had the chance to play.”

Another player Mike Stark offered his opinion on the demise of the sport.

“Part of the problem was rule changes that made it tougher on the pitchers,” he said. “Another thing was slowpitch softball came along and that was easier to play. Guys didn’t have to worry about facing tough pitchers. But you can’t beat fastptich softball.”

Fisher and Harold Yoder were the two main arms for Everett’s. Yoder hurled an impressive 327 innings with a miniscule 1.01 earned run average and a noteworthy 36-10 record. Fisher was also outstanding with 288 innings pitched, a 1.48 ERA and a 29-14 record.

“We had a lot of fun that year,” Harold Yoder said. “We really were like a family. My kids still talk about those days.”

“Steve (Fisher) was a good mentor for us,” Dwayne Yoder said. “The rest of us were age 25 or 26. He kept us in line.”

Fisher started playing softball when he was 17.

“I was the younger guy on teams when I started and then in 1983 I’m the older guy,” he said.

Fisher got involved with the team based on a friendship he developed with team manager Steve Ellis and his wife Donna.

“Steve and his wife started coming over to our house to play cards and we became pretty good friends,’ Fisher said.

The team also had a pretty potent offense. Swihart had a .384 batting average, Stark .313, Dewayne Yoder .304, Randy Brandt .301, Larry Keil .294 and Fisher .288. Fisher and Swihart shared the lead with 13 home runs apiece. Swihart drove in 92 runs with a noteworthy 19 game-winning RBI. Brandt topped the team with 33 stolen bases followed by Keil with 25.

“I played on Trans Aire with Pete Meredith, but this group was the best team I ever played on,” Mike Miller said. “We were good together and knew if one of us was in a slump someone else would pick them up. The team had more speed than any other team I ever played on. ”

For three of the players the bonds of friendship went back further than the 1983 season. Brandt, Keil and Dewayne Yoder played baseball together at Goshen High School before graduating in 1975.

“The three of us started playing baseball together in the F.O.P. League,” Brandt said. “We went to junior high together and played high school ball together.”

“Playing for Everett’s with Randy and Dewayne was like an extension of high school,” Keil said. “It was a good time and it doesn’t seem like it has been 30 years.”

It was great getting the opportunity to talk to the players many of whom I watched play when fastptich softball was the thing to do on weeknights of weekends in Goshen.

The last thing I can say is well done guys. It’s a shame the sport isn’t still at the height of its glory so younger generations could share the bonds of friendship like your team formed back in 1983.

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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