Sunsets creating long shadows over the diamond. The smack of a wooden bat meeting the softball. The aroma of popping corn.
Those were among sights, sounds and smells from long-ago, hot summer evenings in Goshen.
The place was Shanklin Park and the game was fast-pitch softball, a popular activity in the city for about seven decades, especially throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.
What made fast-pitch softball such a big fan attraction here and why was Shanklin such a neat gathering place?
One of those with some thoughts is Floyd Troyer, a standout third baseman and clutch hitter for Keene Metal Products teams that had a big rivalry with Paul’s Mobile Homes clubs from 1964 to 1975.
Another is Darrell Bender, a 1977 Goshen High School graduate who would become one of the top pitchers in the nation.
“I remember those big crowds and people getting there early so they could get a parking spot,” said Troyer who joins fellow softball veterans for breakfast on the first Wednesday of every month at The Hilltop, west of Middlebury. “I played softball during grade school at Clinton and we would have games against other community schools.
“Then I joined a church league at about age 15 and began playing in the Goshen league in 1960 with the Hay Oil team.”
The rivalry between Keene’s and Paul’s was intense for more than a decade, Troyer remembers. He also recalls each team having “a great bunch of guys” on the roster.
Friends, family and fans would swarm to Shanklin Park to watch the highly competitive games.
“It was just inspirational going to Shanklin in those days and seeing the big crowds,” Troyer said. “When we would play in other towns during the summer, there would be very few people there. In Goshen, it seemed like the crowds would be about half for Paul’s and half for Keene’s.
“Dick Swartz was an excellent league director in those days and we had the best umpiring crew in the state with Bill Books, Steve Ellis and the Simper twins (Bob and Dick),”
Darrell Bender was among the many young lads watching those Paul’s and Keene’s games in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
His father, Ed, was a scorekeeper for Paul’s while his uncle Merv was a player-manager. Yet another uncle, Gene, was an outfielder.
“I just tagged along with Dad and I couldn’t believe all the people who were there,” Bender said. “The cars were parked two and three deep all around the outfield fence and I remember Dick Swartz had to announce once in awhile for fans to turn off their headlights so they wouldn’t bother the hitter.”
Not surprisingly, Bender began playing the game at an early age, first with a church league in a field behind Bethany Christian High School before taking up pitching around the time he was in junior high.
After graduating from Goshen High School, Bender, a left-hander, pitched Gonderman Coin Shop of Goshen to Indiana state championships in 1980 and 1981.
“Playing at Shanklin Park was special,” Bender said. “Even after the Keene’s-Paul’s years, the crowds were still pretty good when Gonderman played in Goshen. But then around 1990, fast-pitch softball started to vanish around the nation. It’s tough for me to drive by Shanklin Park in the summer now and see no fast-pitch being played.”
Bender, now 53, has been a manufacturing engineer for 10 years at KMC Controls in New Paris after working for about 20 years at the former Johnson Controls in Goshen.
He ended his pitching career nine years ago with the Flex Vision, former Hy-Line, team of Elkhart.
A vanishing sport
So, what happened to make the men’s fast-pitch game virtually disappear in Goshen and nationally?
Young pitchers were not being developed and it was becoming very expensive to sponsor a team, paying for them to travel and play in weekend tournaments.
During the Goshen heydays of the 1960s and 1970s, fast-pitch softball was about the “only game in town” as far as a fan attraction.
That was also before recreational slow-pitch softball burst upon the scene. It was also before cable and satellite television, before Internet, cell phones, Facebook and all other modern wonders of technology that seem to trap people these days.
There was no swimming pool at Shanklin in the 1960s and Black Squirrel Golf Club just down the road was still several years away.
It was a different era in Goshen, but a special one to fast-pitch players and the spectators.
Organized softball, or kittenball as it was known then, was first played outdoors in Goshen in 1928. Games were played at City (now Rogers) Park and the season was from just after Memorial Day to just before Labor Day.
Among early softball players in Goshen were Forrest Lewallen, Ed Anglemyer, Don Gill, Bob Peffley, Bob Ramsby, Dean LaRue, Joe Bradford, Lawrence Copenhaver, Frank Cornell, Cliff Snyder, Bill Stose and Elmer Culp.
Lights were installed at Rogers Park in 1938.
The Goshen All-Stars captured a state championship in 1945 when home games were played at Lions Field, now the site of the city sewage treatment plant on Wilden Avenue.
Wendell Whitehead and Brice McCann were pitching stars for the All-Stars while Norman “Lefty” Wade was a slugging first baseman.
Lions Field eventually closed and softball went on a decline in Goshen until revived by Dick Swartz at Shanklin in 1960.
There were 10 teams in one league for the 1960 season and the program would eventually grow to 20 teams in three leagues by 1973.
Among players for Keene’s were pitchers Wayne Christner, John Schrock and Manass Miller, catchers Ernie Miller and Andy Yoder, first basemen Merle Yoder and Gene Ober, second baseman Dick Reidenbach, third baseman Troyer, shortstop Orla Miller, outfielders Larry Targgart, Lloyd Slabach and Omar Yoder.
The Paul’s side included pitchers Dick Doering, Ed Helmuth and Bob Higgins, catcher Bob Sweazy, first baseman Jerry Fawley, second baseman Merv Bender, third baseman Gary Cook, shortstop Jerry Cook, outfielders Keith Anglemyer, Gene Bender and Al Miller.
After that 1945 state title by the Goshen All-Stars, it would be 33 years before the city would produce another champion.
In 1978, Paul’s Mobile Homes was No. 1 in Indiana behind the pitching talents of Pete Froese, a Canadian left-hander who joined the team through friends at Goshen College. He struck out 294 batters in 147 innings that summer.
Ed Herr and Keith Anglemyer were Paul’s managers with Steve Schrock, Al Miller, Charlie Steiner, Ron Gunden, Ken Ebersole, Joe Greaser, Tim Short, Steve Mast and Ron Miller among players.
An Everett’s team of Goshen, sponsored by Dave Holderman and managed by Steve Ellis, won a Class A regional title in 1983.
Steve Fisher and Harold Yoder were pitchers with Dewayne Yoder, Bob Henke, Steve Swihart, Craig Whitehead, Larry Keil, Mike Stark, Randy Brandt, Mike Miller and Tim Torrance, among other players.
In 1987 and 1988, Trans-Aire of Elkhart won state championships behind the pitching of Pete Meredith from New Zealand.
The Goshen fast-pitch program was more than just Paul’s and Keene’s in those glory days.
Norm’s Standard, Filter Queens, Starcraft, I-XL, Shasta, Proof Co., Marathon Oil, Sorg’s 66, the Topeka Merchants, Yutzy Construction, Church of the Brethren and The Olympia were among other regular sponsors.
Batting champions in those days included Harold Meyer, Roger Kindy, Ray Miller, Bill Orn, Mose Schrock, Bud Kurtz, Steve Kauffman, Mike Lambright, Merv Frey, Phil Ingold and Bob Rice.
Pitchers included Owen Miller, Harry Feaster, Orv Eash, Fritz Wolferman, Don Grubbs, Vern Yoder, Laban Mast, LaVere Rouch, Andy Gingerich, Lowell Hile, Don Carpenter, LeRoy Hostetler and Jim Gehman.
All those and many more helped make the Goshen program one of the best in the nation.
While fast-pitch softball has rounded third and headed for home, it certainly belted a “home run” during those memorable summer nights in Goshen. z