One of the key cogs in trying to maintain the game of men’s fastpitch softball in the Northwest, the 52nd annual Seattle Invitational returned to Dacca Park in Fife on July 21-22, displaying some of the top talent in the game from several different generations.
“The tournament’s always fun. As long as they have it I’ll try to be here,” said Mike Trotter, a pitcher for the Rose City Merchants who at age 73 was the oldest player at the tournament. “I’ll do whatever it takes to come play.”
On display were some of the top teams and top pitchers from around the region, including the Cal-State Builders, the defending champions who were ranked 12th in the nation by the International Softball Congress.
“They got eliminated and thrown into the consolation bracket, so that shows you how tough (this tournament) is,” said long-time sponsor and coach Jimmy Williamson, of JRW & Associates in Yakima. “That’s how fastpitch softball is, one pitch, one fielding play can make a difference in who’s going to win that game.”
As is the case with most men’s fastpitch tournaments, the key was pitching. The Boise River Dogs, a first-time participant in the tournament, rode the arm of ace Shane Alder and 64-year-old Mike Madrieta to the championship, with Alder shutting out JRW 4-0 in the semifinals to advance.
“Those guys are veterans, they’re holding up their end,” said Boise assistant coach Mike Cunningham of his pitchers. “We’ve got a good blend of youth and a little bit older players.”
The River Dogs were matched up against the Lacey A’s, last year’s runner-up, who rode the arms of southpaw Rob Gunter and fire-throwing Canadian Shawn Koster – the tournament’s MVP pitcher – to the finals. After Gunter led the A’s past K-Club 6-3 in the semis, Koster came out firing in the finals, at one point striking out seven straight batters. His devastating rise ball and changeup constantly fooled hitters, and Lacey took a 1-0 lead in the third inning after Pat Sagdal reached on an error by Alder to score Sean McCauley. Scott Anderson and Shane Jones added RBIs in the fifth, giving Koster all the offense he would need, as he shut out the River Dogs on just two hits, with two walks and 17 strikeouts to give the A’s the title.
After falling in the second game of the regular draw earlier in the day, Tacoma’s Cleon’s Auto displayed a brilliant performance in the consolation quarterfinals, getting solid pitching from Mark Bennett in defeating Interbay Door 7-0. They advanced to the consolation semifinals, falling 14-0 to the Cal-State Builders – who won the consolation championship.
The final showdown between Alder and Koster represents a newer generation trying to carry on the sport – something that those who have been around in the game for a while have been longing to see.
“Because of the lack of participation, the game has devolved,” said Jim “Mother” Hubbard, a well-respected umpire who has been involved with the game for 50 years. “In Seattle, 30 or 40 years ago, there were 200 fastpitch teams. Now there’s three. You’re never going to evolve doing that.”
But Williamson notes that participation seems as if it is staying steady, if not increasing, in recent years.
“We hit a period of decline about 10 or 15 years ago, and now because of the communication of several blogs and the Internet…there’s a lot more involvement, a lot more teams and a lot more players,” said Williamson, who has been involved with the game for 53 years and sponsoring and coaching with JRW since 1978. “What we don’t have is 10 or 20 (top-level) teams like we used to have.”
It is clear that with the continuation of the Seattle Invitational – which featured players from age 19 to 73 and is now the longest running men’s fastpitch tournament in the nation – the hope is for the sport to continue on long into the future.
“Fastpitch softball is the greatest game ever invented if people would just take a look at it,” Trotter said. “You can’t compete with it…as long as I can I’ll try it, and we’ll see what happens.”
Or, as Hubbard put it, “how long the game is going to continue, who knows, but it is a good game.”