Seattle Invitational returns to Fife

// Fastpitch tourney features solid talent, honors legends

For the second straight year, men’s fastpitch teams from around the Northwest, Northern California and British Columbia will be converging on Fife for the 52nd annual Seattle Invitational, which this year will become the longest continuously running men’s fastpitch tournament in the nation.

The tournament, which will take place at Dacca Park on July 21-22, will feature 12 to 14 teams from around the region in a round-robin format on July 21. Each team is guaranteed at least five games, and it will switch to a single-elimination format on July 22 to determine the champion.

“We have probably the most diverse group we’ve had since 2000,” said Tournament Director Charlie Bendock, adding that last year’s champions, the Cal-State Builders from San Mateo, Calif., return and should be the favorites. “It’s a very good representation, and there are some very strong teams.”

The local representation returning includes last year’s runner-up, the Lacey A’s, Cleon’s Auto from Tacoma, K-Club from Bremerton and Interbay Door from Seattle. Fife Mayor Pro Tem Glenn Hull – who along with Bendock and Ryan Dailey form the tournament committee – said that this year, the tournament is an American Softball Association (ASA) sanctioned event, and also includes a bid to the North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) national tournament later this summer.

“For the good of the game, we want to bring as many organizations together so that men’s fastpitch can keep going,” said Hull, who also serves as a fastpitch umpire.

Hull added the age of players ranges from 19 to 74 years old, with the average being in the 30’s. This year’s tournament will feature some newcomers to Fife, with the Surrey Rebels and The Farm coming from British Columbia, along with the Boise River Dogs and the Montana Bonner Boys. Returning squads include JRW & Associates from Yakima and the Rose City Merchants and Ivory Headware from Portland, Ore.

One of the most entertaining parts of the tournament and a key to success, Hull said, is the presence of dominant starting pitching, and this year’s tournament features several such players.

Darren Strang, last year’s MVP pitcher, returns to lead the Cal-State Builders, while Shawn Koster will be a dominant force for the Lacey A’s, and Dave Drotzmann is another solid pitcher who will lead JRW & Associates. With the mound being closer to the plate than in baseball, added to the fact that some pitchers throw upward of 75 miles per hour, Hull said the reaction time is equivalent to a 100 mile-per-hour pitch in baseball.

“These guys can make the ball rise…they can throw high drops, they can throw curveballs, and some of the deadly pitches are the changeups they throw,” Hull said. “And there’s no difference in (the pitcher’s) body movement.”

Also present at the tournament will be 2008 Olympic umpire Lori Bish, whose 20-year career includes a long stint as a Pac-10 (and Pac-12) umpire. Mother Hubbard, a long-tenured and well-respected umpire out of Victoria, B.C., will most likely call a few games and features several quirky mannerisms. The tournament will also honor Hall of Fame pitcher Jimmy Moore and coach Jimmy Williamson.

The first games on July 21 will begin around 8 a.m., although Hull mentioned there may be a few games played on July 20 to help speed up the process. The Dacca Barn will serve as a Player Hospitality Area throughout the tournament, and on the evening of July 21 there will be a free, outdoor movie night for city residents, athletes and their families.

Bendock added that the fact such a tournament will be held in Fife for the second straight year should only help the tournament’s overall success.

“It’s really good to have a home field,” said Bendock, who has been running the tournament since 1983. “If (people) associate it with Dacca Park in Fife and Emerald Queen Casino (hospitality provider)…people get it on their calendar and it starts to build.”

And while the tournament has grown in participation from last year, Hull hopes that it will thrive even more in the future.

“The biggest struggle we have right now is keeping this game alive,” Hull said. “We have to somehow make this transition from what has always worked to what is working now and what is going to work in the future.”

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