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The pitch is hard; it’s the ball that’s soft


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It started when I was barely past kindergarten, my grandfather taking me out to Fancher Davidge Park in Middletown, N.Y., to watch Bob “Nippy” Lasher pitch.

This was high-level fast-pitch softball; and to a small kid, watching Lasher perform his magic in City League play was like watching Mel Stottlemyre pitch for the New York Yankees.

The only difference was that Lasher threw the ball underhand, which I eventually learned was much harder.

At the time, I followed the prevailing sentiment. Little boys threw a ball, any kind of ball, overhand. This underhand stuff had to be easier, right?

Lasher threw the ball like it was just another breath to take. His motion seemed so fluid, so easy. The ball would just explode from his hand, causing a pop in the catcher’s mitt that I can still hear when I close my eyes. But there wasn’t an once of strain in his body.

He also could move it. If you stood behind the backstop, the softball looked more like a bullet, only one that would drop or rise. The batters were helpless.

But it had to be easy, right?

It wasn’t long before I got more evidence that pitching a softball couldn’t be all that hard. Before I was a teen, I got a chance to see Eddie Feigner, who was touring as “The King and His Court.”

While Lasher was dominant locally, Feigner was considered the best softball pitcher ever. His team consisted of only three other players, a catcher, shortstop and first baseman. Most of the time, they weren’t needed.

I saw Feigner, who passed away in 2007, in 1970 when he was 45. He pitched for another 30 years. He would pitch blindfolded and from second base. The result was the same. Strikeouts.

He said he had won just under 10,000 games in his career.

How hard could it be if you could play at a high level for more than 50 years?

I guess I didn’t know how amazing this guy really was. Feigner, in a 1967 softball exhibition against Major League Baseball players, struck out Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Maury Wills and Harmon Killebrew ... in a row.

It took a while, but I learned. As a teenager, I decided to give it a shot, going out to a local softball field with a friend. I made like a windmill with my arm about 100 times to loosen up. How hard could this be?

My first attempted pitch went right into the ground, about five yards in front of me. The next sailed to the top of the backstop. If we had a mascot walking around, I would have beaned him. Nothing, and I mean nothing, I threw would have been classified as a clothesline.

A new level of respect grew from that day.

Over the years, I met some special softball pitchers. At the University of Arizona, Kathi Rosenbery lived in my dorm. She was the Wildcats’ pitcher on an outstanding team in 1980.

The difference was that Rosenbury didn’t pitch windmill style. She kept the ball low and drew it back behind her, then whipped her body forward. How she got speed with that style, I will never know.

Later in life, when my son was young, his baby sitter was a 6-foot-1 local high school student, Anne Walsh. After high school, Walsh became one of the nation’s top pitchers at the University of California Berkeley. Her delivery — her long arm winding into the windmill before that whip brought the ball toward home plate — was intimidating.

In 2002, I covered the Cal softball team that won the College World Series behind pitcher Jocelyn Forest. Like Feigner, she didn’t need many fielders. Opponents simply were helpless.

So as we embark on another local high school softball season, I have learned through experience that pitching can, at times, be everything on a softball field. Those who can do it at a high level are rare.

My advice is to try throwing a softball yourself, then go watch Jennings County senior pitcher Lisa McIntosh, the Republic’s two-time Athlete of the Year for softball. She was 21-6 last season with a 1.19 ERA, after getting off to a slow start. Jennings County reached the Class 4A Final Four.

You can catch other quality pitchers right here in town. Columbus North has a wealth of talent in Molly Crowe, Kelsay Lucas, Christine Bomardiere and Grayson Harney. Columbus East has developing stars in Hayley Smalley and Erin Tharp.

North opens the floodgates to the softball season on Saturday on the road for a noon game at South Dearborn. There will be plenty of home games for all the local teams to follow.

Pick a nice day and enjoy. Close your eyes and hear the pop.

It really isn’t easy.

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at jheater@therepublic.com or 379-5632.

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