When people think of slow pitch softball, they probably envision a bunch of non-athletic people in a park drinking beer. However, there is a completely different type of slow pitch softball. It involves athletes who travel around the country playing in tournaments. They are sponsored by sporting goods companies that capitalize on their home run hitting abilities to sell bats.
It is not a game played in church leagues or on sandlots. It is played in baseball stadiums.
I write those words because my dad sponsored one of those teams, the Le-Al-Co Storms. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was one of the best teams in the country. The men on the team played for the love of competition and a bigger love of winning.
Like all kids, I knew that springtime brought the end of school, but it also brought a summer full of adventure. Every weekend, we drove or flew to a different city to bring together my second family – the softball team.
When I say second family, I really mean that. The players were my crazy uncles who taught me the ways of life. Of course, a lot of those things were probably not good for a kid to hear. They helped me grow up and become who I am.
They also made me part of the gang. At school, I was a nerdy kid who did not fit in with everyone. On summer weekends, I was cool because I hung around these guys. When they walked into a park, everyone knew who they were. As a result, they knew me, too.
The games were fun, but I mostly remember the other parts. The long drives. Hanging out in the hotels. Eating at a restaurant and cleaning out the buffet.
I cannot imagine growing up any other way.
Last week, Tommy Everette, one of those players, passed away. We went to the funeral and heard a lot of people say a lot of great things about him. It was interesting to listen to people who knew him from his life outside of softball. He was a principal and a valued member of the educational community. In my world, he was one of the greatest home run hitters who ever picked up a bat. He hit balls that no one ever saw come down.
There were several team members at the service, and we all gathered to take a picture.
From left to right:
Allan – manager, general manager, recruiter, uniform designer. He did it all.
My dad – sponsor of the team and the softball version of George Steinbrenner.
Me – batboy, bookkeeper and a kid who learned more than he should have.
Sam – great hitter who was the only local guy to make the move to the big time.
Jimmy – suffered a gruesome injury at the state tournament in Cleveland, Tennessee.
Eddie – played with us in the summer and with the Los Angeles Rams in the fall.
Kenny – could hit a ball a country mile.
Brian – another kid who grew up in the world of softball. Tommy Everette was his dad.
Mac – the only player to be on all of our championship teams.
It was great to have some of them together again. Old stories were told, and there were handshakes and hugs all around. However, I realized something. I am older now than they were in those days. That is a strange feeling because I looked up to them, and it is hard for me to realize where I am in my life.
When we were together, I still felt like that kid in the dugout watching them beat some team. We are all getting older, but, in my heart, they will always be the boys of summer. And, I will always be part of that team.