Published January 19, 2004

Taking A Fast Pitch With Softball


The following article was written by Bill Collins and was published in the Times-Gazette in 1999 as a part of Greenfield's bicentennial celebration. 

Greenfield was introduced to fast pitch softball when the U.S. Shoe Factory came to our city. Softball teams had leagues and many men and boys participated in regular softball match ups. Diamonds were in the old McArthur Park and all games were well attended by the citizens.

A family by the name of Burke moved into Greenfield to work at the shoe factory. There were three brothers. However the youngest, named Windy, could really thro' a softball faster and truer than anyone in Greenfield had ever seen.

Otis Cook, a long time resident of Greenfield, had coached and promoted ball teams for years. Seeing Windy in action, he formed a team for outstanding players from Greenfield, sponsored by the Eagles Lodge. Cook entered his team in the night league in Chillicothe and they went undefeated. People in Chillicothe came out in mass numbers to see the Eagles play. Team members were Richard Cook, Tom Doyle, Ralph Head, Tom Redkey, Carl Grate, Lefty Miller, the Steinbrook brothers (Henry and Warren), Earl Leach and Hope Miller from Hillsboro.

Many Greenfielders followed the team each night to Chillicothe and in the summer of 1939, a group of employees at the shoe factory established the 21 Club, which spearheaded the building of a great ball field on the corner of McClain Ave. and Eighth Street. With help from the city, two bleacher sections were erected on the corner. Many factories entered company teams along with merchant and fraternal lodges to form great summer leagues.

In 1945, after many veterans returned home, interest in fast pitch softball was very high. In 1944, the Eagles team, consisting of Irish Clements, John T. Daniels, Howard Lawwell, Earl Miller, Roger Cooper, Jim Mossharger, George Pearce, Smokey Cox, Bob Gray, Lowell McNeil, Bob Davis, Bill Sulcebarger, John Hennigan, Bus Willett, Tort Doyle and Lloyd and Mel Francis, managed by  Bill Collins, scheduled games every Friday night with outstanding teams from Sabina, Chillicothe, Circleville, Hillsboro, Leesburg and Wilmington. The crowds overflowed the bleachers and cars were parked surrounding the outfield with fans.

Windy Burke was no longer pitching and Greenfield had not developed a good fastball thrower at this time, so the Eagles acquired Todd McKinney from Mt. Sterling and Neal Murphy from Cincinnati to pitch. Of course a few years later, a younger team came along with Bud Perie pitching, who developed into a great fastball pitcher.

The Greenfield Volunteer Fire Department sponsored invitational tournaments every summer with the proceeds going to the Greenfield Hospital. Many of those tournaments had as many as 40 teams entered for single and double elimination tournaments.

One Friday night, State Auditor Joe Ferguson brought his team, which had played in the National fast pitch League, to play the Eagles. Todd McKinney pitched for the Eagles who beat the Ferguson team. The next Monday, McKinney went to work for Auditor Ferguson!

During the Sesquicentennial cel­ebration on Labor Day evening, the Eagles played a great Chillicothe team which featured Harry Strawser and Paul Neff as their pitchers. The Eagles pitched Neal Murphy who played in the National Softball League and walloped the Chillicothe team.

Wilbur Harris, a former Greenfield athlete and lover of sports, formed the Greenfield Rockets. The team was made up of local and surrounding towns outstanding athletes. The Rockets played in the local fast pitch league and traveled to other towns for exhibition games. They also invited outstanding teams to Greenfield for many exciting nights.

Players on this team included his son Charles "Little Buck" Harris, "K.O." Jacobs, Earl Steward, John Howard Payne, Charles Payne, Gene Coleman, Glen Coleman, Robert Seldon, Willie Seldon, Gene Sword. Booker Bass. Jack Peddiford, James Loggans, Donald Coleman, Lavell Ford, Ronald Rockhold, John West, Leroy Kittrell, Gene Kittrell, Tom Cole, Joe Cole, Bill Nelson, James Ford, Max Beasley and Ronald Shackleford.

In 1959, a fast pitch league was formed. Barr Bros. Barber Shop, Roy, Darrell and Red, sponsored a team. Other teams were Greenfield Merchants, Pad Factory Union Team and Penny's Confectionery. Pitchers of that era were Sam Willett, Bus Willett, Bud Perie, Ron Rockhold, Bill Howland and John Buck.

The same teams were involved in 1960-61. Home field was located at McClain Ave. and Eighth Street. Dorsey's Restaurant sponsored a team in 1962, members were EarI Miller, Carl Manley, Wayne Miller, Sam Willett, Charlie Richter, George Foltz, Bob Corwin, Dan Wiseman, Ralph Crabtree, Digger Foltz, Herb Priest, John Buck and Turtle Barr, manager. They were victorious over some good teams from the Chillicothe area.

Slow pitch softball came to Greenfield in 1964 and continued until 1972 at Felson's Park. Penn Trucking started a fast pitch league in 1969, sponsored by Glenn Penn. Pitchers of this team were Herm McMillan, John Buck, Bud Perie, Ken Robinette, Eldon Schraw and Ken Reid. The home field was on McClain Ave. and Eighth Street until Mitchell Park was opened in 1971. This team continued until 1973 and played in the Ohio Fastball league and won the Huntington Invitational Tournament. Other members were Rick Smith, Rusty Shonkwiler, Ron Neff, Marty Pol­lard, Dave Warne, Sam Daughtery, Dick Craft, Don Neff, Sam Snyder and Bruce Stewart. These games were played at Mitchell Park.

Glenn Penn turned the ball over to Tom Uhl in 1974. The team consisted of the same players with the addition of Bud Perie and George Foltz as co-managers and were known at Uhl's IGA, playing teams from Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and other teams throughout the state of Ohio.

The teams prospered in many tournaments. In state tournaments 1974-1979, additional hurlers were Paul Johnson, Bill Cook, Paul Neff, Harry Strawser, Ken Reid and Ken Robinette.

These were the final years of fast pitch. It was difficult to get pitchers to continue the sport. Slow pitch continued to be played at Felson Park until the late 1980s.