Slowpitch began in Pierce County in 1956 when Tom Cross, then Assistant Superintendent of Tacoma’s Metropolitan Park District, introduced the sport after he saw the game played in Chicago where they were using a 16″ ball. He concluded that the sport would increase the action and participation on the field when compared to fastpitch softball a game dominated by pitchers and catchers.
Howell’s Sporting Goods, Wylie’s Café, and the Tacoma Athletic Commission were the three sponsors of teams originally involved in the program.
The first slowpitch games in Tacoma were played at Peck Field using a 14″ softball even though a 12″ ball was used at the national level. To reduce the number of home runs in a game, however, the 14″ ball was necessary due to Peck Field’s short fences. At the time, the top teams played in the highly competitive Metro League at the Peck Field complex. With the opening of the Harry Sprinker Recreation Center in 1969, the Western Washington league was created, and with its much bigger fields, teams could choose between leagues using either sized ball. For years this league was known as one of the premier leagues in the state. The number of teams mushroomed with the opening of the South End Recreation Area complex in 1980.
There have been many great slowpitch teams, players, coaches, and umpires involved over the years. Among the more noteworthy teams are Heidelberg, Players Tavern, Wested Tires, Cloverleaf Tavern, Emery Motors, Hi Hat, Alfred’s Café, Coach House, People’s Church, Home Plate Tavern, B & I Sports, Spud’s Pizza Pete, Tony’s Wahzoos, Creekwater Dispensary, Whylie’s Café, 48th Street Tavern, Sons of Italy, Little Jim’s Pub, Poodle Dog, Lucky Lager, McKnight’s Food, Tucci and Sons, Schooner Tavern, the Spar Tavern, the Cage Tavern, and Mt. Tacoma Grocery.
The accolades have been numerous for many teams over the years, but no team dominated the sport for a more prolonged period of time than the Heidelberg Beer slowpitch team. Between 1965 and 1975 this team won more than 800 games and 60 tournaments in the open division, including five consecutive regional championships and seven consecutive appearances at national tournaments.
In 1968 Heidelberg gained further recognition with their fifth place finish in the men’s open National Championship in Long Island, New York.
Formed in 1968, the People’s Church Softball Club has been the one local team most prominent on the national scene winning USSSA Church World “A” championships in 1991 and 1993. Between 1968-1997, the club compiled an incredible 1368-411 win-loss record, played in 21 consecutive Church World “A” Tournaments, won 17 Washington regional and state titles, and went 11 years without losing a Washington State Church “A” Tournament. Manager Steve Shackett was selected to three All World teams as manager and was inducted into the USSSA Hall of Fame in 1993.
Other noteworthy players include Kathy Hemion, Sandy Molzan, Pat Kearney, Margaret Heinrick, Ken Jones, Dick Zierman, Ed McGrath, Mel Burrell, Ken Schultz, Bob Young, Jim Lane, Marco Malich Dave Wilsie, Ken DeForrest, Butch Pasquale, Dean Eklund, and Rich Van Dyk.
The list of slowpitch umpires is as extensive as the teams and players. Those to remember are Bob Maguinez, Earl Hyder, Dave Kerrone, Joey Johns, Joe Bailey, John “Doc” Holliday, Lornie Merkle, Paul Gustafson, Jim Oleole, and Ken Laase, who was inducted into the USSSA State of Washington Hall of Fame in 1995.
The Metropolitan Park District hosted the first Northwest Region Slowpitch Tournament at Peck Field in the late 1950s. Since then, both Metro Parks and the Pierce County Parks and Recreation Department have been active in hosting numerous state, regional, and world ASA, USSSA, and NSA tournaments each summer in a continuous effort to promote and highlight the game.