Slow-pitch fades into sunset
Fast-pitch has become popular while there has been a decline in the area's men's and women's softball leagues.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- The popularity of slow-pitch softball for both men and women has declined in the Youngstown area in recent years.
However, interest in the fast-pitch version for young girls has increased.
So believes Ed Stanovac, who is in his 10th season as director of the Mill Creek Women's Softball League, a slow-pitch circuit.
"Slow-pitch softball still is popular in other cities, but I can't pinpoint as to why it is not popular here," said Stanovac, who also has watched the Mill Creek league dwindle in membership through the 1990s.
"I've been involved in women's softball for 22 years and I've seen it decline from a 32-team league in the '90s to eight teams," said Stanovac, who formed the Mill Creek circuit in 1992 out of remnants from the former Youngstown Metro and Austintown Township leagues.
"This is probably the only functioning women's league in the area."
High schools: He said interest has shifted to fast-pitch because of the increase in popularity of the girls high school game and the many players graduating each year who want to continue playing the game as adults.
"There is a 40-team [youth] league nearby [Mineral Ridge] playing fast-pitch," he pointed out.
"The fast-pitch league is geared toward the younger player coming out of high school, while the slow-pitch league, although it has younger players, also has older players," Stanovac said.
The eight teams (about 160 players) in the Mill Creek circuit are: Five Star Graphic/Mixx, which won the league title the past two years; Camelot Lanes; Cedar Lounge; Heydle Heating and Cooling; Pedaline Heating and Cooling; Open Hearth; Main Lite Electric; and Starks Holiday Bar.
"We got a lot of players from Youngstown State. We do get a lot from the high school and youth leagues in the area," Stanovac said.
National champs: The Starks team is a new addition to the league, switching from a Warren league that folded. Starks won the national Class D championship last year, and was the state Class D champion the last two seasons.
The league plays a 16-game schedule through July, with playoffs starting in August.
One of best: Stanovac said that D'Nelle Seiple of the Five Star Graphic/Mixx team "probably is the most overall talented player" in the Mill Creek league.
"In my opinion, she has all the tools to play softball. She has the bat, arm and speed, and probably could play better than a lot of men."
Seiple, a former Austintown Fitch and Miami of Ohio softball player, plays left field. She runs a basketball program at the Youngstown YMCA.
Umpire's view: Bill Sferra, director of the Mahoning Valley Softball Umpires Association, agreed that fast-pitch is growing because of the high school teams.
"Coaches for the high schools encourage the girls to play in summer leagues because it's a way for them to get better when the high school season approaches," said Sferra, who runs the Mineral Ridge 18-and-under league along with Bill Croft.
"The high school kids have equal opportunity for college scholarships."
As an example of the sport's expansion, Sferra said that he and fellow-umpire Dave Matz held the Mahoning Valley Umpires Tournament in fast-pitch for girls in June in Mineral Ridge, and the meet attracted 82 teams.
"The average tournament is about 30 or 40 teams," said Sferra, noting that fast-pitch tournaments on weekends involving traveling teams also have increased.
Other loops: He also said that the Arco league provides girls fast-pitch, while Austintown has a girls slow-pitch league run by Rick Zimmerman.
But Sferra admitted that men's softball, especially competitive slow-pitch and fast-pitch, have decreased in popularity in general, noting that new players haven't entered the sport as replacements.
Some of the remaining men's slow pitch circuits left are Ron Klazon's men's and co-ed leagues, the Hubbard Church League directed by the Rev. Ron McFarland, the Hubbard Men's League run by Steve Waz, and the Churchill loop headed by John Fusco.