Fastpitch is back: Worthington’s Tom Steffl finds inspiration from lossWORTHINGTON — Like anything in life one puts their entire being into, sports eventually become a part of you.
WORTHINGTON — Like anything in life one puts their entire being into, sports eventually become a part of you.
When you breathe in enough sand, taste enough dirt, find a way to sweat on a field when you can’t feel your hands and leave enough of yourself on ice, a court, mat or arena floor, you’re tied to the sport. If you put enough blood into a sport, it becomes part of your DNA.
Teammates come and go, but the memories of a sport never fade.
Tom Steffl, 50, of Worthington, lost the greatest teammates a person has; his family members. In a four-year span, Steffl had to bury his father, David, his brother, Dick, his mother, Maryann and his sister, Therese.
David “Chief” Steffl was softball. He was a youth coach before moving to Worthington in 1975 where he started a fastpitch softball tournament every year in the second weekend of July. For his 45 years in softball, David Steffl was inducted into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame as an organizer in 1988.
“This town used to fill up for the tournament,” Tom said. “It used to be a 16-team, double-elimination tournament.
“Hotels were full, restaurants were full and, of course, the drinking establishments were packed. When people grew up, their lives took them different directions.”
It’s been over 20 years since the last fastpitch tournament.
With the passing of his family members and one special teammate in Mike Ahrens, Tom Steffl, with the help of friend Bruce Veissman, decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and go searching for some interest in softball.
It will start with one, five-inning fastpitch game and one, five-inning slowpitch game between old-timers and the younger players Saturday beginning at noon at Centennial Field in Worthington.
“Chief loved to sit there and talk softball and Mike (Ahrens) embodied the spirit that the game was getting together with buddies and playing ball,” Tom said. “Bruce and I had been talking for years of reaching out to people.
“Next thing you know, my son and nephews were calling from the cities about wanting to start a David J. Steffl memorial fastpitch tournament going. We figured if we want to see if there’s any interest, let’s have the old guys take on the young guys. Then, the good-natured ribbing began.”
Coming from a family of 12 children, Tom Steffl essentially had an entire team in his living room each day.
“I wanted to be on my dad’s team when I was 9 years old, but I was too young, so I went to practice and chased balls” Tom said. “I wanted to pitch until I was 50. I ended up pitching and playing for 28 years, so I didn’t quite make it.
“If I wanted to play, I would have to go to the cities and, with four kids, I wasn’t going to do that every weekend. Life gets in the way.”
As for the generations after Tom Steffl, the interest in softball wasn’t there.
“The last tournament was probably in 1995,” Tom said. “Our kids and grandkids grew up on the softball field, but by the time most of my teams retired, they never got a chance to play because with the modern age, there’s different interests out there.”
Saturday’s festivities are looking to open the fastpitch idea to a new generation, while remember the previous generations.
“Fastpitch is basically baseball on speed,” Tom Steffl said. “It’s just fun to play and it’s fun to talk about.
“The humor in all of it is great. A 200-foot homer becomes a 400-foot after a few years, depending on who tells the story. You used to bust your butt for a week at work and have the release on the weekend with your buddies playing ball.”
According to Tom Steffl, there was no person who symbolized the idea of softball than Ahrens.
“He lived for playing fastpitch,” Tom said. “And when he wasn’t playing, he was there to help work on the softball fields.
“He was a .240 hitter at best, but he had a better stretch than Kent Hrbek. He embodied what this all meant to us. It’s being out there with your friends and getting to play ball.”
Ahrens’ best talent, however, may have been off the field.
“Boy could he talk smart after the game,” Tom said.
Tom Steffl’s voice demands your attention. It’s low and to the point, but, when he’s talking about softball, his eyes light up and his smile punctures his facial hair and it’s impossible to not see that 9-year-old chasing fly balls.
“I had always dreamt to be pitching until I was 50,” Tom said. “Well, I just turned 50 in January and I’m pitching Saturday, so I guess I’m going to get to it.”
As for the next generation picking up fastpitch, there’s still hope.
“Mike (Ahrens) is one of the spirits of this and he instilled that in his kids,” Tom said. “It was in his blood.
“Softball just gets in your blood. You meet tons of great people. From umpires to players to different spectators, even if you never see them any other time, you talk to them. That’s how it’s in your blood. It’s a family affair, but they’ve all been part of the family of fastpitch and that hasn’t been around here for a long time.”
For more information regarding Saturday call Tom Steffl at 507-376-3078 or Bruce Veissman at 507-376-3062 or come to the Elks Lodge Friday between 6-8 p.m. and sign up.
Daily Globe Sports Editor Chris Murphy may be reached at 376-7328.