say nothing to me directly," says Stofflet, "but I know how they feel.
They can't see me out there as good as I am, know what I mean? But what they
don't know is what it took for me to get there, how much work, how much
traveling. I just go there, pitch my game and go home. I don't stand around for
a pat on the back, and maybe that hurts them more."
Stofflet is even
thick-skinned enough to continue to pitch once a week in the Allentown City
Softball League, which is like Richard Dreyfuss showing up to take the lead in
the junior class play. Bergh and some of the other members of the Barbells who
live in Allentown play on other teams in the league, too, and they obviously
outclass the opposition, even though the league is a strong one. Several years
ago, in the interest of competitive balance, a few of the teams tried to keep
Stofflet from playing, but there is no legal way he can be stopped. So he still
shows up once a week "to get sharp for the weekend games in the Seaboard
In 1969 Sal's
Lunch won the ISC nationals, and Stofflet, having achieved that goal, jumped to
the Rising Sun Hotel team of Reading, the final step up the competitive ladder.
The Rising Sun is a little corner bar owned by a guy named John Kramer, who
gave up sponsoring the team and sold the establishment in 1976 when he was
elected Berks County sheriff. Billard Barbell then took the team over, to be
superseded, in turn, by York. Fast-pitch softball was spawned from this kind of
one-man sponsorship, but by the mid-60s big business had stepped in and
Kramer's world-class team became the exception, not the rule. Stofflet and the
Rising Sun Hotel, therefore, often had to compete against teams that had
brought in players from around the country and given them jobs. The shift to
such big-business sponsorship undoubtedly helped keep fast-pitch softball
alive, but it also separated the sport from its roots.
Big business has
done nothing for Stofflet. He has been an electrician and fork-lift driver for
Mack Trucks of Allentown for 14 years, but Mack has contributed little to the
sport in its home area, which is fairly hot softball country. It's a bit
surprising that the company has never even mentioned the world's best softball
pitcher in its promotions. "Their thing is to build Mack trucks, not Ty
Stofflet," says Stofflet with a way-of-the-world weariness. "I'm just a
number there. No special privileges. I use my vacation time for tournaments and
traveling with the team. It don't bother me."
Rising Sun Hotel
came in fourth in the 1971 nationals, Stofflet's second year with the club. The
2-1 loss that eliminated them occurred against the eventual champion, Cedar
Rapids, on a run-scoring single and a passed ball in the 15th inning. Stofflet
had 33 strikeouts in that game, which established him and his team as among the
best in the world.
appreciate Stofflet, you must bat against him or at the very least grab a
catcher's mitt and squat down in his backyard. Pick any spot, and Stofflet will
quickly stride to another, precisely 46 feet away, and begin limbering up.
After a few throws, he asks, with sincere concern, "Are you sure that
you've played ball before? I wouldn't want you to get hurt."
The windup seems a
little awkward, being performed as it is with both feet on the rubber, as
required in softball. The hardball windup has a certain grace and fluidity
because only one foot must be on the rubber, with the other being used for
balance during the pivot. Stofflet's lifting of both hands over the head is
less a windup than merely a way of getting started. When his hands drop back
down to his waist, there's no pause as he brings his left arm forward to begin
the windmill portion of the windup. He hides the ball as much as possible as he
whirls his left arm through a full circle, and releases the ball just as his
arm completes the windmill.
My God, it comes
in fast! Astonishingly fast. An apparition with seams. The catcher experiences
a millisecond of panic before the ball slams into the mitt. He sheds real
O.K.?" calls Stofflet. "I'm not really poppin' yet. I'd say that was
only in the 90s."
To get an idea of
Stofflet's velocity, you must remember the first time, in a schoolyard or in
Little League, you faced some strange kid who really fogged the ball in there.
He was always big, sometimes even fat, and chances are he didn't even make his
high school team, but at that younger age, from that distance, he was Walter
Johnson. You couldn't even see the ball. How could you hit it?