Stofflet is pitching from an equally short distance. True, the 12-inch ball is three inches bigger than a baseball, but it's also traveling faster than a major league pitch when it crosses the plate. Nolan Ryan's fastball has been clocked at 100 mph as compared to Stofflet's 104. And Stofflet is throwing it at you both lefthanded and underhanded, which is always a dirty trick.
The velocity a good pitcher can generate is the main reason fast-pitch softball, for better or worse, remains a pitcher's game. In one of the few books about Softball, Arthur Noren says, "Even the best batsmen are unable consistently to hit safely against good pitching, since the natural advantage in Softball is with the pitcher." That was 40 years ago, and a good pitcher will still beat a good hitter almost every time. A batter has no way of timing Stofflet's best fastball and hitting it where he wants. Rarely, if ever, is Stofflet pulled. Many a batter has gotten a hit only by sticking his bat over the plate at the right time and letting the speed of the pitch carry the ball over the infield.
Like Ryan, there is no apparent reason that Stofflet should be so fast. He is average—sized-5'11�", 170 pounds—with only average athletic ability. His left arm is muscular, particularly around the forearm and wrist, but not extraordinarily so. No, his speed is part gift, part technique and part dedication.
"Let's take Larry Bergh," Stofflet says, trying to explain his speed. "He's about 6'8", and his hand's an inch bigger than mine. He's got bigger legs, which help give you speed. And he's a great all-around athlete. But I throw the ball harder. Sure, some of it is a gift, but the rest I just had to work on.
"Lift weights? Nah, I don't believe in it," he says in a pronouncement not likely to please his latest sponsor. "When I'm sitting around watching television, I do use a hand grip for maybe two hours at a time. But that's all. The rest has been hard work."
Stofflet's hard work got him an opportunity to show his stuff against the pros last year in an exhibition on national TV. On a Dick Clark Live Wednesday show filmed at Dodger Stadium, Stofflet struck out Reggie Smith and Davey Lopes—they fouled off three pitches between them—but was "beaten" by Steve Yeager, who hit a dribbler fair down the third-base line. And this happened just after the World Series, when the Dodgers were still sharp.
Stofflet is undoubtedly all the more effective because of the fear his speed can instill. Batting helmets are still the exception in fast-pitch softball, and the sport has had its share of barbers.
"Oh, there's some guys bailing out in there," says Stofflet, "but I'm known for having pretty good control, so they're not that scared. I've hit some batters, but nobody that hard that I recall. I don't even dust guys off. I don't believe in that, because what if you try to dust them and you hit them? With the speed of my pitch, I could bust a head open or maybe break some fingers, know what I mean? Softball don't mean that much to me to hurt somebody."
Stofflet believes he has been the target of more than a few beanballs, most notably at the world tournament in New Zealand when Canada's Stan Kern, a fast righthander with a Magliesque reputation, hit him in the pitching arm. Stofflet lost feeling in the arm for a few minutes but came out to pitch the next inning. Stofflet's teammates shouted dire threats at Kern, who was due up in the next inning, but he was lifted for a pinch hitter.
"What would I have done?" says Stofflet. "Probably nothing."