In the backyard,
Stofflet is delivering his dropball. It's a wicked pitch, coming in about
medium speed and then darting in and down at least a foot. A batter tensing his
muscles and searching desperately for a glimpse of Stofflet's fastball would
see the slower drop coming in and gain a measure of confidence—before missing
it by a foot. Still, there is something reassuring about the drop, because it
does, after all, obey the law of gravity.
Now Stofflet calls
for the riseball. This pitch is another matter. It doesn't appear to obey
Newtonian rules and, further, is even more frightening than the fastball,
because any ball that rises seems, to the batter, to be going straight for the
head. The catcher has seen a hardball rise to a degree, as in the hop a
fastball pitcher gets. But, according to Stofflet, this pitch is going to go up
two, maybe three feet.
It comes in hard,
almost as hard as a straight fastball. The harder a ball is thrown the less
chance gravity has to affect it, and whether or not Stofflet knows or cares
about such scientific detail, he does know he's got to bring it. The ball
appears to be coming in low, then darts viciously upward like a berserk yo-yo.
The catcher gets the mitt up just in time to prevent the ball from crashing
into his mouth. The pitch has risen a full two feet.
"A lot of guys
throw the riser, but they have short hands and have to grip it a different way
than I do," says Stofflet. "I throw mine like the major-leaguers throw
a forkball, except mine's underhanded. You got to jam the three fingers into
the ball. Now that's something you don't learn overnight. Believe me, I worked
hard at it."
The riseball is
what separates the men from the boys in fast-pitch. It's also the reason,
Stofflet believes, that good hardball hitters, even a major-leaguer with the
quick bat of a Rod Carew, wouldn't be able to step into a high-quality
fast-pitch game and perform well.
ballplayer is used to seeing the ball go down and can't get used to seeing it
rise that much," explains Stofflet. "I've seen good hardball players
come over to us and at first they don't do nothing. A softball player could
make a much easier adjustment to hardball because he sees the ball going up and
down, know what I mean?"
One of the few
players who has consistently hit Stofflet's riser over the years is Art Weida,
a teammate of Stofflet's on the Barbells but a frequent opponent in the
Allentown City League. "It's kind of hard to explain, but you've got to
know whether he's coming with the drop or the rise, or you'll never hit
him," says Weida. "His ball moves so much, and it's coming so fast that
you've got very little time to decide. You could be swinging at a pitch over
your head before you know what you're doing. You go by the spin of the ball. A
drop tends to spin toward you, like it's kind of rolling over. A riseball looks
like it's spinning away from you. Now, if he throws that pitch at your waist,
you've just got to lay off it because the ball is going to finish over your
Even though he had
the fastball, the drop and the riser, Stofflet says he wasn't a great pitcher
until he developed a changeup a few years ago. It's the weapon of many
over-the-hill fastballers, but Stofflet uses it more effectively than they,
because he still has the velocity to set it up.
"I throw it
maybe half the time in the game [that figure seems a little high, but Stofflet
sticks by it] but mix it up continually," he says. "The catcher doesn't
even have to know it's coming. He gives me the signs for the fast one, the drop
and the riser, but not the change. I'm on my own on that."
mastery of all four pitches that makes him the best. Roy Burlison's riseball is
better, but he doesn't have Stofflet's drop. Kevin Herlihy also has a better
riser but doesn't have a changeup and tends to tire in extra-inning games.
Bergh has a better changeup and possibly a better drop, but he doesn't have a
riseball. And, finally, none of them can "pop" like Stofflet. Perhaps
only Herb Dudley and Johnny Spring could do it all like Ty.