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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.
"The average 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 head."
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."
It's Stofflet's 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.