Each Tuesday, fans and players head to Englewood's Belleview Park to watch or compete in one of the few remaining leagues in the once-popular sport of fastpitch softball.
“I started playing in the early '90s and there were three Englewood leagues, a C league, a B league and a more talented A league. There were also a lot of fastpitch leagues in other communities around the metro area and the state,” Englewood resident Jeff Covington said. “Now, there is this six-team league here, a league in Boulder and a league in Pueblo. It appears to be a dying sport, and that is sad.”
Part of the problem is the lack of young players. That was evident by the fact that players under 30 were few on the six teams that played at Belleview Park on July 9.
Playing defense and even batting in fastpitch softball is much like baseball. For that reason, Covington said, it used to be that high school baseball players naturally migrated to fastpitch softball. He said now there are only a few high school graduates who join fastpitch teams.
Another issue is the lack of pitchers. It takes a lot of practice and good coaching to develop into a competitive fastpitch softball pitcher. Most teams have older players on the mound, but Covington and his teammates on the Englehoods enlisted Rebekah Kilpatrick to pitch for them.
Kilpatrick said she is still pitching because it is fun.
“I got started a lot of years ago, my dad and I saw a flier on the recreation room wall about fastpitch softball and I begged them to let me play,” she said with a smile. “I got my way and I have always been a pitcher because I wanted to be in the middle of the field and the center of attention. The more I pitched, the more the sport became a passion and a love. I can't get enough of it, even after 30 years on the mound.”
She said pitched for Louisiana Tech University and, after college, just looked for teams that needed a pitcher when the Englehoods asked her to take the mound. She said she immediately agreed to pitch for the team.
Covington, who fills in as the catcher, said Kilpatrick's pitching keeps the team in a lot of games but, unfortunately, the Englehoods aren't a power-hitting team and often don't provide the run support to get the wins.
On July 9, the Englehoods provided run support as they edged the RMWC Bad Cats 4-3.
There was a scattering of fans in the stands, including Henry Olander, who said he came to watch the game because he still loves the sport though he doesn't play now.
He said he lived in Littleton when he started playing. For most of his 35-year fastpitch softball career, he said he played for two teams and pitched an average of two or three games a week.
“I got started as a second baseman and the guy who ran the team talked me into learning to pitch,” the Highlands Ranch resident said. “The circular motion is natural and I'm told it doesn't hurt the shoulder or arm. But it takes a long time to learn to throw and to control different pitches.”
The Englehoods played the RMWC Bad Cats in the second game of the night on July 9. The caliber of competition was good as players from each team made diving stops, leaping catches and hit the ball hard at times.
Centennial resident Joe Kelly said he had been playing fastpitch softball for more than 20 years.
“We didn't have baseball in my high school, I started playing slowpitch and then got on this team and fastpitch is a lot better,” he said. “I play centerfield for the RMWC Bad Cats. The position really fits me and I really enjoy that spot.”
He agreed it is sad to see the decline in popularity of the sport.
“I'll stay with it as long as there is a league where we can play,” he said. “For some reason, young guys don't know about fastpitch softball while girls and the woman all over the country are playing the sport. But young guys just don't seem interested and you need young guys joining teams to keep them going. Like I said, it is sad that it is happening.”