Diehards stick with fast-pitch softball | NevadaAppeal.com

Diehards stick with fast-pitch softball

Dave Price

GARDNERVILLE — Junior Kizer remembers when playing for the Dresslerville Athletic Club men’s fast-pitch softball team as a teen-ager in the late 1970s.

Fast-pitch softball was a big deal.

“We played in the Reno league and there were three divisions with 10 teams in each,” Kizer reflected. “Then slow-pitch took over and it just died.”

That’s part of what makes the second annual Virginia Kizer Memorial Fast-Pitch Softball Tournament at Lampe Park this weekend so special.

Not only is this a chance for Junior Kizer, now 43, to play the sport he loves before hometown fans, it’s a chance to play in a tournament that has been held since 1968 and has been renamed in memory of his sister, who passed away in February, 2002, after a long battle with Diabetes. Now, the entire Kizer family works together to put the tournament on.

“It never used to mean that much until she passed away,” he said. “Last year we were in disarray without her. We didn’t know what to do. She was the one who took care of us, told us what to do and how to do it.”

Proceeds will be used to help Dresslerville send teams to the Native American Fast-Pitch Softball Association nationals on Aug. 8-10 in Rohnert Park, Calif. It’s only fitting because Virginia Kizer was one of the association’s founders.

Most of the players in this tournament are Native American. No matter who they are, though, everyone in this tournament has one common bond — fast-pitch softball.

“It’s fun to see all the old guys out here, and the young guys, too,” Junior Kizer said. “There’s a lot of diehards out here. Some of these guys, I played against when I was a kid. These are guys who are trying to keep this thing going.”

Northern Nevada fast-pitch softball has faded almost out of sight from a time when the sport enjoyed immense popularity in the 1950s, ’60s and even the ’70s. Cliff Simpson started up the Dresslerville Invitational in 1968.

“It used to be real big,” Simpson said. “A lot of the California teams used to focus their vacations around this tournament because they wanted to come up here and play.”

Junior Kizer remembers all those teams that used to play in the Reno men’s leagues. Three years ago, there were four teams total. Today, there is no league whatsoever.

Kizer still tries to play as often as he can, although that usually means driving to California for a weekend tournament. He plays with the Oroville Braves or any pickup team he can find.

While fast-pitch continues to thrive for young women at the high school and collegiate level, there are limited opportunities afterward. And the opportunities for men are even harder to find.

That’s why Kizer particularly enjoys seeing young players. There are so few these days, although he saw a few whom he worked with as an assistant coach at Douglas High School in the 1990s.

“I used to help Cliff (Simpson) and Steve (Wilcox) and I see some of those girls out here now,” he said.

Among those, Yvette Allen and Dena Pitts, played for Douglas teams that won back-to-back state titles in 1991 and 1992. Allen later played at South Florida and played one season the women’s professional softball. Pitts was named three-time Northern 3A pitcher of the year at Douglas.

“Wherever Dena goes, I go,” said Allen, who now works for an advertising agency in Reno and was an assistant softball coach at McQueen High School this past spring. “It’s kind of a pick-up team. We have a few regulars and we pick up players when we need them. It’s a lot of fun. I just wish there were city leagues to play in up here.”

Of course, fast-pitch is recognized as a sport where a team with a dominant pitcher will usually dominate the game. A case in point was Saturday night’s duel in which Kizer pitched for Dresslerville Athletic Club. He threw a five-hitter, struck out four and walked two, but came out on the short end of a 1-0 score in eight innings against the Bishop Blackhawks. Sonny Perkins twirled a three-hitter with 14 strikeouts in the game.

“They do dominate, but you still have to hit the ball to win,” Kizer said. “Guys are going to make contact. And as a pitcher, you’ve got to make sure they hit the pitch you want.”

Facing a hard thrower like Perkins is part of the fast-pitch challenge, he acknowledged.

“It’s fun to watch a guy throwing some real heat,” Kizer said. “It’s fun to bat against those guys, too.

“Oh, yeah, I like the competitiveness. I just love the game.”