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Untouchable on the rubber: Pitchers like Gross train year-round

Hitting a softball doesn't seem like it could be that difficult. The ball itself is about twice the size of a baseball. You would think softball games would produce football-like scores. Instead we get futbol-like scores. It's been a sport always dominated by pitchers.

Many people might not remember the name Eddie Feigner.

He's considered by many to be the greatest fast-pitch softball pitcher ever and was the star of the famous barnstorming team -- The King and his Court.

Feigner was once clocked throwing a softball 104 mph.

In a two-inning exhibition game in 1967, he struck out future Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Maury Wills, Harmon Killebrew and Roberto Clemente in succession.

While you won't see any 104 mph fastballs at any of the local high schools, you'll still see a game dominated by pitchers.

The numbers don't lie.

Merced, Golden Valley and Los Banos all compiled team batting averages of .230 or lower.

GV had two pitchers in Camille Flores and Johnna Michaloff, who both finished with a 1.70 ERA or lower.

Still, Golden Valley finished with just a 10-17 record.

So why is it so hard to hit a softball?

"It's the distance, the velocity, the movement," said Buhach Colony coach Bobby Dallas.

"Softball pitchers are only 40 feet away from the plate. By the time they push off the rubber, they're 3 or 4 feet closer.

"That's a big difference."

Facing a 60 mph fastball from 40 feet away is like hitting a 90 mph fastball in baseball.

"It has a lot to do with the pitching," said Merced coach Bart McAfee. "I think pitchers work more on pitching than hitters work on hitting.

"I don't know if hitting a softball is harder than hitting a baseball. But in softball, I do know we face the best pitcher every time out there."

WHILE BASEBALL pitchers need four to five days to recover after a start, softball pitchers can throw two or three games in a day because the underhand delivery doesn't put the same strain on a pitcher's arm.

"Imagine if (Brett) Mooneyham threw every game for Buhach Colony's baseball team," McAfee said. "How much hitting would there be in baseball?

"I plan on throwing Taylor Gross every game in league. I did the same with Carolyn (Cameron), Megan (Hazeltine) and Deborah (McCollum)."

DALLAS agrees.

"In high school ball, you can win with just one pitcher," he said. "Even in the playoffs.

"When I had Kayla Herrera and we were at tournaments, I'd throw her the first two games of the day.

"If we had a third game, Kayla was disappointed in me if I didn't throw her in the third one."

Many high school softball pitchers work with private pitching coaches.

They work on their craft year-round so they're far ahead of hitters when the season starts.

"We don't get enough swings," McAfee said. "We try to get 50 to 100 swings a day but we don't get it every day.

"There are pitchers working with pitching coaches three times a week.

"Good hitters work year-round, but almost every pitcher is working year-round."

The scarcity of runs makes softball a much different game.

MANY TEAMS are bunting and playing for one run from the start of the game.

"You can't make a mistake," McAfee said. "Any one mistake can cost you a game.

"I know that can happen in baseball, but it's magnified in softball because there are so few runs scored.

"In the last eight years, we've played a lot of 1-0 games."

McAfee better have the stomach to sit through plenty more games like that.

For softball coaches, it comes with the job.

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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