Playing on two of the top Illinois women’s teams of the 1980s and early 1990s, pitcher Deb Keller produced 22 no-hitters and 40 one-hitters in her career.
An Aurora resident, Keller attended Willowbrook High School in the early 70s with fellow 2003 inductee Don Loid, where she played softball, basketball and volleyball. Summers home from college, she began playing slow pitch. After graduation, she was playing on Lombard’s Big Blue and got to know the players on the Lassies.
“Their pitcher was retiring,” Keller said. “And I thought it would be a good opportunity for me.”
Keller ended up being right about that as she played on a team with the likes of Helen Biddle, Mary Stark and Nancy Starck-Shirley.
One of Keller’s biggest thrills over her career was being named to the All-World team in 1980 in Kingston, North Carolina along with her battery mate Jo Suave. The Lassies finished fourth at that 125-team tournament. The following year, they went 6-0 in the winner’s bracket, but lost their final two games to finish as Nationals runner-up. They qualified for World play four times over the next six seasons, and won numerous league, State and invitational titles.
“They were the greatest bunch of people I’ve ever been around,” Keller said of the Lassies. “We lived and breathed softball. Stroh’s was our sponsor back then and they took great care of us.”
Keller loved her experience with the Lassies, but she remembers softball fondly overall.
“In the 26 years I’ve participated in the USSSA, I’ve known nothing but kindness, support and encouragement from my team and other teams,” she said. “Every exchange with my friends and [teammates] has made me a better player, and a better person.”
Besides the excitement of top flight competition, Keller and her teammates had numerous adventures on the road, including buses breaking down en route to tournaments, bats being lost by airlines and monumental rain delays.
It rained most of the time at the 1981 World Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas, to the point where teams would go back to the motel and try to grab some sleep while waiting for phone calls from tournament directors that would come at any hour of the day or night. Then, off they’d go to play.
After the Lassies disbanded, Keller moved to Playments in Elgin. Keller went back to the USSSA World Tournament with them in 1994 in Dunedin, Florida.
“I’m totally thrilled. I haven’t stopped thinking about it [my induction] since last year,” Keller said. “It’s really neat to be among the people who’ve been honored before me.”
Keller also appreciates the dedicated efforts of the people of the Illinois USSSA saying, “Thanks for giving me some of the best years of my life.”
The USSSA now thanks Deb for always giving softball her best effort.