2003 (Spring) Female Player: Deb Keller

Deb Keller

Female 2003S_Deb Keller.jpeg

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.

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. Every exchange with my friends and [teammates] has made me a better player, and a better person.
— Deb Keller

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.

2003 (Spring) Female Player: Marian Bell

Marian Bell

Female 2003S_Marian Bell.jpeg

Since she first started playing adult competitive slow pitch as an eighth grader, Southern Illinois native Marion Bell has played every position in 20 years of softball, the last ten of them in USSSA.

A .650 lifetime hitter, Bell had power to all fields. That talent led her to be selected to the USSSA Class A All-State team in Rockford in 1985, and helped her teams qualify for several USSSA World Tournaments.

After starting out with Fred Bach Auto Body of Belleville, Bell moved to Miller Lite of Belleville (later “Hecker”). Towards the end of her career, she played two seasons with Coors of Champaign.

From the time she was 18, Bell has been a player to whom teammates have looked for support, guidance and leadership. In fact, Bell is remembered as much for her organizational and logistical skills as for her talent, particularly with the Miller Lite teams.

Bell retired in 1988 following her second back surgery to repair a cracked disc injured playing indoor softball.

“It’s kind of hard when you don’t get to pick your time to leave,” Bell said.

Still, Bell retains many friends from the sport.

“I probably consider five of the girls I played with my best friends,” she said.

Another four or five she sees several times a year. “I made lifelong friends, and had a lot of good times,” she said.

Among those good times were the years spent hitting softballs over the fence at Fox Valley in Rockford.

One of her fondest memories though is being utterly lost in Kingston, North Carolina. After flying in for the USSSA World Tournament, Bell and teammate Deb Germann took turns changing into their uniforms in their rental car and looking fruitlessly for the park where the tournament was being held. Finally, they spotted another car with rental plates and asked them if they were headed to the park. The car’s occupants, Brenda Paulson and her husband Ken smiled and said, “Follow us.” Brenda had the women run ahead while she parked their car. Bell and Germann got to the field as the first pitch was being tossed and looked up later to see Paulson walking up, smiling, with their purses and bags in her arms.

In her softball retirement, Bell’s thoughts sometimes turn back to the game she spent a vibrant youth playing.

“We’re getting a few women who played fast pitch in high school or college,” she said of the sport today. “[But] I don’t see slow pitch leagues [for kids] being organized here. We need to get more kids involved.”

While her thoughts will be with the people gathered in Rockford for the induction ceremony, Bell cannot be there physically. “It’s very special, I wish I could be there,” Bell said.