2018 Pioneer Player: Jeff Davey

Jeff Davey

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Jeff Davey’s love for the game of softball was already well-established by the time he started playing 12-inch USSSA softball. A self-proclaimed softball junkie, Davey’s 16-inch career began with a team from Melrose Park, Illinois – The Lords – while at the same time he played 14-inch softball in Oak Park, Illinois. Driving from park to park to play up to three games in one night is both hilarious and a fond memory.

While playing basketball at the La Grange YMCA another player asked Davey if he wanted to join a 12-inch softball team in Downers Grove that would become the heart of his playing experience.

That team was the Bank of Westmont, and for the next 22 years Davey was part of the evolution of the team as it became one of the most consistently accomplished teams in the Midwest. “The Bank,” as it was affectionately known, went on to win numerous State, Regional and National Tournaments.

Davey remembers fondly the 1984 A World Tournament in Anaheim, California. The Bank, a B team at the time, finished ninth out of 105 teams. Another memorable tournament occurred in Lafayette, Louisiana over Labor Day weekend in 1985 when the tournament was never finished due to a hurricane hitting the area. In 1993, Davey was fortunate to be a member of the Mid-America Concrete team that won the National Tournament in Lawton, Oklahoma. In 2002, his team, the Chicago Classics White, won the Senior Nationals in Phoenix, Arizona.

Davey is most proud of the legacy that the Bank of Westmont created by respecting the sport and by playing the game the right way. The Bank respected all their opponents and each other during that 22-year run.

Davey would like to thank his wife of 45 years, Pam, for all the latitude she gave him to play the sport that has meant so much over the years, including all the nights and weekends away to compete in tournaments. He is proud that Pam did such a great job raising their four daughters – Amanda, Kim, Laura and Carolyn.

For fear of omitting somebody, Davey would never even begin to try to salute all the great players he played with over the years. Most of those players are already in the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame. Two people do, however, merit special mention. Gary Stone (HOF 2016) was his traveling buddy for most of those 22 years. Davey cannot even begin to count the chewing tobacco stains on his uniform from Gary’s “spittin’ and chewin’” as they drove to another tournament with the windows down. The other person who deserves special mention is Marcel Lavesque (HOF 2003). Marcel is 93 now and was the best sponsor a team could ever hope to have cheering them on. He is a gentleman, but a helluva competitive individual.

The honor of being inducted into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame means everything to Davey and is a meaningful recognition of a softball career and period of life that he holds very dear. He looks forward to styling his Hall of Fame ring as part of his daily wardrobe. Davey wishes to thank all his teammates, opponents, Brenda Paulson and the Hall of Fame committee for this very humbling honor.

Well Cheezo, it’s been a long time coming, but welcome to the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame!

2018 Pioneer Player: Mark Luttmann

Mark Luttmann

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For the past 46 years, Mark Luttman has been turning double plays, driving in runs and making every team he plays for better. Luttman’s talent for the game of softball was evident early on when he joined his very first adult team at the tender age of 15.

Growing up in a softball hot bed like Red Bud meant Luttman would have to prove himself to the veterans right away. Not only did he prove he belonged there, but the following year he was offered a roster spot with Horrell’s Distributing, one of the most dominant teams in the league.

During his first year with the team, Luttman had a habit of wearing a straw hat in between games. That’s when the late Gary “Mo” Malott noticed Luttman’s resemblance to the beach life icon Panama Jack, giving him the nickname “Panama.” The name stuck.

In the early 70s, Red Bud was a hot bed for softball, which meant some of the top teams in the country would come to the tiny Red Bud Jaycee Complex to compete for cash prizes. That meant Luttman got to compete against some of the best players in the country on a regular basis. He loved it. That’s also when he settled into his primary position, second base.

With Horrell’s, he played in his first traveling tournament in Beloit, Wisconsin and from there the tournaments and teams started adding up. Over the years, Luttman has played in three B State Tournaments, three B World Tournaments, 6 C State Tournaments, 6 C Divisional Tournaments and 15 D Divisional Tournaments, winning several State Tournaments and finishing high in several more Divisional Tournaments.

In addition to Horrell’s Distributing, Luttman played with many teams over the years including First State Bank of Red Bud in the 80s, Belleville Bud Light, Hi-Way Motors and The Mustangs in the 90s, Sportin’ Wood and Even Securities in the 2000s and Coors Light, .50 Caliber and, most recently, Peck Elite out of Springfield, Missouri.

“I have always thought of myself as a defensive player first and hitter second. When I started playing, many games were won with defense,” Luttman said. “USSSA was always very competitive and sometimes a game could turn on an error. I’ve always considered myself lucky to play on so many good teams with so many good players that wanted to win. I humbly share this honor with all of my teammates over the years.”

Luttman is still playing in the Senior Program and it just goes to show you his love for the game and his mantra, “you’re never too old to play” still holds true. Welcome, Panama, to the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame and keep playing!

1997 Pioneer Player: Rick Sweeney

Rick Sweeney

A lead-off hitter, Rick Sweeney hit line drives with adequate power and used the whole field to forge a .615 lifetime batting average with more than 350 home runs. Competing for The Lantern, a USSSA Class A team back when there was not an AA or Major program, Sweeney played the outfield alongside two other Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame inductees, Terry Mueller and Tom Spahn. They won the USSSA Class A State Title in 1976.

Speed was Sweeney’s trademark; in his career he scored from second base on a fly ball 25 times. A two-time member of the USSSA Class A All-State team, he was named to the All-Tournament team at a USSSA-sanctioned event seven times.

In 1971, The Lantern, a team made up entirely of players from the then small town of Naperville, finished fifth at the USSSA Class A World Tournament.

Sweeney also played professional softball in the early-80s with the Chicago Storm.

1998 Pioneer Player: Nancy Stark Shirley

Nancy Stark Shirley

Nancy Stark-Shirley was a defensive mainstay who patrolled left-center field for her eight-year USSSA career. No one who knew her would try to run on her arm because they knew she would throw them out if they tried. She was a singles hitter who knew the value of moving the runners on base along to set the table for the big RBI hitters in the line-up.

Stark Shirley was named to two USSSA All-Tournament teams at the 1981 USSSA Women’s Class A World Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas and at the 1982 USSSA Women’s Class A NIT in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Stark Shirley’s team never won a USSSA World Title (they did win the ASA Women’s Class A once), but they finished with the top teams five times, including two second place finishes in 1979 in Petersburg, Virginia and in 1981 in Hutchinson, Kansas. Her team also finished fourth at the USSSA Women’s World Tournament in 1980 in North Carolina.

Her teams collected three USSSA Women’s Class A State Titles in Illinois. Stark Shirley was named Best Defensive Player at the 1982 USSSA NIT at Sunset Park in Geneva, Illinois. She also played co-rec softball as both an outfielder and as a first baseman.

Stark Shirley’s teams included: Stroh’s Lassies, EDS, Precision Erectors and Scotties (co-rec).

1998 Pioneer Player: Pierre LaBounty

Pierre LaBounty

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Pierre LaBounty’s softball career pre-dates the USSSA in the state of Illinois. It goes back to the very first park district league ever formed in Rockford back in 1961. He played USSSA softball for eight years until he retired from the game of slow pitch softball in 1981. His main position was pitching and he played for early Illinois USSSA teams such as Diamond Bar, RMA, Schlichting Construction, Pabsts and Country North.

During his eight-year playing career, his teams went to eight USSSA State Tournaments and six USSSA World Tournaments. He was twice named MVP of a USSSA tournament and was also named to numerous USSSA All-Tournament teams. During his career, he played softball in 16 different states.

LaBounty’s love of the game always made him give everything he had to his team in an effort to win. He loved to play against the best, so playing in the USSSA softball program was a natural fit for him. He believes the USSSA has always attracted the best teams in the Midwest to its tournament program throughout the year and especially on Labor Day weekend when the Divisional and World Tournaments are held.

The Bible starts out with the words, “In the beginning…” USSSA softball in Rockford started out with Pierre LaBounty and has not been any worse off from that beginning.

2000 Pioneer Manager: Ed Young

Ed Young

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Ed Young’s Burla Construction/Malnar’s Tap was one of the finest softball teams to ever come out of Joliet, and one of the top teams in the USSSA Central Division in the mid-80s.

With Young at the helm and key players like pitcher Dick Morelli, left fielder Dan Prater, Dave Shortz and Benny Holt, Burla compiled a record of 665-234, finishing in the top four at numerous NITs and winning the 1982 Class B Regional and 1985 Class A State Titles.

In only their third year in existence, Burla finished third at the rain-shortened USSSA World in Milwaukee with only one loss. In 1985, his Burla/Malnar’s squad was ranked fifth in the USSSA Class A Central Division final rankings.

Besides his championship trophies, Young is most pleased of his teams’ battling spirit.

“We beat ‘em all somewhere along the line,” he said proudly.

“They” being the likes of such 80s powerhouses as Bunca Car Wash, Lilly Air Systems, Jerry’s Catering and Steele’s Sports.

Throughout the competitive years, Young had the backing of not only Burla Construction, but also the loyal support of Chet Markstrom of Malnar’s Tap; support Young always appreciated.

“Chet was always there to cover any shortages,” Young said.

2005 Pioneer Player: Charlie Baumgartner

Charlie Baumgartner

For the last 33 years, Charlie Baumgartner has been spending his summers patrolling the outfields of Illinois softball fields. Starting in 1972, Baumgartner has spent 22 of those years in the USSSA.

Aside from the outfield, which is his self-proclaimed main position, Baumgartner has played second base and catcher, as well as some time on the mound. He has played on such top teams as the Lantern of Naperville, Oswego Inn, Sands of Ottawa and Plano Softball Club.

Baumgartner, a player who could hit the ball to any field has hit for a career .650 lifetime batting average, but claims to have never hit a home run.

“I am not a power hitter, so I learned to spray the ball to any part of the field,” Baumgartner said. “I just try to get on base whether it is a walk, error or base hit.”

The 1994 season had many great memories for Baumgartner, who was playing the 40 & Over Master’s program for the Plano Softball Club. They won the State Championship, but it almost didn’t happen according to Baumgartner.

“In the 1994 Over 40 Master’s State Tournament, we gave up a seven-run lead in the top of the last inning, but then, in the bottom of the seventh, we scored three runs to beat the Foxes of Decatur to advance to the championship round, which we won,” Baumgartner said.

Besides the satisfaction of the team victory and championship, it was also exciting for Baumgartner on a personal level. He had a very solid tournament at the plate going 20 for 25 and was rewarded by being named to the All State Tournament team.

Softball can be a competitive way to escape the everyday grind and be with friends. This is something Baumgartner felt USSSA softball provided.

“I play softball to be competitive and win, but if not it is a great way to meet friends, be with friends and forget about the daily hassles of work,” Baumgartner said. “In over 20 years of playing softball in the USSSA, I th9ink they have done a fine job running tournaments. Along with setting up the different classes to make it competitive to all teams involved.”

In honor of a true pioneer of Illinois softball, we honor Charlie Baumgartner by welcoming him into the Illinois USSSA Hall of Fame.

2010 Pioneer Player: Kent Grosshuesch

Kent Grosshuesch

Kent's outstanding career began back in 1996, when a team made up of teachers from Naperville needed a pitcher for their recreational league team. During the years following, Kent continued to play in the rec league with Ray's Liquors, Feldotts and Moser Lumber, prior to joining "The Lantern" squad with Ron Brown as their coach. This was a new experience for Kent as the team switched from playing 16" softball to playing 12" and became one of the best.

In 1977, he became a member of "The Storm," a Chicago-based Semi-Pro team, prior to moving to Arkansas, where he played 9 years on a team called "The Flames." It was the #1 team in Northwest Arkansas for many years and was the state champion in their class in 1988.

A few years later, he moved to Germany and played on the Pirmasen's Army Base team for three years, prior to becoming the Girls Fastpitch coach at Ramstein High School on Ramstein Air Base, which has won 7 of 11 European Championships.

Kent's coach, Ron Brown of "The Lantern," credits a lot of the team's success to Kent's quality pitching and cat-like reflexes on the mound. In regards to Kent's qualifications for the Hall of Fame, Brown says, "During his time with us, there was no finer pitcher in the state and he was as good a hitter as he was a pitcher."

2014 Pioneer Player: Gary Stone

Gary Stone

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Gary Stone is truly a prime example of a softball pioneer, as he has played the sport for 45 seasons and 25 years with the USSSA organization. Twenty-one of those seasons were with the outstanding program of the Bank of Westmont.

Little did Gary know, that when a good friend, Jim Duffy, led him to the game of softball, he would one day be a member of the Illinois USSSA Softball Hall of Fame. Gary's diamond history was born at Lyon's Township High School where his team finished 2nd in the 1962 IHSA State Baseball Tournament, quickly followed by him signing on with the Chicago White Sox organization following graduation. The next year he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and played 9 years in the Minor Leagues.

He perhaps is one of only a few that are both members of the Professional Baseball Hall of Fame and a softball hall of fame, as Gary was part of a record setting 29 inning (6 hour and 59 minutes) marathon one summer night in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Following his baseball career, Gary helped lead the Bank of Westmont to 4 State Championship, and since 1998 through 2014 has participated in four world tournaments with the Chicago Classics Senior Softball Organization.

With a lifetime batting average near .600, his major position has been pitcher over the years.

Speaking of his experiences with the Bank of Westmont, Gary says, "What a great bunch of guys and a wonderful sponsor. Everyone knew how to play the game and win. They also played with total respect for all the teams they played against."

He also recognized Brian Shultz, Jeff Davey, Jim Cushing, Don Loid, Tom Spahn, Mike Oats and Duffy as some of the best players he ever played with, while recognizing Ron Havelka as his best coach.

"I want to be remembered as a guy that respected his teammates and was never afraid to sit and let someone else play. I knew how to help the team win!" Gary said.

Gary knows that with success there are always some regrets, as he wishes he could have spent more time with family and friends rather than playing ball almost every weekend. He, however, recognizes he had their total support throughout his career.

The 1988 All-World selection recalled his funniest softball experience: after he hit a home run and sat down on the bench to hear the umpire call him out for missing home plate. One thing he is not going to miss is his induction into the Illinois Hall of Fame. "I can't wait to get that ring!"

2016 Pioneer Player: Mark Pastrovich

Mark Pastrovich

Mark, nicknamed “Ralph” participated with the Shamrocks from 1970 thru 1984. The first baseman swatted numerous homeruns, while posting an outstanding .650 career batting average.

He was a key member of one of the finest softball teams ever to play the game in southern Illinois. The Shamrocks were a very unselfish team that didn’t keep statistics and only kept a scorebook when required to do so.

Mark was a huge part of the Shamrock team that was instrumental in bringing USSSA to Red Bud so many years ago.  He recalls that the team’s participation in the USSSA was the best and we always competed very well, while having a terrific time playing together.