Aurora Dolan & Murphy in Aurora Beacon-News

September 25, 2007

Aurora, IL


Subject:  Aurora Dolan & Murphy in Chicago News 
Reprinted with the permission of the Aurora Beacon-News
John Sahly
Sports Reporter
Aurora Beacon-News

International transfusion
Its popularity waning in recent decades,fastpitch softball teams like Dolan and Murphy use recruitment of internationalplayers to keep the sport alive in United States

September 23, 2007
BY JOHN SAHLY Staff Writer
Jonas Mach, a 23-year-old softball playerwho throws a fastball hitters have less than four-tenths of a second toreact to, lives in a pink room.
Not just pink; suffocating pink. Pink tulipsin untouched parts of nature aren't this pink.
To top it off, the light-switch cover includesa pastel-colored bunny painted on it, matching the banner that crawls acrossthe room.
For the Czech Republic-native Mach, this pinkroom is not home. Neither is the more spacious but just as messy room wherehis Argentinean teammate Juan Potolicchio spends his time.
Both young men are international fastpitchsoftball pitchers who play for Aurora's Dolan and Murphy team. They arepart of a large contingent of foreign players who, for various reasons,come to the United States and Canada to play softball in the summer.
Mach's room -- cluttered with clothes, softballequipment and a single mattress -- can't fit more than a handful of peoplecomfortably. The bedroom once belonged to a young girl. For Mach, it'sa place to sleep and a place to hang out with Potolicchio and teammateJason Iuli -- who all live together in the Aurora house during their summersin the U.S.
"At first, when I walked in and I sawthe pink walls I thought it was a joke," Mach said.
But the fastpitch community knows Mach's fastballand Potolicchio's riser are no laughing matter.
The two are a major part of the sport's biggesttrend. Two pitchers in a pitchers' game; two international players in anincreasingly-international game; two young competitors in a game desperateto get younger.
Two players who represent how fast-pitch softball-- a sport few in the public know about and even fewer pay attention to-- not only survives, but thrives in its own small way.
By air, land, sea and Internet
"We're just trying to keep it goingbecause we know a lot of areas that were strong at one time, they haveno team or aren't involved," said Aurora Fastpitch Softball AssociationVice President Bill Pfieffer. "We'd like to have a major team in everyarea if possible."
Pfieffer is one of the last bastions of thesport's heyday. A man who played for the once nationally-renowned AuroraSealmasters during a time when most mid-sized to large cities supporteda team, he concedes that adding players from around the world remains oneof the few ways to keep men's fastpitch softball in existence.
International athletes make it to teams inthe United States and Canada in a variety of ways; through InternationalSoftball Federation competition, games between countries, word of mouth,the annual AAU Tournament in Orlando and through research on the Internet.Most recruiting occurs at the International Softball Congress World Tournament,which is the last event of the season in North America and brings in themost teams.
Rules and regulations for how a player leaveshis country depend on where they come from. Athletes must be approved foran employment-based "P-1" visa for athletes. They cannot legallywork in the United States and must show they have the financial means tosupport themselves. Like most teams, Aurora's Dolan and Murphy managerRobin Reder tries to find a host family for his foreign players.
Fastpitch is a sport that men like Reder andPfieffer grew up on. With the sport's decline in popularity, recruitingis one of the few things left to be fanatical about, with benefits forboth sides.
"Where they're (from), softball is theirmain sport," Reder said. "So the more they get to play and themore exposure they get, the better for their country."
ISC executive director Ken Hackmeister saidbringing players to the U.S. has become more of a challenge since Sept.11, 2001, because of stricter immigration policies. This year the ISC has45 international players, most of whom play for U.S. teams.
"I annually write about 10 letters peryear recommending visa approval for various players," Hackmeistersaid. "What complicates some is when they want to bring their wifeand kids with them. What complicates it more is when some don't want toreturn to their home country. Some marry U.S. girls. Some want permanentresidency status."
But many come here to play simply for thelove of the game.
Two years ago, Mach was in college in theCzech Republic, studying finance. While he was there, he worked for a companythat helped plan the financial futures of a few families.
"I could have made a career there butI didn't want to stop playing fastpitch," he said.
Potolicchio started playing softball at age12. One reason he comes to the United States is cost. In Argentina, financinga softball team is expensive. Players spend their own money just for theright to play in a tournament. "We have to pay for the uniforms, thetrips and we don't do fundraisers," Potolicchio said.
The U.S. visit also gives him a chance toget away, as living conditions in this country are generally better thanin his homeland.
"The government has made really bad decisions.The economy is so terrible there. We'll have a great government come inand make some good changes, and then the next one just makes terrible decisionsagain."
How they live
Besides tournaments almost every weekend,these young athletes have plenty of time on their hands. And even thoughthey can't legally seek employment, many find jobs. Potolicchio umpiresin a church league and helps Iuli out with coaching kids. Mach babysatthe children of one of Iuli's clients.
In Bloomington, Stix coach Chad Seeman triesto find small jobs for his four players from Argentina, who are Potolicchio'sfriends.
"They aren't supposed to be working,"Seeman said. "The U.S. is cracking down ... I try and get them littleodds and ends, nothing big, like helping a farmer for a day or somethinglike that."
Most international players get living expensesfrom their teams. Some use this money to play for other softball leaguesthat don't interfere with their primary teams. Transportation isn't a problemas most players use a car from their host families or teammates.
If players don't live with host families,team managers will either allow the athletes to live with them or finda house for them. But the adjustment from one culture to another can betough. Players get homesick. American food tastes different. The languageis hard to grasp.
"They're on instant messenger constantly,"said Seeman, who tried to spend as much time as he could with the fourplayers from Argentina on his team. "That computer is a life saver."
For some, the summer excursions to the UnitedStates end up as a permanent move. For example, Daren Rea, who pitchesfor Patsy's out of New York City, met his wife Trish there and starteda long-distance relationship. They were eventually married and now livein New York.
"We've got our own place now and it'snice," he said.
What the future holds
After the 2006 season, Potolicchio was offeredthe chance to join a few other teams, but like many international players,turned down the requests because he considers his team a family.
While the number of international playerscoming to the U.S. appears to be a growing trend, Potolicchio and othersare doubtful fastpitch softball will see any long-term growth -- mostlybecause of baseball's popularity.
"We're trying our darndest to get someyoung players from the States but it tends to be difficult," Pfieffersaid. "Unless you live around here like we did -- because Aurora alwayshad a fastpitch team -- it's even more difficult.
"We're just doing what we can to keepdoing what we love, and these guys are a big part of it."
Aurora Dolan & Murphy Fastpitch