Rod Peterson article

October 15, 2009

Madison, WI


Wisconsin State Journal

By DOUG MOE | dmoe@madison.com | 608-252-6446 | Posted: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 3:45 pm |
Rod Peterson, who managed the Farm Tavern to three fast-pitch softball world championships, recently announced his retirement. Photo by: BRIAN EBNER
The word legend can get tossed around loosely, but Rod Peterson is a legend.
And when a legend leaves the stage, someone should take notice.
"The sport has been very good to me," Peterson, 70, was saying the other day. "But it's time."
The arena where Peterson is legendary is fast-pitch softball. For more than three decades, Peterson managed the Farm Tavern, a team named for his bar on Moorland Road south of South Towne Mall. They won three world championships - the last in 2007 - and were almost always in the final four of that tournament, which is run by the International Softball Congress (ISC).
That's why when it was recently announced that Peterson was retiring from managing, and folding his Farm Tavern team, the news shook the fast-pitch world.
In an appreciation published last month in Al's Fastball, Peter J. Porcelli, sponsor of another top team, the Tampa Bay Smokers, recalled playing a game against Peterson's Farm Tavern in Central Park in New York City in 1999.
Porcelli pointed out that the Farm had won two of the preceding three ISC world championships, and then noted: "But it was not their championships alone that gave them credibility. It was what the Farm stood for, reliability, consistency, competition, war, talent, world class play, world class players, classy ownership and sponsorship, and most importantly of all, great sportsmanship. How many of the top players in sports today and how many teams calling themselves elite can truly be thought of by the multitudes as great sportsmen? The Farm is all of that."
Peterson, a Rio native, moved to Madison in 1955. He is a lifelong baseball fan, and one day in the early 1960s, as he was leaving his job at the Mendota State Hospital on the North Side, Peterson spotted a co-worker carrying baseball spikes. Peterson asked where he was headed.
"A fast-pitch softball game. Want to come?"
Fast-pitch was big in Madison. Peterson played first base and started managing in 1966, piloting a city recreation team sponsored by the Music Box Tavern on Madison's East Side.
Peterson bought the Farm Tavern in 1975 and began sponsoring and managing a fast-pitch team. He played, too, for a while anyway, and participated in one of the Farm's most memorable games, a 1981 34-inning classic that lasted nearly seven hours.
"I struck out seven straight times," Peterson later told ISC information officer Gordon Wise. "Or maybe it was nine."
The Farm lost that game 2-1 to the Valley Merchants of Midland, Mich. The Midland pitcher had 64 strikeouts all told.
The Farm didn't lose often. Their first world title, in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1997, remains Peterson's favorite. "I'll never forget it," he said last week, despite the fact that Peterson and his players drank champagne until dawn in celebration.
Those players, whom Peterson recruited from all over the world - one recent star, Jeff Goolagong, was from Australia and related to tennis great Evonne Goolagong Cawley - revered him.
In August 2007, after the Farm's third and last world championship, his ace pitcher, Korrey Gareau, said this about Peterson to a Canadian newspaper: "Everybody plays their heart out for him. We are a team. We stick together. This is a brotherhood, and that goes a long way in our game."
Peterson was set to retire in 2007, but came back to defend in 2008 and said a commitment to a few players kept him managing in 2009. The Farm didn't win the world title this year, but they captured the national championship, in late summer in Indiana.
Giving up the game wasn't easy. "I thought long and hard," Peterson said. He'll keep operating the bar, and he has a 900-acre farm near North Leeds on which he farms field corn and soybeans.
So he'll stay busy, but Peterson said he probably won't watch any fast-pitch next year. It's still too close to him. Maybe after that he'll be able to spectate without it hurting too much.
"It was a very good run," he said.
Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or dmoe@madison.com.


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