october2009

OTTO-A look back at one Missouri's great pitchers

October 30, 2009

Yucaipa, CA



(Readers, I wrote this story July 6, 1999. Maybe some of you old
timers remember Charlie and some of the names brought up in the
story. And for you younger players, you can learn a lot about
dedication, persistence, and determination from Slavens – not only in
fastpitch softball, but in life. And that goes for all of us.)

Charley Slavens, a man who loves fastpitch softball

SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI - If you're searching for 57-year-old fastpitch
softball pitcher Charley Slavens, you need look no further than the
white circle, in the middle the ball diamond at Meador Park in
Springfield, Missouri. It's been Charley's home away from home for
almost 20 years.

Charley's right arm and 6-foot-4, 215 pound frame are still supple
and strong, eager to fire another pitch by an overmatched batter -
one of thousands who's hopes have been dashed by Charley in his 37-
year career.

Every Tuesday and Thursday night in the Springfield City League,
Charley toes the rubber like an anxious colt at the starting gate for
ABG Construction Company. A business that he owns and has used to
sponsor the team for 10 years.

Slavens' windmill offerings still get the best of much younger men;
young men who would love to get a good piece of the "old man", but
seldom do.

"Charley's as tough as nails," says ABG manager, Tom Smith. "He's
doing fantastic - the best pitcher in our league."

The first one to the park, Slavens arrives at least a half-hour early
to prepare for battle.

"Nobody beats Charley to the park," said Smith. "When we walk up,
he's doing calisthenics getting ready for the game. He's an ex-Marine
and never gave up that work ethic."

On a team of all Masters players, (over age 40) Slavens' work ethic
has paid handsomely with a current 14-8 city league record - a high
mark considering he's ABG's only pitcher and its senior member; the
youngster being Smith, who is 45.

"He's the oldest, but the best conditioned of anyone on the team,"
said Kenny Morris, ABG's first baseman. "Charley runs all the time.
When the season ends, he's already getting himself ready for next year."

Slavens also had an outstanding season in the Missouri - Kansas ISC
Travel League. Pitching for University Chrysler / Frontier Motors of
Booneville,Missouri, he finished league play with a 4-1 record, which
includes a perfect game (8-0) against National Investors Thunder of
Cameron.

"He threw a masterful game against us," said Thunder Manager Bill
Cook. "The best pitch he threw was his hard drop that consistently
hit the outside corner. Terry Luster and Chris Bigelow both threw
against us earlier in the day and we collected numerous hits against
them. Charley's ball was moving better than both of those two pitchers."

Age? Not a factor says Booneville manager and pitcher, Terry Luster.

"Charley throws as hard today as he did 10 years a go, and he still
has all his pitches - raise, drop, change-up and curve," said Luster.
"Charley has a tough drive, love for the game, and he refuses to quit."

Qualities he probably acquired during his time in the Marine Corps.

Slavens, who retired with the rank of Major in 1981 after a 22-year
career, credits the Marine Corps for putting him on the rubber.

"I was stationed in Japan in 1963," said Slavens, "and playing the
outfield. The day before our season started our two pitchers were
shipped out and we needed a pitcher."

Slavens laughs, saying, "I stepped forward and volunteered." And a
pitcher was born. Named All-Marine four times, he led the Marine
Corps to two second place finishes in Inter-Service play (Marine
Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force).

And in 1973 he had an incredible 66-0 record. And he never missed a
season, and that includes a tour of duty in Viet Nam.

The Marine Corps and softball has taken him to 39 different states
and six foreign countries. (Japan, Viet Nam, Canada, Mexico, Korea
and Thailand)

"I pitched against some great pitchers," said Slavens. "Buck Brown,
Bob Kendricks, B.D. Coleman and (the late) Mike McMahon. I think
McMahon (Wisconsin native) maybe was the best. He was a young Marine
with a tremendous change up."

Hitters?

"Cal Reeves," said Slavens. "A left-handed hitter who hit a ton -
home runs and line drives."

Retiring in 1981, Slavens returned home to Springfield. He had
immediate success, pitching Obryne Electric to both ISC and ASA AA
State championships.

He soon joined Missouri's elite class of pitchers, says Smith: Gary
Hutchins, Lonnie Marshall, Steve Murdaugh and Roy Burlison.

"Charlie was a hard thrower, just a step behind the legendary Roy
Burlison," says Smith, "but Charley was legal, not a crow-hopper."

As he's matured, Slavens has gotten smarter, says Smith. "Developing
a change up was the best thing to happen to Charley."

Slavens still loves to throw the pitch of his youth: his high, hard
rise ball, but grudgingly had to change. "As I got older, out of self-
preservation, I started throwing the drop more," he said. "This year
I've thrown the change much more often. I even used it in league on a
3-2 count and struck the batter out looking."

But he's had his share of troublesome batters too.

"Doug Middleton is one hell of a hitter, the best ever out of
Missouri," said Slavens. "Jeff Seip of Reading, Pennsylvania gave me
the most trouble. Throw it outside and he hits it the opposite way,
inside and he pulls it. He just literally hit anything I threw."

But as good as this season has been for Slavens; it's also been a
trying one. He's still recovering from the loss of his wife Beverly
on December 22. She was his traveling companion and most ardent fan,
rarely missing any of his games.

"She followed me all over the world," said Slavens.

"She was diagnosed with cancer in February ('98)," he said. "After a
couple of surgeries, she was feeling better. She went with me to the
ISC World Tournament, the ASA "A", and all three Masters tournaments.
I think that she maybe knew this might be the last time we would go
together..."

Smith has noticed a "rededication" in Slavens that he says is a
tribute to Beverly. "They were high school sweethearts," said Smith.
"Charley misses her dearly. He was amazed at all of the people from
other teams who attended the funeral. I think he rededicated himself
and the season to her."

And from Morris: "I observed how they reversed roles last year," he
said. "Beverly was at every game always supporting Charley. Between
innings, Charley would sit at the end of the bench by himself, but
last year he would leave the bench and sit beside Bev. And in
remembrance of his wife, he changed his uniform number.

"Charlie had always worn No. 8 as long as I have known him," said
Morris."I noticed he had No. 37 on his uniform. I asked him, 'what's
this 37?’ He said, 'It's not 37, it's 3-7, Beverly's birth date.’”

Morris says the team "has dedicated themselves to Charley," and more
than ever they have come to admire his mental toughness. Toughness
Morris first recognized on the ball diamond.

"We were playing in the (Masters) Over-40 in Las Vegas and it was 105
degrees," said Morris. "It was so hot and there was no shade, so we
lined up behind each other in the shade of one of the (light) poles.
We were getting ready to play Des Moines.

"They had Al Rausch pitching (former Iowa great) and Denver Dixon,
who used to play for them. I was nervous because they had such a good
team," said Morris. "In that heat, Charley pitched one of the best
games I've ever seen him pitch. He has such incredible stamina. I
think we beat them like 8-1 or 9-1, and Charley got on a roll and had
a wonderful tournament."

In his 37-year career he's pitched approximately 1800 games, winning
over 1300(75%). How much longer will he continue?

"I haven't lost my love for pitching - the fire is still there,"
said Slavens. "I love competition you can beat me today, but I'll
come back and beat you tomorrow. I think the Marine Corps gave me
that attitude."

(I hope this finds Charlie doing well and hopefully still pitching.
If any one can give us an update on Charlie, that would be great.
Just email me at botto3@verizon.net.)

For other fastpitch stories, articles, and photo galleries, visit
www.ottoinfocus.com.
 
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