december2009

Fastpitch Softball, A Hunhoff Family Tradition

December 19, 2009

Harrisburg, SD


Fastpitch Softball, A Hunhoff Family Tradition
By BOB OTTO / www.ottoinfocus.com
Botto3@verizon.net
(See photos of BJ, Andy, John, and Tony Hunhoff at www.ottoinfocus.com)

HARRISBURG, SOUTH DAKOTA - First there was Tony then John. Next came
BJ then Andy. And these Hunhoff's all share something in common.
They're fastpitch softball pitchers.

Tony, 52, who now lives in northern California, started the foray as
a 13-year-old back in Sioux Falls, South Dakota pitching in a Tri-
County Boy's Fastpitch League. Then John, his younger brother by four
years came along and took up the windmilling trade.

"Our dad wasn't a softball player," said Tony Hunhoff. "But softball
was so available to us. I remember me and my friends watching the men
play and thinking, 'we can do this.'"

The two brothers went far in the sport. Tony rose to stardom first
and has pitched at the elite level in the Amateur Softball
Association (ASA) Open division, and at the International Softball
Congress (ISC) World Tournament level.

John's star was shining bright too, until cancer claimed his life in
1997 at the age of 36. But in his short time he played in national
tournaments, and pitched his team to a South Dakota state championship.

John's legacy most certainly includes that of being the father of
Benjamin "BJ" a 20-year-old rising star in the sport, and 17-year-old
Andy, who is just coming into his own.

"BJ" as he's called, has many of his dad's characteristics: Big,
strong, left-handed, and a hard thrower with a determined will to
compete. And to win. Which he's accomplished in ASA Boy's national
tournaments, ISC World Tournaments, as well for the USA Men's and
Junior Men's national teams.

It's not uncommon to find a family of fastpitch softball players - as
the tradition of the sport has carried on this way.

But all pitchers?

To explain how all this came about and share their thoughts about the
game, Tony and BJ agreed to answer a few questions.

Q:Tony, you got started in a boy's league. Where did your career take
off from there?
"I went on to play (ASA Div.) A ball in Yankton (So. Dakota) and then
I went to pitch for Interstate Battery in Massachusetts when I was
about 25. I also pitched for the Des Moines (Iowa) Bombers, in Ohio,
and for the Long Beach (Calif.) Painters."

Q:What are a few of the honors you achieved that you're most proud of?
"I made the (ASA) first and third All-American teams, played in the
Sports Festival, and had a tryout with the USA Men's team. But they
had a stable of great pitchers back then like Jimmy Moore in his prime."

Q:BJ, your fastpitch path has progressed much like your uncle, do you
look to him for pitching advice?
"My uncle has given me pointers as I've gone along. He's been down
this road before, so I call him to ask advice about pitching and
certain teams I might play for. He's been a mentor."

Q:BJ, what was it like during tryouts with the USA Junior Men's and
USA Men's teams?
"It was very structured and intense. We worked on game type
situations. I learned and worked on different grips (pitching).
You're expected to dedicate the time on your own and then at tryouts
show what you've learned. It was a good bonding as a team."

Q:BJ, as the youngest member on the 2007 USA Men's team, what was
that like?
"I didn't know if I would make the team. When I got the email I was
pretty excited. It was a huge honor, and cool to be the youngest on
the team. I went knowing that I was the youngest guy there, but would
benefit from learning so much. I got to play in two games and we
finished second."

Q:Tony, you've seen your brother John pitch, and now BJ. How are they
alike and different?
"He looks a lot like his dad, a very close resemblance, but he's not
quite as tall as his dad. John was a stepper, and BJ's got a hop, a
little different style. John had a pretty good drop and BJ does too.
They've both had to work on the rise and curve. But their speed is
pretty close to the same."

Q:Tony, regarding the ASA B Nationals in Prescott, BJ pitched with
you. How did that go?
"We've actually pitched together in the last two (ASA) nationals.
It's one of those moments you cherish. It was nice to be family again
and bond."

Q:Tony, what are some of the things you've advised BJ about?
"We talk pitcher stuff. About release points, grips, how to create
more power and movement on the ball, and advice on being strong
overall. He's still growing, still learning."

Q:Tony, we're you surprised that BJ made the USA Men's national team
at such a young age?
"No, I wasn't surprised. If (USA Softball) wants to develop pitching,
they have to look at theses young guys. There's a handful of other
young pitchers too. Australia has some great young pitchers coming
through. That's something that needs to happen here."

Q:BJ, what team at the Junior Men's ISF World Championship impressed
you the most?
"The Australians were very disciplined with great leadership, and
they know their strengths and weaknesses. They are fundamentally
sound because they play the whole season together. They had a great
pitching staff in 2008, but not like in 2005 when they had Adam
Folkard. He throws the ball so hard and has good rise and drop ball
movement."

Q:BJ, you took part in the ASA / ISC Pitcher Development Program. How
did that help?
"I would send a tape of myself (to assistant USA Junior Coach, Gary
Mullican) and he would give me advice. The best advice I got was on
the rise ball. My rotation wasn't right and he got me to throw it
with the right rotation. It was a big improvement. Now I love to
throw it and it's getting better with repetition."

Q:BJ, you've pitched with and against another up and coming young
South Dakota pitcher in James Hartman. Tell us about him.
"He's a great pitcher. It's always a pitching battle. Sometimes he
wins, sometimes I do. He's very intense on the field and very
disciplined."

Q:BJ, you played with the Sioux Falls Scarlets, which has a
connection to your dad, tell us about that.
"Two or three of the older guys on the team played with my dad on the
Chiefs. It was cool to play on the same team with guys that played
with my dad."

Q:Tony, now that you're in the twilight of your career, what's the
toughest part of keeping going?
"Finding someone to catch me during the week. While I'm pitching (in
tournaments) I'm OK. But on Monday and Tuesday it kills me. My
(objective) is to help out and not pitch every game."

Q:BJ, what is your attitude about being the number one pitcher?
"I like being the horse. It's a mindset thing that gets me ready
physically and mentally to do it."

Q:BJ, you pitched in the 2008 and 2009 ISC World Tournaments. What
did you learn from the experience?
"I learned that no matter how hard you throw, you can't throw it by
those great hitters. You've got to mix your pitches up, or they will
sit on one pitch."




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