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George Ferguson Column: Men's fastpitch came home this weekend

From the Fringe...


Eric Seidle

Danny Wirtzberger throws a ball during Saturday's action at the 2nd Annual Shaina's Challenge International Men's Fastpitch Tournament at the Sixth Avenue Memorial Field. The tournament was Wirtzberger's creation, and it raises money for the Shaina Evans Memorial Scholarship, as well as the Havre Girls Fastpitch Softball Association.

I wasn’t in Havre this weekend, but at times, my thoughts sure were. No, I was in Polson trying to push my body beyond its limits in yet another tennis tournament I really wasn’t in the best of shape for.

But when I wasn't on the court in Polson, I was thinking a lot about what was going on back home this weekend. Specifically, I was thinking a lot about the 2nd Annual Shaina’s Challenge International Men’s Fastpitch Tournament. And I was thinking about it for a number of different reasons.

First off, I was lucky enough to play fastpitch softball in Havre at a time when it thrived. No, I didn’t play in the traditional days of Master Sports against Valley Furniture or in any of the legendary Can-Am Tournaments. But I did play when it was a still a big, important and fun part of the summer around these parts.

Unfortunately, for so many men’s fastpitch players in Montana, those days are gone. Leagues have dried up, the art of pitching wasn’t passed on to younger players and so many of the greats in Montana, so many who held all those leagues and big money tournaments together have since retired or moved on to other things.

But Dan Wirtzberger is certainly trying to do something about that, and his conception of the Shaina’s Challenge Tournament was, in part, to help generate a little more interest in the game. But the tournament, which brings so many of the all-time greats in Havre fastpitch back home to the Sixth Avenue Memorial Field, is about more than what happens on the diamond.

Shaina Evans, for whom the tournament is named, was part of the fastpitch softball life. It was in her blood and in her genes. After all, her father, Gary Joe Evans is one of the greatest pitchers so many have us have ever seen. Shaina, who was a volleyball player at Montana State University-Northern who passed away in a car accident four years ago, but in so many different ways, including Shaina’s Challenge and the Shaina Evans Memorial Scholarship, her memory and spirit carries on. And when you get around a fastpitch field, she is there too, and thanks to the hard work of Wirtzberger, the tournament that was held in Havre over the weekend, helps carry all of that on.

So I was thinking a lot about things like that this weekend, about how lucky I was to have covered the Skylights during Shaina’s time at Northern, and about how unlucky I was having faced Gary Joe a time or two during my less-than-glorious fastpitch days.

But I was also thinking about just how great this tournament Wirtzberger is putting on is. I was thinking about how many people I knew who returned to Havre for it, including our esteemed former sports editor at the Havre Daily News, and a great pitcher in his own time, Ryan Divish. I was thinking about how many old friends I missed out on seeing, while my arm was literally about to fall off in Polson. Oh the things I do for the love of tennis.

And I was thinking about the game of fastpitch itself.

I miss it sometimes. I miss the competitiveness and camaraderie we had at Sixth Avenue in those days. I miss our LSU-themed Palace Bar/Havre Ford purple and gold uniforms, though I’m sure they’re tucked away in a box somewhere. I miss our pitcher, Matty Kretchmer, constantly barking at the umpires for every inch of the strike zone. I miss the beatings we would take at the hands of those Master Sports teams, which included Divish, Andy Smith, Jason Wirt and so many of my good friends.

Eric Seidle

Charlie Steinemetz, playing for the Master Sports team, takes a swing during the Shaina's Challenge International Men's Fastpitch Tournament Saturday in Havre. Steinmetz was one of many locals, as well as countless players who returned to Havre for the tournament.

Now, like tennis, I don’t know if my body could handle the rigors of fastpitch on an all-summer-long basis anymore, but let’s face it, when you get to be my age, you don’t have many things to compete in, and fastpitch softball in Havre, and all across Montana gave me something to compete in long after my high school sports days were over. I miss that sometimes, and those memories were heavy on my mind at times this weekend.

And that’s why I think the hard work of Wirtzberger and so many others to put the Shaina’s Challenge together is so special. For at least one weekend, it brings so many things that are so important to so many people back together. It brings men’s fastpitch softball back to one of, if not the best, fastpitch facilities in Montana. It brings so many friends and families who spent their summers devoted to fastpitch back home, and for one weekend, it brings the game so many of us loved back to its roots. And on top of all of that, it raises money and awareness for some very important and very worthy causes.

I wasn’t here to experience it myself, but I know the 2nd Annual Shaina’s Challenge International Men’s Fastpitch Tournament was a huge success. I know a great time was had by all who were here for it, and for one more weekend, men’s fastpitch softball was right where it belonged. Men’s fastpitch softball came home.


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