MARQUETTE - Kurt Kerry recalls when he moved to Marquette County in 1992 from Wausau, Wis., there were at least 40 local men's fast pitch softball teams.
"Now there are seven in Marquette, Negaunee and Ishpeming," the Negaunee man, 59 in July, laments. "It's terribly disappointing."
Kerry, owner of M.O.S.T. (Marquette Orthopedic and Sports Therapy) and a veteran pitcher for the Superior Fast Pitch Softball League team with that name, has been playing fast pitch for 45 years.
"I love to play this game," he said this week. "I don't golf or play slow pitch (softball). If I didn't have this, I don't know what I'd do in the summer."
But Kerry is becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of interest locally for fast pitch softball.
"Baseball ends for most people in high school or American Legion ball when they're 18-19 years old," he said. "But this is a way you can literally play 'baseball' until you can't play any more."
Kerry said he can't officially account for the drop of 33 teams locally. But he has a theory:
"I think it has to do with pitching," he said. "Most teams need 1-2 pitchers and no one wants to take the time to learn how to do it any more.
"But it doesn't take that long to learn how to be a competitive (fast pitch) pitcher."
He said when he was 14 and in eighth grade, he started out as a catcher. But in his third game, his pitcher showed up with his arm in a sling due to a dislocated shoulder.
"I was told I would have to pitch and my first game, I walked 29 batters," Kerry recalled. "The next game, I told my teammates to find someone else to pitch.,
"But by default, I had to stick with it and I learned how to get better."
He said he can adjust to a local umpire who has a relatively small strike zone.
"But it's hard for a young pitcher to adjust," Kerry said. "They either walk everyone, or slow the ball down. That's when batters will tee off on them."
He said it doesn't take long for someone to learn to be a competitive hurler. Local home plate umpires could help, he said.
If the umpires would increase the strike zone for young or first-year pitchers, Kerry said, the hurlers would enjoy some success and perhaps stay on the mound.
That might go a long way in rebuilding the local league, Superior Fast Pitch League treasurer Brandon Croney said.
"We had as many as 11 teams in 2009," he said, "and we have a lot of kids who want to play fast pitch. But there aren't enough pitchers."
Croney, who plays for Compound when two aching shoulders allow him to see action, said "most teams" rely on 1-2 pitchers over a season that runs from the third week of May to the first week of August.
"Teams are lucky to have two pitchers and when you have two games a week over 12 weeks, plus tournaments, it's tough. Pitchers get injured, too."
Kerry said in years past, Hurley Field in Marquette would see a tournament there "almost every weekend."
"Last year, we had one," he said, adding there are local players who can hit, field and "run like the wind" who may be looking to organize a team.
"They just need a pitcher or two," he said.
He added most local pitchers would be willing to teach a young player how to pitch.
"I never thought the day would come that I'd be hoping players would come in to perpetuate the league," Kerry said.
Anyone wishing to join - or organize - a local team can contact Croney at 235-4354, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Craig Remsburg is with The Mining Journal of Marquette)