Fastpitch Legacy Stranded Without Major Sponsor
Seattle Times Eastside Bureau
The Seafirst Holiday Classic will be played this Fourth of July weekend at Hidden Valley Park in Bellevue as it is every year, except the tournament doesn't have a name anymore.
The Seafirst fastpitch softball team, a Seattle-area institution since 1955, will host the tournament. But it's the only time the team will play together all season.
Seafirst and softball are no longer synonymous. The bank pulled its sponsorship from the team after an eight-year relationship. Team members were unable to find another sponsor before the NorWest League's mid-March deadline, ending 42 consecutive years of elite-level fastpitch softball in the Seattle area.
"This is the first break since the inception, so that part of it is really disappointing. You feel like you're responsible," said Jeff Borror, the team's manager since the sponsorship changed from Pay 'N Pak to Seafirst in 1989. "But if the truth be known, we really didn't have a chance. It takes a lot of time to beat the bushes and it was going to be a shot in the dark to find that kind of money."
Borror's summers have been filled with softball for as long as he can recall. He fondly remembers watching his son Kyle play Little League games on Saturday mornings, then packing his car and driving his family to Canada for Saturday night softball doubleheaders.
Borror was a third baseman before he became manager. He was one of the team's several All-Americans - others were center fielder
Billy Boyer, catcher Butch Batt and pitcher Jimmy Moore, a member of the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame who played for the team during its glory days of the 1980s.
"We used to bring in some nice crowds and good ballclubs," said Tom Wagner, who managed the team from 1971-88 and spent the past two seasons as the national-team coach. "Some of the nights it was completely packed. People had to park up the streets. You had a hard time getting spots in the seats.
"All of a sudden not to have a top-notch fastpitch team in Seattle was kind of a shock."
Five organizations have sponsored the team, providing anywhere from $40,000-$80,000 per season for travel, equipment and incidental costs. According to Borror, the best fastpitch teams have budgets of close to $500,000.
Relative poverty never stopped the team from competing. But without any money at all, it couldn't continue to play.
"We sent a deal to Microsoft and they said they weren't going to go in that direction," said Jimmy Dean, the team's general manager. "We sent something to Ernst and they went bankrupt. It was always a year-by-year thing. It's a shame that somebody didn't pick up that sponsorship. They're on the threshold of being back on top."
Seafirst explained to Dean in a letter that the bank was going to invest "substantial resources in programs that target at-risk youth" this year, such as the Seafirst Youth Jobs Program, Seafirst Jammin' hoops, and science and arts camps. Team members generally aren't critical of the bank. But they wish they had been notified earlier of Seafirst's decision, which would have given them more time to search for another sponsor or another team.
Four former Seafirst players - Trevor Kern, Kent resident Mike Larabee, Lynden resident Ed Bomber and Yakima's Randy Cline - play for a team in Abbottsford, B.C. They are the only four still playing in the NorWest League. Some play at lower levels. Others, like Renton resident Bill Langan, aren't playing at all.
He used to play 120-game seasons, from April to August, but now his season starts Friday and ends Sunday. They all hope it won't be this way next summer.
"Is the tournament critical? No, but I think it's going to be a real positive for people seeing that we're still around," Bomber said. "We want to make sure it doesn't end here."
Players will spend as much of this weekend contemplating the team's future as they do playing. They are hopeful another sponsor can be found. Borror is relinquishing his managerial duties, but Wagner has hinted he is willing to come out of retirement.
He's been through sponsorship changes before. He knows how to find new ones. And the former Seafirst players are confident he can help them start a new legacy of fastpitch softball in Seattle.
"It's gotta be very tough for them," Wagner said of the former Seafirst players. "I know when I left the sport, it leaves a big void, kind of a homesick feeling. It was just like a lifeblood, I guess."
Seafirst was the fifth area business to sponsor a NorWest League team in Seattle. Seafirst won the International Softball Congress World Tournament in 1990, the third world title for the team. Below is a chronology of sponsors and results since the team was founded in 1955.
1955-68 Federal Old Line Nobable results: 9 regional titles, 3rd '58 nationals
1969-70 Mead, Samuel Insurance Notable results: 1970 regional champions
1971-76 Pay 'N Pak Notable results: In nationals 4 times, 8th in 1972
1977-82 Peterbilt Western Notable results: ASA national champs 1980 & 1982
1983-88 Pay 'N Pak Notable results: ASA national champs 1985, 1986 & 1987. ISC world champs 1985-86.
1989-96 Seafirst Notable results: ISC world champs 1990.
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