< Steele's Softball



Just a little background...........Steele's, from Lima, Ohio had a softball team from the early 70's that played amateur until 1982 when they fielded a team in the Pro Softball league. They were called Steele's Stars. At that time the Steele's Sports Company was located in Lima, Ohio. The Steele's Stars team was made up of mostly players from the Lima area and Mighty Joe Young. After that Pro year Steele's was looking forward to the next season. Most of the players had elected to play in the amateur ranks again...During the off season Steele's moved north from Lima, Ohio to a small country community outside of Cleveland called Grafton. With its new home base Steele's was starting a new era and a new manager with Dave Neale as head coach. The rest was history.

1983............It was after I had played in the Pro League in 1982 that I was thinking of giving up softball and going on to something different in my life. So when the summer was over in 1982 I decided to head out to Colorado where my parents had an 8 acre farm-ranch type of setup and just hang out and visit with my family. So I stayed there until the spring time came around and sure enough I got that itch to play softball. So I called up Dave Neale and asked what he was doing for softball the upcoming year. He said he wasn't sure. So I asked Dave Neale for a job and sure enough he said yes and back to Cleveland I went. When I arrived I hooked up with Steele's and was working at the warehouse. Dave decide to have an amateur team again so he became the new field boss for the Steele's Sports Company.

Conway Twitty Softball Tournament

 

 

The year before in 1982 when we were in the Pro league, our team had put together the best record in the league. So I don't mind saying that I was very disappointed when we were eliminated by Detroit in the first round of the playoffs. The Pro league itself was ok but we both knew that the best talent wasn't in the Pro league.. So back to the amateur ranks we go. Now back in the amateur division there were teams like Howards Western Steer, Jerry's Caterers, Elite Coatings and some other top notch softball teams. The Pro league was fun and everything but we knew that to really be the best you had to play the best. And I still say today that that was where the best softball was played at. The amateur ranks.

So Dave puts together our team with most of the ball players coming from the Cleveland area. There was Ricky Citino, Steve Blanchette, Jim Bizzell, and John Langdon. We took what was left over from the Pro league and then added Rick Weiterman and Dennis Graser from the Pro league. He added Weiterman a little later in the season. They had played with the Milwaukee Schlitz which had won the Pro league in 1982. As the season progressed we added Phil Higgins, another Milwaukee product also off of the Milwaukee Schlitz Pro softball team. Phil was a big part of the success the year before when Milwaukee won the Pro league. Phil an excellent hitter who could just fly around the ball field played a great out field also.

We were really playing good as a team especially with some of the pickups that Dave made throughout the season. He picked up Cliff Carpenter who was a young bomber out of Mt. Vernon, Ohio. Then there was Rick Trudeau who Dave picked up from the Detroit team out of the Pro league.. He was also working as a salesman for Steele's. Rick could hit the ball out either handed and he played as good a shortstop of any body I ever saw. He had played with the legendary Snyder’s Softball Club out of Detroit, Michigan.. We had a nucleus of talent from the players that Dave put together from out of Cleveland. We had Steve Blanchette who just crushed the ball. Steve was an All-American golfer who could really hit a softball a long way.

Rick Trudeau - Shortstop
Cliff Carpenter - Outfield
Mike Macenko - Infield
Phil Higgins- Infield,Outfield

Steve and I became teammates when Dave convinced him to come play with our Hillcrest Tavern teams. A real strong hitter in Dana Andry stayed on with the Steele's team also. I had played against Dana for years in the leagues around the Cleveland area until our team of Nationwide Advertising. All Dana did in 1982 was win the Home Run championship of the Pro league. He out homered me 65 to 62, and he also led the league in hitting. Dana could hit them as far as anybody. Dana was an excellent ball player. Dana was no small player either. He stood 6 ft 5 in tall. I liked the way he played and the best part was that he pitched. Here is a guy that does his job day in and day out.. Any body that pitches today should be given extra credit just for that part of the game alone. So you throw in a couple of other ball players from the Cleveland area, Doc Booker and Hank Gibson and you have a good mixture of pure and raw talent.
The next four hitters were a big part of our team’s success in 1983.

Denny Helmig- Infield, Outfield
Dave Neale - Infield
Dane Andry - Pitch
Rocky Neale - Infield,Outfield

We started off the 83 season in Fort Wayne and beat Lansing Auto Glass for the championship. The best part of the weekend was the way we did it. We had lost an earlier contest to the boys from Hammond, Indiana then we proceeded to come back and double dip them for the title 16-5 and 15-14. I led the tourney in Hr's with 10. We played well at Milwaukee in the USSSA NIT and came away tournament champs again. We beat Miller out of Detroit 30-1 in the finals. Steve Blanchette was tabbed for the MVP award batting .719 with 13 Hr's in six games.

This was the tourney where I hit two in a row into a very, very, stiff wind. One in the bottom of the 7th to tie the game and send it into extra innings and then another one from myself to win the game. I can truly say that I will never forget that day. It was at Wilson Park in Milwaukee and the place was packed. There had to be 2 or 3 thousand people there and I can still remember the people patting me on the back saying that was the greatest thing they had ever witnessed. Wilson Park is a 300 foot ball field and the wind was blowing so hard that both times the balls just cleared the fence. For some reason every time I played at this park good things happened. In 1985 in my first at bat on Friday night I hit a ball that stuck in the lights a stayed there for 5 years.

 

This photo was taken at Johnny Mac's softball complex in 1983. Rick Weiterman is not pictured because he had been ran into while trying to stretch out a base hit. He hyperextended his knee and had to sit this tourney out. We did not fair as well at this tournament. All the big boys were there. Jerry's Caterers, Howards Western Steer, and of course Elite Coatings out of Macon, Georgia. I for get what place we finished but it didn't matter. Elite was on a roll that weekend. There team was as strong as any team put together.

This is a photo of our team at the prestigous Gateway Classic in St Louis, Missouri 1983..........Standing - Dave Neale Sr., Dick Koval, Dennis Graser, Mike Macenko, Dana Andry, Steve Blanchette, Jim Bizzell, Doc Booker, Buddy Langdon, Charles Bradbury. Kneeling - Rick Trudeau, Phil Higgens, Dave Neale Jr., Hank Gibson, and Denny Helmig

 

We were really starting to play pretty good softball. Dave Neale taught me more than one thing about the game of softball and one of those was you never want to peak too early. So what if you don't win in the beginning of the season. That doesn't matter. It is he who wins at the end of the season that they remember. One of the most prestigious tournaments of all time is the Smoky Mountain Classic that is held every year at Sandy Springs Park in Maryville, Tennessee. We headed into that tournament which is held in July ranked 4th in the entire country so I am thinking "hey man this stuff is cool right". My first Smoky was in 1981 with Nationwide Advertising and we didn't fair to well. We were ranked number 2 back then and got beat by a team called Koppers out of Tennessee somewhere. I never will forget those days. Anyway in that year of 1983 we finish 4th at the Smoky to keep our ranking right where we wanted to. At the end of the season we added Mighty Joe Young and Herman Rathman to our roster to play in the NSPC tourney that was held at Maryville once again.. We lost to eventual champion Elite 23 - 13 and 25 - 15 to perennial powerhouse Howards of North Carolina. 

Here is a photo of the Hoot man Hank Gibson. Hank could play just about any where on the field. He was a speedster and had played for the Cleveland Competitors in the Pro league. We had played one time in Louisville in the Pro league and the game started at 6:00 on the dot. Well in the first inning Dana Andry was on the mound and took his time pitching the ball. Now Bill Gatti is at the plate and the umpire hollers out "ball four, take your base". Dana only threw two pitches so how can it be ball four. Now Dave comes flying out of the dugout and asks the umpire are you out of your mind. Hank yells from third base "that the game started at 6:00 and the cheating started at 6:05. Needless to say we argued for at least 15 minutes on that call. If Hank played today he was fast enough to play center field in a 3 man outfield and do a great job.

We were not allowed to participate in the ASA that year because we had played in the Pro league the year before and that was what the rules were. If you played Pro softball you had to sit out one year. You don't think the ASA was trying to be big headed do you? So we didn't go to the ASA and just waited for the USSSA World Series. Now the rule then and the rule I believe now is you can pick up 3 players for the USSSA World Series. So Dave decides to pick up 3 players to add to our already explosive line-up. That reminds of another tournament that we played in that year. The Conway Twitty in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

This is a photo of our exhibition team in 1983. We had Bruce meade under a bat contract with Steele's. He was swinging a PCF bat, which was short for Pwer Chamber Fat. It had a 13 inch barrel and weighed 38 ounces. I was using the same bat that year. It was a war club. You can see we had Greg Furhman as part of our exhibition team also. Bull and Bruce both came over to us from Jerry's Caterers...Left to right. Rick Trudeau, Mike Macenko, Dana Andry, Steve Blanchette, Greg Furhman, and Bruce Meade.

 

Conway Twitty..We were really starting to jell at the right time. Like I said Elite it seemed was almost unbeatable. Our Men of Steele team gave a sign of what was to come by upsetting top ranked Elite by a shocking score of 47 - 15 en route to a third place finish at the Twitty. What I still remember was how powerful Craig Elliott was. No matter where we played or what the conditions were he could still hit it out of the ball park. Dave used to tease him and say "that the only park Craig never hit it out of was Yellowstone Park". We were using the RF-80 balls back then and if you were not a ligitimit bomber then you got on base for the team. For some reason (hard work paying off) we played Craig and Elite like no other game we played. I remember Craig was 1 for 6 in the ball game and all he kept saying was "how were you supposed to hit when you were down by that many runs". I didn't care what he thought. I just wanted to score as many runs as possible. I thought to myself that I might not ever get this chance again so we just went after them and destroyed them.

Ricky Citino - Outfield
Steve Blanchette- Infield
Jim Bizzell - C, Outfield
Dennis Graser - Infield,Outfield

 

"BUT" that was only one loss and any body that knows a good softball team it takes two losses to be eliminated. So off to the losers bracket for Elite and this set up a winners bracket match-up with Steele's against perrineal powerhouse Howards Western Steer. I guess our luck had run out that quick because we ended up losing something like 21- 12. I can still hear Dave to this day saying "we had them and let them get away". So on Sunday at high noon there are two teams in the losers bracket, Steele's and Elite. We went to battle and it was one of the most memorable games of my career. We ended up short again but by the score of 46-43.
That was one of the first games I played in where it took over three hours to play. I remember it was 100 degrees out. Players were complaining of the heat. One player on my team Dennis Graser who came from the Pro league kept complaining that this wasn't softball. He was used to the low scores from the Pro league. Plus the Pro league played a lot of their games on baseball stadiums and bigger ball parks. So I told Dennis to be quite and when it was his turn to bat to do his job. This is where I give Elite all the credit in the world because they just kept coming through that losers bracket. After they beat us they double dipped Howards for the Championship. And guess who was the MVP for them? You guessed it "Crankin Craig Elliott".

Jerry's Caterers....Later on that year Dave had hooked up with the sponsor of Jerry's Caterers, Jerry Pendagrass and they both agreed upon an exhibition game in Cleveland, Ohio. So Jerry brings his club to Cleveland to play us a best of 5 series. Now this was good for the game of softball. When ever something like this was put together it brought a lot of people back down to the ball fields. In this perticular inncident the fields to be played on were Rose and Elder fields. These were two 300 ft. ball fields back to back down by the Zoo on Clevelands west side. They had played the ASA Nationals on these fields more than one time before. They played the 1975 and 1972 ASA world tourneys here also. Rose field is where Pyramid Cafe from Cleveland had won the 1975 ASA rain filled weekend tourney. The great Steve Loya hit a 2 run homer in the bottom of the seventh with two outs to win.. What a feeling that must have been....When I broke into Big Time Softball this where I played my league games. Great ball park.

 

Mike Nye - Outfield
Mike Bolen - Infield
Greg Furhman - Pitched
Chic Downing - Infield,Outfield

 

Anyway Dave brings Jerry's into town to play us a best of 5. I was really pumped up for this because there was a huge crowd and we were playing a super softball team. On Friday night we played them head to head and actually won the first two ball games. So you know what happens when you beat a great team like that. You better be ready the next day. The Jerry's squad was coached by a man named Ernie Yaroushak. He was a relentless coach. He was always trying to act like a marine drill sargent. But that is the way you have to be sometimes if you are going to be successful. Our games were scheduled to start at 6:00 on Saturday to finish up the best of 5.

On Saturday morning coach Yaroushak has the entire Jerry's team down by the Zoo running the track. I mean it is hotter than hell itself and he has them out running sprints. Here is big Bruce Meade running his butt off. So now I think "heck we got them now". Wrong again... They showed up at the field at 5:00 and took more batting practice and then proceeded to beat us three straight games. I will never forget the feeling of losing those games. A prime example of when you think your opponent is down and out you kind of feel sorry for them. Number 1 rule don't let that happen to you. If it is a friendly game and it gets out of hand that is one thing. Go ahead and maybe stop the game. "BUT" When you are playing the World Champions you don't ever let them back up. When it is time to knock that player out"KNOCK HIM OUT". Don't let him back up. That's what seperates the winners from the losers.

 

Front Row L-R Rick Citino, Phil Higgins, Denny Helmig, Cliff Carpenter, Jim Bizzell, Dennis Graser. .....Back Row. Andy Okulovich, Steve Blanchette, Dana Andry, Rick Trudeau, Dave Neale Jr., Dave Neale Sr., Hank Gibsom, Mike Macenko....

We went into the Smoky Mountain that year ranked fourth and that is right where we finished. We even picked up some added power with the likes of Kenny Parker from Milwaukee and Ron Olesiak from the Chicago area. Once again we lost to the top dogs and finished down the line at fourth place. Now really fourth place is not that bad but when all you care about is first place then fourth seems so far away. On the road again we go, this time we head back to Maryville, Tennessee for the NSPC Championships.
Now since we can not participate in the ASA because of the ruling we gear ourselves up for the NSPC championship the USSSA World Series. Once again we finish in fourth place at the NSPC. Dave not being the kind of coach to sit still picks up Mighty Joe Young and Herman Rathman again but it is to no avail. Both of our losses were to two of the top teams in the country. Eventual champion Elite Coatings by the score of 23-13 and then to perennial powerhouse Howard's of North Carolina with a score of 25-15. We just can't get over that hump.

USSSA World Series...The final tournament of the season was the USSSA Mens Major World Series that not only was it the last tournament of the season but it has turned into an softball event.. It is definitely the showcase of softball right now. So after all of the player moves and tournament tune ups for the Series we finally start playing like I know that Dave knew we could play. We kind of shocked the softball world by advancing to the finals of the winners bracket. Capitol Insulation did even better than we did by upsetting not one but all three of the top seeded teams, Howards, Jerry's and Elite.. Setting up the winners bracket finals with Capitol vs. Steele's. We beat Capitol soundly only to see Jerry's come back out of the losers bracket and double dip us (25-20 and 26-12) for the championship.. I don't know why but if there was one tournament that I wish I could play over again this would be the one. We were so close and didn't even realize it.
Rick Weiterman was named All World at third base, while his partner Dennis Graser made first base All World. Dana Andry from Cleveland was first team All World pitcher. Dana played an outstanding tournament and also pitched a super tourney... Bruce Meade was tabbed with the MVP award. He had a tremendous offensive outage. He led the tourney in home runs with 18 and hit well over .700.

 

Here are the stats from the  first  season with the new Steele's team.

Steele's  in  1983 (73 - 25)
  • Player./.Name 
  • Games
    At.Bats  Runs  Hits 
    Home.Runs 
    RBI'S 
    Batting-Average 
    Rocky.Neale
    24
    62
    39
    41
    7
    29
    .661
    Dennis.Graser
    81
    374
    221
    105
    105
    247
    .647
    Mike.Macenko
    98
    455
    260
    290
    157
    319
    .637
    Dennis.Helmig
    45
    121
    56
    75
    1
    29
    .620
    Dana.Andry
    96
    421
    219
    260
    137
    270
    .618
    Rick.Weiterman
    32
    136
    55
    83
    2
    25
    .610
    Rick.Trudeau
    76
    309
    128
    182 
    3
    71
    .589
    Steve.Blanchette
    97
    444
    231
    261
    100
    240
    .588
    Phil.Higgins
    66
    302
    164
    175
    49
    137
    .579
    Andy.Okulovich.Jr.
    8
    23
    6
    13
    0
    2
    .565
    Jim.Bizzell
    89
    386
    193
    208
    95
    168
    .539
    Cliff.Carpenter
    56
    239
    105
    125
    68
    136
    .523
    Ricky.Citino
    68
    222
    93
    116
    16
    62
    .523
    David.Neale.Jr.
    45
    160
    73
    75
    13
    57
    .469
    Others
    191
    699
    288
    324
    101
    275
    .464
    Totals
    98
    4353
    2131
    2470
    854
    2067
    .567

     

    National Tournament Finishes
    Second.................USSSA World Series (Greensboro, North Carolina)
    Fourth..................NSPC Championship (Maryville, Tennessee)
    Other Tournament Finishes
    First.....................Fort Wayne, Indiana
    Fourth .................Gateway Classic, St. Louis, Missouri
    Third....................Conway Twitty , Hendersonville, Tennessee
    First......................Milwaukee USSSA NIT

     

    The last thing I remember about that season was the long ride home in the van. It was about 10 hours so I had a good time to think about what I had just let slip through my hands. The biggest softball event in the country. I still feel like we had a great season that year and had made a good mark back in the amateur ranks. Before I arrived home from the trip I was already thinking about the next year. You got to love the game for the game itself.





    © 1998-2021 Mike Macenko.com All Rights Are Reserved. Site is Powered By Digital E Spot