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Players catch fastpitch fever
JOHN WARNER/Gazette Staff Ben Reichenbach stretches for a grounder at shortstop. Fastpitch players stand close to the batter, and quick reflexes can both help your team and save your head. JOHN WARNER/Gazette Staff Quickness in the field is helpful, but not getting away from a fastball at the plate is often nothing short of painful. Ben Reichenbach moonwalked out of the way of this inside pitch. JOHN WARNER/Gazette Staff At 50, Mike Meyer still delivers a nasty pitch and hits with power.

This may be his last season, but Mike Meyer is having a fun time with a lot of younger players this season playing for Reichenbach Fireworks/Meadow Gold Dairies/Tiny's Tavern in the Billings Fastpitch Softball Association.

Meyer, who just turned 50, is coaching the team and at a recent practice served as a pitcher, catcher, motivator and friend.

"I love the game. That's the No. 1 thing," said Meyer, a Heights resident. "I love being around these young guys. They're fun to be around, and, if I can teach them anything, that makes it better.

"But this is my last year. They say 'No,' but momma says it is. I told her when I turned 40 I would retire, but it's been 10 years already. Amazing."

Meyer is a mail carrier by day, but on Tuesday and Thursday nights he is an avid fastpitch softball player at the fenced diamond at North Park.

"I started in 1973 up at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls," Meyer said. "I had just got stationed there in March of '73, and they just said come out and try out for our fastpitch team, and I never knew there was such a thing at the time."

At this juncture, Meyer hopes there are other young athletes out there who want to play, or who never knew the league existed.

The Billings league has just four teams this season, and Meyer hopes to see others get interested.

"We're trying to get Montana State University-Billings' women's team to come and play in our league," Meyer said. "We heard they want to play so we're

hoping to get them to come and play. It should be fun.

"It's kind of a dying game. We can't get young guys to come here and throw and pitch."

One new player did show up to practice on May 7.

Heights resident Frank Bryant had never played fastpitch before.

At practice he took grounders at third base and took some cuts at pitches thrown by Meyer. All the while, as with every other batter, teammates gave encouragement.

"Mostly just for exercise," said Bryant of his decision to play. "And it's a type of hobby to do.

"I was thinking about getting into something, and I didn't know how to approach it and my buddy Joe (Straight) called

On the roster

Here is the Reichenbach Fireworks/Meadow Gold Dairies/Tiny's Tavern roster:

Mike Meyer

Stew Mattheis

Ben Reichenbach

Chris Wells

Jamie Thole

Jeff Kay

Joe Straight

Casey Curtis

Rob Schieno

Frank Bryant

John Mattheis

Eric Lybecker

and said they were looking for guys."

Straight started playing last year and is the team's catcher. Center fielder Chris Wells, who pitched for the Billings Mustangs in 1977 and '78, will be entering his third year in fastpitch.

Wells said he decided to play because the league needed players, and he enjoyed himself so much he's kept playing.

"You still have that competitive bug in you," Wells said. "And it's good baseball. It's just a little quicker than slowpitch.

It's just a good game …. This is the closest you get to playing some good old hard ball in Billings."

Playing for the team are former Billings Skyview wrestlers Ben Reichenbach and Jeff Kay. Reichenbach was a two-time AA state champion for the Falcons, while Kay has been an assistant coach for the program the past two years.

Reichenbach said this year the team will be traveling to tournaments in Idaho, Missoula and Great Falls.

He said going to tournaments is fun as the players get to go out of town. Another plus is seeing different teams.

"You only see four teams out here," Reichenbach said. "That's why we need more players."

Meyer could probably tell story after story about fastpitch softball. He said the game's peak was the early to mid-1980s.

"At one time we had nine teams," Meyer said. "It was great. All those teams were very competitive back then. We still had the old timers throwing so it was competitive.

"We would like to see this take off again. Years ago this was the game. I'd like to see more people get exposed to the game and get it going."

League play starts May 29 at North Park. Two games are played each Tuesday and Thursday, with the first starting at 6:45 p.m. and the second at 8:30 p.m.

Admission is free, and concessions are available.

Those interested in playing fastpitch softball should show up at North Park Tuesday or Thursday evenings or call Meyer at 259-6001.

John Letasky can be reached at

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