Taking a swing at being a slow-pitch softball king

At 58, a player from Ellicott City is a power hitter in a league of his own.

SUMMER In Howard County

July 20, 2005|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Mark McGwire turned the baseball world on its ear in 1998 when he hit 70 home runs. Barry Bonds captivated the country again three years later when he blasted 73 homers.

But in terms of numbers, all of that isn't much compared with Dutch Detwiler's recent feats - even if his sport is slow-pitch softball. The Ellicott City resident has averaged 91 home runs a season over the past six years.

A right-handed batter who is a designated hitter most of the time, Detwiler has hit 546 home runs in that span. Two years ago, he hit 145 homers.

Detwiler is one of the top power hitters around in slow-pitch softball. He was a 2003 inductee into the Washington Metropolitan Slo-Pitch Softball Hall of Fame, and what makes his numbers even more impressive is his age.

He is 58.

"If I go 0-for-4, I don't like it," Detwiler said. "But I like having the opportunity to go 0-for-4 at my age. It makes things fun. I like winning as much as anybody, but I try to maintain [my] philosophy."

Detwiler plays softball at least four nights a week during the summer but works year-round on his swing. He plays in an over-50 league in Anne Arundel County three nights a week, plus a league with no age limit on another night, along with numerous tournaments.

He takes 150 swings five days a week during the winter and has played softball since serving in the Coast Guard in the mid-1960s. He competed on slow-pitch teams while working with the Secret Service in the 1970s and 1980s and stepped up his involvement in the game after retiring in 1989.

Detwiler, who works full-time managing the batting cages at the Rocky Gorge golf driving range and batting complex in Fulton, keeps a softball schedule that gets busier as the years go on. But he loves the game, he said, and wants to keep going.

"It keeps him young, and it keeps him healthy, and it keeps him happy," said Carol Wolfe, Detwiler's girlfriend. "It beats sitting in front of the TV. ... God bless him, that he still can do it [because] there could be a day he can't, so he might as well play now."

Detwiler remembers always having been a strong line-drive hitter, but he's grown into a power hitter over the past 15 years, and he gives a lot of credit to his bats.

He switched from a 35-ounce bat in the early 1990s, when a salesman got him to try a 28-ounce model. Detwiler worried that a bat that much lighter would leave him way out in front of pitches, but that didn't happen.

"They were easier to swing," Detwiler said. "I tried to hit the ball to right field like I normally did and pulled three balls over the fence in left field."

Detwiler said the bats he uses now are composites, pressurized "timber" made of different materials.

Actually, he said, home runs have been more difficult to hit in the past two years because, nationally, the compression of softballs has been changed for safety reasons. Once hard as a baseball, softballs are now, well, softer, meaning they don't explode off bats quite as rapidly.

Detwiler, who pitches on occasion, once got hit by a line drive that banged off one shoulder and flew into deep left field.

But as a hitter, Detwiler keeps his approach simple.

"They've got to throw you a strike," he said. "Basically, hitting the ball is looking for your pitch. You want to get a pitch you can drive."

B.G. Mohan runs one of the teams on which Detwiler plays and has gotten some very close looks at his friend's hitting skills. Mohan said people need to appreciate how much Detwiler can do with the bat.

"He's not a one-dimensional hitter," Mohan said. "He can hit the long ball, but he can hit the ball to all parts of the field. He'll do whatever he has to do."

That's what Detwiler did when he first played the fast-pitch version of the game in the Coast Guard, after graduating from Northwestern High in Prince George's County in 1965. He became a chief mess cook in the Coast Guard because that let him work days while leaving nights open for softball. The chief that put him in that job was the softball team's coach.

Detwiler began keeping track of his home runs in recent years, compiling 145 in his best season two years ago. A recent change in the rules, he estimated, cost him about 30 homers that season. Teams in his age group are allowed no more than three home runs per game; additional balls hit over the outfield fences are outs.

But Detwiler kept on hitting homers then and wants to keep hitting them now.

"It's a release for me, and I stay in shape," Detwiler said. "I'll play as long as I can."

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