Outdoors

Go Steelers!

A slo-pitch story

Attend

What: Slo-Pitch Big-Ball Reunion

When: 1 pm Sat., Jun. 29

Where: Lake Padden Ball Field

Info: (360) 398-1180

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

It was 1969, the year of Woodstock, the moon landing, and the formation of a slo-pitch team called the Parberry Steelers.

At least two of these three events have already been remembered and celebrated, and we are hoping to celebrate the third from 1pm-5pm Sat., June 29 at Lake Padden Park with a gathering of as many big-ball slo-pitchers as can reunite for an afternoon of memories of athletic endeavors from a golden bygone Bellingham recreational era.

In 1969, Bellingham was becoming a hotbed of slo-pitch in Washington with teams sponsored by Dick’s Tavern, the Tav, Gus and Napps, Joe Martin’s Sporting Goods, the Post Office, Pottle’s Construction, Shakey’s Pizza Parlor, Mike’s Texaco, Blaine Air Force Base and a new team—the Parberry Steelers, formed by local recreational legend Chet Speziale and Rocky Hughes, a former wrestler and WWSC linebacker with an attitude.

Named after the Mayor of Old Town and sponsor, Lou Parberry, the team was destined to take Bellingham slo-pitch to another level. It was on a mission to work its way to a state championship. This entailed dedication and commitment each year, with players coming and going and playing as many as 140 games a year in various cities around the state.

With weekend journeys to tournaments in Burlington, Friday Harbor, Everett, Tacoma, Bremerton, Olympia, Aberdeen, Ocean Shores, Vancouver, Yakima, and Pasco Tri-Cities, barely a weekend went by without travel to some city where an early loss would mean a trip through the losers’ bracket in an attempt to bring home the hardware and put Bellingham slo-pitch on the map. This meant playing as many as six games on a Sunday before a long ride home on a Sunday night to salvage a few hours of sleep before work Monday morning, usually with a “strawberry” or two acquired by sliding into second. Parberry’s team was supplemented by players from other local teams who were willing to add their skills to a talented team, some going on to join the team in later years.

After five years of developing and honing its skills against tremendously improved local teams like Joe Martin’, Dick’s Tavern, Blackburn Office Supply, Gus and Napps, and the Tav, the Parberry Steelers brought Bellingham the state championship trophy in 1973. The Steelers went on to win the state championship in 1975, ’76, ’77, and ’79, finishing second to Joe Martin’s in 1978.

In 1969, most games were played locally at Bloedel Donovan Park’s Downer Fields—where the swimming facility now stands—or at Battersby Field, once home to the Bellingham Bells. It was a big leap forward when the ball fields were built at Lake Padden and even bigger when the Geri Park complex was installed.

At its peak, there were more than 150 men’s, women’s and co-ed teams participating, and that meant close to 2,000 people in the Bellingham/Whatcom County area getting out of the house to participate in community recreation with their friends and neighbors. This was a testament to the dedication of many sponsors and organizers such as Chet Speziale, Rocky Hughs, Lou Parberry, George Shiels, Garfield Remington III (“Baldy”), Dick Case, David Braun, and many others.

In the late 1980s, the sport changed with a switch to a smaller ball, and thus a new era of recreational slo-pitch began. By then, the Parberry Steelers had sealed their place in the history of Bellingham slo-pitch.

This weekend, 50 years after the formation of that team, the Parberry Steelers would like to celebrate all the old big-ball slo-pitchers at the aforementioned get-together at Lake Padden Ball Field for a chance to reminisce about an era gone by with some of those still able to come out. So if you played slo-pitch for any men’s or women’s team, were an umpire—or even a kid who ran the bases after the games were over for the evening—please find the time to come out and enjoy a beverage, hot dog and a few happy memories with old friends who haven’t really aged that much (at least in their minds).

Funny how the older I get, the better I was. See you there.

Ross Molberg was #11 for the Parberry Steelers.

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