|Anthony Aresco, 15, has competed against much older players in the Cambridge league and in tournament games.|
Coach’s devotion to fast-pitch softball rubs off on his son
Teen is in training for mound success
STONEHAM - An ace is the heart and soul of a men’s fast-pitch softball squad. But aces are not easy to find.
In his search for quality arms, Tony Aresco has had to look outside the area to land a pitcher for his championship travel team, the Sea Dogs.
Now the Stoneham resident is grooming a pitcher closer to home, his 15-year-old son Anthony.
This summer, the younger Aresco was invited to train at the USA Softball Junior Men’s Fast Pitch national team development camp at the US Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. A rising sophomore at Northeast Metro Tech in Wakefield, he joined 30 other players from 14 states.
Aresco will not be on the US 18-and-under team that competes in the 2012 International Softball Federation Junior Men’s World Championships in Parana, Argentina, but he hopes to be part of the 2014 squad.
He competed against older players earlier this month with the Reece Bulldogs of Michigan in the Amateur Softball Association Fast Pitch 18-under Championship in North Mankato, Minn.
Aresco has been traveling around the country with his father to softball tournaments since he was 5, but has only been pitching for nine months. He hopes to lure some of his baseball-playing friends over to the “dark side.’’
“Most people have never really seen the [fast-pitch] game,’’ he said. “They think about slow-pitch softball or that softball is a girls’ game. It’s actually a faster game than baseball and requires greater bat speed.’’
Jim Fanning of Saugus, a player representative for the Massachusetts chapter of the Amateur Softball Association who has been around the game for more than 40 years, would agree.
Fanning said that at a recent tournament in Cambridge, a Canadian pitcher was timed at 82 miles per hour to the plate from a mound 43 feet away. The equivalent speed for a baseball pitcher, from 60 feet, 6 inches: 115 miles per hour.
The best throwers usually boast a dazzling array of pitches, including sinkers, risers, curves, and change-ups.
Still, the number of those playing the sport continues to fall.
The number of teams competing in the Cambridge fast-pitch league - the premier local league - has fallen from a high of 126 teams in the 1980s to 26 today, according to Fanning.
He recalls a time when New Zealanders and Australians would arrive each summer to face top local competition in Cambridge, and several hundred fans would turn out to watch.
Statewide, there are fewer than 50 men’s fast-pitch teams registered with the Amateur Softball Association; in 1991, there were 250; and in the mid-1980s, there were about 350 registered, according to Joe Alfonse, the group’s state commissioner.
The elder Aresco, 45, began playing fast-pitch softball as a teen and still plays in area leagues and competes in masters’ (40 and over) tournaments.
His Sea Dogs have won five national titles: the 2001 ASA Men’s Modified; the 2005 and 2006 ASA Men’s Fast Pitch Masters; and the 2009 and 2010 North American Fastpitch Association Men’s Masters.
His core players are local; his pitchers are not.
“There [are] no good pitchers being developed these days,’’ he said. “In the past, the fathers handed down the skill to the sons. I haven’t pushed Anthony - he’s been around the game since he was little. He wants his own success.’’
His goal is to compete with his son in a major tournament someday.
Anthony took up softball after suffering a collarbone injury playing hockey at Northeast Metro last year.
He has taken pitching lessons from a teacher based in Chicago and competed against much older players in the Cambridge league and while pitching and playing second base in the recent Amateur Softball Association 18-under championship.
At 5-feet-6 and about 140 pounds, he expects to add the size and strength that will also increase the speed of his pitches.
Because the motion used is more natural and places less stress on the arm, pitchers in fast-pitch softball can have a long career and can pitch several days in a row and more than one game in a day if need be. One pitcher on Aresco’s Sea Dogs squad, Danny Zack of Canada, is 52 and still going strong. The other, Paul Algar (New Zealand), is 46.
“The main thing is working on your form so that when you pitch, you have a smooth delivery,’’ said Anthony.
“In the ASA tourney, the pitcher who beat us was pitching his fourth game of the tourney. He won games on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.’’
His father said, “The future of our game depends on us exposing the game and letting kids know they have this option.’’
A former baseball player himself, the younger Aresco expects to recruit area baseball players to give fast pitch a try.
“Baseball ends for most people after high school,’’ he said. “This is something they can stick with, like my dad has done.’’