Ty Stofflet, the world's softball pitcher, who can throw a ball 105 miles per hour and once struct out 38 men in a 20-inning no-hitter, has frightened entire countries away from the Pan American Games.
When the shy Stofflet, 37, with his trace of Pennsylvania Dutch accent, came here, he was nursing an Olympic sport, that would change."
Stofflet was delighted when he heard that softball had been added to the Pan Am games.
"i figured by '84, if I could keep on pitching that long, maybe softball would be in the Olympics," he said.
But now, after taking nearly a month's vacation from his job as an electrican, Stofflet is beginning to wonder if he isn't his own worst enemy.
Cuba, Argentina and Mexico have dropped out of what was to have been a 10-team round-robin tournament. Few here doubt that Stofflet is the reason; he makes these games a formality. In a pinch, he probable could pitch doubleheader no-hitters on back-to-back days if the U.S. needed him to for a gold medal.
The best softball hitters in the States can't touch him -- his record was 42-1 last year with six no-hitters and a victory streak that finally was snapped at 71. Latin American hitters, not in the same league, might never see his pitch.
Also, as Stofflet says, "They call it 'softball,' but at the speed I throw it, a marshamallow could break bones."
It seems to be the fate of the inconspicuous 6-foot Stofflet and his gnarled, twisted and arthritic left hand that he and his game remain an item of anonymous Americana.
Perhaps in his native Pennsylvania, plus Aurora, III., Stratford, Conn., and a few other hotbeds of fast pitch, the word "softball" conjures up the image of lean, brave meb playing a lightning fast, dangerous game that combines the look and strategy of base-ball with the nimble reflexes of table tennis.
To the rest of Stofflet's country men, softball means slow pitch -- the game of picnics and office leagues. What do they know of Stofflet's 104.7 mph "riser" that jumps almost three feet, or his three varieties of "drop" that fall a foot or more.
No major league pitcher has thrown as fast as Stofflet, nor made a ball do such precipitously downward tricks. Of course, that is partly the nature of the -- game softball, to its eternal detriment among offensive-minded Americans, is a made-for-pitchers game where a 2-0 lead often is insur-mountable.
Another man might be driven to despair by perfecting an athletic art about which almost no one cares.
It has taken Stofflett, whose weathered face and slow, watchful speech seem those of a wary farmer who trusts only hard work, almost 20 years to notice the notoriety he has missed.
For himself, Stofflet wants little. Even a Pan American gold medal is meaningless to him.
"this trip would have been worth it, if it had led to the Olympics, because that would have made a lot of people feel good," said Stofflet.
"but the way it is, with all these teams dropping out, it doesn't look too good. Basically, it's a waste of time."
Stofflet, to be sure, would rather be home in Coplay, Pa., with his wife and kids fixing other people's fixtures, than here with the gambling casinos, bikinis and water skiers.
"i'm a family man, a working man," he said quietly, expressively, gesturing in a confident, subdued way with open hands. "this is 3 1/2-weeks vacation . . . and they got us using that dern Dudley softball. it feels like a bowling ball."
Stofflet is a man who has chosen to master a small universe, doing things in that restricted space that have never been done before.He is an inventor without immagination.
In San Juan, he is content to play catch on a black top lot, rather than explore the island with its rain forests, mountains and lagoons.
"We checked out the field the other day," he said . "We got there somehow, but I couldn't tell you where it was. All I remember is the ripples in the outfield."
Since the age of 14, when a local softballer spotted him firing rocks at a garage door with a fluid underhand motion, Stofflet has focused on the minutiae and ritual of his game.
After almost a quater-century of work, he has reduced his needs on a softball field to one thins: "give me a fast right fielder, and I'm all right. I'll strike out my 15 or so and he can take care of the rest."
It has been a slow process.
"people always ask me, 'how can anybody throw so hard, especially somebody no bigger than you,'" said the grinning Stofflet, an in-shape but not conspicuously muscled 170-pounder whose build, ironically, resembles that of Ron Guidry.
"I was born with 25 percent of my talent, but I've worked for the rest . . . throwing, throwing, throwing," said Stofflet, whose sport, mercifully, rarely produces a sore arm but only legs weared from pushing off the pitching rubber.
In his years of experimentation, Stofflet has decided to throw almost all his pitches in unorthodox personal ways. This pleases him no end, the sense that he cannot be copied.
He wedges the ball between the middle three fingers of his hand for his riser -- "like a submarine fork ball with the elbow held against the side." Let anybody else try that.
The drop, the most effective, if not the flashiest of softball pitches, is thrown several ways. But who before Stofflet had such precise feel that he could release the ball off this fourth finger with such a vicious flip that the plate, just like his riser, then plunge into the dirt instead of exploding up to shoulder height?
"First comes the control, then the smoke," said Stofflet, who has worn out many catchers and had to resort outo using his basement wall as a backstop. "You must be abel to hit a spot the size of the glove repeatedly. Because in the softball you can't walk anybody . They'll bunt him around. One run or two is usually the game."
Many a softball pitcher just fires, lulled into false security by the inherent vulnerablity of softball hitters.
Stofflet, whose father pitched for 20 years, studies the batters like an underhanded Whitey Ford.
"You always set up hitters," he said. "In the last 10 years, my changeups have improved the most.
"If anybody gets a hit off me, I never forget it. In fact, I don't forget , t it when they swing and miss and come close."
As Stofflet ages, he is seeing his sport grow, at last.
"The best young pitchers are from New Zealand and Canada," he said, "not the United States. Japan is also catching fire, since they realize softball is not a big man's game.
"I want to hang around for six or seven more years . . .see where the games goes. The legs go first, never the arm, so I run 20-22 miles a week."
Now at his peak, whth his savvy and stuff both working, Stofflet has been the most valuable player of the U.S. national tourney three of the last four years with champion Billiard Barbells.
The competition on this sweaty isle figures to be a yawn.
"Some teams got the decent sticks, but they got no pitching," he said. "We're the only team with both. It's a dream to play on this team. It might be the best softball all-star team even.
"We got guys who can hit it out of sight, like [270-pound] Jeff Seip. And our shortstop, Jimmy Brackin [from the Wilson Powell Monarchs in Washington], is a great one. Gene Green [also from Wilson Powell] is one of the top pitchers in thw world."
For once, fast pirch softball has, for Stofflet, taken on the atmosphere of a despicable slow pitch picnic -- with a gold medal to boot.
"We know we should win, but we're taking it seriously anyway," said the always earnest Stofflet.
How does he know?
"I've played softball a long time," he said, a grin beginning, "but I've never seen a team before that voted to give up beer for two weeks."