The Booth-Powell Bombers love softball, and they love Portales. Saturday gives them an opportunity to give their thanks to both.
The 1966 Booth-Powell Bombers, a Portales fastpitch softball team that won the Cactus Region Tournament and advanced to the National Softball Tournament in Indianapolis, will be honored during an 11:30 a.m. pre-game ceremony at the Zia softball doubleheader against Angelo State.
“This is kind of our last chance to say thanks to a lot of people,” said Marshall Durham, who played third base for the Bombers team.
Though the Bomber players are the ones being honored, they’re trying to use to event to show gratitude and hopefully produce the same type of enthusiasm for women’s fastpitch that they enjoyed three to four decades ago.
“If you think back, when softball got started, something lit a fire,” former Bomber Melvin Littlejohn said. “It seemed like it happened in Lubbock, Amarillo, Clovis, Odessa and we just seemed to have a lot of good local talent that could compete.”
Littlejohn did not play for the 1966 squad, but played for other Bomber teams and often traveled across Texas and New Mexico for tournaments (he claims the only speeding ticket of his life came because he was running late for a softball game). Littlejohn was like many players in Portales, who made bonds with countless teams and teammates alike.
“It took a lot of different ones that made our league,” added Dean Moore, a first baseman for the 1966 Bombers. “We just had a lot of good people talent-wise around Portales.”
The talent was so great that teams like the Dora Whites and Arnold’s Radiator could compete with teams from bigger cities like Albuquerque and Lubbock. The teams would get together at City Park, now called Carl McCoy Park, in honor of the coach who led the Bombers to the national tournament and helped fastpitch stay popular for years.
“Every year about the first of May, he came out of hiding,” Moore said of McCoy. “He truly loved fast-pitch softball. He’s one of those guys who really gave his life for fastpitch.”
The players said fastpitch was a family game, and softball tournaments became makeshift family reunions — gatherings for both relatives and an extended fan family.
“The fans are what made it,” Littlejohn said. “The 4th of July tournament was out of this world.”
Teams would play through the summer to prepare for the state tournament, which led to the regional tournament. The 1966 Cactus Region tournament was in Portales, and the Bombers received a first-round bye as the host.
The homefield advantage proved necessary, as the Bombers needed both championship games to oust Talley and Page of Phoenix and qualify for the national tournament. Durham and Jim Vardeman had RBI singles and Larry Powell allowed just one run in seven innings in the final game, a 2-1 win for Booth-Powell. However, the person the Bombers felt was most responsible was Coach McCoy, who helped ensure that the tournament would be in Portales in the first place.
“It took a lot of people, but he hollered the loudest,” Moore said. “We felt like we had to host the regional tournament to have any chance against those Arizona people.”
The Bombers were knocked out of the national tournament with losses to Mountain View, Calif. and Oklahoma City in their first two games.
The Bombers will always have memories of themselves, their opponents and the pitchers who made fastpitch so entertaining. Baseball has ranged between a pitcher’s game and a hitter’s game through the years, but there was never any argument when it came to fastpitch softball.
“They could make the ball break up, down, sideways,” Moore said. “That was what made the game, because you started thinking about the different (pitchers.)”
Eddie Fingers, for example, gave crowds a softball version of the Harlem Globetrotters with a nearly unhittable pitch and only four teammates playing defense. The Bombers said they thankfully never had to face Fingers, a hurler who didn’t even need four guys playing defense behind him.
“He could throw it from second base — blindfolded,” Moore said with a chuckle. “You were lucky to even foul a pitch off.”
For this area, fastpitch has said good-bye to the Eddie Fingers of the world and now resides on high school and college campuses. The Bombers still love softball, and they hope they can get people to love Zia softball in the same way starting this weekend.
“We’re hoping that some of the people that watched us will watch Eastern,” Durham said. “Softball was going so strong when we were playing. It’s not that way now. It would be nice to see it that way again.”