Blue Springs native Doug Middleton was inducted into the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame earlier this month.
He kept his induction speech short, no longer than six minutes. This was fitting, given the type of player Middleton was.
“Humble … so, so humble,” said Denny Bruckert, former coach of the USA Softball Men’s National Team.
Bruckert, who said he could spend hours talking about Middleton, spent decades coaching against Middleton’s St. Joseph team as an opposing manager for a team in Decatur, Ill. He recalls him as one of the best pitchers to ever throw a softball.
Bruckert also had opportunities to coach Middleton at the national level before the two joined forces in 2002. That’s when Bruckert’s Decatur squad disbanded and he became the new St. Joseph manager.
“I sacrificed a lot,” Middleton, 54, said. “But it’s something I really enjoyed doing. I had passion for the game.”
Middleton enjoyed a storied softball career. He was a member of USA National Team in 1992, ’96, and ’98 and was named the recipient of the Herb Dudley Award for the sport’s outstanding pitcher at the 1998 ASA Men’s Major Fast Pitch National Championship.
Middleton’s best pitch was the dropball, which is similar to a curveball in baseball. His dropball reached speeds in the mid-80’s, according to Bruckert, who compared that to a 100 mph fastball. Middleton had two other pitches, a riseball and a changeup, but the dropball was what most vexed the batters he faced.
Bruckert doesn’t remember a season in which Middleton pitched an ERA higher than 1.00.
“It was amazing how good his dropball was,” Bruckert said. “Doug was a big-time pitcher. The bigger the tournament or game was, that’s when Doug was outstanding.”
And Middleton’s talent wasn’t limited to the circle.
“He hit cleanup — Doug was our No. 4 hitter.” Bruckert recalled. “Fastpitch softball is really a pitcher’s game. But Doug could do it all. He had an uncanny ability to break open a game with a home run. He certainly was a leader on whatever team he was a part of.”
Hundreds of fans attended the ISC Hall of Fame induction on Aug. 13 in Grand Rapids, Mich. Among them were a dozen of Middleton’s family members, friends and former teammates. Middleton has always shied away from attention, but his supporters proudly cheered him on.
Eventually, the two-time world champion opened up and discussed his big accomplishment.
“When you play softball, some people downplay it because it’s not baseball,” Middleton said. “But this is actually a pretty big deal. This is probably the best award you can get in softball.
“I just loved playing ball.”