I enjoyed my years of involvement in softball in the 1960s-70s-80s and a little bit in the 90s. One question I have been asked many, many times is who do I believe was the best softball player(s) I ever saw who came from Clermont County or who played regularly in Clermont County.
I have given this question a lot of thought for a long time. I could not come up with just one, but I have a personal two-way tie for who stands out in my mind. They had long outstanding careers, but they were primarily in their prime in the 1970s and ’80s.
Mike Rich began his softball career as a 16-year old high school sophomore at Lebanon High School, in Warren County, from where he graduated in 1971. He was a three-sport letterman for the Warriors – football, baseball, and track and field.
Now a Loveland resident, he was the first Clermont countian to become a member of a team in the American Professional Slow Pitch League (APSPL) in 1977.
The APSPL hit its peak that summer of the professional baseball strike. Thousands of fans were craving some kind of diamond play. Goldie became a member of the Columbus All-Americans after the Cincinnati Suds lost its opportunity to have him as a member of the local professional team’s line-up.
The Lima Steele team in 1979 won the Ohio state title and Rich earned a position on the All-Ohio squad. During the state tournament he hit an incredible .724 average with 13 of his 21 hits in 29 times at bat, clearing the fence.
The year before he played professionally, he played for the nationally renowned Ohio Players who played in very prestigious major open ball competition.
He has helped make many teams become successful and achieve championships.
Some of the teams Goldie recalled were Johnson's Old Timers (his first team on which he was on a roster that included his father), Erlich's All Stars, Lebanon Jets, Italianette Jets, Fred Kibbey Chevrolet, Greater Cincinnati Sports, and Cincinnati Knights.
Nicknamed "Goldie" because of his long, blond hair, at the peak of his softball career, he was a very muscular 6-feet, 2-inches tall and weighed 190-pounds.
"I think my strength was my speed and my hitting and I could play good defense, but I think I was about average in power. I had a nice mix of power and base hits, though.
"What I needed to concentrate on more was on my fielding and hitting the cut off man." Rich was modest about his power.
Many times this writer witnessed him easily clearing the fences at the few parks that had fences at the time. His base running speed was also incredible. I saw him beat throws from the pitcher after the ball was hit to the man on the mound.
His favorite position on defense was left field. "I had an above-average arm. A lot of fields back then had no fences so you had to throw a long way sometimes, but I liked the comfort of playing close to the foul line."
Rich and his wife Janet are the parents of three children - Pat Hamill (33), Matt Hamill (32), and Heather (27). The Richs have also have four grandchildren.
Today, Goldie teaches physical education at Loveland Middle School and he coaches several sports.
Bill Peters did not begin seriously playing softball until after the graduated from Mount Orab High School (now Western Brown) in 1970. During his days as a Mt. Orab Mountie he lettered in football and baseball. He was a member of Mount Orab's first varsity football team.
He was first noticed by this writer when he was heavily recruited to play on a softball team sponsored by "The Clermont Courier" newspaper for which this writer was the sports editor at the time.
That season he hit for a .714 average and from there through the 1970s and into the 1980s he averaged better than .700 at the plate every season.
During the mid to late '70s he played primarily as a first baseman and outfielder for the renowned Clermont County powerhouse, the River Rats. The team broke up after the 1978 season because it had so much talent that dissension began to erupt in the ranks because not everyone could star, so a friendly agreement was made to disband the team instead of everyone losing friendships.
The last two seasons of this outstanding team, Peters helped head coach Chuck Kilgore's team to a 94-26 record (1977) and 124-16 (1978) including concluding with a 56-game winning streak.
Peters was a muscular 5-feet, 11-inches, 190-pounds, during the prime time of his outstanding career.
He gave up being a star with a rock-and-roll band to play softball.
"I think I had good speed and a good throwing arm and I was a good hitter," said Peters. "I think my weakness was defense. When I played right field I was always challenged by the right-hand hitters."
This writer remembers the incredible speed of Peters. Like Goldie, I many times witnessed Bill hit ground balls just to the third base side of the pitcher and beat the throws to first base.
He recalled two highlights of his career with the River Rats.
The 1978 state-qualifier tournament took place in Portsmouth. "In the first inning of the first game we had eight home runs and the other teams were very upset and suspicious thinking we were a major league team. I think other home runs we hit in that inning were by Chuck (Kilgore), the Gregs (Kilgore and Higgins), Terry (Wooten), Indian (Bill Renfro), Tommy Wilson, Bill McDonald, and Wayne Halcomb or Carl Goldbach.
The shocking ease of a 76-0 three-inning victory in a league game at the old Avoca Park, near Terrace Park, was the other highlight.
Today, Peters is in the mechanical maintenance department for General Electric Abbott Aviator. He has four children - Ryan (36), Jennifer (31), Josh (27), and Adrian (14). In addition to his children, he has six grandchildren.
Neither of these superstars is very fond of today's softball scene.
"I had the opportunity to see the transition when ASA (American Softball Association) put in the unlimited (pitcher's) arch to neutralize the offense. I didn't like it. I'm a creature of habit and I had to change my batting style and approach to hitting," said Rich. "I didn't like it either when they brought in the limited flight ball (these rules have since been changed).
"There is more focus today on hurrying the game time instead of hitting it out to the end. I don't like the limited number of fouls you're allowed to hit either. I'm totally against paying and getting tokens at the ball park.
"Today it's an assembly line of softball to see how many games can be played in a certain amount of time just to bring in more money."
"I agree with Goldie," said Peters. "I don't like trying to rush the game to see how much money can be made. It's now more of a business than a fun game. They have taken so much out of the game including now having so many cluttered fields in a small area."
They both agreed, too, on disliking the limited number of home runs per individual and team and an opening count of one ball and one strike that is allowed in some leagues.
Despite all of this, this stellar duo still loves the game in which they were at or near the forefront for so many years.
"I want people to remember that I came to every game bringing my full-fledged A game," said Rich.
"I met so many nice people and I loved the travel and interaction with great teammates," said Peters. "I hope I'm remembered as a Pete Rose-type of player. I always studied the competition and their skills and weaknesses to be prepared for every game."
This duo of superior softball talent will always be remembered not only for their skills and talent, but also for their sportsmanship and cordiality.