The game of softball was invented inside a boat club on a wintry Chicago day in November 1887. Since then, the sport has grown to 245,000 teams and 3.5 million players, according to registration numbers from the Amateur Softball Association (ASA).
Of all the players who have lobbed a leather orb toward home plate or rotated their hips to blast one over the fence, only 11 women and 31 men have been inducted into the slow-pitch wing of the National Softball Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
Two of them are from the Richmond area.
Don Clatterbough, who will be 63 on July 6, was enshrined in 2001. The prolific ball striker estimates that he's hit between 3,500 and 4,000 home runs and has a .725 career batting average over 42 years of play.
He is the greatest Virginia male ever to play slow-pitch.
"I don't know about all that," says Clatterbough, who retired in 2001 from teaching physical education teacher at Stonewall Jackson Middle School. "I feel like I've been very fortunate to play on good teams with good players. I believe if you do well as a team, you will do well as an individual. That's when you have opportunities to win some awards."
Clatterbough, a 1965 Huguenot High grad, says the game has changed a lot over the years. When he played in the late 1960s and early 1970s, all the fields were open, so hitting a home run was more difficult. Teams would play very deep and try to force hitters to place the ball in front of the outfielders. Today, almost every game is played on a field that has an outfield fence.
Clatterbough still competes, and his 60-and-over team, Turn Two Elite, has won 24 national championships in the last four years, throughout a handful of leagues. The secret to a powerful swing, he says, is clean living and hitting practice several times per week. He can still sail a ball almost 400 feet.
Brenda Smith-Foster, 45, entered the hall of fame in 2007. As a second baseman, she possessed a strong arm and footwork akin to a ballerina. Her grace and fluid motion on the diamond allowed her to turn impossible plays into routine fielding.
"I still have to pinch myself to believe that I'm in the hall of fame," says Smith-Foster, who hasn't played competitively since injuring her knee four years ago. "I've always loved to compete and be on a team. I've been blessed to have some really good teammates."
Smith-Foster was a spray hitter, capable of finding the soft spot in any defensive alignment. She could also hit for power, able to clear fences 300 feet away. Named ASA All-American eight times, she was the association's sportswoman of the year at age 18.
Clatterbough and Smith-Foster are also members of the Virginia Commonwealth University Sports Hall of Fame.
Clatterbough, known for his rubber arm, once started and won both games of a doubleheader. He also pitched a no-hitter on two day's rest.
Smith-Foster earned her hall-of-fame credentials in basketball, leading the Sun Belt Conference in steals as a junior (3.6) and a senior (4.7). She scored in double figures in every game except one during her career at VCU (1985-87).
"I credit my mom and dad. They were my first coaches," says Smith-Foster, a manager for a local hotel. "I've been lucky to represent Richmond. It's been great place to play the game."