Men’s fastpitch softball once was one of the more popular sports around.
It’s a dying breed these days.
For a period covering nearly 40 years, the New Haven Cubs were an elite men’s fastpitch softball team not only in the Franklin County area, but also in Missouri.
Don Pruessner was the longtime manager of the New Haven Cubs.
“We had a good, strong organization for many years,” Pruessner said. “Our players were very dedicated. From May to September, it was softball season. Some wives didn’t always like it, but deep down, they enjoyed it. We always had good crowds in New Haven watching the Cubs.”
Cubs softball in New Haven was quite different from a casual slowpitch league seen these days throughout the country.
Instead, it was all business for the players and the manager.
The Cubs put a team on the field for the first time in 1961. Their first official season was in 1962.
The final season for the Cubs was in 1997.
During that period of time, the Cubs had an overall record of 1,458 wins and 654 losses.
Pruessner, who still lives in New Haven, was the Cubs’ manager from 1961-80.
The Cubs started as an All-Star team to enter the district tournament. Players came from five teams in the New Haven league.
While the district tournament did not go well for the Cubs that season, it did whet the appetite for the team to continue playing in future seasons.
“We played in the Jefferson City district. We won a few games, got people’s attention and went from there,” Pruessner said.
The Cubs reached the state tournament in 1962 by winning their district, which consisted of teams from Washington, Pacific, Owensville and Sullivan.
They registered an overall record of 35-12 during the 1962 campaign.
Cubs players were not paid nor did they receive reimbursements for mileage to road games.
The New Haven Legion field was the site for Cubs home games, which mostly were seven-inning doubleheaders.
The Cubs consisted of players from the New Haven and surrounding areas.
A number of individuals, other than Pruessner, were involved with the Cubs for many years.
Larry Scheer was a catcher for the Cubs for 17 years and played on the first team. He also was the manager of the Cubs after his playing days and Pruessner’s time in the dugout.
John Steinbeck also was a member of the Cubs’ first team and played for approximately 24 years until he was 55 years of age.
Fritz Steinbeck, John’s brother, was a mainstay on the team for over 20 years. He was considered by some to be the best hitter in Missouri at one point in his career.
While slowpitch softball is a hitter’s game, fastpitch is a pitcher’s game.
Arlie Berg pitched for the Cubs from the start until 1981, a span covering 20 years. He had over 400 career victories and a winning percentage over .600.
“Arlie was as steady of a pitcher as they come,” Pruessner said.
Another 20-year veteran of the Cubs was Lloyd Moeckli, who was one of the most feared power hitters in the game.
“Our original players hung in there for a long time,” Pruessner said. “We always had a solid nucleus of eight to 10 guys who were there every year to build around.”
A new group of players joined the Cubs’ roster during the 1970s and ’80s.
Among the players on those teams were Hansi Bloch, Dave Scheer, Dale Helling, Larry Maune, Tim Scheer, Mike Scheer, Brad Strobel and Keith Brinker.
“The Cubs were a lot like the Washington Buds. The difference was the Buds played baseball and the Cubs played fastpitch softball,” Helling said. “We always had good crowds in New Haven for Cubs games.”
Pruessner was a demanding, but successful manager.
The Cubs never had a losing season during their existence.
“We usually qualified for the state tournament,” Pruessner said of his time as Cubs manager. “One year we won five games in one day to qualify for state.”
Pruessner was highly respected by his players.
“Don was a fair manager. He expected the best out of his players,” Helling said. “Don always listened to what his players had to say, but everyone knew that he was in charge.”
The seven-inning double-headers were taken seriously by Pruessner’s Cubs teams.
“We were all business during games and between games,” Pruessner said. “Maybe we had a drink after the game, but never during or between. We wanted to win.”
Winning was the top priority.
“Don was not a good loser. You can’t argue with the success he had,” Larry Scheer said.
“I did not take losing well,” agreed Pruessner.
Pruessner did not play while he managed.
“I had enough to do. There was a lot of work to do as the manager. It would have been nice to have cellphones. There were times where I snuck a few hours off from my regular job,” Pruessner said. “We played every weekend and always midweek for four or five months.”
Don and the late Pat Pruessner were married in April of 1956 in New Haven. Pat passed away in 2009.
A 1952 graduate of New Haven High School, Pruessner was a member of the New Haven School Board and the athletic association. He was employed by the Kellwood Company for over 20 years.
So what brought Pruessner back to manage the Cubs year after year?
“Why did I keep coming back? That’s the same question my wife always used to ask me,” Pruessner said. “I loved it. We had a solid group of guys who also came back every year to play. It was a good group. It was a lot of fun to be around everyone.”