Vanderlip, Falcon’s Fastpitch tourney are Dunkirk mainstays

OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder III Mike Vanderlip, playing for the LA Lounge this year, has played in 40 of the 42 First Ward Falcon Club Men’s Fastpitch Tournaments. He missed one due to a family wedding and the other after he sustained a broken leg.

The 42nd annual First Ward Falcon Club Men’s Fastpitch Tournament might be missing its requisite number of Canadian teams, but one thing, or rather one player, it is not missing is Mike Vanderlip.

Vanderlip, who hails from the Buffalo area, has played in 40 of the 42 tournaments over the course of its history.

“Oh yeah,” Vanderlip said, when asked if the third weekend in July has been one that he always circles on his calendar. “The two that I missed were a family wedding and the other one I had a broken leg.”

Vanderlip, better known on the diamond as “Lipper”, is playing for the LA Lounge this year, and he may be 68 years old, but he does not look it, nor does he play like it.

“The love of the game,” Vanderlip said of what keeps him going. “Just softball, that’s it. My two boys kept the fire burning there for a while, but then they gave it up. I’m still going though.

“You’ve got to work at it all year long, you can’t just come out here and play,” Vanderlip added. “It keeps you motivated to do things, that’s for sure.”

And Vanderlip does not take it easy either, as he plays catcher, quite possibly the most physically demanding position on the field.

“I started out doing it in Little League at eight years old and I’ve been doing it now for 60 years,” Vanderlip said of playing catcher.

And he suits up in his gear quite a bit over the course of the summer, too.

“Right now about 50,” Vanderlip said of how many games he plays during the summer. “In my prime, it was like 100.

“Now I play in the ASA Over 50’s and Over 60’s, which were in Arizona last year and they’ve been in Texas. I play for a team out of Texas and a team out of Colorado.”

Over his 40 tournaments in Dunkirk, Vanderlip has collected quite a few memories, as well as some hardware, along the way.“Winning in Dunkirk three times, that’s pretty good,” Vanderlip said. “It’s always good to come down here, but it always seems to be the hottest weekend in July. (Saturday) was a little overcast, but I imagine the sun is going to come out (today) and bake us… The Friday night games are a good time, too.

“I remember in Dunkirk that if you didn’t get your money in by February, you weren’t getting in,” Vanderlip added.

“We had as many as 22 teams at one time,” former tournament director Mike Tofil, who has witnessed, or played in, all 42 tournaments, noted. “And I think that was the year we had 12 teams from Canada. But the exchange rate right now has supposedly really hurt the Canadian teams.”

It seems as though everyone misses the Canadian teams this year, but despite the fact that there are no full teams, there are still some friendly Canadian faces out and about.

“You see the Canadian players scattered all around,” Vanderlip said of the players who did make their way down from north of the border for the three-day long tournament. “Maybe they didn’t bring down the whole team, but they’re still around.”

“Have arm, will travel,” Tofil added with a laugh.

Tofil, who was in charge of putting the tournament together for a number of years, remembered a year similar to this one, where there were very few, or no Canadian representatives.

“Not as much,” Tofil said, when asked if the low exchange rate had kept Canadian teams up north in previous years. “But I think a few years ago when it was down, or we were even paying a little bit extra (there were not many Canadian teams). But I think maybe three years ago, according to the organizers, there were a lot of inquiries and teams just couldn’t afford to pay $200 in US money for a hotel room, which ended up about $275 or $280 (with the exchange rate), plus your gas and food and bringing the family down for the weekend, it gets pretty expensive. A $300 entry fee would turn into a $425 or whatever it was and it was just a little bit too much for some of the teams.”

As for Vanderlip, who wants to play for at least a couple more years, when he reaches 70 years old, the Dunkirk tournament, no matter who shows up, is one he will always enjoy being a part of.

“Talent-wise I’ve been in better tournaments, but competitive-wise, everybody is pretty competitive,” Vanderlip said. “And when you come here on Friday night, you don’t know who is going to be here. I’ve seen some great pitchers here. Some of the greatest pitchers in the world have been here. You just never know who is going to be here.”

As for the talent he has had the opportunity to catch, Vanderlip was quick to note who he thought was the best.

“Todd Martin,” Vanderlip said with little hesitation when asked who the best pitcher he has ever caught was. “He’s a Canadian. And I caught Darren Zack, too.”

It’s hard to argue his judge of talent either, as both Martin and Zack are members of the International Softball Congress’ Hall of Fame.

Friday’s results

Dunkirk Fastpitch I 8, Lakeside Club 7

Dunkirk Fastpitch II 8, Rookies on the Lake 0

Saturday’s scores:

Dunkirk Fastpitch I 8, Dunkirk Lakeside 7

Dunkirk Fastpitch II 8, Rookies on the Lake 0

Iroquois Hitmen 8, Dunkirk Lakeside 6

East Coast Renegades 13, LA Grove 5

Lil Magill’s Bar 9, Dunkirk Lakeside 1

Dunkirk Fastpitch II 8, East Coast Renegades 0

Erie Bud 9, Seadogs 0

LA Grove 4, Rookies on the Lake 2

Lil Magill’s Bar 16, Dunkirk Fastpitch I 0

LA Grove 4, Dunkirk Fastpitch II 0

Erie Bud 9, Iroquois Hitmen 1

Dunkirk Fastpitch I 7, Seadogs 3

East Coast Renegades 8, Rookies on the Lake 6

Erie Bud 1, Lil Magill’s Bar 1

Iroquois Hitmen 3, Seadogs 3

Today’s schedule:

At Promenschenkel Stadium

Game No. 16 — LA Grove vs. East Coast Rengades, 9 a.m.

Game No. 18 — Seadogs vs. Lil Magill’s Bar, 10:45 a.m.

No. 16/18 winners, 12:30 p.m.

At School No. 7

Game No. 17 — Dunkirk Fastpitch I vs. Dunkirk Fastpitch II, 9 a.m.

Game No. 19 — Iroquois Hitmen vs. Erie Bud, 10:45 a.m.

No. 17/19 winners, 12:30 p.m.

Championship game

2:30 p.m. at Promenschenkel Stadium