Hays resident Randy Gottschalk’s competitive slow pitch softball career spanned nearly 40 years and will be recognized Saturday when he’s inducted to the Kansas United States Specialty Sports Association Hall of Fame in Kansas City.
Gottschalk, nearing 60, quit playing in 2011 when doctors suggested he hang it up due to a torn-up shoulder and ailing knee. Even a few years removed from a decorated career on the diamond, the desire to play remains.
“I miss it,” Gottschalk said. “Sometimes I actually feel like getting in shape and playing again.”
Barring an unforeseen comeback, Gottschalk will end his playing days having won numerous world tournaments played all over the country. He was named MVP at two of the highly competitive tournaments.
He fell in love with the game under much different circumstances, however.
The Schoenchen native started playing in Hays, Ellis, La Crosse and Ransom.
“When I was younger, it was more pickup,” he said. “There was no leagues. Whoever showed up at the softball field, you just played.”
His passion for the game increased with age, and he started playing in leagues and began to travel for tournaments.
He skills also developed with time. Gottschalk often played the most trying defensive positions of shortstop and third base.
“A lot of teams I played on, people didn’t like playing third base because it’s the hot corner,” Gottschalk said.
As he started playing in more regulated settings, the approach at the plate had to change as well. When playing pickup around Ellis County, the game resembled a home run derby. USSSA and other leagues have rules to limit the number of home runs a team can hit before they become outs.
“It takes a lot more bat control,” he said. “I prided myself on having pretty good bat control. I rarely hit home runs when I don’t mean to.”
When he’d travel to tournaments, sometimes playing with people he’d never previously met, he’d often end up playing with former collegiate and minor league baseball players. When the questions reached Gottschalk, his teammates were surprised to learn he didn’t even play in high school. Farm work occupied most of his time, not leaving much for organized athletics.
In addition to his memories playing at the national level, some of his fondest memories are closer to his roots. Once his sons grew up, he was able to share the diamond with them, and Hutchinson’s Knights of Columbus tournaments was one of his favorite annual events.
His passion still burns strong enough to play, but his health prevents as much. He was fortunate to ever play after a childhood accident almost took one of his legs. It left a permanent foot drop, and doctors told him he might never play sports.
Considering his late introduction to the game and his checkered physical history, Gottschalk is pretty excited to end his career amongst some his softball buddies at the state hall of fame induction ceremony Saturday.
“It’s a great honor,” Gottschalk said. “I was kinda surprised and shocked. (It’s) pretty neat.”