I thought I would do an interview with the most recognizable softball player of all-time. He is none other than Big Bruce Meade. When you talk about softball today the first person that most people will think about is Big Bruce. Bruce had the biggest impact on softball back in the late 70's and all through the 80's right into the 90's. His handlebar mustache was his trademark for his appearance, but it was his ability to hit the long ball and carry such a high batting average that put him a top the totem pole. Bruce was nice enough to do an interview with me on Tuesday the 23rd of March in the year 1999
Bruce: The pleasure was all mine Mike. Believe it or not but I feel like I am hitting the ball better now than I did the last couple years when I was still playing big time softball.
Big Cat: Is there any one reason that you feel that way Bruce?
Bruce: Yes as a matter of fact there is a reason for it. The weight room. I have to believe that this was the difference in my hitting today and my hitting when I was getting towards the end of my playing career with big time ball.
Big Cat: Can you explain in a little more detail what you mean?
Bruce: As you know Mike the weights have been a big part of my life when it comes to hitting a softball. Towards the last few season in the big time ball I wasn't lifting like I should have. I was getting a little lazy with the weights and it showed. So I decided to go back to the weights and boy I can't believe the difference the weights make. I am actually looking forward to playing this year.
Big Cat : Bruce lets take a look back at your athletic career a little bit. Did you play any sports while you were growing up?
Bruce : Yes Mike. I was very active as a boy growing up. I didn't play football or baseball. What I did do was roller skate. I started roller skating when I was 8 and continued skating until I was in high school. I skated free style and ended up being the regional champion for boys 18 years old and under.
Big Cat : Were there any other sports that you played?
Bruce : Believe it or not I was on the high jump team and I also pole vaulted. I think the best I ever did in the pole vault was was 10 ft in. So I grew up roller skating and was on the track team at the same time.
Big Cat : Bruce you say that you went to a junior college for a couple of years. Did you participate in anything while you were at college.
Bruce : I was involved in a intramural contest one day and I threw a softball 345 feet. Once the track coach got wind of that he asked me to come and throw the javelin. So I did and my best throw was 230 feet. I threw the javelin good enough where East Tennessee gave me a scholarship to the school for track. I then proceeded to walk on for the football team and made it. I was playing tight end and was doing a heck of a job. I was doing good enough where I had a couple of scouts from the New York Jets come and look at me. But for some unknown reason I didn't pursue the football career.
Big Cat : Jerome tells me a story about an incident when you played for RT.. Nelsons. He tells me that RT.. made a special field just where his softball team could work out. He also told me that there was a water tower that stood right next to the ball field. He said that one day the boys were out there trying to see who could throw the ball over the water tower. What happened then?
Bruce : As you know I was brought in to play for RT.. because of my ability to hit the long home runs. Little did they know about me having a great arm. So someone said "hey Bruce, why don't you give it a try?" So I walked up and on the first try I threw the ball completely over the water tower. It would be tough for anybody to do that today.
Big Cat : Anything you do wouldn't really surprise me. Bruce, since you haven't played big time softball for a couple of years now have you ever had time to reflect on or reminisce about the career that you have had or about old times?
Bruce : You really don't look for that. I am looking forward to playing some more softball yet. I don't have time to sit around and think about it. I feel that I am still young enough to still play some competitive ball. I play in a league in Sarasota once or twice a week. I play on a 50 and over team called Orange Crush out of Ft. Lauderdale. We will play tournaments twice a month during the summer. I also play for a team called Wagner Paint. This team will travel to Reno, Colorado, Palm Springs. There is plans for the team to go to Japan to play ball. To play on the Wagner team you have to live in a 75 mile radius. pretty strict rules for 50 and over.
Big Cat : Bruce I get a lot e-mail in my web page about how do I get on a team like that? What does it take to play big time softball. Can you tell everybody just how you got started?
Bruce : No problem there Mike. I was playing for a team called Copher Brothers out of Tampa. I was playing on that team because I could hit. We even went to Cleveland in 1975 for the ASA tourney. But this was not your basic super team. It was after the 1975 season and actually the beginning of the 76 season when the Warren Brothers asked me to come hit for them and see if I was good enough to make their team. They had heard about how good I could hit but they wanted to see first hand what I was all about. So it was the Warren brothers and me on our way to the ball field. I was hitting on the main field and was hitting the ball over the fence and across the parking lot out past the outfield fence. They threw me 50 balls and I hit half of them out. They said I had made the team. Another fellow was trying out the same day I was. His name was Ronnie Ford. I didn't have to say too much about Ronnie. He made the team also and we went on to win the ASA crown that year. We had a coach by the name of Darrell Leeks and he would push Ronnie. He would hit him ground ball after ground ball. During that season of 1976 I saw Ronnie Ford make plays at shortstop that I feel your Major League baseball player couldn't make. He was absolutely incredible. That is why I want to give credit to Darrell here because he really use to make us mad at him. He would work us so hard that you would cuss him and everything else. But you see I knew what he was doing and it was paying off. I mean nobody could touch us. I know that we owe a lot of our success to Darrell. Before our tryouts they had there team put together. We were the missing links.
Big Cat : So you are saying that you had to actually try out?
Bruce : Yes.
Big Cat : Lets go back into time a little bit Bruce. I remember in 1977 when I had arrived at the ball park for the ASA nationals, which was held in Parma, Ohio. That is the year of the great comeback from Nelson's Painting Service. Can you reflect on that a little?
Bruce : I remember it like it was yesterday. We had gotten beat by Ken Sanders early in the tournament and ended up going through the losers bracket to come back and double dip them. Those games against Ken Sanders that weekend were the most exciting softball games I was ever in. Ken Sanders was ranked number 1 when we come to Parma for the tourney. We let them beat us on Saturday by the score of 21 - 20. We ended up playing one more game in the losers bracket on Saturday. We knew we had a long day ahead of us for Sunday, so we went to bed and got up the next morning ready to play. We won the first game at 9 am that morning against a team called Gartenhaus from Connecticut by the score of 9-6. We went back to the hotel for about an hour of sleep. Now when we returned this time it was play ball till you lose. We beat Jerry's, Howard's, and then we proceeded to double dip Ken Sanders. I remember the one brother from Warren Motors was so upset about a personal bet that he had made with Mr. Howard that he was climbing the fence. He was actually going haywire. He had made a $10,000 bet with Mr. Howard that they would finish higher than our team. Mr. Howard got $10,000 richer real quick.
Here is a photo of Big Bruce playing for the great team called Dave Carrol out of Denver, North Carolina. This photo was taken at the NSPC Mens Major World Series at Birmingham, North Carolina in 1980..
Big Cat : Do you remember any of the stats for the players that weekend?
Bruce : They ended up giving me the MVP award for my performance. I batted .640 with 22 home runs and had a tourney high of 40 rbi's. They made me Co-MVP with Craig Elliott from Ken Sanders. Craig batted .722 with 18 home runs and had 32 rbi's. I had another player on my team with numbers identical to mine and that was Herman Rathman. He batted .640 with 22 home runs and 39 rbi's. I believe there was 46 teams in that tourney back then. I know one thing and that is that those 3 games against Ken Sanders might be the best games I was ever in. I mean we won 3 games by a total of 3 runs.
Big Cat : That was the year (1977) that you hit the one ball off the building in left field that they measured at 403 feet. 403 feet back then was considered a mammoth blast.
Bruce : You know Mike I don't like to brag about myself but I do think I hit a couple of balls that weekend that went a lot farther than the 403 shot.
Here is a photo of Big Bruce playing for the great team called Dave Carrol Sports Company out of Sherrills Ford, North Carolina. This photo was taken at the NSPC Mens Major World Series at Birmingham, Alabama in 1980..
Big Cat : I know that you were hitting the crap out of the ball. Bruce is there one thing that you think that has changed over the years when talking about softball. The equipment, the players, rules?
Bruce : It's like this Mike. Back in 1977 there were 5 players in the entire country that could hit a ball over 400 feet. Today there is 5000 players that can hit the ball over 400 feet consistently. I know that the equipment has gotten better but so has the athlete. With all the supplement use out there and the weight lifting programs that your athlete itself has gotten bigger and stronger. I feel it has changed more ways than one.
Big Cat : You say that the equipment has changed quite a bit in the last 10 years. Can you explain this a little bit?
Bruce : Today you have polyurethane softballs compared to the cork balls that I first played with when I started playing softball. In the 1980's the bat was so hard that it was the cork ball that gave and you could actually compress the cork ball. There was no telling how far you could hit the cork ball. With today's bats the walls are so thin that the bat will give now before the ball does. Main reason being the polyurethane ball is so hard. So the walls of the bat are what is going to give first. For example Mike, the ball I hit 510 feet in Amarillo, Texas way back in 1978, was a cork ball. So I believe you had to be able to compress the cork ball for it to go anywhere. With today's double wall technology and the high compression softballs it doesn't surprise me at all the number of home runs that are being hit. I had a photographer take a picture of me for a newspaper article in 1975 and it actually showed the cork ball wrapped around the bat when I made contact. "So yes, the times have changed." It si like when we played years ago you earned your home runs. Today you can buy your home runs.
Big Cat : What about big time sponsors Bruce. You played for the best teams in the country for years. What are some of your opinions on the past sponsors of this great game.
Bruce : The sponsors that I played for were you regular business men. They all owned some type of businesses. Whether it was a painting company or a food caterer, they were their own bosses. They were great people that knew what they wanted and went after it. Without these people softball would not be where it is today.
Big Cat : Were there certain things that would separate one sponsor from another.
Bruce : Not really Mike. They all had the love for the game and that was what mattered most. I can say that Jerry Pendergrass was the best sponsor I ever played for. Because he actually spoiled me and everyone else who was on the team. Jerry was special in his own way. He was your typical family man. It came down to family oriented things. He would treat everyone equally. If you wanted your family to go, they could when ever they wanted to. He would fly the whole family in with out any hesitation. He knew that a person that was married and had a family would be happiest with his family there so that's what he did. He flew every body in. And that is what I mean by spoiling me. After playing for him if I wanted to bring my family in I might have to pay for it. So those 31/2 years I played for him have to be the best when it comes to sponsorship. I really enjoyed playing for R.T. Nelson also. He was a special kind of man.
Big Cat : Bruce, you have played for so many great teams and played against what some people call the creme of the crop softball players, who were some of your favorites to play with or against.
Bruce : First you would have to say yourself Mike. You were the type of player who would always get the big hit. So we hated it when you came to the plate. There was Mike Nye, who I seen make some of the most unbelievable catches you ever saw. There was Herman Rathman, Ray Fleetwood, Ronnie Ford, Rick Wheeler, Danny Basso, Rick Scherr, Bill Gatti, Joe Young, Doug Brown. These players just seemed to always get the job done. When ever the tough got going these would get tougher. I also enjoyed playing against players like Don Arndt, Stan Harvey, Craig Elliott. Yes I feel like these were the creme of the crop softball players. Nothing against the players of today. I just really enjoyed playing with these players.
Big Cat : What about Buddy Slater? You didn't forget about Buddy.
Bruce : How could I forget about the best pitcher to ever play the game. No Mike I didn't forget about Buddy. He was the best pitcher for getting players to swing off balance. He would try and make you hit his pitch. Rick Weiterman was a great pitcher also. He knew how to pitch to different ball players and would remember it day in and day out. I really don't think that Rick got the recognition that he deserved. Here was a player that was sitting the bench for teams when he was the best base hitter in the game. How could any team not play him. I have seen times when he would just be coaching and I would say to myself"wow" this guy should be playing.
Big Cat : Bruce I want to see if you remember a certain time when my Steele's team played your Smythe Sox team. We were in Petersburg, Virginia and you guys were beating us by a small margin. Anyway in the bottom of the 5th inning Buddy Slater struck out not one, but two of my players in the same inning looking. The best part about it was that they were both behind the back pitches that just froze my hitters. One of them was Ken Loeri and the other was Ricky Huggins. We were just starting to get it together when Buddy saved the day and struck these two players out. Needless to say my manager Dave Neal was foaming at the mouth. He hollered out to at least swing the bat. You never know what will happen, but you have to give yourself the chance. So we are making our comeback when the roof fell in. Just to make matters worse, the next inning Bruce comes to the plate with bases loaded. Dave never being the manager to put someone on said pitch to him. So Ricky thinking he might try a little trickery too gets the count to 2 and 2 and decides to throw one from behind his back like Buddy did to try and catch you looking. I still laugh about what happened next. You hit the behind the back pitch into the top of the trees in left field. I don't just mean over the fence, I mean over the top of the 50 foot high trees. I mean I was mad that you hit the home run but it was funny how you hit the behind the back pitch. Needless to say Dave Neale walked out onto the field and said you see fellas that how it is supposed to be done. Enough said.
Bruce : Yes Mike I remember that . It was pretty funny at the time. It wasn't too funny to Dave though. That's when you have to be mentally prepared to hit. You always want to try and get that big hit every time it is called for.
Big Cat : Bruce is there anyone time that you remember the most, or is there a couple of things that stand out in your own mind?
Bruce : I would have to say winning championships the hard way. You know what I mean. Losing that first game in a tournament and then marching back through the losers bracket just to spoil someone else's party. In 1983 we lost our first game of the USSSA World Series to Capitol Insulation and then came storming back to double dip your Steele's team at the time. I remember I set the home run record that week end with 18 hr's. That was good enough to earn me another MVP at the National level. That was what it was all about. Winning National championships. The other time that stands out in my mind Mike is when my Smythe Sox team beat your Steele's team again in the USSSA World Series. It was held in Waterloo, Iowa that year. That's when your Steele's team set the record for runs in a USSSA World Series game with 84. Your team was getting ready to double dip my team this time and the score was something like 32 to 17 with your team ahead in the final game. There was two outs and somebody popped up to short left field. I think there was 2 players on base. Anyway Doug Roberson gets a late jump on the ball and Ronnie Parnell doesn't go out to get the ball and the ball fell in for a base hit. That just opened the flood gates for us. You had given us one more chance that you did not need. When the inning was over we had taken the lead from your team. Mark Herlmeir hit two home runs that inning and both times he ran the bases doing the Pee Wee Herman dance. It made Virkus so mad that he wanted to fight Mark right there on the field. It was times like those that you won't forget. When it comes down to a dog fight. May the best man win.
Big Cat : As I said before Bruce I think the ball players today are more willing to listen and learn today from the old pros. They want to know what kind of drills did you do. What type of weights do you lift.
Bruce : You have a commitment to the sport. You have to have dedication. I have always felt that softball is a full body swing. You have to use every muscle in your body to make that softball travel a long way. I personally do squats for my legs. I still do them to this day. I feel that is the strongest muscles on your body so you must make them the strongest. When ever I work my legs I do thigh extensions, and hamstring curls. When ever I bench I do clings and military presses. I will do Hammer curls for my arms. The most I ever benched was 465 lb.. At the age of 49 I still bench 375 to 400. As I said before weight lifting can only help make you stronger. Your stomach is a very important muscle also. I am a firm believer that a strong stomach will in turn give you a strong back. Don't forget to work those abs.
Big Cat : As far as batting practice goes do you still take your batting practices seriously?
Bruce : Of course I still do. I hit every time I get a chance. Quality batting practice is a must for all types of hitters. I will work on all types of situations when I take batting practice. I try and look for my zone pitch when I am at the plate. I know what pitches I hit the best and that is what I work on. I will take a walk in a heartbeat. Let the next guy do it. That is why I hit for such a high average. Discipline.
Big Cat : Bruce, you and I played together at the Olympic Festival in 1989 at Oklahoma City. We were trying to put slo pitch softball into the Olympics. Do you remember what happened back then with the whole situation? Why it was turned down.
Bruce : I remember that event Mike. We were trying to get slo pitch into the Olympics and the best way to do it was to get in the Festival games. If it worked there and people wanted to see it in the Olympics then it would have happened. I really don't think some of the players really knew what we were playing for. They had made it kind of tough for the players because they brought in a new ball for the event. The Wilson Optima. Most of the players were used to playing with the Dudley or Steele's Skyhawk back then and the balls were not too live by no means but they would still go if you hit them. When they brought out the Optima it was such a tough ball to hit. I mean I hit some of the hardest balls in my life that weekend and they never made it over the fence. It all depended on how you swung at the ball. Needless to say that some of the guys showed their frustration to the umpires and when they talked about putting slo pitch into the Olympics they said "No". So I knew then that it would probably never get put in. I was just glad to be part of the festival..
Big Cat : So after all these years you are once again looking forward to playing ball this summer Bruce?
Bruce : Believe it or not but when we were playing all those big games all those years that was tough mentally on a person. I can say that I am looking forward to playing this summer. To just go out and have fun. Don't get me wrong, I will be trying to win National Championships for what ever team I play for, but the mental torture will not be there like it was in the days of Jerry's, Nelson's, Elite and Smythe Sox.
Big Cat : When we were talking a little bit about your family before Bruce, would like to reflect on what your family has meant to you during your softball career?
Bruce : I was blessed with a great wife who has been behind me since day one. She has been with me from the get go. When ever I might need that push to keep on going she was there to keep pushing me. I love my family very much and there is nothing more important than family. I owe Ellen for everything that I have ever attained . I had two kids that grew up on the softball diamonds. I am a very proud father of my children. My son Blake is playing the game of golf and is pretty darn good at it too. My daughter Bryce had a couple of scholarships offered to her for fast pitch but she turned them down to pursue other activities. As I said before no man is prouder than I am of my family. Family is what it is all about.
Big Cat : Bruce I have one last question for you. When I was down there in Sarasota a couple of weeks ago hitting with you, you hit one out of Sarasotas High School baseball field in dead center at 405 feet. What I want to know is will Ellen let you play one more time on the big circuit with my team this year. I think I can find a spot in the line up for you. The fences are still 300 feet, so I think that won't be a problem.
Bruce : Mike it would be a thrill to come back and play at that level one more time. We will have to wait and see what happens. As usual Ellen will probably make me go. Ha! Ha!
Big Cat : Bruce it has been fun talking to you. I will be talking to you this summer. Now I need to get the new Nike Air Storm bat in your hands. It really wouldn't matter with you though. You could hit it out with a broomstick