I met Jeff Wallace a long time ago while playing softball in Clevland, Ohio at Softball World. The first time I saw Jeff he was playing with Pace. He was doing the catching and hitting the ball with some pretty good authority. You notice when someone is really attacking the ball in their swing. He was a very strong person who fell i love with the game of softball.

Big Cat : With the way the winter has hit different parts of the country this yearI know that you are probably anxious to get outside and play some ball.

Zoomer : Yeah Big Cat, I am really starting to get that itch again. You know what I am talking about don't you?

Big Cat : I think I can relate to that idea Jeff. So Jeff the softball world wants to know a little bit about the Zoomer. Every great player has to have a nick name. How did you get yours.?

Zoomer : It was in 1996 when I got my chance to play in the best softball league that there was. The Super's Division of amateur softball. Dave Neale picked me up to play with the Steele's Hitmen in the ISA Men's Major World Series that was held in Salem, Oregon at Wallace Marine Park. We were playing against Shen Valley and I hit a couple of homers that as you say Big Cat "zoomed right out of the park". Ever since that time the name has just stuck.

Big Cat : You say that you played baseball in high school. Did you have a chance to pursue any avenues in that.?

Zoomer : I really liked baseball in high school and my team did fairly well . But nothing really happened for me except that we played in the regional three years in a row. I enjoyed playing baseball in high school.

Big Cat : What did you do your first year out of high school as far as playing ball goes..?

Zoomer : I got onto a team that was playing fast pitch softball through out Canada for a while. It was in the middle of 88 while I was still playing fast pitch when the Silver Bullets came to Liverpool, New York. I had heard all these stories about all of the guys on the team on how far they could hit a softball. So I decided to go and see for myself and ended up playing against them.

Big Cat : Did you find anything out that night about the Hitmen.

Zoomer : The first thing I realized was that on defense the ball was coming at me at a speed I had never scene before in softball. After a couple of innings of this and watching them play I realized that this was what I was looking for. I will never forget it. I was on first base playing defense and I winked at my wife in the stands and told her that no matter how long it took I would be playing this brand of ball.

Big Cat : How did you go about getting hooked up with a big time softball team. That seems to be a tall order in the softball world today.

Zoomer : "I kept pursuing my dream of playing this level of softball and Dave Neale had the confidence in me to give me a try. I was hitting the ball really well in 1996. I was working double time trying to improve my game. I was on my way to breakfast one morning at the Smoky Mountain Classic and Mr. Neale said to "sit down and lets talk". At the time I was playing with Pace out of New York a Class AA team. I was playing with them in USSSA and decide the only way to be seen is to be there. So when I wasn't playing with them I was playing ASA with Roger New on his New Construction team out of Indiana. I ended up playing in over 20 tourneys that summer.

Big Cat : How did you think you were going to benefit from playing all those tournaments. You say that you were driving too all of these tourneys also. Why?

Zoomer : I knew that if I was where the action was, all I had to do was keep getting better and somebody was going to give me a shot. "I had that much confidence in myself." For me it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Big Cat : One of the reasons I have made these interviews available on my web page is so that players of all ages can see just what you have to do to try and maintain this level of play. In other words to find out a little bit about what makes you tick. Is there a certain exercise that you do in the off season that maybe some one can pick up on and maybe help their game.?

Zoomer : I am a firm believer that your lower back plays a significant role in helping with proper hitting techniques. I really stress doing the dead lifts. This exercise helped me with my quads. I feel it has helped me with driving into the ball. It also helps me with utilizing my leg power. I am always thinking about back leg drive. This is something else that you taught me Big Cat.

Big Cat : I might have taught you about it when you first came up but since that time you have kept it going yourself. What other exercises do you think are very beneficial for the softball player during the summer.

Zoomer : I try and do my tri-ceps at least once and some times twice a week during the season. This exercise really helps me with my bat speed and helps me with my exploding through the ball at the point of impact. I feel that swinging a bat is a pulling motion so that is why I concentrate on my back so much also. I want to be able to pull the bat through that hitting zone with great speed and quick wrists.

Big Cat : Since you and I both live up North during the winter, where the snow piles up to over 5 foot tall banks is there something you can do in the winter to keep up the maintenance program for the Super level and really all levels of play of softball.

 

Zoomer : Big Cat you and I both know that in this type of softball it is coming at you faster than ever. Since I play first base in the infield, I like to go to a gym and have my brother hit me ground balls one right after another. I will try and go the high school or find a gym in the area that can accommodate something like this. I will probably take 200 grounders every time we do this. My brother has helped me a lot with the infield plus the batting practice and every thing in general.

Big Cat : Since we know that you like hitting so much can you give the other fellow ball players an idea of how much batting practice you take a week.

Zoomer : I want to say something here first for the up and coming players. Don't ever take nothing for granted. It takes a lot of hard work to make it to the best, so don't get frustrated and put your time in and good things will happen. I take anywhere from 600 to 700 swings during the week before a tournament. I will do a full body workout on Monday and then follow that up with something light on Wednesday. I believe I can swing enough times Mon - Fri to get any stiffness out from the weights. The most important aspect of the game that a lot of people take for granted and that is defense. Every time you hit you should take at least 50 to 100 ground balls. I think people have put all the emphasis on hitting and are leaving an important part of the game at home.

Big Cat : How do you feel about the defense on the level that you play. How good are these players?

Zoomer : I am simply amazed at some of the things I have witnessed while playing. To watch a guy as big as Rusty Baumgardner diving all over the field is phenomenal. I think that Todd Martin is just a phenom! He can do what ever he wants at any given time. Then you have a player like John Mello playing shortstop that does stuff that will make your head spin. I remember one in particular. Jeff Hall was hitting and Jeff is one of the best all around ball players in the game. Well Jeff hits a screaming line shot up the middle on the ground for what I thought for sure was a base hit. I am not hurrying or anything but as I am working my way to first I could tell from the crowds reaction that he must of caught it. So now I am busting my tale to get to first base and make the play. With the luck of a leprechaun I do make it back in time and here comes this ball about 90 miles per hour. I reach up and grab the ball like it's nothing but inside I am saying to myself how in the hell did he catch that. This is the type of play that goes on all the time. You can never relax.

Big Cat : So are you saying that there is a difference when it comes to playing defense on different levels. If yes, can you explain it a little more.

Zoomer : I don't know how much you can explain something like that. Lets say for instance I played 3rd base or short-stop in my leagues back home. I am not downing the leagues or anything but I could play those positions like Ozzie Smith. The ball is coming much slower at that level. On the super level you have to be ready for rockets all day long. So take a lot of ground balls.

Big Cat : So you have been playing organized softball ever since 1988. Did you jump right in or did you have to work your way up?

Zoomer : I started out in D and eventually worked my way up to the supers. I played C, B, A and even AA. I played with Pace and Sonny's out of New York. I played for Steele's in the four nationals in 1996 and the next year I played for So Jern's out of New Jersey. Last year everybody should know that I played with Team TPS and eventually we won the USSSA World Series.

Big Cat : Jeff, how long do you plan on playing this great game.?

Zoomer : I would like to play the game until I am in my 40's. I truly love the game of softball and yes I would play the game for nothing. I see where you are coming back to play at 43 Big Cat so I am hoping that I can play that long. You always told me that I wouldn't reach my prime until I was 30 years old. I am 29 now so I am looking for good things this year. I have put the extra effort in the gym so I will be ready when it is time..

Big Cat : Jeff here is another question for the players to learn from. What are you thinking about or looking for when you go to the plate?.

Zoomer : All players should know when they are in a groove or not, and when I am in my groove I feel so confident at the plate that I feel I can handle any pitch that they throw me in the strike zone. Now if I am struggling a little bit or a whole lot I will go to the plate with the thought in mind of"hey lets look for a good pitch that I can hit hard somewhere". If I am not connecting on all cylinders then I will become more selective. The whole idea is to help my team win and if I go up and just start swinging at everything they throw me I am not helping the cause. You have to do what ever is good for the team. I don't want to make any outs. Bottom line..

Big Cat : What are your thoughts on the current bat and ball situation?

Zoomer : I hope they can regulate some type of order with the bats and balls both. I don't understand why last year we played with a 40 core ball in Maryland the one weekend. I was walking in the parking lot and a spectator said "hey son can you tell us where the Supers were playing at?" I said "right there".The game they had just watched and I think the score was 2-1. We had actually gone from one extreme to another. I think that softball is an exciting game to play and people want to see the home run. But they want to see scores of 90 to 80 either.I remember last year in Minnesota I think the ball had a compression of .750 or better. Now that's going the other way too much. The games were going way into the night. To sum it up it is like the golf game, the equipment keeps getting better but you can't rebuild all the courses. The same thing when it comes to softball.

Big Cat : Jeff I know that you have been around the softball circuit now for 5 years or better. Is there a specific compression you would like to see the balls at?

Zoomer : Big Cat I would like to see the balls right about 450 lb. compression. I have hit different compression balls for the last couple of years and the more compression in the ball the more the bat is going to dent. I am hoping that the associations will put their foot forward and start enforcing some type of rule on balls. I believe the USSSA this year is using a .47 core ball. A .47 core ball is great but the compression has to be right.

Big Cat : How do feel about this upcoming season with Team TPS?

Zoomer : I feel that we should be the number 1 ranked team in the country because of our defense. I just feel like we have the better players in certain positions on defense. Now don't get me wrong, the other teams have great defenses too but I feel ours is better. When we play at the baseball stadiums in the nationals at the end of the year this is where this really comes into play. On 300 foot fence ball parks any of the top 5 or 6 teams can win on any givin weekend. My reasoning for that is because of the talent on this level of play. When we play at 300 ft. fences defense doesn't come into play that much but when it does you have to make the play, or else it could cost you 20 runs.

Big Cat : Jeff is there any certain moments in softball that are more memorable than others.? If so can you tell us about a couple of them.

Zoomer : Yes there are a couple of them. One of them is when I was playing for the two teams back in 1996. I remember I was driving everywhere to play so that maybe somebody would see me. I drove 15 hours to play in the Smoky Mountain Classic. I remember we got beat by Lighthouse 55 to 53. I was thoroughly drained when the game was over. But I never played in front of such great crowds. All I could think of was I want to come back and play the following year. That was when I talked to Mr. Neale about playing with his team. So I say it again sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time so I made sure I was there when it was time by driving those 15 hours to Maryville, Tennessee.
Another time I will never forget is when I played with you in Salem, Oregon in the ISA Major Worlds Series. I had basically played first base and 2nd base while I was playing with New Construction and Pace that year. I remember taking batting practice before the game with you and the team and Mr. Neale comes up to me and asked if I had ever pitched? I tell him yes a little bit in batting practice. So I am not even thinking about anything else because I am a little nervous about what I am getting into. We walk over to the field and Mr. Neale reads the line up off and he says Wallace pitch. I don't say nothing but I did kind of swallowed hard. I thought to myself that this is my chance and I am not going to blow it now. So I pitched against Shen Valley and was doing pretty good until about the third inning. Then the flood gates opened . The next thing I know we have gone through 4 different pitchers and now I am back on the mound. We ended up losing by 15 or 20 runs, I am not sure. So that is a moment that I don't think I could ever forget.

Big Cat : How about some of your personal achievements Jeff. What are some of those that stand out in your mind.?

Zoomer : Lets start with winning the MVP award last year when we won the NSA Major World Series. That should be every ball players goal. To be the MVP one time. I know that not everyone can be one but there is nothing wrong on setting your goals in such high places. Thanks to Dave Neale for believing in me because with his bringing me on board I was able to participate in the worlds at the end of the year and ended up winning the ASA Super batting average champion. You have to understand that these are personal goals and they are great but the most important goals to me are our team goals. When you say team or Team TPS winning the USSSA World Series last year I get chills just thinking about it. By far the greatest feeling I have ever felt. I didn't know Dirk Androff all that well but there was something there all weekend that was like helping us out. When ever there was to be a break in the game we just about got them all. I mean look at the score against Sierra when we won by one run. Mike Rodrigus hits one 5 feet short of a home run which meant victory for us. I don't know, all I am saying that there was something magical about the whole weekend.

Big Cat : What are your goals for this year?

Zoomer : To try and win as many tournaments as possible. To possibly win all four nationals at the end. That is the ultimate goal in softball so I am shooting for that.

Big Cat : Jeff you led the country in OBP the majority of last year with an OBP of over .800. You ended up losing it on your last at bat to Wendell Rickard. Have you thought about that this winter?

Zoomer : To be totally honest with you Mike I never thought about it. It was almost a month later when I had heard that I had lost it. To me that is a personal goal and those are second fiddle. My first and utmost responsibility is to win championships for whatever team I am playing for. So I guess it just leaves something for me to shoot for this year. Ha! Ha!

Big Cat : One last question Jeff. Is there anybody that you want to thank for your success in softball?

Zoomer : I want to thank my wife Colleen, my daughters Erica, Hope, and Brooke for their support and encouragement for letting me pursue my dream of becoming the best softball player I can possibly be. I also want to thank my brother Dave for all the batting practice, hitting me the ground balls and just going that extra distance for me.. One last person who has always been in my corner and that is Gordie Heagle. He is not only my father in law but has helped me with my softball career. When you have people pushing and wanting good things to happen for you there is not a better feeling. Thanks also to you Big Cat for this article and I want to say to all softball players this year, "give it your best".

 

If you want to talk to or ask Jeff any questions about softball you can e-mail him at


 


 

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