Dirk Stephen Androff was a very gifted athlete who in the short time that he played softball left his mark in the game forever. I have never met a person that put as much into the game of softball as Dirk did.
I would like to share with you some photo's of the Gentle Giant's career and tell you a little bit about how Dirk got started playing Big Time Softball.. It was in the middle of the summer of 1988. We (Silver Bullets) were doing our usual thing playing exhibitions during the week and playing tournaments every weekend. The word was buzzing in the air in the St. Louis area that there was this young kid who could just hit the crap out of a softball. We were getting ready to play an exhibition in Belleville, Illinois on a Monday night. There stood Dirk on the opposing team. At that time Dirk weighed in at about 235. Just a young pup full of energy and with this great big smile. So naturally Dirk hit a couple of home runs against us that evening.
After the game that night I was back at the hotel getting my gear together to take up to my room and up pulls a car and out steps Dirk. He asked me if I knew where Dave Neale was? I said he is in his room. Dirk replied that he wanted to see about getting a tryout for the team. So Dave being the kind of manager that he is (always looking for new talent) he told Dirk that he could hit the next day. So Dirk showed up and hit with Monty Tucker in the afternoon. Needless to say that Dave was mighty impressed with Dirk so he let him go on the road with us for two weeks...
It was a trial period for Dirk. During this trial period we played in different minor league ball parks. We played in the Quad cities of Iowa. We played in Clinton, Rock Island, Dubuque, Davenport and Burlington. The first game Dirk plays in Dave says to him "what position do you play?" Dirk comes back with "anywhere." So Dave puts Dirk in at left center field. Needless to say Dirk was not a left center fielder. So Dirk moved into the infield to third base.
Now on my team that year we had probably more talent than anybody else. We had Bruce Meade, Craig Elliott, Mike Bolen, Charlie Wright, Rick Weiterman, Buddy Slater, Larry Fredieu, Ron Parnell, Doug Roberson, and many other top notch ball players. We actually had enough talent for two teams. It was tuff enough for Dave to make the line up now. What were we going to do with Dirk. So after the two week period Dave said that he was going to have to let Dirk go...Once Dirk found that out he came to my room and explained just how bad he wanted to play softball.
Here was a guy who you would think would be satisfied with what he had at that point in his life. He was married and had a great teaching job at the high school in town.. But yet he tells me that he wants to give up teaching to become a softball player. You see, from the two week period that Dirk was with us I could see in his work ethic that he had what it took to be a great ball player. He had all of the natural talent in the world. He was 6' 7" tall so he definitely had the leverage. He had all of the ingredients of a super ball player. So I went and talked to Dave about keeping him on board.
It didn't take all that much persuasion on my part because like I said before Dave Neale knows talent and I know what he though about Dirk.. So we kept Dirk with us the rest of the year. There was a sad note that very first year at the USSSA World Series. Even though Dirk was on our team you could only have so many people on the rosters. Even though Dirk was at the World Series he did not participate in the event. Now here is the bad part. Even though he was part of our team for the year but not yet on the roster for the tourney he was not awarded a championship ring like every one else on our team. I felt that he was as much a part of our team as anybody else.
So for the remainder of the 1988 season Dirk would get his chance to play. He would play in exhibition games and was doing just fine. Now once we won the USSSA World Series in 1988 people will eventually start trying to pick up players. All I know is Mr. Neale didn't want to lose Dirk.
When the 1989 season was taking shape Dirk was getting himself in tip top condition. One of our first exhibition games that year was in San Bernadino, California at the minor league park there. All Dirk did was hit 5 home runs in a double header over the baseball dimensions sized fields. I remember the day like it was yesterday. Dirk actually hit a couple of balls into the trees in left field...
Standing: Danny Williams, Dirk Androff, Mike Macenko Kneeling: Dan Schuck, Scott Virkus, Ernie Montgomery
After the 1988 season I finally messed myself up and tore my right shoulder (throwing arm) rotator cuff while I was working out with the weights. So when 1989 started I was still doing my rehabilitation for the injury. I started the season with the team but after a month on the road I had to go home to have more therapy done. You know the old saying you need a leader on the field. It has to be one of the players and Dirk just stepped right on in and took the spot. He led the team in home runs the whole season...
He had such a great year for a young kid. In 1988 he set then what is still a record today in the ASA Nationals and that is 8 Home Runs in one game. That record has been tied since that time by John Mello in 1996 at the ASA Super with 8 homers in one game. All you have to do is come up and ask me and I will probably know the answer. Dirk was such a happy go lucky kind of a guy. The first thing he had to do in the morning every day was to check out the USA Today and find the sports section... On the left side here I have a photo of Dirk that they used for the Direct Sports front page of their magazine.
You could just see how hard that Dirk was working. He was always taking that extra batting practice. He knew that if he pushed himself hard enough he could accomplish anything that he wanted. Here is a photo that Direct Sports put on the cover of one of their issues. Even though he stood so tall he liked to coil up when he swung. Notice in the picture how high he is lifting his leg. Also notice where his hands are. He would drop them quite low to get that extra bat speed.
After the 1989 season we had our usual spring training camp. That year it was held in Tucson, Arizona. We had put together a fantasy camp for anybody who wanted to go. I believe we had 7 or 8 people that had joined. It was quite a good week for softball and just seeing the guys again. That is one thing that is out there but nobody really talks about it and that is friendships. I believe that you make friends playing softball that last lifetimes. I have made so many friends playing softball, but it is the players that you play with that you become really close to. There are a number of people that became close to Dirk. I don't believe that no one was any closer to Dirk than was Todd Joerling, Dan Schuck, Rick Weiterman, Doug Roberson, Ron Parnell and Britt Hightower..These were all good people as well as softball players.
These 6 ball players knew how to get the best out of themselves for a game and they were all helpful in Dirk's rise to the top.. So to start our 1990 campaign we lost the services of Doug Roberson and Ron Parnell. They both opted to play with Superior out of Conneticut. The game of softball is a business and it does not matter which team you play for as long as you are playing.. By business I mean just because you don't play on the same team with your friends it should not keep you from having friends...That is very important today. I would sit there and give the other team hell during the game but as soon as it was over with I am still their friend..
Here is another photo of our championship team in 1990. Dirk batted .780 with 15 home runs to help our team to the victory...
1990 was such a great experience I think for all of the guys on the team. We were really a close nit group. People use to ask Dave Neale how it was to handle all of these big players and his reply was that it was like being a big baby sitter.. As you know we won the ASA and the NSA in 1990 but I think it was the ISA world tourney that really put our team in perspective. We played the ISA in Cooper Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. This is quite a big ballpark. Just so that you understand it better the dimensions were 350 down the left field line and 340 to right. The week prior to this tourney we had lost our first game in a long time. We had won 142 games in a row. So Dave being the smart manager that he was decided to change the line up. Up until the week before I was leading off with Dirk right behind me. When ever we had played at Cooper Stadium before the wind always blew in from left field making it almost impossible to hit it out to left.
Back Row: Rik Lucas, Mike Macenko holding daughter Amanda, Billy Blake, John Grissom, Monty Tucker, Dirk Androff, Dan Schuck, Ray Whitaker, Rick Weiterman. Front Row: Danny Williams, Terry Perryman, Ernie Montgomery, Dave Neale Sr. Bat Boy, Todd Joerling, Greg Schulte, Scott Virkus, Joe Foley...
So Dave decides to turn our order around and says Dirk you lead off and get on base for Mike. Well that never happened because that whole weekend the wind if any at all blew out to left. It made great hitting conditions for our team because we have been playing in baseball stadiums for some time now. All Dirk did was lead the tournament in Home Runs with 9. I finished behind him with 8. The best part about the weekend was that one of the smallest players on our team was the MVP. Ernie Montgomery played an absolute outstanding defense and was just as explosive at the plate. We were playing so good that Ritch's (who Dirk would later play for) gave up and quit halfway through the championship game. I told my team mates at that time that if we won the grand slam of softball I would retire right then because I really felt that it could not get any better. I guess I was wrong because we lost the USSSA and I played another 7 years..
It was after our great season of 1990 that Dirk parted ways with the Men of Steeles. It was not because he wanted to do it, it was once again "business". So Dirk joined forces with the Ritch's Superior team, along with Ron Parnell, Rick Weiterman, and Doug Roberson. He would continue to get better each year and all he did was lead his team to a number of World titles. They did things that no other team did or will ever do. He was the MVP of the USSSA World Series in 1991, the MVP of the Smokey Mountain Classic in 1994 and many, many more tournaments. The Ritch's team did things that no other team has done and that was winning all four legs of the Grand Slam in 1992. The list goes on and on...
Back Row: J.C. Phelps, Phil Jobe, Scott Elliott, Rusty Baumgartner, Dirk Androff, Charles Wright, Larry Fredeiu, Hank Garris. Front Row: Doug Roberson, Greg Harding, Brit Hightower, Tim Williamson, Bobby Gilbert, Mike Macenko
The reason I am putting this page together is that I am able to do this for my friends that I have played with. I want people to know more about what a great softball player and person Dirk was. I remember the first thing Dirk asked me about lifting weights. Which exercise or which body part do you think is the most important and I said your legs. Your legs will carry you through those long grueling games in the loser’s bracket.. If you have had the chance to see Dirk play you will know what I mean about your legs. Dirk had such strong legs it was almost unbelievable. But they didn't just get like that over night.
There was a lot of hard work and determination involved. This is why it is such a shame to lose a person like Dirk. Dirk was such a happy go lucky kind of guy and it seemed like he finally had his life the way he wanted it. Playing the game that he loved so much and was very happily married and had his own son named Dirk Jr. This is the real reason it is such a shame to lose him at this young age in his life. BUT I can only say that God needed him more for something more important in Heaven. I know that I will never forget him.
My prayers go out to his wife Chrissy and his son Dirk Jr. I know that you will see him again when we are all together at our final place. I am sure that Dirk is hitting leadoff just before the Babe and Mickey. They sure must have one heck of a ball team in heaven.