by Scott Kindberg
Softball's Version of the 'Dream Team'
Former teammates on the Jock Shop modified softball team, they take turns laughing and shouting at a video-taped game that stirs memories of a time in their lives when fun and winning went hand in hand.
Soon the bar area of the club is alive. Laughter and shouting reaches a fever pitch. Pinciaro and Woodfield are joined by other former teammates, all in their 30s and 40s, who continue to watch the video tape of the 1984 Amateur Softball Association 10-man Major Modified championship tournament, which the Jock Shop eventually won.
As reunions go, this one isn't filled with the obligatory small-talk. The 13 men who made up the squad more than a decade ago are a fraternity that time and distance cannot break apart.
"Everybody really liked each other a lot," Pinciaro said.
Putting the Pieces Together
Assembling the team was an evolution. Beginning with Bob Schmitt, Woodfield, Dan Harnish and Bob Burns - the fast-pitch players from the See-Zurh House team - the Jock Shop modified squad began to take shape in the late 70s.
"If we needed somebody, I'd just go ask them," Schmitt said. "They wanted to play because they wanted to see how good they could be."
The switch from fast-pitch to modified-pitch was made out of necessity, according to Schmitt.
"We started playing modified because there was more money and more tournaments, and it just went from there," said Schmitt, who assumed the unofficial title of "manager."
By the early 80s, the Jock Shop was the best modified team in the city, and it earned its share of cash and tournament titles on weekends in its travels from Binghamton, NY to Edinboro, PA and points in between.
"These guys looked like a bunch of wimps (back then)," said sponsor Denny Lundberg, the proprietor of the Jock Shop on Harrison Street in Jamestown. "But they out-ran and out-played everybody."
The lineup had Schmitt, "Schmittie," at first base, Joe "Dondreau" Mistretta at second, John "Dork" Woodfield at third, Burns, "Buns," at shortstop, Bruce "Buck" Sprankle in leftfield, "Scooter" Harnish in left-center, John "Head" Mancari in right-center, and "Juan" Pinciaro in rightfield. Terry "Bags" Woodfield was the catcher and Dave "Boughtie" Boughton the designated hitter. Jim "Mel" Brooks and Pete "Petey Pie" Caprino shared the pitching duties. Steve "Bull" Bowman filled in behind the plate and in the outfield.
"We were winning the league quite regularly," Schmitt said. "We were really good so we had to go other places to play to see how good we really were."
From May through early September, they ate, drank and slept softball. Absences - "It better be a wedding or a funeral. You had to be there," Burns said - were not tolerated.
Winning, and having a good time doing it, was all that mattered.
"We hated to lose," Pinciaro said.
By The Numbers
Combining a blend of solid pitching, defense and hitting, the Jock Shop rarely lost.
"We had guys that could throw strikes and we had guys who could catch the ball. We would really have to mess up to lose," Schmitt said.
In fact, in a five-year stretch the Jock Shop was an amazing 323-33. During that span, it won back-to-back national modified championships (1983 and 1984) after finishing fourth in 1982.
They were softball's answer to the "dream team."
Many opponents were awed just to be on the same field with them.
"'Dork' was the biggest guy on the team. The rest of us were little stumps," Pinciaro said. "(The opponents) looked like they could kill us, but they never did."
Take, for instance, a tournament the Jock Shop entered in Buffalo in 1984.
"I saw an announcement in the Buffalo paper about a modified tournament," Schmitt recalled. "I called them and said we were interested, but I didn't want to sneak in because we were pretty good."
That proved to be an understatement.
The Jock Shop was so dominating that it led 21-0 in the championship game, according to "Bags" Woodfield.
"A guy on the other team hit a home run and he jumped on home plate and said, 'We quit, we're done, we can't beat you guys.'"
Added Schmitt: "We kicked the crap out of everybody in Buffalo. We were apologizing."
A few weeks later, the Jock Shop, firing on all cylinders, went to the nationals in Meadville to defend its championship.
The Jock Shop lost one game in the tournament, a 3-2 setback to Amato's of Long Island, but won the if-necessary game, 7-4. Pinciaro had a two-run home run in the second inning of the title game to support Brooks, the winning pitcher, who scattered seven hits.
"Dork" Woodfield was voted the tournament's Most Valuable Player and Brooks was a first-team pitcher.
Caprino and Burns were second-team selections as pitcher and shortstop, respectively.
"We would never make a mistake," Schmitt said of the Jock Shop's five-year run. "As soon as someone else did, we took advantage of it."
And for half a decade nobody did it better. In fact, it's probably not a reach to suggest they were arguably the best modified team Western New York has ever produced.
Calling It Quits
The Jock Shop returned to the national tournament for a fourth, and final, time in 1985. But a "three-peat" never materialized.
"We tied for sixth and that was pretty much it," Schmitt said. "We'd just had enough."
The most dominant modified team in the city's history finally called it quits.
"We wanted to play until we lost (at the nationals)," Schmitt said. "We lost so we quit"
Added Burns: "It kind of ran its course."
But the stories and friendships from that remarkable era still endure.
"I wouldn't trade it for anything," Schmitt said.
Meanwhile, Pinciaro believes the area will never see a team quite like the Jock Shop team of the 1980s.
"I think there's too much going on today to make that kind of commitment," he said. "The leagues now aren't competitive. That was a softball boom then."