Mark Rako’s fast-pitch softball career began 41 years ago as a 14-year-old boy on the old field in Arthur.
Over the course of a career that spanned five decades “Vinnie”, as he was better known by teammates and opponents alike, developed into one of the best pitchers in the area.
“I don’t think some people even know my real name,” Rako joked.
This Sunday at 2 p.m. Rako will be inducted into the Southwest Wisconsin Fast Pitch Hall of Fame in a ceremony held at Boscobel’s Kronshage Park. Rako is part of the six-person Class of 2013.
An old-timers fast pitch game featuring many former players from Southwest Wisconsin will begin at 12:30 p.m.
The 7th annual Hall of Fame Men’s Fast Pitch Softball Tournament will be held on Saturday and Sunday. The championship game will follow the induction ceremony. Food and beer stands will be available all weekend at the Kronsage Park ball diamond.
Donations to help pay for the monument and support future endeavors of the Hall of Fame will be accepted and greatly appreciated. Memorial spaces and paving bricks are available for purchase as well. The granite monument is located next to the ball diamond and is a wonderful tribute to the players of the game.
Rako’s Hall of Fame career began modestly all those years ago.
“I couldn’t get to town for high school athletics, but some older guys used to play fast-pitch in Arthur and they used to pick me up on the way to the field,” Rako recalls. “One night they were short players and they threw me in the outfield. Pretty soon I was playing every week.”
Rako played many positions as a teenager and began pitching at the age of 16. He became a full-time pitcher in his mid 20s playing in over 100 games for a few seasons in the mid-80s, until arm and shoulder injuries stalled his pitching career in 1987.
In the late 70s Rako was a regular on the Ritchie Motors team. In 1975 he played in the Livingston League on team made up exclusively of players from Platteville High School.
In the mid-80s he played for the Boulder Lounge (which is now the Arthur Haus) enjoying two fantastic seasons in 1985 and 1986 before his injury.
In the late 90s and early 2000s Rako played for Orville T’s before finishing he full-time career for Sand Prairie Construction.
He still plays once in awhile with some old friends, and even played in a tournament in Eastman two weekends ago, but tendonitis in his right arm and partially torn cartilage in his knee have forced Rako to limit his number of games.
“I always enjoyed playing other positions and helping out different teams wherever they needed,” said Rako. “I also enjoyed playing with teams that weren’t expected to win, but somehow found a way to win a big tournament or the league.”
After struggling with shoulder problems for many years Rako finally had surgery in 2000 to remove a bone spur and fix a torn rotator cuff.
With his shoulder finally healthy, he began a comeback in the pitching circle at the age of 42 by throwing 600-plus pitches a day pitching batting practice to the UW–Platteville softball team.
Rako was an assistant coach for the Pioneers for a couple of years in the early 90s, then for 11 seasons from 1998–2008. He spent two years as the pitching coach at Clarke College (2011–12) in Dubuque and spent this past season as the pitching coach at the University of Dubuque.
Rako has also worked with a number of high school pitchers from around the area. His current and former pupils include: Jeni Freiburger (Belmont), Kalyn Kamps (Belmont), Andrea Duncan (Lancaster), Megan Schlueter (Platteville), Sierra Brecke (Platteville) and Jordan Cockroft (Ithaca).
After the surgery Rako returned to the pitching circle in men’s fast-pitch and quickly regained his standout form. Since 2001, he’s compiled a record of 434–131, posted seven perfect games and 10 no-hitters. He went 62–14 in 2004, 62–18 with 770 strikeouts in 2007, and 48-13 in 2008.
“When I was young I was a bunter and runner and often played other positions,” said Rako. “But after my comeback I only played pitcher and didn’t even hit a lot of the time.”
Rako has played in numerous national tournaments throughout the years, including the North American Fast-pitch Association (NAFA) world tournament and the International Softball Congress (ISC) world tournament in 2008 at age 50. He was named to the Over-45 ASA National All-Star team in 2004 and 2006, and was a member of the Over-50 World Champions in 2011.
“The best part [of softball] is getting to know all the different people I’ve met playing with different teams over the years and traveling for the national tournaments,” said Rako. “I’m excited about the Hall of Fame honor, but it also means I’m getting older now. I’m very appreciative of the guys like Steve Kaiser, Willie Wilson, Al Gillingham and Bray Bay for putting me on their teams and getting me in big tournaments. They would call up and say, ‘We’re in a tournament and we need a pitcher.’
“And I have to thank my wife Marcia for putting up with me always running off to another ball game. Especially the year I was in five leagues, playing every night of the week, including 23 days in a row at one stretch.”
Rako is the father of five children: Brad, 31, Cory, 24, Joy, 22, Ryan, 20, and Jeremy, 18.
The Southwest Wisconsin Fast Pitch Hall of Fame was formed in 2007. A committee was developed that covers six counties: Grant, Crawford, LaFayette, Richland, Iowa and Vernon. A monument etched with all of the inductees’ names and pictures resides at the double diamond in Kronshage Park.
During its seven years of existence, 59 men have inducted into the Hall of Fame, and four “Friends of the Game”, including this year’s class.
Other members of the 2013 class included Roger Thompson (Boscobel), Jim “Suds” Nemo (Lancaster), Duane “Dewey” Wiegel (Darlington), Bruce Hebgen (Highland) and Bud Kramer (Eastman).