In his celebrated 45-year softball career, John Davide of Centereach has traversed the country for tournaments and circled the bases more than 1,400 times after home runs. Now, his journey is headed in an entirely new direction: the National Softball Hall of Fame.
Davide, a former Dowling College baseball coach who still is playing in over-60 softball leagues, is only the 35th slow-pitch player to receive the sport's highest honor in the 80-year history of ASA/USA, softball's governing body.
"It's really incredible," the 67-year-old power-hitting shortstop said recently, after having played a morning doubleheader in a Brookhaven Town league. He knows that the hall is composed mostly of fast-pitch stars and was flattered to be chosen over several other top slow-pitch players, including one who had hit 400 home runs in a year. "Somehow, I got the vote, which was fine with me. What an honor. I was so surprised when I got the call. I'm just really excited about the whole deal."
He established a national reputation while playing for the formidable Long Island-based County Sports squad in the 1970s and '80s. During a 1973 game in Cleveland, he hit for a home-run cycle: a solo shot, a one-run homer, two-run homer and grand slam. "Then I hit another one. Then in my last at-bat, it was really funny, I hit a ball that hit the top of the fence and came back in. And they booed me," he said.
Davide has been on numerous championship clubs and has been named to six all-world teams. He has been enshrined in the Suffolk Sports, New York State Softball and Buffalo State Halls of Fame. The latter recognized him for having been the university's first baseball All-American in 1969.
After years of traveling on weekends to major softball events -- he played for a California team in the 1986 World Series in North Carolina -- he acknowledged that he has a very understanding wife, Madeline. They have been married 46 years, have raised two children (John Jr. coached Longwood High to a state baseball championship) and have three grandchildren. "She has been really great. She has watched me go out the door a lot, and the kids did too, they were great too," he said.
He compiled stellar softball statistics while holding down a full-time job as elementary school teacher in the Sachem district and achieving a 228-206 record as Dowling's coach from 1983 to 1995.
Baseball was the route he chose to college, and after his 1969 graduation. He stood out in a tryout with the Mets at Shea Stadium. He never will forget that the format was a New York-New Jersey all-star game and that he and Hank Webb were the only two called aside afterward by a scout.
Webb, who eventually pitched for the Mets, was offered a contract on the spot. The scout opened his trunk and gave him spikes and a glove for his trip to Class A ball. "I'm standing there, saying, 'Wow, this is great.' And the guy closes his trunk," Davide said with a laugh. "He said, 'We're going to look at you this summer and see what happens. I've got to tell you the scout up in Buffalo put a question mark next to your name about whether to draft you or not.'
"I played a year of hardball and nothing happened. I said, 'You know what? I'm getting married. I've had enough of this.' One of my buddies said, 'Why don't you try slow-pitch? It's a lot of fun,' " he said.
So he joined a team in Smithtown, playing shortstop alongside former Red Sox second baseman Chuck Schilling. County Sports manager George "Doc" Linnehan attended a tournament to scout Schilling and as Davide recalls it, he was getting out of his car and heard the public address announcer say, "Home run: John Davide." By the time he reached his seat, he heard it again, "Home run: John Davide."
"He was like, 'Who is that fat little guy?' " Davide said.
Soon, Davide was on the County Sports juggernaut, and on the road. For a 1971 tournament in Parma, Ohio, the club traveled in the Long Island Ducks hockey team's bus.
On Oct. 31, he and his family will take a more distinctive trip, to Louisville for his hall of fame induction.