In the 1970s, the Robertson Plumbing fastpitch softball team was a dynasty. Under coach Gene Angel, the Greenville team won four straight state championships between 1971 and 1975.
The team featured many talented former high school and college baseball players and even had former major league baseball player Bobby Etheridge on it.
But, what made Robertson Plumbing so dominant, said their coach, was pitcher Ben Oakes. Oakes won more than 500 games on the mound as a pitcher in fastpitch softball, and he took special pride in the number of no-hitters he threw.
“He had a desire to be good, and he worked really hard at it,” said Angel. “The league did not start until the summer, but I would start working with him in January and February to help him get in shape.”
It was not just Oakes who took the sport seriously.
Angel, now 86 and still living in Greenville, said all the players he coached took the game seriously. They all wanted to win and took pride in being better than their opponents.
The team was sponsored by Farrell Robertson, who provided the funds for the team to have a professional like feel. The team routinely took long bus rides and competed in state and regional tournaments, even making it to the national tournament in 1972.
Angel was not only the coach, but he also played third base for Robertson Plumbing. Third base was the position that Etheridge played when he played for the San Francisco Giants in 1967 and 1969.
When Etheridge retired from baseball and joined the team there was a long-running joke that, “he didn’t want to run me off third base.
“Bobby played left field for us, and he was a good player and he just wanted to play with the guys.”
The sport of men’s fastpitch softball faded away in Greenville around the early 1980s, said Angel.
“I think people just lost interest, and people just did not want to put the time in that you needed to in order to be good at the sport,” Angel said. “It took a lot of practice and hard work to have a good team like ours.”
Looking at an old team photo, Angel noted how many of his former teammates have since passed away. Oakes, for example, was diagnosed with cancer and passed on just few years after Angel stopped coaching him in 1975.
“He was quite a player. Quite a player, and quite a good man too,” Angel said.