There was no better time to be a softball player in the New Castle area.
The Croton Dukes and Cray’s Iron Dukes were dominating the slo-pitch world. Gaston Park and Progressive Field were filled to the brim most weekends with spectators.
Lynn Runyon — now Lynn Padice — was a major part of it as a the starting catcher for Stan’s Auto.
“We formed at the right time,” she said. “The Iron Dukes and the Croton Dukes were successful and traveling. The fields were packed on weekends.
“The girls that I played with had the best talent I’ve ever seen by far. We accomplished it all as a young group of girls. We were world champions twice in three years. We were traveling around the United States. It was unforeseeable. It was a great experience that I was blessed to have.”
ENTERING THE HALL
Padice, 57, was surprised to learn of her induction into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame. She will join 11 other inductees being enshrined on May 4 at the New Englander.
“I was really humbled, because I played a team sport,” Padice said. “Being individually rewarded is an honor, but I recognize that it was a team sport. I know what we accomplished was as a team. It wasn’t an individual honor. We were one of the best — if not the best — softball teams at that time. It was very rewarding to me, but I have to remember that we did all that as a team.”
She was known for defensive abilities.
“She was the best catcher hands down,” said Luann Grybowski, who pitched for Stan’s Auto and is currently the Neshannock High girls basketball coach. “She wasn’t the best hitter out there, but she was the best defensive catcher for all those years we played.”
LEARNING THE GAME
Padice grew up in a world that didn’t have organized sports for girls.
At the time, girls like Padice learned competitive athletics by watching their male counterparts and honing their craft without the benefits of coaches or umpires.
“We knew how to play, because we grew up watching,” Padice said. “We were very athletic. We weren’t inside. We were outside all the time, so we were active. We stayed out of trouble by learning how to play and collecting the balls they couldn’t find.
“Growing up the way I did, I had to take initiative to learn the game. At that time, there were no organized sports in our schools. You couldn’t get a scholarship to anywhere. We had no basketball, no gymnastics. We had nothing for girls. I had to learn through playing.”
In 1972, Mike Sikofilos joined forces with Stan Grybowski to create a women’s slo-pitch softball juggernaut — Stan’s Auto.
The squad, which featured Grybowski as its starting pitcher and Padice as her battery mate, went on to finish third in the United States Slo-Pitch Softball Association Women’s World Championship Tournament in Rochester, N.Y.
There was no better team in 1973 or ‘74 with Stan’s Auto capturing world championships.
“It was unbelievable,” Padice said. “When we started out, we were a group of girls that were brought together from New Castle. We were very talented and everything clicked. It was like karma. We went into it head first. We didn’t start slowly and gradually get good. The first year we entered, we took third place. The next two years, we won back-to-back.”
Quality fielding was the key ingredient to Stan’s Auto’s success, Padice remembered.
“We had the best defense bar none,” she said. “That’s at every position. We defended everything. You couldn’t score on us no how.
“I think the reason why we were so successful is we knew the game. There was no room for mental errors. We practiced enough that you didn’t make any mental errors. Physical errors are going to happen. You can’t predict that.”
Over the summer, Sikofilos would engage his players in endless drills.
“We practiced every day we didn’t have a game,” said Padice, who noted the only interruption was a short lunch break. “We’d have five- and six-hour practices. You had to be dedicated. It was your entire summer.”
Practice nearly did make perfect for Stan’s Auto, which posted an 112-8 record one summer.
“We were that good,” she said. “Only losing eight games out of 120? We really were that talented. There were no weak spots. If you beat us, you earned it. Winning was the cherry. We had fun.”
Padice, who has a daughter Felicia and a son Nicholas, wishes she could relive those days.
“I wish we would have had film,” she said. “I would’ve enjoyed seeing how talented we were by watching the film. When you get older, you tend to appreciate things more, because you understand how much you’ve accomplished.”
TOUGH AS NAILS
There definitely wasn’t anything “girlie” about Padice and her more athletic friends.
“We didn’t wear fingernail polish or makeup,” she said. “We wanted to beat you up. You didn’t go out there to look good. You were playing. It was hot and it was dirty. We had to be tough and we certainly were.”
Padice was tougher than anyone else on the diamond.
“Mike made her the catcher, because she was the toughest kid on the team,” Grybowski said. “She wasn’t big in stature. She was only like 5-foot-6, but she was strong and was tough. If there was a play at home and the throw was on the money, she’d stand her ground and tag people out.”
Grybowski, Padice’s cousin, recounted how Padice helped Stan’s Auto beat the Motown Soul Sisters in a tournament at Gaston Park.
“They had these two huge sisters that played first and third base,” Grybowski said. “To win that game, we threw one of them out at the plate. Lynn tagged her out and got knocked backwards at least six feet from the plate. She held onto the ball. Her fingers were white from hanging onto the ball, so she wouldn’t let it go. She got knocked out for a little while. All she said when she came to was ‘Was she out?’ Plays like that were normal for her. They were what we came to expect.”
In search of something to light their competitive fire, Padice and her former teammates turned to golf.
“A lot of us, ironically, picked up golf as we got older as a second sport,” she said. “We’d get together and golf. We’d have tournaments. We wanted the same type of competitive environment.”
The hobby eventually turned into the Lawrence County Pink Ribbon Classic, which has raised over $120,000.
“We wanted just the women,” said Padice, whose husband Nick overcame tongue cancer several years ago. “We were able to do it for 10 years. It allowed us to be involved in another great sport, while being able to help others.”