In 2012, the BSF decided to make a special award for services to softball to Bob Fromer. Most people in softball will know Bob in some capacity, whether as a player, organiser, reporter or National Team manager. What everyone may not realise, is that there is literally no part of British softball as we know it today that has developed without Bob's direct work or influence.
Bob moved to the UK permanently in 1969 and a few years later, along with a friend, started a regular, largely male, but increasingly co-ed, pick-up softball game in Golders Hill Park that moved to Regents Park in 1974. This weekly game attracted an increasing number of players, thus playing a role in the massive expansion of the game in London in the 1980s. From this pick-up game Bob founded the Zoo Crew men's team in the late 1970s, formed to play two grudge matches each season against Hypisco (the Hyde Park pick-up game that had been going since the 1960s).
In 1984 Bob was part of a group, who, with help from the British Baseball Federation, set up the first governing body for softball in London, known as SESA (the South of England Softball Association), a pre-cursor to the London Softball Federation, along with the first softball leagues, which initially were single-sex. Bob served on the Men's League Committee for many years. At that point, members of SESA were ignorant of the fact that a British Softball Federation had been set up in 1968 in the Midlands, but had died out by the late 1970s.
Also in 1984 Bob made contact with Don Porter, then President of the International Softball Federation. Through this approach, Don Porter visited the UK and sent a TWA touring team over to play both fastpitch and slowpitch.
The following year, 1985, Bob was part of a group that founded the GB Women's Fastpitch Team in an attempt to put together a host team for the 1985 World Games, played in London. Bob and his partner, Lynda, ran the World Games softball competition on behalf of the international organisers, which involved the USA, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Holland and Belgium. That same year Bob was the delegate to the BBF AGM where SESA withdrew softball from BBF governance.
Throughout the 1990s Bob was active on the London Softball Federation, which at that time managed the majority of organised softball being played. In 1993, when Miller Beer invested some money into softball for a couple of years, Bob became the sport's first paid organiser / development worker. As part of this role Bob founded and edited the London Softball News and continued as editor when it went on to become the black-and-white and then colour versions of the magazine Double Play.
In the mid-1990s Bob led the effort to establish a London Softball Centre at Morden Park and secured grants for backstops and lighting. He helped set up the British Softball Coaching Association (BSCA) and ran the project that brought Softball Canada Technical Director Darrell Joy to the UK for a number of months to coach players and coaches.
In 1996 Bob joined the BSF as their paid Development Worker and worked to foster closer co-operation with the BBF. Bob spent much time travelling around the country, developing relationships with regions and leagues and persuading them to join the BSF, pay fees and support the growth of softball. He and BSF President, Nicola Harper approached the then Sports Council (now Sport England) and secured their first grant to softball.
In 1997 Bob organised the new GB Slowpitch Team’s tour to Georgia for a training camp with Bobby Simpson at Higher Ground Softball. He also attended the ESF Congress for the first time as a BSF delegate and helped persuade them to finally start European Slowpitch Championships. In 1998 Bob and Mike Jennings were the main organisers of the first European Slowpitch Championship, played in the UK at Brunel University.
In the late 1990s Bob worked closely with Major League Baseball and set-up and ran the fondly-remembered MLB Tournament, which to this day has provided the benchmark for all other tournaments to follow. Bob's relationship with MLB led to the formation of BaseballSoftballUK as the administrative arm of both sports. Bob represented softball in the negotiations for a joint agency and when it was officially formed in 2000 Bob was the founding CEO. Bob continued in this position until 2004 and then stepped back into a consultancy position in order that BSUK could continue to employ its other existing staff. Before stepping back Bob had paved the way for increased Sport England funding, hired Tanya Price to establish the Grass Roots programme which is still the basis for much of today's fastpitch softball development activity, set up the BSUK Council (now Board) and ensured that BSUK was a viable ongoing concern.
Since 2004 Bob has continued to work for BSUK and to provide continual support to the BSF. He has been the reporter of record in magazines, the monthly Softball Bulletin and over the last decade on the BSUK or BSF websites for most of the major happenings in British softball since 1993. He helped organise the BSF Hall of Fame and provided most of the nominations for its first several induction groups. He helped to organise and run the London Cup International Women's Fastpitch Tournament from 2002 through 2006 (which was the first time the full GB Women’s Team ever played here) and regenerated it in 2011 along with Stan Doney and Hayley Scott. He has run the Softball World Series, a perennial favourite event, for most of its 20-year existence.
As impressive as his resume is to this point, if you were to ask Bob what he is most proud of he would say, “overseeing the GB Women’s Team programme through various crises to where it is now one of the top teams in European and World softball.” Back in 1999 Bob covered the astonishing performance of the GB Women’s Team at the Olympic Qualifiers in Parma and made a pledge at an emotional team meeting that he would find some funding for the programme, which had none. Within a year, with the help and support of the BOA, funding was secured that gradually built up to a £528,000 UK Sport grant for the Beijing Olympic cycle.
The following year, Bob and Natalie Fox picked up the GB Women’s Team programme after Russ Snow and Libby Moss resigned and Bob was the General Manager and sometimes Team Manager for various teams in the programme through 2012, and was Secretary of the GB Management Committee (GBMC) from its founding in 2008 through 2019.
It should be noted that Bob also deserves recognition as a player and team manager in his own right. He played for and captained the Zoo Crew for several years and won three National Men’s Championships, receiving the MVP for one national final. In 1990 Bob founded and played for the team SPAM. He played for several years for Slammers and was selected to the London All-Stars in 1996 as a pitcher, the precursor to the GB Slowpitch Team programme, but could never have been selected to the GB Team for lack of a passport!
Bob no longer plays, and was last seen on the field in 2011 pitching for the GB Under-19 GB Team at the Diamond Series. He also turned out once more for SPAM that year for a one-day tournament where he pitched seven games and batted over .900 for the day. Few who have played against Bob will forget his wicked high pitching arc or his consistent line-drives to the left side.
It is not hyperbole to say that no single person has been more important to the development of softball in this country.