Steve Bohn had a remarkable five-year run as coach of Unionville-Sebewaing Area’s powerhouse softball team.
Turns out he could play a little too.
Bohn taught his high school teams strategy he learned while playing fast pitch recreational softball at the highest level. For over 20 years, he played for mid-Michigan teams, from the Midland Explorers to the Akron Merchants of the Thumb Travel League.
On Saturday, Bohn was recognized by USA Softball of Michigan by being inducted into its Softball Hall of Fame. He is part of the 2020 class, along with seven other inductees, which was honored at Midland’s H Hotel.
“Anytime you get an honor like this, you reflect back and think about your playing days,” Bohn said. “I didn’t think I was really that good, but obviously somebody else did.”
Bohn graduated from Freeland High School in 1982, the oldest of a trifecta of baseball-playing brothers raised by a baseball-loving father. He played Division 1 baseball at Western Michigan University.
In the summer of 1987, after using up his eligibility for WMU, the Midland Explorers – one of the top teams in North America – came calling.
“They were looking for a catcher because their guy got hurt,” Bohn said. “At the time, they had one of the best pitchers in the world – Peter Finn – and he could play.”
While most men’s fast-pitch softball players have a baseball background, it is unusual when they begin their softball career at such a high level of competition. Players generally begin in the lower division and work their way up through the ranks.
But Bohn jumped directly into the fire.
Finn had made headlines a couple of years earlier when he struck out 64 batters in a 34-inning game while pitching for Midland Valley Mechanical in an International Softball Congress World Tournament game.
At his first day of practice, Bohn was asked to warm up the star pitcher.
“I go to this first practice, and I don’t know anything about softball,” Bohn recollected. “And Finn pulled me aside and said ‘I’m going to throw you some sinkers.’ And I caught them. And then he said ‘I’m going to throw you some rise balls,’ and I’ve never caught a rise ball in my life. The first seven went right past me, the next two nicked my glove and the last one I snow-coned.
“And he said ‘go take some swings, we play Saturday.’”
Bohn said Finn told him not to worry, and that he’d figure it out. Bohn figured it out, and then some.
Bohn’s versatility was key to the Explorers’ success. He played third base and outfield on days when he wasn’t catching.
Although he couldn’t remember the year, Bohn said one of the highlights of his playing career came when the Explorers played in the American Softball Association Open Major National Championship tournament in Springfield, Missouri.
Featuring the best softball players and teams in the country, the Explorers placed ninth of 41 teams and Bohn was named first-team all-American.
“I played with a lot of great players at the open level,” Bohn said. “That is the big leagues of fast-pitch softball. Most of the pitchers are from Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Australia, all over. You’re playing against the best of the best.”
Bohn traveled all over the country in his 12 years with the Explorers.
“I’ve been to a lot of cool places to play the game of fast pitch softball,” Bohn said. “Vancouver Island, Salt Lake City, Toronto, Palm Springs (California), all over the Midwest.”
According to his biography from USA Softball of Michigan, Bohn was selected in 1994 as a first alternate for the USA National Team, which was competing in the Olympic Sports Festival/Pan Am Games. In 1998, in his last year with the Explorers, Bohn was again selected first-team all-American.
From 1999-2002, Bohn played for the Akron Merchants, leading the squad to a Michigan Amateur Softball Association state championship each year. In 2014, Bohn began playing for the Midland Explorers Legends team, which participates in 50-and-over tournaments. He helped the squad to runner-up at a national tournament in 2015 and to fifth-place showings at nationals in 2015 and 2017.
Bohn learned a lot about winning softball games during his career, and utilized that knowledge when he became softball coach at USA prior to the 2012 season.
“Winning was always hugely important to me, maybe to a detriment at times,” he said. “One thing playing for the Explorers taught me was how to win, and how the difference between winning and losing at that level comes down to inches.
“When games are usually 1-0 or 2-1, it often comes down to one play.”
Bohn coached the Patriots from 2012-16. He won over 90 percent of his games with an overall record of 191-20. He led the Patriots to the state semifinals in his inaugural season, 2012, to state runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2014 and the Division 4 state championship his final two years.
“From a coaching standpoint, I felt I had a huge advantage over the guys I coached against because I played the game at the highest level,” Bohn said. “The difference between winning and losing is so miniscule, so you need to know any advantage you can gain on that field can make a big difference.
“I saw things and recognized them because I lived it.”
Bohn stepped down as USA softball coach so he could spend the springtime watching his children – 2018 graduate Hunter and current sophomore Kylie – play baseball and softball, respectively.
Bohn is in his 22nd season as assistant boys’ basketball coach at USA, serving under longtime head coach Mark Gainforth.
John Schneider is editor of The Advertiser. He can be reached at email@example.com.