Harvey P. Sterkel: Softball Hall of Fame Pitcher

By Mary Lou Egan

Harvey P. Sterkel, National Softball Hall of Fame pitcher. Photo courtesy of USA Softball Hall of Fame

Pitcher Harvey Sterkel’s name evokes memories of a different time in Denver. Denver in the 1950s was a much smaller city with two amusement parks, three fledgling TV stations and no major league sports teams. People had to create their own sports entertainment wherever they could, in playgrounds, parks and vacant lots.

Born in 1934, Sterkel remembered his hometown in a 2009 interview with the Denver Post’s Irv Moss. 

“I grew up in Globeville, and in those days that was at the edge of town,” Sterkel told Moss. “All we needed was a ball, bat and glove and a few of us to get together. We’d make up our own games.” 

In addition to teams in the neighborhood, Sterkel could watch games at the softball field at City Park. In the 1940s and 1950s, fast-pitch softball was a really big deal, drawing standing-room-only crowds of over 5,000 to the park. There were bleacher seats down each line to the outfield fence and parts of the outfield where cars could pull up to the fence and spectators could watch from their cars.

Sterkel’s older brother, Robert Sterkel, had just returned home from World War II military service in the Navy and became his mentor. 

“I’d come home from school and he’d say, ‘Let’s go pitch.’ And I’d say, ‘Not tonight.’ But he’d always insist,” Sterkel said to Moss in 2009. The mentoring paid off with Sterkel making a name for himself at City Park, pitching for local teams including Yellow Cab, Naval Air Station and Public Service Company. He caught the attention of recruiters from an Aurora, Illinois, company, Stephens-Adamson, who wanted him to play for its up-and-coming Sealmasters team. The team name was derived from the company’s production of Sealmaster ball bearings. In 1956, Sterkel, along with his wife, Gloria, and their young son, Robert, moved to Aurora, Illinois. 

Harvey P. Sterkel was inducted into the Amateur Softball Association’s National Softball Hall of Fame in 1981. Photo courtesy of USA Softball Hall of Fame

Sterkel met his wife at Garden Place School in Globeville. In fact, his fifth-grade boys team lost to her sixth-grade girls team, with Gloria as the winning pitcher! After serving his country with the U.S. Navy, he and Gloria married on April 12, 1953.

“The first years were very hard, and we were only going to stay here until our oldest started school,” Gloria Sterkel said in a 2020 interview with Tom Strong for the Aurora Beacon-News. “But that didn’t happen. We stuck it out and became Illinoisans long ago.”

While traveling with the Sealmasters, Sterkel played against some Denver teams, including Western Springs, Public Service and Denver Merchants, visiting family in Globeville during those stops. 

Chicago’s Eddie Zolna and Harvey Sterkel share memories at a 1987 tribute in Chicago. Photo courtesy of USA Softball Hall of Fame

From 1956 to 1977, Sterkel was the most dominant pitcher of his time. He posted a 345-33 win-loss record with 60 no-hitters and 15 perfect games. Between 1965 and 1968 he won 52 consecutive games with an ERA of 0.34. Sterkel was inducted into several local, state, national and international halls of fame, including the National Softball Hall of Fame and International Softball Federation Hall of Fame.

Sterkel retired from pitching in 1985 after 31 years. In 2014, Harvey Sterkel Field was named in his honor at the Stuart Sports Complex in Aurora, Illinois.

After he retired, he directed church choir, was a member of several barbershop quartets, arranged music and was an accomplished woodworker. A talented yet humble man, his greatest joy came from the family he cherished. He died Oct. 21, 2019, in Aurora, Illinois.

Mary Lou Egan is a fourth-generation Coloradan who loves history. You can reach her at maryloudesign@comcast.net.

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