When the Illinois National Softball Association Hall of Fame got together for its 13th annual induction banquet in December, it honored seven inductees total, with two being local slow-pitch softball players Steve Cantway and Andre Williams.
The two former slow-pitch players joined an exclusive group that features just 11 other former slow-pitch players who have made the NSA Hall of Fame, which began in 2007.
Cantway and Williams were honored for their significant contributions to the amateur slow-pitch softball leagues. The Illinois NSA Hall of Fame felt that both of these men helped increase the quality of play in tournament and games while also taking the extra steps in making each team’s visit had an enjoyable experience.
“I was extremely humbled to say the least,” Cantway said. “Because I knew the guys that were already in it and to be mentioned with the guys that were already in it was an honor itself. But to be inducted into the hall of fame as a player was a very humbling experience.”
For Cantway, his softball career began after returning home from the Air Force in 1974. Playing tackle football and baseball for his base team in the Air Force helped spark Cantway’s interest to continue playing sports. So, in 1975 he began his 12-inch slow-pitch softball career, playing for a couple local squads in Kankakee before eventually getting recruited to play for St. Anne Foundry’s team the next year.
After joining St. Anne Foundry in 1975 (Cantway’s favorite team he played for) he was yet to know he would begin a 30-year slow-pitch softball career that included playing for more than 25 separate teams.
“I just liked the competitiveness,” Cantway said “It was a good game back then.”
Cantway’s love for the game helped him become one of the best slow-pitch softball players in the state during the 1970s and 1980s. During his career, Cantway racked up quite a few accolades after playing in more than 2,000 games.
The all-around position player finished his career being named as part of the 1982 Men’s Major Class AA State All-Tournament Team. Additionally, Cantway played in 18 state tournaments and eight 35-older World Series Tournaments, including one third-place finish.
Although there are numerous softball leagues nowadays, back in Cantway’s time, there were only two types of slow-pitch leagues, Class A and Class AA. Cantway competed in the Class AA division, where he competed against dozens of teams on a daily basis in different weekly leagues.
“I prided myself on the fact that I could play anywhere on the field,” Cantway said. “It didn’t matter — I could play infield, I could play outfield, I could pitch if necessary.”
Despite his resume with the glove, Cantway was known for being able to hit the ball. He typically used to hit in the five or six spot for his team where he saw himself finish as a career .600 hitter.
Cantway didn’t consider himself a “home run” hitter but rather an RBI guy who liked to take the ball up the middle. Even so, his proudest moment on the field came when he channeled his inner Barry Bonds and went deep four times in one game.
After working construction for about 30 years while mixing in softball as a hobby, Cantway started to see his body slowly break down. Injuries ultimately caused him to hang up his cleats in 2005 and retire from the sport that gave him so much happiness.
“I miss the competitiveness and the camaraderie the most,” Cantway said.
Because Cantway missed the game so much, he started coaching baseball after he retired. In 2006, Cantway began his coaching career in high school baseball at Bishop McNamara. Shortly after that, he began coaching in the PONY league, where he still can be seen doing both today as the coach of the Nuscotomek Youth Baseball team at the Palomino (17-18 years) level.
His most recent accomplishment as a coach was leading his Nuscotomek squad to the world series in Laredo, Texas, last year.
Knowing how special those types of moments can be, Cantway always takes time to remind his players to soak in the moment.
“My most important thing I tell these kids is to get everything out of the practices and games each day,” Cantway said. “Because when that game is over or practice is over, you can’t get that time back.”
As for Williams, he too showed the capability of being a versatile player similar to Cantway.
A Kankakee native, Williams took on slow-pitch softball during 1989 while playing baseball and football for Olivet Nazarene University. As soon as he began routinely playing slow-pitch softball games, Williams fell in love with it not because of the game itself but rather the people he was playing with.
“I went out and kind of liked it, and it was not so much softball itself,” Williams said. “It was just the people. We created a strong bond together, and that is what I looked for when I played … it was moreso the guys who kept me interested in it.”
He began playing slow-pitch softball as a shortstop before he eventually moved out to the outfield because of his cannon arm and speed. In fact, it did not take long for William’s opponents to respect his skills from the outfield.
“I played the outfield, and it got to a point where nobody would try and run on me,” Williams said. “I used to throw everybody out, and after a while it was just a red light. Every time that I got the ball in my hand, the red light would go up, and I was on the money with it.”
More than anything, Williams put his team first. Whatever his squad needed at the time Williams looked to deliver just that.
“Whatever the team needed at the time, that is what I did,” Williams said. “If they needed a base hit, that’s what I got; if they needed a home run, that’s what I did.”
Coming up in clutch situations allowed Williams to be part of multiple championship-caliber teams during his time in Kankakee. Playing on the Domino’s team, Williams helped his squad take second place in back-to-back years in the A and AA ASA State Tournaments during the mid 1990s. He also played on the Bud Light USSSA team where Williams won a state championship before moving to Michigan in 1999.
His love for the game of softball didn’t stop when he moved out of Illinois. Instead Williams carried his passion of softball to Michigan, where he has continued to play. In the past 20 years, Williams has played for several different teams and won multiple championships.
In 2003 and 2004, his team, Webworks, won the Michigan Amateur Softball Association Class B State title and was the 2004 Black USSSA State Champs. He then went on to win more championships with various teams in 2005, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2016.
Of course, Williams is no longer the athlete he once was because of his age, yet he has continued to play. Williams is 52 years old and plays in a 50 and older league with his current team, Crash Softball. Aside from still playing softball, Williams has found another passion in coaching.
Since moving on from his hometown, Williams has spent the past couple of years coaching high school track and field as well as girls basketball at St. Charles in Michigan. He led his track and field squad to a state championship in 2018 and a second-place finish in 2019.
Out of all the accomplishments Williams has accumulated as a player and coach, none was as important as being able to play co-ed softball with his four kids.
“I drug them around the softball field every weekend,” Williams said. “And for me to be able to be on the field with them after dragging them around and them watching me play, to be able to play with them for 20 games was my most memorable moment in softball.”
Despite the age gap between Cantway and Williams during their playing days, both of them remember each other as players.
“Andre was an excellent player,” Cantway said. “He was fast; a base hit was a double. He played outfield most of the time we played him. … He tracked down everything. Not only was he a great player but he was also a great person.”
For Williams, he remembers Cantway for how hard he used to play.
“Those guys are warriors,” Williams said of Cantway and his former teammates. “As a young man, I never understood why he was playing so hard, and it’s because one day he won’t be able to. So he is playing hard. Those guys play hard, and Steve never took a play off.”