Byline: Jeff Letofsky
Jul. 5--Carl Carlton is one of the world's best pitchers.
No, not the kind who throws from a mound 60 feet away from home plate, firing 90 mile-per-hour fastballs past opposing hitters. He throws shoes, weighing 2 pounds, 40 feet into a clay pit measuring 3 feet by 6 feet.
And he is a right-hander.
Carlton is horseshoe pitcher. And a pretty good one at that.
In fact, the former CF&I steel worker is the current Colorado state champion in the Elder Division and a team world champion. And he's done all of that at the age of 71. Carlton, who has been pitching horseshoes for more than 15 years, said he innocently discovered the sport.
'One of my co-workers asked me if I wanted to pitch horseshoes one day,' said Carlton, who retired in 1988 after 30 years at the steel mill. 'I came out and started pitching and I was hooked.'
At first, Carlton just threw shoes for fun. Then, his competitive side was uncovered.
He started throwing from the standard 40 feet and discovered he was a natural. He began competing in tournaments and worked his way up through classifications until he reached Class A, the top class.
'It's all in the rhythm of the throw,' Carlton said. 'You have to have good rhythm, otherwise you will be all over the place. You can't be herky-jerky.'
Carlton also admitted that practice does make perfect. He practices nearly year-round at the pits at City Park or makeshift pits at the Ag Palace on the State Fairgrounds during the colder months.
It has paid off.
During the World Championships last year, Carlton pitched a 90-percent game, meaning he nailed 36 ringers in 40 attempts. That also included 28 consecutive ringers, well off the world record of 72 held by Boulder's Ted Allen.
Carlton is a member of the Pueblo Horseshoe Pitchers Association, which currently boasts 22 members. Founded by Pete Pintor six years ago, PHPA meets informally to practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and competes every Wednesday in league matches from May until August.
'I ran a league when I lived in Raton, N.M., and when I moved to Pueblo there wasn't an organized horseshoe club,' Pintor said. 'So, I decided to form our own league here.
'For me, it's a family sport. Most of my family is involved in pitching.'
Pintor said he's always looking for people to join the Pueblo club, which requires a $25 fee for local dues and a $20 fee to join the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association.
'We have kids all the way up to people in their 80s,' Pintor said. 'Horseshoes is for everybody.'
Carlton and Pintor agreed that pitching can be as competitive or non-competitive as one would like to make it.
'You don't have to make 90 percent ringers to have fun,' Pintor said. 'In our league, we handicap the scores to make it even for everyone.'
Carlton said he recently threw nearly 80 percent ringers in a match and won by only two points over an opponent who averaged less than 10 percent ringers.
At the end of the league season, the top performers usually receive a jacket or hat from the club.
That's a small token from an organization that battles money issues just to stay afloat.
'We maintain our own area at City Park and have to buy our own equipment,' said Pintor, who also runs the Southern Colorado Open, scheduled for Sept. 22-23 this year. 'We have only six pits so we're limited as to how many competitors we can have in tournament play. We can take a maximum of 56 and we've maxed out the past two years.'
For Carlton, it's still all about having fun.
'Heck, it gives me something to do,' said Carlton, who also fiddles with a metal detector and fishes in his spare time.'
According to the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association Web site, it is estimated that upwards of 15 million enthusiasts enjoy pitching horseshoes in the United States and Canada in tournaments, leagues, recreation areas and backyards.
The origin of the sports goes back to the days of the Roman Empire. Roman soldiers pitched horseshoes discarded from the horses used to drive their chariots. Soldiers in the Revolutionary War pitched horseshoes for recreation on the Boston Common. The Duke of Wellington said that the war was won by the pitchers of the steel (horseshoes).
For more information or to join the Pueblo organization, contact Pintor at 547-0832.
How to play:
The game is divided into innings. Each inning consists of four pitched shoes -- two by each contestant.
After all shoes for the inning have been pitched, they are either considered to be 'live shoes' or 'dead shoes' and may then be scored accordingly. A live shoe refers to any shoe that has been pitched in compliance with the rules of the game and comes to rest within the pit area. A dead shoe is a term for a foul shoe that was delivered in non-compliance with one of the rules of the game.
Shoes in count include ringers (3 points), a live shoe that comes to rest while encircling the stake and points (1), a live shoe that is not a ringer but comes to rest six inches or closer to the stake. It also includes a leaner, a shoe that rests against the stake.
Scoring methods vary but most games are played by count-all scoring, where contestants receive credit for points they score in each inning, or ringers-only scoring, where only ringers are counted. Most games are played up to 40 points, or 50 points in some cases. The first contestant to reach or exceed the selected total is declared the winner.
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