Dec 12

Hutchinson puts the “Rec” back into Softball

Participation in slowpitch softball across the country has been declining dramatically. The city of Hutchinson, Minnesota has decided to do something about it.

According to John McRaith Recreation Coordinator, the hi-tech bats allowed by the nation’s softball organizations have made the game unsafe for most players, expensive, and no longer recreational. “It’s just too fast and the bats are just too expensive,” says McRaith.

“Our numbers were falling too until we initiated leagues that only play with cork, raised seam balls”, said McRaith. “Not everyone can hit a homerun anymore and the infielders, especially the pitchers, have much more time to react and field ground balls”.

Initially Hutchinson had no cork ball leagues but now there are only two leagues that play with the harder and livelier polycore balls. “We have six cork ball leagues that developed over time. As players began to notice the difference in the balls, more participants with lower skill levels joined the leagues. We now play some of the worst softball in Minnesota and I consider that a great accomplishment because it shows that we are getting non-athletes and novices out on the field. The elite players greatly dislike the ball because it slows the game down and that is a disadvantage for them.”

McRaith said “It is obvious the national organizations are lagging on keeping the game safe and recreationally appealing to the masses so we had to step up to the plate. McRaith added the need for 300 ft fences (and the costly real estate it has chewed up) or 70 foot base paths would probably have never been necessary had the bats been controlled.

Even though the cork ball has greatly slowed the game down and made it safer, Hutchinson is considering supplying a bag of first generation aluminum bats for each field. The teams would share them to cut down on the advantage of hi-tech composite bats, which are very expensive for the average recreational team to purchase, not to mention dangerous. According to McRaith “Ability to play, not ability to pay, should determine the outcome of a true sporting contest.”

On his more cynical days McRaith wonders aloud if the national organizations’ receipt of large royalty checks from the bat manufacturers hasn’t clouded their ability to keep the game recreational. The ironic part is that the ball and bat manufacturers are ultimately shooting themselves in the foot because as the game has become less playable by the recreational masses the number of balls and bats being purchased has declined. “The manufacturers can’t see the forest for the trees”, said McRaith.

Minnesota ASA Commissioner Perry Coonce supports what the Hutchinson Park and Recreation Department is experimenting with. “Softball was invented as a recreational alternative to baseball and now it has become as difficult to play and more dangerous in many cases than its sister sport baseball”, said Coonce. One only has to look as far as the pitcher’s position to conclude something is dramatically wrong. It is not uncommon for pitchers to wear facemasks and shin pads these days and at least one national organization is considering putting a batting practice screen in front of the pitcher during live games. “What’s wrong with that picture”, quipped Coonce. To top that off efforts to make the pitcher’s position safer by raising the arc limit or allowing pitchers to pitch from further back have failed on the national level. “Our hands are tied locally when it comes to ASA championship play”, said Coonce.

Left to their own devices we feel the national softball organizations will continue to allow the game to be so technology driven that it only appeals to the elite athlete or those that played at the highest levels of baseball or softball in high school. “Rather than more kickball leagues driven by the high skill level it now takes to play softball, we’d like to see more soccer players willing to pick up a bat and ball in a recreational softball setting”, McRaith said.

“Softball has long been the “bread and butter” adult sport of many recreation departments and we hate to see its demise because the bat companies and national organizations can’t come to grips with the non-recreational nature of today’s technology driven game”, McRaith concluded.