Adult softball still going strong at Baines Park

Mark Hazelwood • Aug 1, 2018 at 1:00 PM

NORWALK — If Tom Cannon could be at Baines Park all seven days out of the week — he’d be there.

But as it is, the 2001 St. Paul graduate settles for five nights per week while overseeing three adult softball teams through the Norwalk Park and Recreation Department.

“Every single night if they’d let me play, I would be out here,” Cannon said. “My family and I just loves being at the ballpark — and we love playing. It’s one of the nicest facilities around, and it’s just a genuine love for me. My whole family has played, and I grew up out here at Baines in the summer.”

There has been adult softball played at Baines Park on Austin Shadle Drive over four decades strong. This summer, there are 68 teams registered over different men, women and co-ed leagues — with close to 1,000 players. There are games at Baines five nights per week, along with several tournaments throughout the summer season.

The sanctioning body is the Global Sports League, and some of the teams play in bigger tournaments in Cleveland and Columbus. The eighth annual Texas Shootout all-nighter tournament is on Friday, with 20 teams scheduled to play.

The action will wrap up in mid-to-late August depending on the weather — but there is also fall softball, a process that has just started recently.

Norwalk Park and Rec superintendent Joe Lindenberger, who also plays on a league team, noted several improvements have been made at Baines — with more to come.

"We've added a new shelter house, a new net canopy for the batting cages through a grant — and we're replacing the backstops and original fencing," he said. "We'll also be putting in new tiles in the fall and spring when we can get to it.

"We're also in the process of training more umpires, so there are improvements going on with some good plans for 2019 as well," Lindenberger added.

The department has also poured more time, effort and money into the league than it has ever done before.

"We're trying to keep the fees the same as they've been and keep our program going," Lindenberger said. "Our fall league is a $600 flat fee for a team. You play 12 games, and we recommend finding a sponsor for $200 and then and cover the rest amongst the team."

As with any sport or league with significant participation — adult softball at Baines Park is essentially a year-round process.

"We start in March with our meetings, the team fee is due in April and we start in May," Lindenberger said. "We basically roll that over to Labor Day, then it's into the fall leagues into November. Really the only grace period are those three or four winter months, kind of like Major League Baseball.

"People don’t realize how much the park requires a lot of maintenance — and the time to run it," he added. "And it's revenue neutral, as we bring in about $70,000 and spend close to $80,000. No matter the amount of teams, it's the same amount of money spent."

As anyone associated with sports can attest, the competitive nature of the games is one of the main drawing points.

It ranges, but if you have a team that is doing really well and is playing another good team — it gets really competitive,” Cannon said. “It depends on the league most of the time, but it can definitely get tense. People being able to live out past glory days or wanting to stay competitive is definitely a drawing point.”

Linderberger added that aspect never changes, no matter the sport.

"Adult softball, basketball and flag football — it's all the same," he said. "It's people reliving their glory days, but also wanting to stay competitive and in shape. There are also those who blossom athletically once they are done with high school sports.

"There are some who play for 30 or 40 years at a good level," Lindenberger added. "It's mostly men, bout our co-ed league has 19 teams and is as big as it has ever been with three divisions. That is a great thing about sports. People love competition and love to win.Softball is still hit, run and catch while playing with friends, family and co-workers."

And while competitiveness is often good — it also has its drawbacks.

"A lot of people still take it way too serious," Lindenberger said. "It's friendly competition in a family environment. Just have fun with it. If I had one wish, it would be for some people to be a little more respectful and appreciative.

"A lot of people are, but we still have quite a few ejections and suspensions," he added. "Some think we are too strict, but we run it the way we need to in order for a clean, fun sports atmosphere. We want to keep it that way. We want umpires to be fun and friendly, but at same time — don't allow people to get out of hand. But that happens in any place. I'd say 95 percent of people are respectful."

For Cannon and his family, being on the diamond after work on summer nights beats the alternative. He started playing at the age of 15 in church league games with his father, Cliff.

“You’re outdoors, not sitting at home by a television or playing video games as the hours tick away,” he said. “It’s definitely a family affair for us. My dad plays with me on a men’s league team. I’ve played with my sisters (Kristin, Emily, Stacia) and my mom (Shelly) ... we’ve played with aunts, uncles and cousins as well.

“Everyone has their own input on it, but the camaraderie is what makes it all fun and worthwhile for us,” he added. “To me, there’s nothing better than playing ball with family and friends every day.”

But the biggest goal of adult softball for Lindenberger and his staff is to have competitive balance.

"That's where we have an advantage over some other leagues," he said. "On Sundays, we have 24 teams that play in three divisions of eight teams. We have a good, average, and maybe not so good division.

"If you play in other cities, you can get nothing but lopsided matchups — and that's not fun for anybody," Lindenberger added. "We have good competition. The goal is to have people playing from surrounding areas. We love offering the service and having people come to town to enjoy our leagues."

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