Forest Park, IL (PRWEB) July 19, 2014
Sixteen-inch slow-pitch softball, a subculture in the Windy City, will grand open its museum on July 19th in west suburban Forest Park to honor thousands of players, managers, umpires and sponsors who loved and excelled at Chicago’s Game.
Often viewed by out-of-towners as a blue-collar sport, 16-inch softball is a game played by sewer workers and bank presidents, by cops and newspaper reporters, by firefighters and computer programmers, by convicts and priests.
Today, the game’s popularity is growing as a co-ed sport when men and women co-mingle on the diamond and later at the sponsor’s saloon. And thousands more play the game just for fun at Sunday picnics.
The classic sport is played bare handed with a “Clincher,” a zig-zag stitched leather covered ball that is far from soft when taken out of the box. Its 16-inch circumference is as thick as a beefy man’s neck, and the best players have large, gnarled paws along with broad shoulders and beer bellies.
When the Chicago 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame Museum officially opens July 19th in Forest Park, it will honor such legendary greats as Stan “Rabbits” Zajac, Don “Ducky” Dulbis, Joe “Geetz” Gucwa, Willie “Steamer” Simpson, Bobby “The Grip” Garippo, Tony “Buzz” Norka, Vito “Tasty” Yario, Lewa “Rocco” Yacilla and Nate “Sweetwater” Clifton.
The players with evocative nicknames were only a few of the everyday Joes who worked day jobs as cops, baggage handlers, factory assemblers and bartenders, then dazzled the crowds while playing softball up to 200 nights a year.
Some Chicagoans say one of the attractions of 16-inch softball is the latent barbarism of this barehanded sport. In this gladiator-like game, the best players often are grown men the size of Hollywood star Russell Crowe who skillfully whack a ball that is almost the size of a man’s head with a wooden or metal club as the sphere arches its way from the pitcher’s gnarled hand.
Although the game resembles baseball, it really isn’t. Because of the skill necessary to play the game well, veteran players say 16-inch softball really is more like “playing chess with bats” because everyone is going to hit the slow pitched ball somewhere, so players are making defensive moves and adjustments to cover the holes all during the game.
Historians say Chicago’s game of softball was born as an indoor sport in 1887 at the Farragut Boat Club at 31st Street and Lake Park Avenue on Chicago’s South Side when George Hancock drew a baseball diamond on the gym floor, tied up the laces around the boxing glove to form a sphere and the players swatted it with a broomstick.
Although the game started indoors, by the 1920's it moved outdoors and became a popular sport in tight gravel school yards and small city parks. During the Great Depression, the game flourished because all players needed was a bat and a softball.
In its heyday in the 1970s, Windy City Softball magazine estimated that some 150,000 players were on the rosters of organized teams in the Chicago area. While the popularity of the game slipped a bit in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the sport experienced resurgence in 1999, when Chicago Public Schools adopted the game as a high-school sport.
Today, there are an estimated 200,000 people playing the game nearly every day on about 10,000 Chicago-area teams, ranging from Sunday picnic games and co-ed leagues to public high-school and church league teams, to “B” saloon leagues and the AA nearly professional leagues of Windy City softball.
Al Maag, the co-founder of the Hall of Fame—who organized and led the multi-year capital campaign to build it—expects 2,000 attendees to celebrate the inaugural public opening of the museum Saturday, July 19th at 7501 W. Harrison St. in Forest Park.
Founded in 1995, the Chicago 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame has inducted more than 500 former and current softball players, umpires, managers and organizers who excel in the sport. In addition to honoring the inductees, the organization gives special recognition to supporters and teams, who have made a difference in the sport with their quality of effort, play and longevity.
“Building the Hall of Fame has been a work in progress by dedicated volunteers. We are delighted to show off our new museum and highlight the players who have dedicated themselves to this great sport,” said Ron Kubicki, Hall of Fame president.
The Hall of Fame Museum boasts a graphic timeline of the history of the game in the Windy City, where the game has enjoyed decades of popularity, plus video highlights of great plays, including famous Chicago natives and celebrities recounting stories about players. One exhibit highlights talented women players.
Another exhibit provides an African American retrospective of talented players, who helped break down barriers to the game. The museum displays team photos and uniforms dating back to the roaring twenties—and spotlights Forest Park’s important contributions to making the game as popular as it is today.
“We are grateful for our sponsors without whom this project would not be possible,” said Maag. “The Hall of Fame welcomes any interested family or corporation to step up as the lead sponsor to prominently name the Hall of Fame Museum.”
Major sponsors of the Hall of Fame Museum capital campaign include: MaagCommplus, March Manufacturing, MB Financial, Molex Corp., and Waste Management. In addition to Museum naming rights, there are numerous benefits for exhibit sponsors.
For more information on 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame Museum and sponsorship opportunities, please contact Rachell Entler at rentler(at)pdofp(dot)org.
WHEN: Saturday, July 19, 2014
WHERE: 7501 W. Harrison St. Forest Park, IL.
REFRESHMENTS: Food and beer court open 10 a.m.-8 p.m.—provided
by Park District of Forest Park.
10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Park District of Forest Park “No Glove Nationals” Play-In Games
Noon-1:15 p.m. BAND: Whiskey’s Quicker (sponsored by Vet Tix).
1:30 p.m. Opening Ceremonies—Hall of Fame Museum/Inductee Park, Hosted by Ron Kubicki, president of Chicago 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame
Honored Speakers: Illinois Governor Pat Quinn; Anthony Calderone, Mayor, Village of Forest Park, and Eric Entler, Board President, Park District of Forest Park
2:15 p.m. Unveiling of 2013 Inductee Plaques
2:30 p.m. Ribbon cutting—Grand Opening 16-Inch Hall of Fame Museum.
3:00 p.m. Celebrities Chicago Game
4:30 p.m. Hall of Fame Inductees North vs. South game
5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Concert featuring Rhythm Method (sponsored by Park District of Forest Park)