By John Rice
It's shiny, it's gold, and it's heavy. Like the Oscar, it's heavier than it looks. It's a golden replica of an Official Clincher 16-inch softball.
The base bears these words: "Forest Park Review 2016 Media Award." It was presented at the 21st Annual 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame Inductee Awards Dinner on April 1 at the Drury Lane Theater.
The award means the world to me and the Review staff, who work so hard on the special section for the No Gloves Tournament every year. It was my job to accept the trophy and give a brief speech. With so many recipients marching to the podium to thank — well, they had many people to thank — it did feel a little like the Oscars.
I went to the dinner with Joe Chomiczewski, who carried a Clincher and asked for an autograph from every HOF inductee we encountered. After the formal photo was taken, Joe and I made it to our table. At a big banquet like this, it's crucial to sit at a good table. Fortunately, we were seated at Table 5, which we shared with Lisa Lovato and her clan.
Lisa is a ball-of-fire who grew up playing softball with her 10 siblings in Blue Island. Her team won the Blue Island championships when they were still teens. In 1977, Lisa moved from this hotbed of softball to Ludington, Michigan, where no one had heard of the sport.
Switching to 12-inch, Lisa was a highly-rated high school player, who earned a four-year free ride to Ferris State University. Her team made it to the Division II College World Series. After graduation, she returned to Blue Island to win more honors as a 16-inch player. She retired in 1999 and moved with her husband, a Hall of Famer himself, to Cave Creek, Arizona, where she works with children who have special needs.
Being a teacher, Lisa wasn't nervous about giving her acceptance speech. But her family kept her loose, laughing about old war stories in Blue Island. Beer also helped. After her lively two-minute speech, they presented her with cards and gifts. The most touching was the Clincher she played with when she was 9 years old. It also meant a lot that her 87-year-old mother, Elaine Lovato, had made the trip from Ludington.
Sitting with such entertaining people was a blessing because we listened to two hours of acceptance speeches, before it was the Review's turn. I had written a speech that I timed at two minutes. I thought it had two applause lines. "The Review is celebrating its 100th birthday this year," and "Forest Park is the Softball Capital of the United States," but the guests were too exhausted to clap. I also had three or four sure laugh lines. One of them earned a polite chuckle.
I wasn't the only Forest Parker there. Board member John Doss was greeting guests. Larry Piekarz, Grace Kenny and Rachell Entler represented the park district. It was quite a day for them, if you consider they were at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Family Recreational Center that morning. Rachell also got a shout-out for planning the banquet.
The food was excellent, the beer was cold, and we enjoyed gathering the signatures of the softball legends. I'm still grateful, though, that we met Lisa and her family. She epitomized the other inductees, who grew up playing pick-up games and climbed to the highest level of the sport. She only has one regret. The natural left-hander took her big brother's advice to bat right handed. If she hadn't listened to him, can you imagine how many leg hits Lisa would have gotten?
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.