During these gray days let’s focus on something summery, like 16-inch softball. The induction ceremony for the 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame is January 14 at Hawthorne Race Track. The Takers, a team with a half-dozen Forest Parkers, will be inducted.

Rich “Chubs” Polfus, player/manager of the Takers, lives in Forest Park and is well known in softball circles. I first heard of Chubs at a White Sox game, when the man next to me spoke of meeting his friend Chubs at McGaffer’s Saloon.

So, I ended up at McGaffer’s listening to hours of stories about the Takers from Chubs and his teammates. P.M. Smith Funeral Home sponsored the team and their name was short for “Undertakers.” From 1973 to 1998, the Takers simply buried opponents.

A loss in the 1981 Forest Park tournament, though, was one of their finest moments. The Takers, seeded last in the tournament, took on the number one seed, Otto’s. The upstarts almost pulled off a monumental upset, losing on a two run homer in the last inning. Otto’s slaughtered the rest of their opponents..

Speaking of the Nationals, Chubs recalled the day a wealthy California couple got lost on their way to Midway Airport and ended up at McGaffer’s. The man liked the “old-time saloon” so much; he bought a round for all the bread drivers and ironworkers in the joint.

After introducing the visitors to Chicago-style hot dogs, Chubs wanted to show them Chicago-style softball. He rode in their Bentley to the Park to watch the No-Gloves tournament. While the Californians enjoyed the barehanded action, Chubs bought them t-shirts. He still receives photographs of the man wearing his No Gloves t-shirt while he sails his yacht.

The Takers have deep Forest Park ties and were once sponsored by the Shortstop Lounge. After winning a tournament, they put the $500 prize on the bar to pay for their celebration. Owner Gus Calderone only wanted the trophy and didn’t take a dollar from the winnings. It reminded Chubs of a Chicago bar owner whom they asked to sponsor the team. The owner spoke only four words, “I want the trophy.” It was like being told to retrieve the wicked witch’s broom, and the Takers came through.

Now, they come through by raising money for local charities and donating toys at Christmas. Their playing days are behind them but the camaraderie remains. Chubs can’t wait to see his old teammates at the Hall of Fame induction.

The Hall doesn’t have a permanent home, but Chubs believes Forest Park would be the perfect site. All they need is 1,000 square feet to display the plaques, pictures and memorabilia. Perhaps room can be found at the Park. That’s where Bennie Holt hit the longest ball in 16-inch history. He launched it from Field 1, by the expressway and it landed on the sidewalk along Harrison.

For tickets to enjoy warm softball memories at Hawthorne this Saturday, call Hall of Fame President, Gary Thorsen, (630) 697-3439.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.