Forest Park is a community with a heart and it beats quickest during the No Gloves Tournament. Even with intense heat keeping crowds down, the four-day tournament served as a massive reunion. It brought together neighbors, friends and fans who savor the gladiatorial spectacle of barehanded softball.
The best part about the tournament is how it promotes interaction at every age level. An ex-neighbor spoke in amazement of meeting a high school classmate he hadn’t seen in decades. Teenagers socialized in groups beyond the reach of the field’s lights, while a group of young boys played their own 16-inch game, using trees for first and second base and a park bench for third.
The heart of the community wasn’t limited to the socializing on the sidelines. The money from the tip jars was used to defray the catastrophic health care costs of a Forest Park family. There was also a book well-wishers could sign for outgoing Park Director Dave Novak. Typical of the random kindness on display, a Park staffer gave a lift to an 89 year-old fan, who found the restrooms beyond his walking range.
Park Board Commissioners and their helpers ate smoke for four days, as they grilled delicacies like chicken sandwiches and Italian sausage. Former Mayor Lorraine Popelka was at her accustomed post, selling tickets for food and beer.
I relearned the art of pouring beer during a stint at a beer stand on Saturday. Not that there was steady demand for this skill. Water was selling in equal quantities. One customer asked for a non-alcoholic beer, which we didn’t have. The beer distributor explained that only six cans were sold at last year’s tournament, which didn’t justify sticking us with a case. A few of those cans had come in handy, though, when they were sold to an inebriated customer, who could no longer tell the difference.
The best thing about the beer stand was its commanding view of the field. We could watch two games simultaneously: the intensity level of the softball players undiminished by the scorching sun.
It was a treat to see a neighborhood kid, whom I’ve known since he was four, line a three-run homer down the right field line. The kid was such a blur on the base paths; he almost caught up to the runners he knocked in. Just last year, he had been part of the Park crew that “Zamboni’s” the dirt infield and redraws the lines between each game.
The superbly conditioned fields took a pounding but were still in shape for the final games. The tournament ends the same way each year-the sun setting on a Sunday night-the crowd in a ring around the championship game.
I keep hearing that 16-inch softball is a dying game and that the No Gloves Tournament is in decline. I hope that’s not true. Because nothing warms the heart of this community and sets pulses racing like this tournament-by the way, who won?