In deep center field, beyond the farthest reaches of the strongest hitters, aging veterans settled into lawn chairs to watch the tournament action unfold. But Keith Filkins, who played in his 21st No Glove Nationals tournament in Forest Park this weekend, just isn’t ready to join the old timers on the lawn.
Filkins, 42, banged out nine hits in 12 at bats, drove in 10 runs, and belted one home run as he won most valuable player honors for an unprecedented fourth time, leading the Miller 45s to their third straight title and fifth in the last six years.
The 40th Annual Forest Park Invitational, or the No Glove Nationals, marks the pinnacle of the softball season for many players and fans. For the second straight year the 45s clobbered Windy City in the championship game. Filkins and his teammates batted around and scored eight runs in the fourth inning Sunday evening to break the game open en route to a 14-2 victory.
Filkins was also named MVP in the 1988, 1989 and 1999 tournaments. He joined the 45s last year after having little luck beating them as a player for opposing teams.
“They were always the nemesis,” Filkins said. “We always played against them.
“I kind of took the easy way out.”
Just like Filkins, many players and even more fans have been coming for decades to Forest Park during the last weekend in July for the annual tournament. This year’s games were blessed with warm days, and soft cloudless nights.
Spectators swarmed the bleachers, stood along the foul lines and settled down in lawn chairs ringing the outfield. They enjoyed Italian sausage, hot dogs and steak tacos cooked by volunteers working the grills. Cold beer quenched their thirst. The crowd was mellow, the mood relaxed. Old friends embraced.
Rich Krieger has been to every tournament over the past 40 years. At the first, he was a teenager working for the Park District and he did a little bit of everything. Then he played in the tournament as member of the Spirit. Now he comes to watch, and to reconnect.
“I’ve never missed a tournament,” Krieger said. “It’s an old reunion; totally. I’m talking about people from the ’60s. My wife knows where I’m going to be for the entire weekend. She knows that this is my thing.”
Jack Sullivan lived in Forest Park for 25 years and played softball here and elsewhere for 35 years. He finally gave up the game at age 55. Though he left the village a quarter century ago, he still comes back every year to watch the tournament and to renew acquaintances.
“I see a lot of old friends,” Sullivan said.
Park Commissioner Cathleen McDermott is a regular volunteer at the tournament and was joined by roughly 100 others this year to help cook the food, man the booths, and take care of just about any other task that needs doing.
On the final day of the tournament the park board donated the contents of the tip jar – totaling some $1,500 – to help construct a hall of fame celebrating the game’s history in Chicago. Plans for that project were unveiled at the Park District earlier this month.
“This is like reunion heaven,” McDermott said. “This is where everybody comes to hook up with people they haven’t seen. If you want to run into someone who was your neighbor, or you went to school with, this is the weekend you will run into them.”
Park Commissioner John Doss has a unique perspective on the tournament. At 41 he still plays for the Hype, which allows him to evaluate the event both as a player and organizer.
Doss said there is simply no other tournament like this one.
“I’ve played softball for 25 years and this is the best,” Doss said. “It’s the atmosphere, the food, the people.”