There were a lot of laughs as hall of fame organizers and local officials struggled to pierce the tough earth during a ground-breaking ceremony April 4, but make no mistake, these people are serious about softball.
“It’s hard to believe this is really gonna happen,” Gary Thorsen, president of the executive board of directors for the 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame, said.
Having hosted the national no-gloves tournament for 40 years, the park district in Forest Park is slated to be the home of the sport’s shrine. On Saturday, former softball players, hall organizers and local supporters turned out to mark the beginning of construction on the hall.
A roughly 900-square-foot display will face Harrison from the western edge of the park, paying homage to some of the game’s best players. This outdoor exhibit is expected to be complete by July 1, in time for the 41st annual No Glove Nationals.
Eight plaques listing the names of hall of fame members will surround a massive, 3-foot stone softball. Following a diamond pattern, turf and brick pavers will extend out to four 7-foot softball bats made of concrete.
“This is a dream come true for anybody that ever played this game,” Ray Topps, vice president of the hall’s executive board, said.
The outdoor exhibit represents the first phase of constructing a tangible monument to honor the game of 16-inch softball. Since 1996, the hall of fame has recognized the game’s greats and each year inducts a new class. Players, teams, umpires and supporters are all eligible for the hall. But while the ranks of the recognized have continued to grow, there has been no way to put them on display.
“We’re honored as a village to ultimately be home to the softball hall of fame,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said during the weekend ceremony.
The final portion of the project includes renovating a small, vacant building near the corner of Harrison and Desplaines. Memorabilia, photos and other archival treasures are expected to be displayed there. Fundraising for this portion of the project is underway, and the goal is to sink $350,000 into the effort.
Fundraising for the outdoor exhibit was completed with a single pen stroke, according to organizers. Fritz Zimmerman, a former player and frequent team sponsor, was acknowledged for his donation that covered most of the $150,000 price tag.
“I didn’t do it for the attention,” Zimmerman said, shying away from the limelight.
It was less than a year ago that many of the same faces gathered in the park to announce the fundraising effort for the hall of fame. No-gloves softball began in the Windy City in the mid-1880s and was first played with a tightly wrapped boxing glove serving as the ball. The gloveless fielders played that way not to be unique, according to the sport’s historians, but because they couldn’t afford any equipment.
“It’s really gonna be something special,” Thorsen said of the hall.