Park District of Forest Park Commissioner John Doss is a life-long Forest Parker who has hasn’t missed a No Gloves tournament in its 45-year history. Of course, he doesn’t remember much from the first one, because he was only two years old. Since then Doss has participated in the tournament in every way you can: spectator, player and manager. This year, he can add organizer. As a park commissioner, Doss served on the tournament selection committee.
“I started out playing 12-inch softball when I was a kid,” Doss recalled, “But there was too much travel involved. It was more fun to play pick-up games of 16-inch.” Doss played his first organized game in the mid-90s, when he was 18 years old. “I played outfield for the Forest Park team, the Screwballs. I also played on some more competitive teams.”
Later in his career, Doss switched to catcher/designated hitter. “I retired from playing in 2011,” Doss said but this didn’t keep him away from the field. “I started managing O.B.I. It stands for One Bad Inning. If we could only keep it to that, we’d be alright.”
O.B.I. is not a Forest Park team. “It’s mostly kids from the south side of Chicago,” Doss noted, “They’re 23-30 years old and one of the better teams in the game. They could become the next 45s.” O.B.I. finished 4th in last year’s tournament. “That’s the highest finish I ever had, as a player or manager, which shows how hard it is to win the tournament.”
This year, O.B.I. is one of the favorites. Doss identified Windy City, Flashback and the Roadrunners as the other top contenders. “We have beaten and lost to each of these teams this season,” Doss said, “Our 1-9 hitters could lead off for other teams. Hitting is our strength. We beat Flash in a slugfest 20-19.”
Doss’ playing experience pays off in the dugout. “After years as a catcher, I know where a lot of these hitters hit the ball.” Besides scouting the opponent, being manager allows Doss to “exert some authority.” It must be working. “We played our worst game while I was on vacation.”
O.B.I. played a full 80-game schedule this season, including 25 games at Cicero’s Clyde Park and 22 games at Forest Park. Of course, this doesn’t compare to softball’s glory days, when teams like the Bobcats played 150-game schedules in front of packed crowds.
“The game is dying,” Doss admitted, “That’s why we took two Iowa teams this year. The game has to be bigger than Chicago.” Gloves are used in Iowa but one of these teams, Highlight, played without them this season to prepare for the tournament. “They could make some noise,” Doss said, “The other Iowa team, Impact, could be a bracket-buster.”
The committee also invited two young teams as part of their effort to grow the game. “Two of my sons, Ryan, 21and Andrew 18, play on No Fear. They received a play-in bid.” Doss joked that his sons are so into softball, “I have to put them on suicide watch if there’s a rainout.” No Fear has already had some success in tournaments, winning the ASA Nationals last year.
“I love the No Gloves tournament,” Doss said, “Seeing the fans sitting around the field, from Harrison Street to the “L” tracks. Now that I’m on the Park Board, I can help out with running it.” Who knows, he might also hoist a championship trophy someday.