Park Director Larry Piekarcz said that part of the appeal of the No Gloves Tournament is the elements that have remained constant through the years: top-notch softball, smoke rising from grills and busy beer tents. However, for the 45th annual tournament, there will be some new attractions.
The Park is preparing a new tournament website, the 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame will be open to the public and the park is partnering with Blue Max Coffee, 26 Lathrop, Forest Park to provide coffee and scones on weekend mornings and a signature drink for the evening proceedings.
Otherwise, the tournament will follow the successful format that makes it the premier 16-inch softball event in the country. It all kicks off Wednesday July 24, when four teams will compete in a mini-tournament, to determine which will join the 24-team field. Piekarcz didn’t identify any early favorites to win the tournament but said Windy City and Flash were again fielding strong teams. He believed all the teams have a good chance, including OBI, the Forest Park squad led by Public Works Director John Doss.
“This is serious softball,” Piekartz said, “It’s not like a recreational league. They’re in it to win it.”
The thousands that visit the tournament will have an opportunity to tour the new Hall of Fame building. Piekarcz was proud that, “No tax dollars were used for a beautiful building.” However, the hall members are “desperately looking for donations to complete the interior.” Visitors can see the inside but it won’t have the interactive displays that will be installed when the money is raised.
Park Commissioners Eric Entler and Cathy McDermott are recruiting and coordinating the 125 volunteers needed to help out during the tournament. There will be no changes to the food tent’s menu. “Steak tacos remain our biggest seller,” Piekarcz said, “I have nightmares about tacos, we go through so many.” Piekarcz might have had these disturbing dreams at the Park, because he has sometimes slept there after working until 2:00 a.m.
The other Park employees also put in long hours. The maintenance workers groom the fields between games and keep the grounds clean. One of them pulls an all-nighter to make sure all the trash is picked up. Police and Auxiliary officers keep the peace, though the tournament is usually incident-free.
The tournament serves as a fun-raiser for the Park. By providing “quality food at reasonable prices” they’ve been able to turn profits ranging from $16,000 to $30,000, depending on the weather. Though coolers hurt revenues, team captains promised Piekarcz their players will buy beer and food from the stands.
There will be some familiar faces cooking behind the food stand. Former Commissioner Sam Alonzo and retired Director Dave Novak will once again be eating smoke, as they grill chicken, sausages and burgers. Alonzo said that one of the joys of cooking is hearing the stories of former police detective Joe Byrnes.
Terry Griffin, who has owned the Blue Max for five years, is also anxious to join in the fun. He met Piekarcz by chance when both were visiting the Illinois Liquor Commission. “I saw this guy in a Forest Park jacket,” Griffin recalled, “You know Larry, he’s awesome.” The pair talked at length about softball. Piekarcz thought Blue Max coffee, scones and drinks would be a great fit with the four-day tournament.
Griffin confessed that until he moved to Forest Park, in December 2012, “I didn’t recognize how big the No Gloves was.” He sees the tournament as a way to raise awareness of the Blue Max. “We’re kind of off the main stretch. This is a way for us to connect with the community.”
Though primarily known for its coffee and desserts, the Blue Max serves an array of alcoholic drinks. Griffin worked with the celebrated mixologist Adam Seger to develop the cocktails. The signature No Gloves drink will be a raspberry lime Rickey. Like all the Blue Max concoctions, it contains freshly-squeezed fruit juice. The alcohol content will come from hum; hibiscus rum that Griffin said is amazing. They’re still working on a softball-themed name for the drink.
“I can’t wait,” Griffin said, “My staff is all excited, because they’ll be able to use a machine, instead of squeezing the fruit by hand.”
On Saturday and Sunday mornings, they will serve coffee and scones at the Blue Max tent. The scones come in a variety of flavors, blueberry, strawberry, cinnamon and chocolate chip to name a few. As for the opportunity to serve food and drinks at the tournament, Griffin “hopes it will become annual.”