Around this time of the year, you’ll likely find Ron Kubicki at his post at the Chicago 16″ Softball Hall of Fame (HOF) in Forest Park. Kubicki (the president of the hall of fame) and his crew are gearing up for the 48th Annual No Glove National Softball Tournament (July 28-31).

The Museum and Monument Park will be open to visitors throughout the tournament. Per usual, a variety of improvements have been made to the HOF.

Stricter criteria for induction have been created.

Visible improvements are apparent at Monument Park.

The glass cases that display the cards honoring HOF members have been problematic from the beginning. There apparently is no glue strong enough to hold them during extreme temperature shifts. Consequently, many of the cards slipped from their perches and fell to the bottom of the case.

The HOF members are remedying the problem by mounting the cards on metal shelves. They are also replacing all of the glass on the cases.

The price tag is $10,000.

Kubicki credited a generous sponsor for making the HOF’s upgrades possible.

Fritz Zimmerman, who owns March Manufacturing in Glenview, has donated $600,000 to the cause.

In addition to his donation, Zimmerman sponsors 20 teams.

 “We wouldn’t have the HOF without him,” said Kubicki, “but he doesn’t want publicity.”

Although Zimmerman prefers to fly below the radar, it’s difficult for someone who has been inducted twice into the HOF to keep a low profile.

“Everyone in the game knows him,” Kubicki said. “He cares about the game. He’s donated trophies, balls, uniforms and all sorts of memorabilia to the HOF.”

In fact, the museum features a display of softballs through the years. Some models were better than others. For example, the softball that never got soft was a problem. There was also an outcry when the manufacturing of Clinchers was moved from Haiti to Costa Rica. The new balls were known as being “slippery when wet.”

Still, the fact that a ball and bat are all that is needed to play 16″ softball gives the sport universal appeal. The game has spread to developing countries, where it’s as cheap to play as soccer.

Unfortunately, here in the birthplace of softball, there is evidence of decline.

“We used to have tens of thousands of players,” Kubicki said. “Now we have thousands.”

The HOF’s mission is to increase the popularity of the “greatest game in the world.” They are trying to attract young people in particular. They suffered a setback when the Chicago Public Schools discontinued softball due to budget cuts.

Kubicki was heartened, however, by a program launched at 26th and California for youthful offenders. He mentioned that they play softball every Wednesday at 4 p.m. (with a police presence on hand).

DePaul University also offers a class, which introduces students to 16″ softball. They hold their clinics on the pristine fields of Forest Park, under the watchful eye of Kubicki and other HOF members.

“We don’t start out banging the ball at them,” Kubicki said. “We show them how to safely catch the ball.”

Kubicki has plans to teach even younger students the game. He is in talks with local junior high schools to see if they can add softball to the sports the conference plays.

“We’ll give clinics on Saturdays and provide food,” he said. “It will be 14″ softball because their hands are too small for 16″. We plan to have the boys play in the fall and the girls in the spring.”

He will find out in August whether the conference is on board.

“We’re trying to promote the game with kids,” Kubicki said.

 

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball...