Chicago may be the birthplace of 16″ softball but the sport also has a strong following in parts of Iowa.
Unfortunately, most Iowans grow up playing 16″ with a glove. There are some purists, however, who prefer to not flash any leather on the field in hopes of competing with Chicago’s top teams.
This year, a softball squad from Ankeny, Iowa, called Chuck’s is playing in the 48th Annual No Glove National Softball Tournament in Forest Park (July 28-31).
Manager Chad Krantman still hasn’t recovered from what happened to his team at the highly regarded tournament last year.
“It was our second trip to the No Gloves,” Krantman said. “We played Thunder and jumped out to an 8-0 lead but ended up losing 10-8. Then we were leading Brick18-3 and lost 20-19. It was an unbelievable game, very entertaining.
“(Executive Director of the Park District of Forest Park) Larry Piekarz consoled us after the game. He was very gracious. We canceled our hotel rooms and drove home with our tails between our legs. It was a long ride home.”
This year, Chuck’s already got their revenge against Thunder via a 20-12 win at Mount Prospect.
“We’re good friends with Chicago guys but we don’t have the players like Chicago,” Krantman said. “It’s weird but 16” in Iowa is all about gloves.
“My dad is in the Iowa Softball Hall of Fame. I’ve been around the game since the 1970s. I didn’t know until the 1980s there was a no gloves game.”
To close the competitive gap, Chuck’s plays barehanded against teams with gloves.
“We slaughtered teams wearing gloves,” Krantman said. “We’re not gloves virgins. I love playing and watching no gloves. The games are so much more intense in Chicago. There’s more coaching, managing and strategy.
“We’re trying to make a name for ourselves. Guys think we’re a bunch of hillbillies. We’ve paid our dues and earned respect. We’re learning more about the game.”
As evidenced by the high-scoring games they’ve played in the No Gloves, defense is Iowa’s Achilles heel.
“Defense is a problem compared to Chicago teams,” noted Krantman. “We can out-hit teams from Chicago but we don’t play as many games as they do. We’ve got good athletes but we lack experience.”
Chuck’s will play Traffic in their first game at the No Gloves tourney Thursday, July 28 at 9:45 p.m., at what Krantman calls the “Mecca of softball.”
Tim Walker, Krantman’s friend and fellow Iowan, agrees with Krantman about the tournament’s status as an elite event. He’s been playing in the No Gloves for a dozen years.
Walker enjoyed an Iowa Hall of Fame playing career for 30 years. Now, he’s primarily a sponsor and ambassador for the game.
Walker still shares a roster spot though with his 23 year-old son, Tanner. Walker was also a player on the only Iowa team to win the nationals at Mount Prospect. It was 1995, and thanks to Walker’s described “late game heroics and lots of luck,” the Carpet Country Rollers won the tournament.
As great as capturing that championship felt, Walker’s favorite softball memory goes back to the 1980s.
“Marshalltown (Iowa) hosted the ASA Nationals and I was part of the grounds crew,” Walker said. “I watched two Chicago teams play, the Safari Tigers against Touch for the championship. After the game, both teams gave me a jersey. I was a nobody but they gave me a jersey.”
Walker was inspired by the cool gesture.
“I wanted to move to Chicago just to play softball,” Walker said.
Though he remained in Iowa, Walker makes it a point to play Chicago teams 2-3 times a year.
“To be the best, you have to beat the best,” he said. “16” softball is the coolest thing in the world. I’ve always had a passion for the game.”
Walker doesn’t know how the game spread to Iowa but it’s primarily played in four towns: Marshalltown, Carroll, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.
He recalled it may have come to his hometown because the Marshalltown field was too small for baseball.
“Chicago understands the history of the game,” Walker said. “Iowa doesn’t get it.”
Like Krantman, Walker grew up playing with a glove.
“We’re trying to learn to play without gloves because our players don’t know how good the Chicago teams are until they play them,” Walker said. “I was amazed at how good the No Gloves teams were. We would be the worst defensive team so we tried to out-hit them. But they play no gloves 4-5 times a week. They’re good at it.”
16″ softball has a steady following in Iowa.
“It’s the greatest game in the world,” Walker said. “And there is a pocket in Iowa that is passionate about it.”
Walker’s team has had some success at the No Gloves. Their best finish to date is fourth place.
Perhaps, a team from Iowa will repeat the 1995 miracle in Mount Prospect and someday win the coveted No Gloves championship in Forest Park.
Chuck’s will certainly give it their best shot this summer.