One of the fastest-rising stars on the local 16″ softball scene provides proof that you don’t have to be a giant to excel at the game.

Although Brian “Chippy” Koronkowski stands only 5-foot-3, his electrifying combination of speed, power and range earned him the Most Valuable Player award at last summer’s No Glove National Softball Tournament in Forest Park.

He was thrilled to get the MVP trophy and hat for his stellar performance.

“It’s the biggest award of the year,” he said.

He also batted leadoff for the championship team, OBI (One Bad Inning).

Koronkowski is a perennial fan favorite. He is one of the fastest runners in the game and uses his elite speed to ignite OBI’s offense and also chase down balls in left field.

Koronkowski grew up in Chicago and lives near 47th Streetand Archer Avenue. 16″ softball remains popular in his neighborhood with leagues at nearby McKinley Park.

After his workday is over at the Chicago Tribune, Koronkowski can usually be found on a softball field. He plays in a park district league, a co-ed league with his girlfriend and, of course, as a top player for OBI.

“It’s fun to play sports after high school,” Koronkowski said. “I like the edge of competiveness. After work, it’s nice to not go home and watch TV.

“OBI is my favorite team. It’s a fun group of guys. It’s like hanging out with friends and seeing them 4-5 times a week.

He knows one of his teammates particularly well. His older brother Timothy plays shortstop and bats second.

The team is sponsored by McGaffer’s in Forest Park and Bub City in Chicago. After a recent rainout, OBI immediately repaired to McGaffer’s to have some fun (a common tradition among 16″ softball squads).

When he was 18, Koronkowski started playing competitive softball for Mudville. At 20, he played in the No Gloves championship game with Windy City.

As a versatile right-handed hitter, Koronkowski is known for cutting the ball and spraying line drives to the outfield. However, when outfielders see his smaller stature at the plate, they can’t cheat in to take away hits. His muscular 140-pound frame packs some power as well.

“I’ve hit a couple of home runs in the tournament so they can’t play in for me,” he said.

His Major League Baseball player comparison could be 5-foot-6 Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, who’s hitting .357 with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs.

In addition to being a nightmare for opponents on the base paths, he can also track down virtually any ball hit to left field. And if he can’t catch it, he will at least limit extra base hits by using his speed, taking good angles to the ball and playing fundamental softball.

Koronkowski believes the No Gloves is the premier tournament of the summer.

“The atmosphere at the No Gloves is like the big leagues,” he said. “You’re surrounded by fans. It has the best fields and the best food. I love the tacos. I’ll eat at least 15 during the tournament.”

While some people fear that 16″ softball is a dying sport, Koronkowski begs to differ

“I don’t think it’s a dying sport but it is a big commitment,” he said. “People stay home and play video games. They’re not committing to anything anymore.”  

Koronkowski is a throwback to the days when men packed the parks after work to play softball on summer nights. Although he’s good at “chipping” the ball into the outfield, he has no idea why he was given the nickname “Chippy” growing up.

It’s not like the personable 25-year-old has a chip on his shoulder.

He’s too busy playing the game he loves.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.