As a young Little League baseball player, I learned the sport on these same fields. We all knew exactly when the tournament was on the calendar and always took the opportunity to shag fly balls during pre-game batting practice as middle-schoolers (or younger). We learned 16-inch softball by watching the best the sport had to offer — both during the league games in Forest Park and then during the tournament of the summer, the No Gloves Nationals.
As a teenager, I had my first jobs at the park district — lifeguard, day camp counselor, scorekeeper, concession stand worker, and a rare appearance as a maintenance crew substitute. Eventually, the neighborhood guys I grew up with put together a team to join the fun — Spillage. How could we not? We watched the Screwballs win trophies and the No Gloves turn our town into the Mecca of Chicago’s game.
As life took me to Dubuque, Iowa and Loras College, the easiest and most rewarding way for me to stay involved was to return to score and announce the games at the No Gloves one weekend each year. My parents, Bruce and Cathy, remain proud Forest Park residents. Eventually, the seed planted on these fields at the park district turned into a career for me — sports information director for seven-plus years at an NCAA Division III school, my alma mater, doing very similar work as a statistician and announcer and play-by-play man.
So I returned summer after summer, as a 20-something, reuniting with the friends I grew up with to tell stories over draft beers. Then back for more as a 30-something husband and father, sharing the sport with a family of my own. I haven’t missed a tournament since those early days as a Little Leaguer.
This park district and this tournament, and more recently the Hall of Fame, are special. Plain and simple. In my opinion, this weekend is the “front porch” of our Chicagoland town. For some people, this tournament is all they see. It is a glimpse into the hospitality and spirit of a community. For those who live here, it is a true point of pride — welcoming guests into our home. If you get past the front porch and interact with our community beyond this weekend, you see and feel the same diverse and genuine energy that makes Forest Park and our park district what it is: one of a kind.
And I can’t be the first person who has told you that this is all made possible by the people of this town, the ones who volunteer their time or earn their living here. It doesn’t really matter which. We all feel the same pride and responsibility to make guests feel welcome and at the same time ensure the friends we grew up with are our friends for life.
As softball fans, you’re probably most familiar with the leadership of Dave Novak and Larry Piekarz. They deserve every compliment and kind word you can come up with for building this tournament into what it has become during my lifetime. But there are many, many more people who define this tournament and this town. I promise you. Bud Boy and Larry Buckley and Grace Kenney. Every commissioner and full-time employee, many of whom I am thrilled to call my friends. Every grounds crew member or maintenance man. Every cook on the grill. Every office worker behind the scenes. And yes, every scorekeeper, too (thanks for everything over the years, Mr. Stats!). Each and every one of them makes this front porch the best combination of class and outright fun around.
Congratulations, Forest Park! And, of course, thank you for all you’ve given me. I’ve got 38+ years of immense pride to go with the memories stamped on my brain, and we’ve all got 50 years of the best softball anywhere to hang our hats on! The Best of the Best play at Forest Park!
Jon Denham is the scorekeeper and PA announcer for the No Gloves tourney, 1996-2018 (approximately), and for the championship game 2001-2018 (approximately). A Forest Park native, he returns from Iowa every summer since he left for college and started his adult life in Dubuque, Iowa, in the fall of 1998.