Marty Dosen, left of center (pointed to by the player below) | Provided

Marty Dosen comes from softball royalty. His grandfather, Matthew, was the pioneer, playing 16-inch softball at South Side parks every night of the week. His dad, Matty, played for Traffic and his uncle, Marty, is being inducted into the 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame this year. Dosen, though, is making a name for himself in softball. 

The 24-year-old will be hitting in the heart of the order when his team, Meatball City, competes in this year’s No Gloves tournament. He’ll also be using his speed to run down balls in the outfield. His team is not among the elite eight teams that received a bye but they’re still hoping to “sneak up on some teams.”

Dosen has been sneaking up on people ever since he started playing softball. The right hander first played as a fill-in for Traffic. He immediately had “beginner’s success.” Opponents underestimated the power of the 5-feet, 9-inch batter. “Nobody knew who I was so I had the element of surprise.” After seeing him hit a few homers and doubles, “they figured out I could hit.”

Dosen has been hitting the ball from the time he grew up in Wheaton. Only it wasn’t a softball. “I have two brothers and we were always outside playing whatever sport with the neighbors. We used to play pick-up games of wiffle ball.” Whacking that plastic ball might have helped Dosen with his eye-hand coordination because he excelled at hitting a baseball.

He went on to bat cleanup for his team at Benet Academy. He also played baseball for Parker College and Phoenix College, before joining the baseball program at Cal State San Bernardino. Dosen was a .300 hitter at Cal State and admitted he “was obsessed with stats” during his college career. But like many young ballplayers, Dosen gave up on his MLB dream when he was 18. 

After graduating from Cal State with a business degree, Dosen spent that first summer playing 16-inch softball in the Wheaton League. He had already been around the game his whole life and enjoyed the laid back atmosphere. College baseball may have been pressure-packed but Dosen doesn’t even know his stats in softball.

He does know that Meatball City is above .500 in the Melrose Park league this season and they’ve been undefeated in Westchester. “Making the routine plays leads to winning softball,” said Dosen. This emphasis on defense has earned his team invitations to the No Gloves tournament two years in a row.

“The No Gloves is recognized by everyone as the biggest and best softball tournament,” Dosen said, “It’s the highlight of the summer for us. It has an aura. The food is great and the grounds crew is like a major league crew.” Player attendance is mandatory for the tournament, so Dosen’s teammates don’t schedule weddings for the last weekend in July. 

Meatball City, though, isn’t just showing up, Dosen sees them making a good run at the No Gloves. “I like our chances against anyone. We can hang with any team in the tournament. Our goal is to maximize the number of games we play.” Meatball City is accustomed to the pressure of playing in close games. They have also battled their way through the Loser’s Bracket at the No Gloves. “There’s more pressure with the Loser’s Bracket,” said Dosen.

As for the team’s curious name, Dosen believes it comes from an insult hurled by someone while they were trash talking. The team is sponsored by the Berwyn Municipal Police Association Local 1 and the FOP Brotherhood of the Fallen. Being sponsored by two police unions means Meatball City doesn’t have the usual bar sponsor for team gatherings.

This may be helping the team’s performance but it’s also appropriate for Dosen who is a patrol officer for the River Forest Police Department. “It was never on my radar to become a police officer,” Dosen said but so far it’s been a good fit. 

Softball has also been a good fit for Dosen, because he keeps his priorities straight. “Family and work come before softball,” said Dosen, “It’s not very healthy when softball takes away from family.” His wife enjoys coming out to the games and soon there will be three in the family. They were expecting their first child in mid-July.

To leave time for his family, Dosen only commits to playing one or two games on weekdays and tournaments on the weekends. He sees a divide between younger players like himself and older players, like his grandfather. “I didn’t grow up in the city.” He can’t picture himself playing softball every night at the local park. “You can’t sustain that nowadays. It’s recreational – not a profession.”

“Some of the older players want the game to go back to how it used to be.” Dosen doesn’t see it happening. “The world is so different now.” There are more entertainment options than softball. Dosen also believes the tournaments go on for too long. “They should end on Saturday and leave Sundays free for the family.”

He acknowledges there are not as many spectators at softball games as there once were. “But there are more eyes on the game than ever, thanks to social media.” He believes live-streaming games is increasing softball’s popularity from coast to coast. 

When Dosen calls for shorter tournaments, he’s not including the iconic No Gloves. 

“It draws good crowds. You don’t see anything like it anywhere else.” 

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.