A COVID summer victory

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Among the many casualties of our COVID summer was our No Gloves National softball tournament. Thanks to a scrappy team from Forest Park, though, we can still celebrate softball. YTD won the Class A National Softball Championship! They triumphed over a large field of top teams, including 12 teams that would have competed in the No Gloves.

The national tournament was held on August 22-23 at Imagination Glen Park in Portage, IN. It was forced to move there because pandemic restrictions prevented it from being played in Illinois. Another wrinkle was that the players wore mitts.

Gloves or no gloves, YTD is known for its defensive prowess. Their speedy young outfielders tracked down fly balls and their infielders played tight defense. Besides their softball skills, YTD players are proud of their Forest Park roots. Of the 16 players on the squad, 14 were born and raised in town. They have been playing ball together since Little League. The team features three sets of brothers: Dylan and Brady Ryan; Jack and Sam Marino and three members of the Doss family, Andrew, John Ryan and Jack.

Andrew is Facility Manager and Athletic Supervisor for the Park District and said that this whole year has been an experiment for everyone. The Indiana tournament was part of the experiment. It was shortened from four days to two. Teams were only allowed to have 30 people at games, including their players. Players sat in the stands instead of the dugouts. Umpires and catchers were required to wear masks. Andrew has suffered so many softball injuries, including a separated shoulder, he was happy to don a mask behind the plate.

The COVID restrictions didn't bother the YTD players, but they had to be concerned when they fell behind in three of their tournament games. Twice they faced five run deficits and the Shooters had them down 7-0. Each time they rallied to win. They won all six of their games to avoid the loser's bracket. In the championship game, they faced the highly-favored Pharaohs and beat them handily. The game drew 8,000 views on Facebook.

They celebrated their championship at Carole's Tavern, which sponsored the team this season. They had much to celebrate. Six of their players were named to the All-Tournament Team and 19 year-old Jack Doss was named MVP of the entire tournament.   At the other end of the age spectrum was YTD's second baseman Paul Richards.

Paulie is 36 years old but still plays with the exuberance of a little boy. He is living proof that a lefthander can play second base. In the history of major league baseball, only a handful of southpaws have played the position. That's because it requires a difficult pivot for a leftie to make the throw to first base. 

Paulie faced another handicap, when he couldn't find his glove. He ended up wearing a women's glove, which he could barely squeeze his hand into. Nevertheless, he was rock-solid at second base. Paulie still bats leadoff after all these years and enjoyed a good tournament at the plate.

Besides their hitting ability, Paulie attributed YTD's success to their indomitable spirit.  Even when they were down, they cheered loudly for each other. They are lifelong friends who have had fun playing ball together since they were kids.

I can personally attest to this, because I coached Paulie in Little League. Eight years later, I managed Andrew. I am proud to see them grow into adulthood while still retaining their hometown friends and downhome values. As their elder statesman, Paulie, said after the tournament, "These kids are keeping me young!"

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