Like most team sports, softball (both slow-pitch and fast-pitch) took a hit in enrollment due to COVID. But now, while still down from pre-pandemic levels, participation seems to be on the way back. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s Topline Participation Report, in 2021 about 6.01 million people played slow-pitch and 2.09 million played fast-pitch softball.
You can find softball venues virtually everywhere in the U.S. but consider these localities for your next tournament or event.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
When it comes to softball facilities in the Ann Arbor area, tournament owners and directors can easily find venues that best suit their events. “We have several field setups throughout Washtenaw County that are ideal for softball,” says Mike Malach, the executive director of the Ann Arbor Sports Commission. Ranging from recreation department to high school to college venues, most include four fields, restrooms and parking.
The Ann Arbor area has hosted several weekend youth tournaments with up to 30 teams. Malach says the Sports Commission has been working with slow-pitch adult leagues to position more of their larger events in Washtenaw County.
For visitors of all ages, Ann Arbor has a lot to offer. It’s a bustling university town with numerous restaurants, a walkable downtown, and world-class arts and culture. Highlights include the Yankee Air Museum, Children’s Hands-On Museum Rolling Hills Water Park, the Huron River, and much more. The area is home to the University of Michigan, Concordia University Ann Arbor and Washtenaw Community College, as well as their sports facilities.
“At the Ann Arbor Sports Commission, we have years of experience hosting and running events,” says Malach. The Commission can help find venues, hotels and discounts and in some cases help with sponsorships.
Softball is thriving in Beaumont, with two premier facilities. Ford Fields offers 12 youth diamonds with all-weather turf infields, covered bleacher seating with protective netting, concessions, restrooms, 1,000 parking spaces and more. The Beaumont Athletic Complex also has 12 softball fields, bleachers, restrooms and more than 500 parking spaces.
The city has hosted some large events in recent years, including 140 teams for the Perfect Game World Series 9U-13U for five days this past June. Last year, the Southern Black Softball Association World Tournament, with 80 teams, and the U.S. Fastpitch Association Western Nationals with 65 teams came to town for three days each.
This past July, 20 teams with 400 participants came to play in the weeklong National Beep Baseball Association World Series, which is baseball for the visually impaired and blind. “The CVB planned and coordinated everything, from shuttle service to the scheduling of 75 volunteers per day,” says Freddie Willard, Director of Sales for the CVB.
The CVB will help tournament owners and organizers by, among other things, coordinating site visits, assistance in securing facilities and accommodations, help with promotion and advertising, securing restaurant discounts, volunteer assistance, and providing welcome and registration assistance.
“Our community rallies together to welcome teams, their families, and fans,” says Willard. “Our goal is to help create successful events. When it comes to sports, Beaumont just ‘gets it,’ and so do our partners.”
“We have hundreds of tournaments, especially for kids, throughout this area,” says Chicago Southland CVB’s Andy Ritter on the popularity of softball in the region. “Most of our park districts or villages [cities] have existing relationships with organizations and leagues.”
Among the larger Southland venues is the Mokena Park District, which offers 15 fields, including four lighted diamonds at Main Park, with restrooms and bleachers, and four fields at Hecht Park, with batting cages, covered dugouts, bleachers and restrooms. Orland Park District has a total of 34 fields, with three parks hosting tournaments: Centennial Park with nine lighted fields, the 11-field John Humphrey Complex, and Veterans Park, with four lighted fields.
Memorial Park in Midlothian offers six lighted grass fields with covered dugouts, batting cages, bleachers, concession stand and restrooms. There’s also the 2,600-seat Ozinga Field stadium in Crestwood, home to the Windy City ThunderBolts of the Frontier League. The artificial turf diamond has lights, covered dugouts, batting cages, a bullpen area, locker rooms, concessions, 1,800 parking spaces, press box, restrooms and more.
Among recent large events is the TCS Super 72 in Orland Park and Midlothian, which attracts more than 70 teams, the Midwest Championships held in Orland Park, and the Little League Softball Central Regional Championships held at South Holland Park District, which included 150 players. This past August, the area hosted the 2022 Wheelchair Softball World Series.
“In the heart of the Midwest, you won’t find a more convenient location,” says Ritter. “We’re located within a five-hour drive from eight states, making the commute to the Chicago Southland quick and easy.”
El Paso, Texas
The El Paso County Sportspark features 10 lighted diamonds, with concessions, batting cages, dugouts and covered bleachers plus an onsite restaurant. The Westside Sports Complex, which has 13 fields that can be utilized for softball, has played host to several major events, including the 2020 USSSA Whole Enchilada. The site has concession stands and more than 1,000 parking spaces.
Blackie Chesher Park offers five lighted diamonds, with restrooms and covered bleachers at each field. And Helen of Troy Softball Complex, on the campus of the University of Texas at El Paso, is home to the UTEP softball team. It features 607 fixed seats as well as grass berms down both lines for additional seating. Facilities include a press box, ticket windows, concessions, bullpens and batting cages.
Recent events have included the International Slowpitch Softball 2022 Hispanic World Championships, which brought teams from across the U.S. as well as Mexico and nations in South America. The USSSA Whole Enchilada 2020 included more than 200 teams and over 5,000 people. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the Senior Softball-USA Texas State Championships brought up to 70 teams each year. This coming February, El Paso will host the International Slowpitch Softball 2023 Winter World Championships.
“Visit El Paso takes pride in helping event planners execute fantastic events for athletes and spectators alike,” says Emi Diaz of Visit El Paso.
In Gainesville, says Joleen Cacciatore Miller, the executive director of the Gainesville Sports Commission, “The whole community is ready to help make your event experience exceptional.” The GSC staff offers plenty of help to organizers and tournament directors, including finding the right facility, grant funding, equipment, hospitality, hotel discounts and more.
The area also has some terrific facilities, including the state-of-the-art Champions Park, with 16 lighted fast-pitch softball fields, each with artificial turf infields and Bermuda grass outfields, along with permanent fencing at 220 feet. The Hal Brady Recreational Sports Complex has three lighted youth fields with skinned infields and 200-foot outfield fences, plus a championship softball stadium with lights, skinned infield, and seating for 2,500. The Easton-Newberry Sports Complex has two lighted youth softball fields (skinned infields, 220-foot fences), and Kelly Seashole Pressly Softball Stadium, home to the Florida Gator team, has natural grass with a red clay infield and seating for 1,200.
Among recent events and showcases, the area hosted the Premier Girls Fastpitch Florida Summer States Tournament, with 103 teams and more than 20 college coaches attending, and the massive PGF Show Me the Money Tournament, which brought in 106 teams and more than 136 college coaches.
Kansas City, Kansas
“Among key facilities available for softball in the Kansas City, Kansas area is the Wyandotte County Sports Complex,” says Steve Walls, Marketing & Communications Manager for Visit Kansas City Kansas. The complex has six diamonds complete with concession stand, restrooms, bleachers and dugouts, and also is close to hotels, restaurants and other attractions. The facility has played host to larger events including the Battle in the Dotte and the Summer Series.
At Kansas City Kansas Community College, the softball/baseball diamonds benefited from a $4 million renovation to the athletic facilities. There’s a concession stand and restrooms at the entrance to the complex, along with seating for 300. The playing complex also includes batting cages, bullpen, 10,000 square feet of practice area on artificial turf and more.
All of the fields are located near The Village West Shopping and Dining area. The state’s top tourist destination, Legends Outlets Kansas City, is the home to more than 75 leading designer and favorite brand-name stores, and also features a wide variety of restaurant and entertainment venues. Kansas City also offers a variety of places to stay to fit all budgets and tastes.
Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania
“Sports has really taken off within Lackawanna County,” says Alexa Peregrim, the Sales Director for the Lackawanna County Visitors Bureau. “When COVID put a damper on tourism in general, we started working to develop a more robust sports tourism segment.”
At the University of Scranton, facilities include Magis Softball Field, which is part of the Quinn Athletics Campus. There are also facilities at Marywood University, where the softball and baseball fields were named the top college fields in the country in 2016 by the SportsField Management Association (formerly known as the Sports Turf Managers Association). Penn State Scranton recently spent millions of dollars on field renovations. And Schautz Stadium has new turf, batting cages, stadium seating, LED scoreboard and concessions.
“While most of our facilities are single fields,” notes Peregrim, “they’re only minutes away from each other, so we’re able to ensure events are successful for tournament planners.”
Lackawanna County is just two hours from Philadelphia and New York City, three from Baltimore and four from Washington, D.C. “We’re in a prime, central location for any recruiter looking to bring teams from all over the Northeast,” she adds. The CVB helps to arrange site tours, then will help with hotels, logistics, discounts, signage, welcome bags and more. “We can also help find sponsorships if needed.”
Another plus is the numerous attractions in the area, for all ages, including the Houdini Museum, Steamtown National Historic Site, the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour, Lahey Family Fun Park and much more. There’s also the Lackawanna County Pizza Trail, with 62 local eateries.
Snohomish County, Washington
One of the top venues for softball in Snohomish County is the Phil Johnson Ballfields in Everett, with four lighted fields, 60-foot bases, pitching rubbers at 35 to 43 feet, bullpens, 200-foot fences, scoreboards, concessions, vendor merchandise area and more. Several restaurants are all withing a half mile of the facility, too.
The Meadowdale Athletic Complex in Lynnwood offers five lighted fields, with flexibility in pitching distance, bases and outfield fences. Three of the five diamonds are sized for adult softball, including one at 295 feet with 30-foot fences and seating capacity for 600 spectators.
“Renovations in recent years at Phil Johnson Ballfields and Meadowdale Athletic Complex has given us the opportunity to host fastpitch and adult softball tournaments year-round,” says Tammy Dunn, Executive Director of the Snohomish County Sports Commission. “The Pacific Northwest has beautiful fall weather in September and October.”
Other top venues include Kasch Park in Everett, with four lighted fields with 285-foot fences, dirt infields and grass outfields, vendor area, variable pitching and base distances, concessions, restrooms and seating for up to 500. Sky River Park in Monroe has four fields with portable fences available, vendor area, concessions and more. Sky River also has an all-turf Miracle Field, with 200-foot fences and seating for 100 fans.
The Snohomish County Sports Commission offers tourney organizers help across the board, from venues and hotels, to discounts, to promotion and media, to helping to find volunteers. SDM