Softball Facilities: Hitting it Out of the Park
1 Sep, 2020By: Peter Francesconi
Softball remains one of the most popular sports for Americans of all ages. According to research by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, in 2019, about 9.31 million Americans ages six and up took to the softball diamond for a game of either slow-pitch or fast-pitch. That overall participation number has remained constant over the past five years.
Slow-pitch softball has the bigger share of the game, with overall participation at 7.07 million in 2019, which translates to about 2.34 percent of the total U.S. population ages six and older who played the game at least once. While all ages play slow-pitch, the largest block, about 38 percent, is in the 25 to 44 age range, and about 58 percent of total slow-pitch participants are male.
Core participants in slow-pitch — those who play at least 26 times a year and account for the vast majority of purchases, tournament entry fees, etc. — slipped 3.1 percent for 2019, to 3.98 million. Fast-pitch softball, which has about 2.24 million participants, attracts a younger crowd. According to SFIA research, 43 percent of overall fast-pitch players are ages six to 17, and about 64 percent are female. Core fast-pitch softball participants have increased 11.9 percent to 1.36 million from 2018 to 2019, with 79 percent of core fast-pitch participants being female.
Whether fast-pitch or slow-pitch, softball tournament organizers want the best facilities for their events. Here are some of the top venues from around the U.S.
Cape Girardeau, Missouri
Along the Mississippi River on Missouri’s eastern edge, Cape Girardeau offers top softball facilities in a setting that appeals to players and families. The most active venue for softball is the Shawnee Park Sports Complex, offering eight softball/baseball diamonds (all with lights) for youth and adult players. Six of the fields have 300-foot fences, while two offer 375-foot fences.
The Arena Park Sports Complex has 15 youth softball/baseball fields of various sizes. The Capaha Ballfield, which features artificial turf, college-level lighting, bullpens and covered grandstands, is home to Southeast Missouri State University baseball, the semi-pro Cape Catfish of the Prospect League and local summer teams. “Shawnee Park, Arena Park and Capaha are all within about 15 minutes of each other,” says Alyssa Phares-Fee, the senior director of sales & strategy for Visit Cape. “You can reach all parts of our city in about 15 minutes.”
The venues have held some large events, drawing from states throughout the region. For instance, a USSSA girls’ fast-pitch tourney in June brought in about 100 teams, with 80 percent from out of the state of Missouri, says Phares-Fee.
Off the diamond, there’s plenty to do, including an outdoor water park and the Dogwood Social House offering food, sports, music and more. There are about 1,000 hotel rooms in Cape Girardeau, and many have indoor swimming pools. “We have a great downtown,” says Phares-Fee. “Teams feel comfortable coming here. It’s easy to get around and very affordable, especially for families.”
Columbia County, Florida
Columbia County is in northern Florida, about an hour west of Jacksonsville, and is known for its natural freshwater springs. “People go cave diving in them,” says Alden Rosner, the sports marketing director for the Columbia County Sports Commission, “along with tubing on the river.”
Sports-wise, the county has the Southside Sports Complex. Within its 140 acres are 12 natural grass softball fields, with eight specifically for girls’ fast-pitch. Four diamonds are for adult softball, which can be converted to girls’ fast-pitch, too. All 12 fields have lights and clay infields, and there are concession stands and restrooms at each quad. The venue also features covered dugouts.
“Every summer we host the Florida Babe Ruth State Softball Tournament, which brings in about 100 teams,” Rosner says. “We also do a lot of girls’ fast-pitch. USSSA events come here a lot, and we’ll do a college softball showcase in August, then another in November.” Other softball facilities in the county include a six-field complex in the town of Fort White.
The nearest regional airport is in Gainesville, about 30 miles southeast. Recently, a new hotel opened, bringing total hotel rooms to about 2,000.
Located less than an hour from Washington, DC, Loudoun County is nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west and the shores of the Potomac River to the east, offering excellent sports venues, with some spectacular views.
Loudoun is a mature sports destination with a vibrant and supportive sports community. For softball, the main tournament complexes include the award-winning Potomac Lakes Sportsplex, a 47-acre facility with four lighted, irrigated softball fields, offering 300-foot permanent fences and 200-foot temporary fences, skinned infields and bases from 60/70 feet. The Philip A. Bolen Memorial Park Baseball/Softball Fields are in a 450-acre regional park, with six 300-foot and three 200-foot diamonds. A number of events, including USSSA tournaments, are scheduled at both facilities.
Other venues for softball include the Brambleton Sportsplex, which has played host to the 2017 Senior Softball Atlantic Coast Championships and the 2020 USSSA Virginia Fastpitch State Tournament, among many other events. Claude Moore Park Sportsplex features five softball fields with 200-foot fences. It’s hosted many large tournaments, including the PONY nationals, ASA Eastern Nationals, Senior Softball Atlantic Coast Regional and USSSA East Class C Nationals.
“Our field crews are amazing,” says Torye Hurst, director of sales, sports and services for Loudoun Sports Tourism. “Tournament directors know our park and rec field crews are very committed—and it shows. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told how nice the fields are. They are a big reason that tournaments come here.”
Lubbock knows sports. The “Hub City” plays host to all types of athletic events, and has excellent sports facilities to offer, as well as a wide variety of hotels and plenty of post-competition activities for players and families.
For softball, the Thomas Martin Youth Sports Complex, formerly called the Lubbock Youth Sports Complex, offers 12 fast-pitch softball fields with bleacher seating for 250, and four concession stands, along with four baseball fields. The Berl Huffman Athletic Complex has four softball/baseball fields, with permanent seating for 200 and on-site concessions and restrooms. Also available are the four fields at Mackenzie Park. Plus, there are many other venues around the city—in more than 81 parks.
These premier venues host softball events of all sizes, says Scott Harrison, the sports director for Lubbock Sports. “In June, we hosted the USSSA Girl’s Goliath Fastpitch tournament, which brought in 90 to 120 teams on back-to-back weekends, and we host other large tourneys throughout the year.”
Lubbock is centrally located in west Texas, drawing from Oklahoma, the Panhandle, Metroplex, Arizona, New Mexico, Permian Basin and even from California, Harrison adds. “We’re a hub in the Midwest, which is why we bring in such large numbers of teams.”
Not quite three years old, Fort Missoula Regional Park is a 156-acre park and sports complex owned and operated by the City of Missoula and Missoula County, offering seven grass softball diamonds (five with lights) and full-service concessions. “It’s just gorgeous,” says Kara Bartlett of Destination Missoula. “There are also five miles of pedestrian trails, an outdoor exercise area, 10 multi-use fields and much more.”
But that’s not the only venue for softball—there are 19 diamonds available throughout the city. Plus, the University of Montana has its own synthetic turf field, built five years ago, with bleachers.
The future looks bright, with multiple tournaments getting on the schedule, including annual events such as the Senior Olympics and youth events. “Fort Missoula is looking to continue expanding,” says Bartlett. “It really brings in a nice draw of people, who often turn the trip to Missoula into a family vacation.”
Destination Missoula offers a grant program for new events and growing events that bring in at least 100 total hotel rooms. “We really want to share Missoula with people, so we want to incentivize groups and tournaments to come here to stay and play. We’re a really cool melting pot,” says Bartlett.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
“Our events do so well because we’re a true destination, with a full spectrum of hotel accommodations and restaurants, and tons of things to do,” says Jonathan Paris, executive director of sports tourism for Visit Myrtle Beach. The cities of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Georgetown are all strong softball destinations, each with tournament-quality multi-field facilities, for fast- or slow-pitch, with artificial turf and natural grass available. Many of the largest events bring in more than 200 teams.
Grand Park Athletic Complex in Myrtle Beach features nine total diamonds (a four-plex, three-plex and two-plex), all synthetic turf and all lighted. There’s also a six-tunnel batting cage and three towers for restrooms and concessions. The facility hosts numerous events each year, including state, regional and national tournaments for adults and youngsters.
The North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex has six diamonds and eight batting tunnels, along with a wide array of amenities such as umpire/officials rooms, concessions areas, picnic shelters, playgrounds, a three-acre dog park and much more. The Ned Donkle Field Complex offers seven natural turf diamonds, concessions and is two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. The premier facility in Georgetown is Eight Oaks Park, with eight total natural-grass diamonds, with dugouts and bullpens.
Panama City Beach, Florida
The 160-acre Panama City Sports Complex is a premier destination for sports tourism in the Florida panhandle. Among the many athletic amenities, the Sports Complex has 10 220-foot softball fields, five collegiate-size baseball fields, seven batting cages and LED lights. There are also three concessions areas onsite, Wi-Fi throughout, officials’ locker room and lounge, scoreboards on each field and more.
“The Sports Complex opened last summer, and we’ve been lucky to get some events in this year,” says Chris O’Brien of Visit Panama City Beach. “We started back up in June with some of our annual softball tournaments. We have about 400 to 500 teams coming through in the summer.”
Frank Brown Park has been a powerhouse when it comes to bringing in events, says O’Brien. The 200-acre venue offers nine full-size softball/baseball diamonds and has played host to numerous regional and national events for youth and adults, including USFA Fastpitch Softball and World Softball League tournaments, which often use 19 diamonds around the city and bring in 350 teams.
Panama City Beach has 27 miles of Gulf-front beach and is very family friendly, with plenty to do when not competing. There are 16,000 hotel rooms and restaurants to suit all tastes.
The city of Portland is located in the Coastal Bend region of Texas, a short drive across the bridge from Corpus Christi. Two brand-new facilities are available for play, both city-owned and just minutes from each other, offering all turf fields (the only all-turf fields in South Texas) and top of the line equipment, says Shelby O’Brien of Play Portland. The Municipal Park Fields facility has five diamonds, and the Sports Complex offers four fields.
“Portland is a unique spot,” says O’Brien. “We’re between a lot of tourist destinations. The city has four brand new hotels. Indian Point Pier is great for birding and other wildlife. Plus we’re not far from Corpus Christi.
“Portland also is right on the coast, and everyone loves the beach and the fishing. Since we have the only turf fields in South Texas, one of our slogans is ‘Come for the turf and stay for the surf.’” SDM