Softball

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Softball Raises Its Game

25 Sep, 2017

By: Peter Francesconi

Softball’s popularity continues to grow, not just in the U.S., but around the world. In fact, one of the highlights for the sport will occur in 2020, when it will return as an Olympic sport at the Tokyo Summer Games. This spotlight on softball will no doubt continue to lead to increased interest in the sport as the Games approach.

In fact, softball has been seeing a slight resurgence over the last few years, with the latest participation data from the Physical Activity Council showing 2.5 million total participants in 2016 for fast-pitch, up .3 percent from the year before, and 7.7 million total slow-pitch players, up a hefty 8.1 percent.

Where are these players finding their games? Here are some top venues from around the U.S.

Columbia, Missouri
“Columbia is a great town for volunteers,” says Beth Mead, sales supervisor for the Columbia CVB. “We are blessed with many community-minded individuals and organizations that are always willing to donate their time and talents to a wide variety of events.” Those events include the many sports, including softball, that thrive in this city, which also has three major college campuses.

Among the organizations that promote softball is the volunteer Diamond Council, which partners with the city’s Park & Rec Department, as well as competitive softball organizations, including the Columbia Rockers, Columbia Rattlers and Daniel Boone Little League Softball.

Columbia’s two main softball facilities are in Cosmo Park, located just off Interstate 70. The six-diamond Rainbow Softball Center offers professional-quality, lighted fields. At the north end of Cosmo Park is the Louis P. Antimi Sports Complex, with six lighted softball/baseball diamonds and two tee-ball fields. Both facilities have covered dugouts, electronic scoreboards, warning tracks, concessions and paved parking. The Rainbow Center has batting cages and a playground, and the Antimi Complex offers covered bleachers and foul-ball netting.
Columbia, which has a very walkable downtown area, offers nearly 40 hotels and a huge variety of restaurants to fit all budgets. Plus, there are more than 70 parks and an extensive, interconnected trail network.

Elizabethtown, Kentucky
Janna Clark, the sports and sales director for the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau, is high on softball. “With softball teams, the families are usually very social,” she observes. “They like to visit with each other and spend social time together at our park. So the way our quads are designed lends itself to that type of socializing. Our softball events become events both between the lines and outside the lines.”

The Elizabethtown Sports Park has six skinned fields for softball, all convenient for parents, fans and athletes to move from field to field or to view multiple fields at once. This easy mobility and viewability contribute to another notable feature with softball—the “showcase” events, including college recruitment events. For instance, each field can focus on a specific skill, such as offense, or base-running, etc. “Parents can almost stay in one place and watch a player on all fields, all while college coaches are watching for potential recruits,” Clark says.

The park also has full-service concessions, pavilion spaces, lots of parking, family restrooms, Wi-Fi, live-streaming capabilities, warning tracks, bullpens and shade structures. Plus, there’s a professional grounds crew to keep everything in top shape.

Greene County, Tennessee
“We’re home to the longest running high school girls’ softball tournament in the state — the Tiny Day/Red Edmonds Invitational,” says Tammy Kinser of the Greene County Partnership. The 31st edition of the event took place in April on fields throughout Greeneville, Tennessee, with money raised going to scholarships for participating players.

Greeneville Parks & Recreation maintains four softball fields and eight other diamonds throughout town, and all four high schools also have softball fields, as does the Greene Valley Developmental Center. In addition, Tusculum College offers Red Edmonds Field, a lighted grass softball diamond that has seating for 200.

Greene County is nestled in the Appalachian foothills of East Tennessee, surrounded by natural scenic beauty, with a fascinating history and an unlimited variety of outdoor activities.

Lincoln, Nebraska
The Doris Bair Softball Complex is Lincoln’s premier softball venue, with a total of seven ball fields. Each field has its own scoreboard, and each dugout incorporates an enclosed warm-up bullpen. Shade areas and shade shelters are located throughout the park. Among the events held at Doris Bair are the Cornhusker State Games Girls Fast Pitch and 2015 State Games of America Girls Fast Pitch tournaments.

“We continue to do well with youth sports in general and youth softball in particular,” says Derek Bombeck, the sales development manager for the Lincoln CVB. “We do a lot of USSSA events, and we’re hoping to have more larger regional and national events.”

There are many other venues in the area, too, including the Optimist Youth Sports Complex, Densmore Park, Waverly Lawson Park and Mahoney Park, each offering four diamonds. The city also has Bowlin Stadium, where the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers play.

“People genuinely care about the events that take place here and love coming out and watching,” Bombeck says. “Not only that, but the city has always been known for its volunteerism. Events coming into town will be well-supported.”

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
“Softball is one of our strongest sports,” says Mike Anderson, executive director for sports tourism for the Myrtle Beach Regional Sports Alliance. 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.

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 schedule includes softball events of all sizes, including USSSA tournaments and World FastPitch Connection events. The premier facility in Georgetown is Eight Oaks Park, with eight total natural-grass diamonds, with dugouts and bullpens.

Odessa, Texas
The City of Odessa has 14 total diamonds at U.T.P.B. Sports Complex, comprised of eight adult softball fields and six girls’ diamonds, says Cori Branscum, the recreation and special events coordinator for the city. All the fields are lighted, have electronic scoreboards and dugouts with roofs. The venue recently held a USSSA fast-pitch tournament, and next year a girls’ fast-pitch All-Star Game is scheduled, along with many other events.

“Softball is pretty popular here,” adds Melissa Aguirre, sports and convention sales specialist for the Odessa CVB. “Plus, this area is very family-friendly.” For families and fans, U.T.P.B. also offers six picnic pavilions, a playground and a soon-to-open “Sprayground” splash park, which is free to use. (The Sprayground will be a state-of-the-art affair, with a custom-designed Jurassic dinosaur theme and featuring a dump bucket, spray arches, slides and more.) Nearby are shopping malls, entertainment and plenty of restaurants.

Softball events coming in to the area also have the benefit of help from community groups, including the Odessa Girls Softball Association, which hosts many tournaments and helps to run the U.T.P.B. facility during events.

Peoria, Illinois
Softball has two exciting, major venues in Peoria in the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex and the EastSide Centre. The Louisville Slugger complex has 10 total diamonds, all synthetic turf, all lighted, and with major-league style walkout dugouts. The facility and fields are ADA compliant and each field has LED scoreboards and time clocks, are wired for sound, Wi-Fi, webcasting and more. In the middle of each four-plex are concessions and restrooms.

The two-plex at Louisville Slugger has a championship diamond, a Jumbotron and wrap-around seating for 2,000. “That’s really a showcase field,” says Joni Staley, director of sales for the Peoria Area CVB. “Bradley University will move its program there.”

The Louisville Slugger complex also has a 125,000-square-foot dome with room for two full-size softball fields. “This facility is awesome, probably one of the best in the Midwest,” Staley adds. Within half a mile are five hotels offering more than 600 rooms, a shopping mall, theater, grocery stores and more.

About 10 minutes away is the EastSide Centre in East Peoria, which also has 10 natural-grass diamonds (two four-plexes and a two-plex with two smaller fields). For family fun beyond the fields, the Splashdown Water Park is connected to EastSide. “Both EastSide and Louisville Slugger often tag-team for large tournaments,” Staley says. This past July, the two hosted 180 teams for the Premier Girls Fast-Pitch Midwest Regional Championships.

Placer Valley, California
“Softball is big for us,” says Rachel Timms, the events service coordinator for Placer Valley Tourism. “The sport has been a major part of our sports tourism pie.”

And that’s led to some significant investment in softball facilities. For instance, last year, PVT put $425,000 into upgrading Whitney Park in the city of Rocklin, including adding four new diamonds for softball. All fields are lighted, there is shade for players, bleachers and more. PVT also invested $150,000 to upgrade Foskett Regional Park in Lincoln, which has the Eleanor Carnesecca Softball Complex, with four lighted diamonds, covered dugouts and bleachers. The city of Lincoln added permanent restrooms  and more trees were planted around the facility, which also features three children’s play areas.

Two other facilities in the city of Rose-ville are Maidu Regional Park and Mahany Regional Park. The 152-acre Maidu Park has four lighted, natural-grass softball fields with covered dugouts and scoreboards and is a particular favorite with USA Softball events Mahany Park has two lighted diamonds, also with covered dugouts and scoreboards.

Among the larger events held in the area is the weeklong Senior Softball USA Western National Championships, bringing in more than 120 teams each July, and the USA Softball 14B Girls’ Fast Pitch Tournament, held in early August. “All of our facilities are five minutes from hotels and restaurants,” adds Timms. “It’s all easily accessible.”

Raleigh, North Carolina
“Our market is truly a national softball destination,” says Jason Philbeck, assistant director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance. “We embrace the sport, especially with our youth and adult softball leagues and high participation. That translates to excellent facilities that host many regional and national events.”

Among the top venues for the sport is the Walnut Creek Softball Complex owned by the city of Raleigh, which has nine natural-grass fields (a wheel of five diamonds and a wheel of four) that this year is undergoing renovations. When the complex reopens in 2018, it will have upgraded fields and drainage. Walnut Creek has hosted a number of events, including NCAA DIII and high school championships. “We look forward to a lot of regional and national tournaments,” says Philbeck.

This summer, the Senior Softball USA Eastern Nationals were held at facilities in Cary, North Carolina, including the seven-field Fred. G. Bond Metro Park and Thomas Brooks Park, which has a four-field, lighted softball complex complete with two batting cages. Other facilities with multiple softball fields include Middle Creek School Park in Apex with four diamonds, Buffalo Road Athletic Park in Raleigh with five fields, and Parrish Womble Park in Holly Springs with four.   SDM

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