Swinging Into Action
14 Sep, 2018By: Peter Francesconi
Things haven’t been easy for softball in recent years. The sport was dropped from the Olympics for the 2012 and 2016 Summer Games, and that move alone may have been the reason softball has struggled a bit to maintain overall participation in the U.S. Happily, though, the International Olympic Committee voted two years ago to put softball (and baseball) back into the Olympics, so the diamonds will again shine at the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
In terms of participation in the U.S., the Physical Activity Council’s annual study says there were about 2.3 million fast-pitch and 7.3 million slow-pitch players in 2017. While both numbers were down slightly from the year before, it appears the downward trend is slowing and may, in fact, be turning around.
A number of groups organize and run tournaments and championships, but USA Softball, based in Oklahoma City, is the National Governing Body of the sport, with a membership of more than four million players and representing over 160,000 teams. Of course, as the NGB, USA Softball also picks the national team that will represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games.
These diamonds around the country might just be perfect venues to highlight the sport’s future stars.
With first-class venues, great hospitality and a sports-friendly, welcoming community, softball comes alive in Beaumont, which is on the eastern side of Texas near the Gulf of Mexico.
The city features two premier places to play: Ford Fields and the Beaumont Athletic Complex. Ford Fields offers 12 championship-caliber fast-pitch softball diamonds, each with all-weather turf infields. The fields are arranged in four pods, and all spectator areas feature covered seating with protective netting. Other amenities include batting and pitching cages, designated team warm-up areas, concessions, restrooms and a centralized main gate, leading from parking for 1,000 cars.
Beaumont Athletic Complex also has 12 diamonds and plays a major role in hosting state, regional and national softball tournaments, often attracting more than 120 teams. Among tournaments the city has hosted are events for USSSA, USA Softball of Texas, Mid-South World Series, Southeast Texas Showdown and U.S. Fastpitch Association.
“Softball has grown here at such a remarkable level,” says Christina Majdalani of the Beaumont CVB. “We continue to invest in and expand our facilities.”
Beaumont has all the comforts of a big city, but with the coziness and convenience of a small town. Sports and meeting venues, hotels, top restaurants and attractions are all easily accessible and just a short drive from almost anywhere in the city.
City of Colleges Park, voted Facility of the Year by the Arkansas Recreation and Parks Association in 2010, is Conway’s five-field, city-owned softball park, and considered one of the top softball parks in this part of the country. The lighted diamonds are home to softball teams from Central Baptist College and St. Joseph High School and offer covered seating for spectators, concessions, restrooms and a playground to help keep young fans busy. There is also a warm-up pitching area at every dugout.
There are three additional adult softball fields at the Don Owens Sports Complex, and the University of Central Arkansas also has another four softball fields. Among the tournaments that Conway hosts, says Rachel Shaw, the director of destination marketing for the Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau, is the Hiland Dairy Youth Classic in June, drawing at least 75 teams.
“All of our hotels are within about a 10-minute drive to the softball complex,” Shaw says. “Also close to the fields are shopping areas, several restaurants, and many attractions. Our downtown area is always great for visitors, with lots of shops and restaurants.”
The diamonds shine bright in Lubbock, with dozens of top-of-the-line, tournament-ready softball fields at well-maintained sports complexes, all in close proximity to each other. Each facility has regulation-size fields, concessions and an atmosphere sure to satisfy players and tournament organizers.
The Lubbock Youth Sports Complex offers 16 diamonds in four pods, with pavilions, covered seating areas, and 250 seats per field. The Berl Huffman Complex features four fields, with seating for 250 per field, along with concessions. Rocky Johnson Field, on the campus of Texas Tech University, is home to the Red Raiders softball team and is considered among the finest college softball venues, offering seating for 1,100 spectators.
Lubbock Sports offers a variety of services and hospitality, including game and event staff and experienced umpires. One of the biggest softball events in Lubbock is the USSSA Goliath Tournament every June, which brings in up to 200 teams from at least half a dozen states.
“There’s big-time support for softball here in Lubbock,” says Scott Harrison, the sports director for Visit Lubbock. “Once people come here, we rely on our hospitality to make the tournament a success, so players, organizers and fans want to come back.”
When it comes to softball (and baseball), the city of Odessa has 38 lighted diamonds to offer, including 14 softball fields at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB) Park. “Softball is a big sport here in Odessa,” says Melissa Aguirre, the sports & convention sales specialist for the Odessa CVB. “Our city and our residents are always very welcoming.”
In July, Odessa hosted USA Softball’s West Texas All Star event, with about 1,000 girls participating. “Throughout the city, businesses would welcome these all-stars, with many putting welcome messages on their marquees. Town officials also showed their support for the event and gave remarks during the tournament’s opening ceremony.”
UTPB Park, with concessions on site, is in an ideal location for athletes, families and fans. Also on the site is a Jurassic Jungle splashpad that kids and families will enjoy during hot summer days, along with other play areas for kids. Plus, the park is located near restaurants and a mall, and with other family-friendly venues nearby.
Odessa does have a number of other softball fields available, too. And the area has restaurants and hotels to suit all tastes and budgets.
“We’ve got some great facilities here,” says Danielle Bensing, the sports sales manager for Enjoy Peoria. “We are a great location for youth bat and ball sports.”
Among venues that can host softball events are the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex, a state-of-the-art facility with 10 diamonds outdoors (including an 800-seat stadium) and two indoors (in a 125,000-square-foot dome), all with synthetic turf and lights. Other amenities include concessions, facilities for umpires, a restaurant at the complex and plenty of parking. There are five hotels nearby, along with a large shopping complex with restaurants.
Avanti’s Dome in nearby Pekin, Illinois, has four lighted outdoor diamonds, arranged in a pod, and one indoor diamond, under the 76,000-square-foot dome. The facility offers full-service concessions and plenty of parking.
One of the premier athletic and fitness centers in the Midwest is the EastSide Centre in East Peoria, which has hosted numerous national, regional and local events on its 10 diamonds. The facility has been the home of the Illinois High School Association State Softball Championships for more than a decade, playing host to the best high school teams in the state. The EastSide Centre also is home to a premier fitness facility.
“All three of these facilities — Louisville Slugger, Avanti’s Dome and EastSide Centre — are about 20 minutes apart, so they really complement each other,” says Bensing. “If a really large tournament comes to town, we can use more than one, or all three.”
Redding is an outdoor paradise, surrounded by mountains and lakes in the heart of Northern California. With more than 300 days of sunshine per year, Redding also lays claim to being the sunniest city in the state. When you combine this beautiful scenery with the fact that Redding has no traffic and plenty of hassle-free accommodation options, you have a location ideal for stress-free tournaments and events.
For softball, the place to go in Redding is Big League Dreams, which offers five lighted diamonds, a restaurant/bar and a snack bar. The facility also has a small conference room and an indoor pavilion suitable for meetings. Big League Dreams features replicas of three historic major-league stadiums: Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium. There are also batting cages, an indoor roller/hockey rink, indoor soccer, outdoor sand volleyball courts and a children’s play area.
Among tournaments coming to Redding will be the 2019 USA Girls’ Fastpitch Western Qualifier and USA Softball 2019 National Championships for girls in the U14, U16 and U18B divisions, says Theresa Muth, the facilities director for Big League Dreams.
The Redding CVB can offer support in many ways, including helping to promote events, custom itineraries and outings for athletes and families, and a combination of on-site assistance. “Our goal is to ensure attendees enjoy our city as much as we do,” says Sabrina Jurisich of the Redding CVB.
Wenatchee Valley, Washington
Located in the north-central part of Washington, on what is known as the “sunny” side of the state, the Wenatchee Valley offers fantastic weather and excellent sports facilities.
For softball, the 70-acre Walla Walla Point Park features a four-plex of fields, all with lights, along with concessions, restrooms, picnic shelters, special event area, playground and much more — and it’s right on the Columbia River. Also on the river, with incredible views, is the Kirby Billingsley Hydro Park, which offers three diamonds, in addition to excellent amenities.
“The facilities are top-notch,” says Patrick Norlin, the sports tourism and outdoor recreation coordinator for the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Both venues are staffed with field crews that water and rake the fields throughout the day.” Both complexes also host a range of softball events, from USSSA tournaments like the Eastern Washington Regionals and Super Dual Nationals, to senior events, to dozens of recreational tourneys.
The area offers hotels and restaurants to suit all budgets and tastes, along with excellent camp sites. Off the field, there is plenty to do for families, says Norlin. And, at least for adult softball players, there are a number of local breweries to enjoy.
Wicomico County, Maryland
The premier softball facility in Wicomico County is the eight-field Henry Parker Athletic Complex, which offers four fields with dirt infields and four fields with synthetic turf infields. All of the diamonds have Bermuda grass outfields, and six of the fields are lighted. Two of the fields (one natural, one synthetic) also have a press box and scoreboard, and parking is never an issue, with more than 700 free spaces available.
The Henry Parker complex includes two full-service concessions stands, two meeting rooms, free public Wi-Fi, a park-wide public address system and a shaded playground area to occupy young fans. There is also a full-time maintenance team to keep everything in top shape. In addition, the grounds offer plenty of shade. “We have trees all over the place, and the natural shade is great,” says Andrew Kurtz, the sports marketing representative for Wicomico County Recreation, Parks & Tourism. The complex recently hosted the USSSA Eastern National Championships, a three-week-long girls’ fast-pitch event that brought in nearly 400 teams.
“Softball is an important part of our local community,” Kurtz notes. “The Parker complex was recently expanded to eight fields, demonstrating the strong support the sport has here and our willingness to invest in creating larger and better venues for softball tournaments and events.”
Off the field, one of the biggest attractions is the great beaches on the Maryland coast. The area is only 30 minutes from the resort town of Ocean City. SDM
Dare to Walk Among Champions in Prince George County, Virginia
Home to the 2018 State Softball Champions, Prince George County, Virginia, has the grounds for making your softball experience top class. Our county has regularly hosted local, regional and national tournaments such as the Amateur Softball Association and more.
Centrally located in the heart of Virginia and Mid-Atlantic Region, Prince George makes for a one-day drive for 40 percent of the U.S. population and major cities. Prince George County provides excellent planning team guides for tournament participants to help everyone enjoy every minute of their stay. During your visit, experience our great amenities such as restaurants that are perfect for every taste and budget, to lodging that will make you feel right at home Score high on your next tournament destination with Prince George County, Virginia.
Visit www.princegeorgecountyva.gov/sportstourism to request a site visit or learn more on how Prince George County can accommodate your sporting events.
Wicomico County, Maryland, is Your Home Base for Softball
Wicomico County, Maryland, is a prime destination for softball tournaments, with a newly expanded athletic complex and a beautiful location on Maryland’s Eastern Shore between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay.
The Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex now offers eight softball/baseball fields, four of which have synthetic turf infields. Six of the fields are lighted, and two have a press box and scoreboards. Other amenities include concession stands, meeting space, Wi-Fi, batting cages and more. There is plenty of free parking.
In 2018, the USSSA Eastern National Championships returned to the complex for the 12th consecutive summer.
Wicomico County is also home to the minor-league Delmarva Shorebirds, based at the recently renovated Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, and the Salisbury University softball team, which plays at the recently upgraded Sea Gull Softball Stadium.