Sports

Slowpitch softball: a sport for all in Bremerton

Marsha Masters, 57, left, watches her slowpitch softball team Tuesday at Pendergast Regional Park in Bremerton. - Wesley Remmer/staff photo
Marsha Masters, 57, left, watches her slowpitch softball team Tuesday at Pendergast Regional Park in Bremerton.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/staff photo

Marsha Masters still remembers hopping over puddles and rounding the muddy bases at Roosevelt Field in Bremerton.

Although that was more than 30 years ago and she isn’t as quick as she once was, Masters is still an avid slowpitch softball player. She no longer plays the field or runs the bases after tearing her Achilles tendon a few years ago.

But that doesn’t mean she can’t swing the bat.

“I’m the Edgar Martinez now,” Masters joked. “My doubles and triples are now singles.”

Bremerton features one of the largest United States Slowpitch Softball Association-sanctioned leagues in the state, ranking “definitely within the top five, if not the top three,” said co-assistant state director Joe Jucha, who couldn’t immediately supply figures.

But the number of players has declined every year since 2007, when 274 teams signed up to play through Bremerton Parks and Recreation.

“It’s dropped down a little bit, but we’re still huge,” said Scott Evans, who as the city’s softball coordinator saw turnout rates dip with the economy. “It’s almost a mirror of what is happening around us.”

Hard to believe given the activity at Pendergast this week.

Chatter between players and the occasional, “You’re oooout” gave the atmosphere a buzz Tuesday as three games were played simultaneously on three fields. There were three rounds of match-ups and eighteen teams played on that night alone.

The games played were “mixed,” meaning rosters included an equal number of male and female players. There are three co-ed leagues offered by the city, ranging from the competitive first division to the recreational third division.

Spectators basked in the sun — the first pleasant evening in nearly a week — and players exchanged friendly barbs with teammates as well as opponents.

“Isn’t this fun?” Masters said.

She won’t admit it, but there was a time when Masters was a master of the sport.

Friend and teammate Patty Zwick, 48, of Bremerton, remembers how Masters was a rock-solid defender at shortstop and could hit the ball anywhere she pleased, to all directions of the field.

That was during the 1970s and 80s, when slowpitch softball and adult hardball was played daily at Roosevelt, now a concrete plot next to Olympic College. Now games are played at Pendergast and Lions Park in Bremerton, though Lions is closed until early 2011 for a redevelopment project.

Since the summer months are a busy time, and Lions is closed, the city has joined with the county to have some games played at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.

With 216 teams currently registered for this season, 233 in 2009, 260 in 2008 and 274 in 2007, the need for space is there.

Parks and Recreation offers an expansive mens’ league, including Division 1 down to Division 9, as well as the co-ed league, a church league and a Sunday mixed league.

“People play, they like it and they come back,” said Evans, the coordinator, who is 45 and plays in a men’s league.

When Evans assumed his post in 2001, his goal was to get more than 200 teams in the league each year. He accomplished that feat after drawing 191 teams in 2002 and increasing the total to 215 in 2003, 219 in 2004, 251 in 2005 245 in 2006 and an all-time high 274 in 2007.

That’s when the economy took a turn for the worse.

More and more players were forced to pay their own way as sponsorship money decreased.

Team and individual player fees vary based on the league, but many teams are sponsored by a business, alleviating the costs for players, who must supply their own equipment.

Evans said player fees are between $16 and $20, and team fees can run hundreds of dollars. Most teams have between 12 and 14 players, and games are played to seven innings or 55 minutes, whichever comes first. Seasons may last between eight and 15 games depending on the league.

“It’s a good bang for your buck,” Evans said.

Dave Crume, 29, is a sponsor and a player. The employee of Sherwin Williams chose to pay the way for his entire team — in excess of $400 — because he wanted to take that burden off his teammates and also get the name of his employer on 10 or 12 jerseys.

The Silverdale resident is the coach of his team and has played for 11 years, the past three in Bremerton after moving here from Idaho.

His preference is to play the mixed league.

“When you get all guys, there’s just too much testosterone,” said Crume, whose squad lost 10-8 Tuesday. “It’s a good balance. You can joke around, but you’re still serious about playing.”

Meanwhile, Masters and Zwick are no longer serious about winning. They keep score, of course, but the end result doesn’t matter so much as having fun.

“We’re still competitive at heart, we’re just probably not as competitive at body,” Zwick said, laughing.

Their intensity certainly doesn’t rival that of some players — like the man who discovered his wife had slept with another man, from an opposing team, and wanted nothing more than to defeat his foe on the field. There also are stories of parking lot scuffles and on-field shouting matches, though Evans declined to elaborate.

“Sometimes rivalries can be not-so-good,” Evans said, referring to the marital tiff that escalated between the two men on the diamond.

The mood was tame after Masters and Zwick finished their game at Pendergast.

And before the team huddled outside the dugout and parted ways until the next game, the stories and memories flooded back to Masters.

“We played in puddles, we played in the rain,” she said over the ting of aluminum bats and hoots and hollers from the bleachers. “I’ve been hooked to this sport ever since.”

Number of teams by year

2002: 191

2003: 215

2004: 219

2005: 251

2006: 245

2007: 274

2008: 260

2009: 233

2010: 216

*Figures supplied by Bremerton Parks and Recreation

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