Winter’s gone; softball is here |

Winter’s gone; softball is here

Steve Yingling

An accurate sign of a fast-approaching summer in South Lake Tahoe is the advent of the city of South Lake Tahoe Parks & Recreation softball leagues.

More than 500 players in five leagues began play Monday at Todd Fields and Bijou Elementary School. Play will continue three days a week through August.

“I think we’re up a team or two from last year, which is pretty good,” said John Collins, who has directed the leagues for Parks & Recreation department for the past decade. “The coed league has expanded a bit and there are more younger teams coming in this year than I’ve had in the past.”

Unlike last year, Collins has divided the coed teams into recreational and competitive leagues.

“It allows for the division of the competitive teams and the ones who work together or are more out for the recreation,” Collins said.

Without an A or B league, most of the city’s best players are participating in the Men’s 30 and Over Division.

“We are attracting a really talented group of older players who are still very good ballplayers,” said Larry Finkel, a 20-year veteran of the league. “You’re seeing a number of A League-caliber ballplayers who are now over 30 playing in the Over 30 League.”

Other leagues starting this week are the Men’s C and Men’s D leagues.

“There’s not a stacked team like we’ve had in the past,” Collins said. “The last couple of years it’s been a lot more competitive. Going into the last two weeks of the season every team has had a chance of making the tournament.”

The competitiveness of each league has also reduced the number of forfeits. With blowouts infrequent, players aren’t as likely to blow off a matchup with a top club.

At the end of the regular season in August, the top four teams in each league advance to a single-elimination postseason tournament.

Collins doesn’t foresee instituting any rule changes like he has in past seasons. Two adjustments that have made a large impact in recent years are the “F” and home run rules.

Any player who blurts out the profane “F” bomb, the ensuing batter on that team will be called out.

“It cleaned up the games real quick,” Collins said. “After one year I don’t think it ever comes into play at all.”

The cleaner language has made players more comfortable bringing their families to games.

“It’s good because in the Over 30 League it’s become family-oriented where most of the players bring their kids or in some situation they bring their grandkids,” Finkel said. “We want to show class and you shouldn’t have that type of language or actions on the field. You want to set an example for the kids.”

The home run rule came into play because of the short poke necessary to clearthe fence at Bijou. At any point during the game a team can’t be more than one homer ahead of their opponent or the tater is ruled a foul ball.

“On teams stacked with A-league players they can all put the ball out, so the rule makes it more balanced and more competitive,” Finkel said.

Any player still hoping to hook up with a team is probably out of luck. But Collins said anyone with such a desire can stop by the Recreation Center and pick up schedules and a list of managers’ numbers to inquire about openings.

Local athletes have always found the time to play softball. It’s a seasonal game that returns people outdoors to enjoy competition and an activity with friends and foes.

“I didn’t have gray hair when I started playing softball and some of the guys on my team had hair,” Finkel said.

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