The community of softball
Big Sky comes together for the 2019 Big Sky Coed Softball Tournament
With the Yeti Dog team tradition of playing the National Anthem before every game, the crowd at the 2019 Double Elimination Big Sky Coed Softball Tournament removed hats and placed hands over hearts.
“I started to get weepy as I gazed upon the flag by the chapel [during the National Anthem],” longtime Big Sky resident and 20-year Cab Lizards coach J.C. Knaub said.
It was a festive occasion of kids, canines and adults savoring the last remnants of summer as the breeze hinted of approaching fall.
Good-natured heckling and high fives as well as cheering for friends of opposing teams spoke to what small town softball is all about.
It was summertime athletic Americana, with residents razzing each other who will soon interact in the winter unrecognizable beyond their unique goggles or ski jackets.
The tournament had a strong sense of community and remained uniquely Big Sky.
The Yeti Dogs left fielder actually sported a hotdog costume and had remarkable speed.
“That is a fast wiener! That is a real fast wiener!” Cab Lizard Ashleigh Deal said.
Other fans also chose to be punny about the hot dog: “Put some mustard in that throw!” one yelled.
There were in-the-park homeruns and hits leaving outfielders’ wheels turning with no chance. The day hosted running dives, some injuries, full counts that ended with the batters finding holes in the outfield, or dejectedly working their way back to the dugout with shoulder pats from teammates who said, “It’s okay. Good try. Get ‘em next time.”
“This field has had some pretty interesting endings today: a triple play and a grand slam to a walk-off dinger,” Cinema Bear player Johnny Baer said at the conclusion of the tournament.
Braulio Capalad with Big Sky Ballers grilled-up sausages on Saturday and sliders as well as chicken sandwiches on Sunday– available to anyone who wanted to eat.
“It’s a big community event and everybody is here to have fun. Being able to feed people makes me happy. That’s what I do – I’m a chef up at [Big Sky Resort]. People are very appreciative,” he said and was later spotted opening a ketchup packet for a kid.
Also contributing to the calm sense of community was that professional umpires were hired for the tournament for the first year in the history of Big Sky Co-Ed Softball. Normally, volunteer umpires are gathered from the players of each team, which at times – in light of team and player rivalries – created a lot of tension and arguments.
Westfork Wildcat Brett “Hippie” Friedhoff said he was stoked that they hired outside umps from Bozeman.
“I think it’s the best thing that has happened to the tourney. It has gone smooth – there have been no altercations,” longtime Big Sky Co-Ed Softball volunteer Jean “Queen Jean” Palmer said.
USA Softball umpire Butch Leone, who used to be the district commissioner in Bozeman said he was surprised to hear of the desire to bring in professional umpires for the Big Sky tournament.
“Everybody here has gone out of their way to feed us, give us water, Gatorade and every drink possible,” he said – including mimosas and Bloody Marys. “It’s been fun. It’s been entertaining and it’s been a delight.”
Many Big Sky players seemed relieved to have professionals making the calls.
“Can we bring Butch the ump to Big Sky?” Yeti Dog player Jodi Daily asked “Queen Jean” excitedly. “I love him!”
There were a few teams who rose through the ranks this year – even to their own surprise – to make it well into the championship.
Hanna Powell with the Yeti Dogs said they had been at the bottom in standings season after season. This year they went far into the tournament and had a show-stopping, game-ending triple play to make them victorious against the Westfork Wildcats in overtime, landing them a 17-14 victory.
Theirs was one of the most talked-about plays and success stories of the year.
Leone noted that the LPC Golden Goats comeback against the Hillbilly Huckers was amazing. The score was 25-14 with LPC behind by the 6th inning. It is important to note that Big Sky Co-ed Softball only goes to 7 innings. LPC’s 7th inning rally included a grand slam from Joe O’Connor to tie it followed by a walk-off game winning home run by Ryan Rothing. This secured their victory in the winner’s bracket. The result of that upset was the Hillbilly Huckers battle against Milkies Big Dogs, of which Milkies was victorious. The final game of the tournament: reigning champs LPC versus surprise contenders Milkies.
Once again, LPC secured the title. The tournament ended with a 16-9 final score, and Milkie’s taking home the highly coveted beer league trophy and the second-place overall finish.
Leone said the setting added to it all.
“You’re sitting right here with the mountains. It’s just absolutely great,” he said.