18 summers of softball with Dave Schwalbe
Players were just starting to arrive for a night of co-ed softball as Big Sky Community Organization volunteer Dave Schwalbe gave the field a once-over before competition began. He didn’t have a game at 6 p.m., but was there anyway, ready to step up as umpire if he was needed.
Schwalbe grew up in Wisconsin, “That’s where I got my love of softball,” he said. He came to Big Sky in 2000 after living in Aspen for 15 years. Aspen was getting crowded, he said, and housing prices were exorbitant. But not so much in Big Sky, where his family had been living since 1973.
It didn’t take long for Schwalbe to get involved in the Big Sky softball scene. He recalled Bart Mitchell, who worked for the Big Sky Fire Department at the time, advertising a meeting in the paper to get a softball league together. At that time, there was only one softball field at the Community Park, and that’s where interested players met, getting together seven teams. Of those, only two remain—Milkie’s Big Dogs and J.C. Knaub’s team, The Cab Lizards.
Schwalbe has played for Milkie’s along with Milkie’s owner Wendy Burton since game one, and as far as Schwalbe can recall, they’re the only two players who have stuck it out since the beginning.
“There’s just so much turnover in a ski town,” he said. “And you see a lot of people play, get older, get married and have kids, and they don’t have the time.”
This year 16 teams paid $600 and signed up for the action. It’s the most teams the league has ever seen, and just so happens to be the limit set for number of teams. Games currently take place Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and if another team was added games would spill over onto another day.
The new softball fields were built in 2011, but before that, money needed to be raised. Schwalbe helped the league with fundraising for the project, generating about $100,000 on top of the eventually granted resort tax funds, which brought the softball dream to life.
“And raising that money was important, because it showed that the community really did support these fields,” Schwalbe said. “So, it was great to be a part of that.”
Competition is stiff. In his nearly 20 years playing for the league, Schwalbe’s only been to the tournament once, losing to the Country Market. But in those years he’s made some observations about winning and losing.
“Teams in their first year rarely even win a game,” Schwalbe said. “It helps to have talent, but you have to learn to play together.”
The league, part of the Big Sky Community Organization, is run by a volunteer three-member board comprised of Schwalbe, Lee Horning and Whitney McKenzie. Each team supplies a volunteer umpire and someone to help do the scoreboard.
Beyond umping and scorekeeping, Schwalbe and other volunteers prep the field, stripe it, order and put out softballs and bases, set up clocks, secure fences and more. It’s a labor of love.
“I love the sport, the competition,” he said. “Just being outdoors. I started playing softball with my dad when I was 13, slow pitch in Wisconsin. So, it’s kind of been a family tradition for me. I’ve been playing softball for 46 years, and I’ve always loved it. It’s a very intellectual game. Even if you’re not the most talented person, you can make up for that just playing smart.”
Big Sky Softball League plays at 6 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Community Park fields. The championship game will take place Aug. 22 at 6:30 p.m.