Hundreds of players in their prime to middle age enjoy stepping up to the plate in the city of St. Peter Recreation and Leisure Department adult slow pitch league at Jefferson Fields.
Players come from all over the surrounding area, including Cleveland, Kasota, Nicollet, Le Center, Le Sueur, Henderson, Montgomery, Lonsdale, Belle Plaine and Mankato.
Last year the league had 10 men’s teams, 11 coed, five fall men’s and six fall coed. Each team had a 20-person roster maximum.
Dakota Garver, 29, of St. Peter, plays in two leagues in which his teammates range from their late 20s to early 40s. He plays in men’s slow pitch and men’s one pitch in the fall on Patrick’s on Third teams.
“I’ve been playing about eight years now,” Garver said. “I’ve grown up watching my dad play softball but currently do not have any family members that play. What I like specifically about playing in St. Peter is the whole atmosphere of when you walk up to the fields up at Jefferson especially on a warm summer night. We have a great community. and everyone is always so happy, just a great feeling.”
Keith Hanson of St. Peter is the manager/player for the Nielsen Blacktopping and Concrete team that plays in the men’s league in town.
“We are one of the older teams in the league, with at least six of us in the 45-to-55 age category,” Hanson said. “Some of us have had the opportunity to have our sons play with us in the league, so that has been something that we have enjoyed.
Many of us have been playing together for quite a few years, Jeff Baron, Neil Doose and myself have all been playing for over 30 years! We don’t play as many tournaments as we used to. When we were younger and didn’t have kids, we would play close to 100 games a summer and do a lot of traveling to different towns for enjoyment.”
But their annual rite of spring is delayed and uncertain.
Normally the men’s slow pitch league starts the first Monday in May and the starting date has been moved up to June 1. Coed usually starts the first Thursday in May and has changed to June 4. Games are played at 7 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. each night.
Hanson also serves as the umpire in chief scheduling umpires for the adult league games as well as the the St. Peter Girls Fastpitch Association games and tournaments.
Closing in on 30 years of umpiring, Hanson said, “I have backed off some in recent years to get some of the kids involved and work with them. We have about four to five full-time umpires that do a lot of games, some with both slow pitch and fast pitch. These guys do anywhere from 60 to 90 games a summer including tournaments.
I try to talk some younger kids into doing the girls fast pitch 10- and 12-year-old games. Most of these girls are high school players that enjoy the game and like to give back, and have done a wonderful job over the years.
“I also serve as the Adult Softball Association President, which basically is running the concession stand at Jefferson Fields and work with the city on possible upgrades to the fields.
There is a player fee that comes to the association which the monies in the past have supported a sprinkler system for the entire park, putting in pavers and concrete walkways, scoreboards, softballs for league play and other maintenance issues.”
But definite plans to get back on the field and playing games is still uncertain.
“As of right now our leagues are on hold to start, and some of the umpires are itching to get out there, because a few of them have done high school games in the past, and they missed out on those this spring,” Hanson said. “We also run a Fall One-Pitch League, so we have that to hang on to as well if things do not work out for the summer. As far as the Girls Fast Pitch Leagues, they have not determined their plans of yet. I am hoping that activities like this will open back up for people to get out there and enjoy themselves.”
“As for the season being delayed, I think it’s a downer,” Garver said. “It’s been something me and I’m sure lots of people look forward to doing on Monday nights.
What would it be like without softball?
“Boy, I think it would be a long summer without the opportunity to go to the park a couple of nights a week and hangout with the guys or other teams,” Hanson said. “It’s a great time to see everyone, keep up with what’s going on, and the comradery with guys is irreplaceable.”
Garver said, “If it ends up getting cancelled, I’ll miss the competition me and my teammate, Jonny Becker, have on who gets the most home runs of the season, ha ha. But most of all, I’ll miss playing ball.”
The fields are open, but Hanson said, “people should still practice the social distancing practices if using them.”
The conditions under which softball games would be allowed would be determined by the St. Peter Recreation Department and what the State Guidelines still recommend,” Hanson said.
“As for the safety rules, if they figure a way for us to play and yet stay safe I’m all for it,” Garver said.
“We are still looking for teams to join and play in our leagues,” Hanson said. “As of right now the deadline to sign up a team for leagues has been moved to May 15th. The coed league has been a great addition to our program as that night seems to get the most families and fan support.”