Eugene softball steps up to the plate

EUGENE, Ore. — Regie Valenti wound up and threw a pitch during a co-ed softball game in Roseburg, Ore. The batter smacked it right back up the middle. The ball hit Valenti, a 51-year-old mother from Cottage Grove, in the leg and fractured her shin.

The batter didn’t apologize. “You’re gonna blame me? You shouldn’t have short-pitched me!” he yelled.

The next day, the man bragged about injuring her to another men’s team.

“I can’t tell you how many men’s teams and co-ed teams end up in all-out, nasty brawls,” said Valenti, who plays on a Papa’s Pizza women’s team, a co-ed team named Git-R-Done, and coaches women’s Show Us Your Hip and co-ed Upwaves.

“When I am the coach or manager, I don’t let that kind of thing happen. I try to diffuse those situations. When all is said and done this is just a game. People have to get up and work in the morning. This isn’t the College World Series. This is Eugene on a Monday night.”

Welcome to the world of competitive recreational softball.

The City of Eugene Recreation Services operates Eugene’s adult softball league through its athletic department. 220 teams of friends and colleagues play in either men’s, women’s, or co-ed leagues. Leagues are organized into A, B, C, D, and recreational level leagues based on competitiveness.

Valenti, who has played softball every year of her life since she was 8 years old, definitely falls on the competitive side of the league. She played collegiate softball at University of Philippines and intramurals at San Jose State. She’s been on the Eugene softball advisory committee for 16 years. The term limit to hold a position on the committee is 2 years. Valenti keeps switching positions to stay around.

“Once you get the taste and love for the game in your blood, it’s hard to let go,” she said.

The advisory committee is responsible for keeping Eugene’s softball program relevant by adapting to issues the league faces, such as weak female enrollment.

The committee has seen a drastic drop in the number of women’s and co-ed teams in recent years, while the men’s teams have remained constant. The league recently dropped the minimum age to enter the women’s softball league to 16 years old with parental consent because it wasn’t able to sustain the amount of female players it had in the past. Valenti has even tried making Craigslist ads to try to get new women in town to join a team.

Valenti thinks that the drop in female participation is because most women feel they can’t participate after they have children. Mothers have a hard time making time commitments to games or practices because of their kids, and many of Valenti’s peers are aging out of the program. The league isn’t drawing enough young women to replace them.

Another issue the committee deals with is the rain that never seems to leave Eugene, Ore., a town where it rains 141.7 days of the year. At this point in the year, the town craves sun or any hint of spring weather. Eugene residents are ready to play softball.

“As much as we wish it didn’t rain in May, it does,” said Dave Battaglia, the Eugene Athletics Manager. “Even when it’s not raining but it has rained earlier in the week, we can’t play because the fields are too muddy. The 10 game season usually takes about 12 or more weeks to finish on account of all the stoppages in play because of the rain.”

The rain creates rescheduling “nightmares” for Valenti and the committee. Last year, when 243 games were rained out, they had to be made up in August. Summer ball overlapped with fall ball and many players were away on vacation.

“Rainouts are a drag. We’re just getting started, and we’re all excited about playing after a long winter, and then all of a sudden we’re not playing anymore,” said Dan Bessette, manager of Sam’s Place Slammers.

The Slammers are in the D-League, also known as the “just for fun” league. The intensity level is significantly different from Valenti’s competitive teams. The Slammers are a group of friends that have been together for 15 years.

“Everyone wants to win, but that’s not what’s most important. We just want to play the game, and get some exercise. We really love the game and being around each other,” said Bessette.

The Slammers recently faced off against Smack My Pitch Up, a fearsome team made up of 15 University of Oregon geology department graduate teaching fellows. Half of the team had never played softball before.

Scott Maguffin had to teach some of his teammates how to throw a ball. He demonstrated how to hold it with three fingers, like a velociraptor would.

The fun-loving team of geologists came up with the name Smack My Pitch Up after they started a “brain dump” before deciding that the play on words perfectly suited them. According to Lucy Walsh, the team manager, the geology department is a close-knit group.

“We have a blast. It’s cool to be on the field with a bunch of people you know and you really click with each other,” she said. “It all about those wonderful moments when you get a double out and run at each other and high-five and hug. We do it more for those moments than any score.”

The Velveeta Delishe is another team happily playing in the casual D-League. The team is a mixture of co-workers and friends who were hanging out and wanted to do something fun together during the summer. The team has been together for two years.

The team’s curious name was born the same night they thought of forming a team.

“We had been drinking pretty heavily,” said James Ewell, the team’s manager. “One of the women on our team was talking about how much she loves Velveeta. She makes a dish with Velveeta and chicken. Someone else said that she should call it Velveeta Delishe and the name just stuck to the team.”

There is a place for everyone in Eugene’s city softball league. From the competitive brawlers to the easygoing Smack My Pitch Up, the league embraces the Eugene community. The softball league provides an opportunity for residents to play ball that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

“If you love to play the game, get out there!” said Valenti. “There’s a level and a team for everyone.”

Sidebars

Eugene Softball by the Numbers

$600 cost per men’s team to join the league. This price is slightly higher than the women’s and co-ed teams because the Eugene athletic department provides a supervisor on-site at every game.

$564 cost per women’s and co-ed teams to join the league.

220 softball teams in Eugene

56 teams play on Wednesday nights

55 games a week

27 umpires

12-20 people on each team

10 game season

3 fields at Amazon Park

Where?

Softball games are played every night at 6:30 p.m.

  • Amazon Park: 24th Street and Amazon Parkway
  • Ascot Park: 2800 Bailey Lane (adjacent to Monroe School)
  • Shasta Ballfields: 4566 Barger Road (adjacent to Shasta Middle School)
  • Graham Field: 24th Street and Polk Street (in Westmoreland Park)

Softball vs. Baseball: Key Differences

  • A baseball field is much larger than a softball field. Baseball fields have 90-foot basepaths compared to softball’s 60-foot basepaths. The outfield fences in baseball are usually 100-200 feet farther away from home plate than softball fields.
  • In baseball, the raised pitcher’s mound is 60 feet away from the batter on a grass infield. In softball, the dirt infield is home to the flat pitcher’s plate or pitcher’s circle that is 40 to 46 feet away from the batter.
  • Baseball pitchers throw overhand, and softball pitchers throw underhand.
  • Baseball games are nine innings, and softball games are seven innings.
  • Softballs are less dense and two to three inches wider in circumference than baseballs.
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