Few recreational sports are as potentially equalizing as softball. Whether you’re a star athlete or a weekend warrior, there’s room somewhere on a team for you if you’re willing to wear an oversized glove half the time and wield a heavy piece of lumber the other half. Nowhere is this maxim more apparent locally than in the Saugerties Athletic Association.
The SAA features both men’s and women’s leagues, with five divisions for the former and four for the latter. While the women’s season just wrapped up, the men are knee deep in a playoff run that will carry them deep into August before the dust settles.
Teams are commonly sponsored by a local business, which at the very least gives those affiliated with restaurants and taverns someplace specific to either celebrate or commiserate following a game. It’s a serious league that keeps statistics nearly as thorough as Major League Baseball, and there are some unbelievably good players swinging for the fences, but it’s also about camaraderie and fun.
“It’s pretty competitive,” said Mark Rothe, a 33-year old first baseman on Shawn Shader’s Septic Service in the men’s D Division. “We want to win, but fun is what it’s all about.”
Rothe’s team finished 6-7 on the regular season, locking them into a tie with Bright Horizons and propelling them into the postseason. They won their semifinal matchup 5-4 against Coors Light, setting up a best-of-three championship series against Kiss My Feet Spa on Thursday, Aug. 11 at Keeley Field. Each of the divisions is set up this way, with games falling on the same day each week. They’re also based on competitiveness, with A being the toughest.
Edward “Falcon” De Angelis, 42, pitched, played right field and both first and second bases this season on a team sponsored by Mirabella’s in Division C. Though they closed out the season 4-9, they made the playoffs, losing to the Hot Towel Outlaws on Tuesday, Aug. 2. De Angelis picked up a triple and a pair of singles in the 9-6 defeat. He said it isn’t always easy to strike a balance between wanting to win and having fun, but there were ways around it.
“It was a hard task at times,” he said. “We usually get together after each game for a bit and drink. Beer helps.”
Various levels of competition
Shane Newkirk, a 35-year old pitcher for a Division A team sponsored by Main Street Restaurant and Dr. Mitchell Skolnick, said the balance is even more difficult to strike in the higher divisions.
“A and B are almost too competitive,” he said. “You have to realize firstly that this is only a game. Secondly it’s a game that everyone on the field has to pay to play. We’re not pros and with that mistakes are made and tough losses happen. Everybody wants to win but being able to take the loss graciously and come back the next time with that extra bit of humility and knowledge from that previous loss is what keeps it fun.”
De Angelis said he believed the league did a good job of keeping the level of competition consistent with the division.
The A Division championship series between Supreme Building and Stella’s Station is due to begin on Monday, August 15 at Keeley Field.
On the other side of the spectrum in the men’s league is Division E, with eight teams split among two conferences. Nick Gruccio, a 19-year old who just graduated from Saugerties High in June is on the Bombers in the E Division. He acknowledged that it’s maybe the least comparatively competitive division, though added that he wasn’t sure if he was cut out for the relatively relaxed atmosphere, especially after being a multi-sport athlete in high school.
“I mean there are some people including myself that take it serious and want to actually win,” he said. “But there are some people that just want to go out and have fun, which is what we all should do. But I want to win all the time so it’s so hard to have fun when you’re losing.”
The Bombers went 8-5, which in the tougher National Conference of the E Division was only good enough for third place. The team lost in their quarterfinal game 18-9 against Cliff Tienken Plumbing. Gruccio homered, hit a triple and drove in a pair of runs in the loss.
While the games are ostensibly played for the joy of the players, some teams draw a fair share of spectators and fans as well. Rothe said his team gets many spectators to games, while Newkirk said the younger teams tend to draw the bigger crowds. De Angelis said his team gets some of the most important spectators of all.
“We get lots of family and friends,” he said. “My mom comes to every game.”
Women’s league thriving
The women’s league has its own section of statistics on the SAA website, though it’s not as thorough as the men’s portion which is a bone of contention for some of the players.
“I will say I have always felt women are very much slighted in Saugerties,” said Wendi Piper, a 36-year old shortstop for Division B Blue Mountain Paving, noting that in addition to the website coverage, there are also some rules that seem to change periodically, including the legality of certain types of bats. But even with that, Piper said she’s had a lot of fun this season.
“Our team loves to joke and have a good time, win or lose,” she said. “We want to win, but it’s more about playing a game with fun, supportive people. We have never tolerated getting down on each other. We make mistakes, it happens, we move on. We all have to go to work the next morning. Winning isn’t worth making someone feel bad. It’s just a game. There are some rivalries though, and teams that take winning way more seriously than we do, which can cause some friction.”
Korin Valk, a 19-year-old pitcher and left fielder playing for Mirabella’s of Division B just finished her second season in the league. She said she believed that while the league was definitely competitive in 2011, it was even more so last year. She added that part of that might have been that her own team was stronger in 2010.
“We balanced it by keeping a strong head in the game but not letting our mistakes get to us and we’d shake it off and joke about it,” she said. “Also if we had a bad game or even a good game we’d go talk about it at Mirabella’s Restaurant on Partition Street.”
Valk also noticed a dip in the amount of spectators at her team’s games this season when compared to last.
“Yes, we had our families there, but last year we had a group of my guy friends come and cheer us on writing our names on their stomachs,” she said. “This year they couldn’t make it.”
While there was a pretty even distinction between the levels of competition on the men’s side, it was perhaps less noticeable this year among the women’s teams. Jamie Bodie is a 34-year old who played first base and left field for Division A Martino Landscaping. She’s been a Division A MVP twice, won the women’s softball player of the year award twice and won the triple crown in 2010. Bodie noted that the competition wasn’t as fierce as in years past in part because there were only three teams in the top division. Still, it was a good season.
“They were equal,” she said, before adding that it’s not always all about winning. “I’m all about fun.”
If you want to head out to Cantine and cheer on your neighbors in SAA Softball during the playoffs, check https://saaleagues.com/SAASOFTBALL2011.aspx for more information.