Over 1000 participate in adult softball leagues, making friends, keeping fit, and coming together in a way that shows what’s best about small-town life. (photos by Will Dendis)
If it’s summer in Saugerties, it’s time to play ball.
Stop by the Cantine Veterans Memorial Sports Complex anytime when the weather’s nice, and you’re likely to see some baseball or softball. Teams range from Little League and school baseball to Legion and the SAA adult leagues. This year, a collegiate-level team joined in the action.
It’s not like this in every town. While most neighboring communities have their own Little League programs and school sports, their facilities are quite a bit smaller than Cantine, which has 11 contiguous baseball fields. It’s these facilities, together with the dedication of the Saugerties Athletic Association (SAA) and the town’s Recreation Department, that makes Cantine a destination for tournament organizers and out-of-town players. But how did Saugerties come to be in possession of the best athletic facilities in the region?
In 1938, Martin Cantine donated 31 acres of land to the town of Saugerties. From then on, it was known as Cantine Field. The Knaust Estate then donated 39 acres of land in the early 1970s in memory of all Saugerties veterans. With the help of grants from the Palisades Interstate Park Commission and a combination of federal and state public works grants, six additional ball fields were constructed, along with many of the amenities available today. Since then, to honor the combined properties, they have been known as the Cantine Veterans Memorial Sports Complex.
The SAA was formed in 1968. More than 1,100 people age 16 and over participate in the men’s and women’s softball program, which welcomes players of all skill levels. The women’s league has four divisions (A-D), and the men’s has five (A-E). “A” division consists of players who have a lot of experience, and can be quite competitive. “E” division however, is home to a lighter competition, purely for fun. SAA softball also allows up to four out-of-town players on each team with the exception of the women’s “A” division, which allows six. The season lasts five months, running from April to August, and players generally play about 13 games per season.
For softball player Courtney O’Connor, the love of the game didn’t end with high school. “I’ve been playing softball since I was five years old, and I’ve been catching since I was nine, so I couldn’t stop after high school. Basically, we’ve been playing with the same group of girls we’ve always been playing with, and we decided to have a [SAA] women’s team. We’re always laughing at something, or each other; it’s always a good time.”
Kyal Overbaugh, of the Four Hogs Catering team, has been participating for almost 12 years, and he says the best part of being on this team is “coming here and enjoying a game of softball with my friends. It brings a lot of people to the ballfield. It’s a good time out with friends and family.”
Supreme Building team manager, Tom Sperl, who has been participating in Saugerties sports since 1973, agreed. “I think this is great for the community. It gives everyone in the community an outlet to get out of what their daily routine is. Anybody comes to this town, it’s what they recognize, that the programs we have for sports here are incredible.”
John Winters, SAA board member, has been actively involved with the group for over 25 years. He has taken on many roles, and garnered experience that has improved the experiences of many who participate in SAA sports. “I was on the Little League Board of Directors for 18 years, and I got to talk to a lot of people, and everyone wants to come to Saugerties. This complex up here is second to none. To me, this area is nothing but positive.”
Each SAA team has to come up with around $1,200 to participate, so they seek local businesses to sponsor them. Those funds go to pay for administration and to pay umpires.
“The local businesses are always fantastic to the SAA,” said Winters.
Out-of-town players have to pay an additional $50 registration fee.
“The biggest helper for us in softball are the out-of-town player fees,” said Winters. “There are 150 out-of-town players this year, so that’s $7,500 to the SAA, and that goes back into these fields.”
When asked what they thought could be improved upon, most players and coaches suggested umpiring.
“They should get certified umpires because a lot of these guys take this really seriously, and some of the umpires, I don’t know if they know all the rules, but some of them go off different regulations than others,” said Overbaugh. “So, it would be nice to get some that are all on the same page.”
One player questioned the experience of the umpire calling the women’s A-league championship game.
Strolling through Cantine on a summer evening, it’s easy to see why it’s a special place for so many Saugertiesians. Children play improvised games on the periphery of the field, spectators sit in camping chairs, players get exercise and make new friends; the whole thing made possible by support from the town and local businesses plus the spirit of volunteerism. The scene is a living antidote to our modern concerns of physical inactivity, digital distraction and collapse of community organizations. In Saugerties, at least, some things haven’t changed.