Longing for the days when slow-pitch was king at local ball fields
The one thing I have missed at Lions Park in recent years is some good slow-pitch games.
Years ago when slow-pitch was at its peak we had some good leagues and tournaments at Lions Park. Recreation Director Dick Burns held preseason tournaments limiting the tournament to 16 teams; the top eight teams in the tournament would be in the upper division and the other eight teams in the lower division.
Slow-pitch has not only been on the decline in Bonner Springs but all through the metropolitan area. Mid-America Sports Complex across the river has 10 fields and always had a full slate all week long. Johnson County Parks and Recreation, to the best of my knowledge, has taken over the Mid-America Complex and youth baseball teams have pretty much taken over. I was talking recently with Gerold Baker, a former coach at Bonner Springs High School who played for several years in the open division at Mid-America, and he says the league is still in progress but the caliber of play slacked off.
Baker was on a traveling team of Super AA players that included the University of Kansas basketball great Danny Manning. They tell me Baker was a great power hitter who hit several home runs a game. Gerald told me he has hung up his glove and is devoting his time to his young girl, but he is still playing on Dave Terrell's team in the Bonner league.
I can recall many great players in the Bonner Springs program that included Jim Martin, whom I saw hit four home runs in one game. A couple of these players that played in the early games at Lions Park are still competing in the Seniors Division. Gary Johnson, one of my longtime favorites, has won two rings in national competition in the Seniors Division. Jack Pickert, one of the longtime slow-pitch pitchers, is still active in the Senior Division. In a tournament game at Lions Park I saw a player from Kansas City hit a line drive that hit the top of the old scoreboard in the park.
One of the longest home runs I ever saw hit at Lions Park was hit by former BSHS boys basketball coach Jeff Simons. Simons, a left-handed batter, hit one that landed in-between home and first base on the second field. The one hitter that took advantage of the shorter right-field fence was Kenny Gardner, one of the better third basemen to play at Lions Park. Gardner was a right-handed batter but his power was to right-center field where he hit many on field No. 2 that I starting calling Kenny's Garden.
I can remember when slow-pitch was at its highest peak I was visiting my daughter in Tampa, Fla., where I read in the paper that one county made all players register with the slow-pitch association and they were only allowed to play on one team which, enables more spots for other players.
In my lifetime I was able to see the start of fast-pitch softball and slow-pitch softball and also the decline in both sports. The Johnson County Girls Softball Association Park on Johnson Drive once had fields full all season, but in recent years it has lost some of its teams to the Field of Dreams in Basehor. It seems strange driving past Mid-America and not seeing all fields with slow-pitch players. Miller's Woods, another favorite complex for slow-pitch in its prime, has been taken over by the Blue Valley Association and youth baseball is dominating play.
In the early days of slow-pitch in Bonner, Burns was able to host a 32-team bracket with teams coming from all over. The tournament brought in some outstanding teams. I believe the days of holding a 32-team bracket in slow-pitch are probably over. I believe the reason slow-pitch got so popular was that it didn't require the caliber of pitching of fast-pitch softball. In fast-pitch softball, if you didn't have an outstanding pitcher your team was in trouble.
Much of the success of fast-pitch softball in the Kansas City area was largely due to the efforts of Tom Lindblad, a Bonner Springs resident who organized his team at Santa Fe Railroad. Tom was able to get Santa Fe to build a field in the Argentine area, where he kept the leagues active.