The locally-developed game of adult two-pitch softball had great success for over 20 years in Hope, before bowing in to pressures to switch the league to slo-pitch rules in 2008.
That plan only lasted a few years and Hope has been without any kind of ball league ever since. Without a base of local players, the annual Brigade Days ball tournament also fell by the wayside, taking a lot of spirit — and attendance numbers — out of the weekend celebrations.
Things are back on track this year, though, thanks to the help of former Hope resident Jeff Smith, who now hails from Agassiz — where the two-pitch league had 16 teams this year.
So far, Smith has commitments from 10 teams.
“Deb Romano gave me a shout and wondered if I wanted to help get a ball tournament going,” said Smith on Tuesday. “I’m guessing it’s been about five years since there was one at Brigade Days.
“When I met with the Brigade Days committee in May, I told them a few things I needed and they said ‘go for it.’
“I needed both ball diamonds at Sixth Avenue and fencing on Diamond No. 2, to make the home run mark the same as on Diamond No. 1, which has a fence. I also needed them to donate some gate passes. We’re basically splitting the cost on those.”
Smith said Brigade Days organizers are making 300 badges, for those who like to collect them, but they will be switching to wrist bands for all others. Ball players are required to have a wrist band, even if they don’t intend to take part in other weekend activities, he added.
Smith said he chose to go with two-pitch instead of slo-pitch because he felt it would encourage more family fun.
Slo-pitch follows the three-out format of baseball, while two-pitch runs through a team’s 10-player lineup in every inning… with the batters getting two easy pitches from their own team’s pitcher.
Long-time player, coach and tournament organizer Ed Araki conceded that, “It has been hard to get the ladies to play mixed slo-pitch.” He contends that mixed two-pitch can produce more injuries when played competitively, though, especially from collisions.
Araki is taking a back seat this year but he said he has long roots with Brigade Days ball tournaments.
“I was coaching the ladies’ fastball team back in the 1960s — the Ken’s Rip-off Esso team — and when Ken James got Brigade Days going, he asked me to organize a ladies’ fastball tournament.
“Ladies’ fastpitch sort of went out of style, so we switched to men’s slo-pitch, then to mixed two-pitch and mixed slo-pitch,” recalled Araki.
“My son Kelly played two-pitch in Agassiz this year and I think his team will be playing at Brigade Days.”
Smith, whose brother Dusty has taken on organizing local men’s hockey tournaments, said, “Quite a few people are coming down from Hope to play ball in Agassiz. Our season runs from May to the end of July.
“We’ll be having four teams from Agassiz at Brigade Days and the rest are from Hope and Boston Bar. We’ve got a couple of native teams and Kevin Kawaguchi and Byron Linza are throwing together a team. Kurtis Bergstrom, too.
“We’ve got 10 teams right now. That’s my limit,” said Smith. “There are three teams on the waiting list but I don’t see how we could have any more teams this year.
“We’ll have a couple of late games on Friday and Saturday night, so we’ll need the lights,” he added. “We’ll be done on Friday before the fireworks — and it’ll all be over before the demo derby on Sunday.”