Ill., a suburb of St. Louis, it's a perfect night for soft-ball. Dark clouds
sag with their weight of moisture, and gusts of wind buffet the low buildings
like waves of surf. A cold drizzle falls in the gloom of an early February
evening. The mercury hovers around 30�. Softball weather.
Oh, did we
mention that we're talking about indoor softball?
outside may be frightful, but inside the 42,000-square-foot Ball Park Sports
Center, the Boys of Summer and Winter are gleefully at play. Tonight, Investors
Life, which sponsors a team made up primarily of guys from the Granite City
Steel mill, is taking on players representing Show Me's, a restaurant in the
nearby town of Fairview Heights.
A stocky guy from
the Show Me's team steps to the plate, and he zings a line drive to
centerfield. The fluorescent orange ball jumps off the AstroTurf, rebounds off
the wall and rolls back toward the infield. Pinball softball. The Investors
Life centerfielder runs hunched over like a crab, snatching at the ball while
two runs score. After five innings, the leftfield scoreboard reads 7-3 in favor
of Show Me's. "This is a great game," says Investors catcher Arnold
Meyer, unfazed by being behind. "I've been a softball player for 10 years,
and I can keep my arm and legs in shape throughout the winter and be ready for
spring. The one thing I'm not crazy about with the indoor game is, it's deadly
quick. I'm getting up in years, you know."
Indeed he is.
Meyer is a wizened 34. But that's not quitting time yet, so he remains part of
the small but growing band of softball junkies in the snow belt who can't face
six months away from their sport. Twenty-six teams from six states participated
in last year's Indoor World Series, which was held at the Ball Park. An
estimated 2,000 teams nationwide currently play indoors. They compete at some
30 facilities, which are mostly field houses, converted tennis clubs and the
like. In Cincinnati, enterprising sluggers took over a defunct Ford plant.
both men's and mixed, compete at the Ball Park, believed to be the only
facility in the country built for indoor softball. The park's magnetism is
far-reaching: One team drives 140 miles to play each Thursday.
During the game
between Investors and Show Me's, Ed True, principal owner of the Ball Park
facility, sits in the Stadium Club lounge, two stories above ground level. He
munches popcorn and watches the game through a huge plate-glass window. Behind
him, John the bartender serves drinks at an oak bar. Top 40 music plays in the
background, and a handful of patrons watch basketball on two big-screen TVs.
The joint seems decidedly upscale for a softball crowd. "We've even held a
wedding reception here," says True.
True, 59, was a
St. Louis businessman six years ago when he bought the 10-acre plot on which
the Ball Park Sports Center now sits. Both his sons had played soccer as boys,
and True intended to open an indoor soccer facility. Then he heard about a
friend who had converted a four-court indoor tennis center into a softball
field. "Ed played there and came up with the idea of putting soccer and
softball under one roof," says his wife, Myrna, who now works full time at
the BPSC. "That idea has been our savior."
For three days
each week, soccer is played on the turf. The other four days, softball reigns,
and the Ball Park truly feels like a ballpark. On this night, the bleachers
hold girlfriends, wives and exuberant offspring of the players. "C'mon,
Dad!" a Dennis the Menace look-alike screams to his father at the
From the mound,
Show Me's Stuart Yoza, a sergeant stationed at nearby Scott Air Force Base,
lobs a perfect strike. "I'm from Hawaii, and I had never heard of the
indoor game," he says later. "Guys on the base told me about it. It's a
different game—fast and fun. I love it."