Remember days of slowpitch

Just this past weekend, I happened to be driving by the Tapiola ball diamond on a rainy morning and saw a familiar, yet unfamiliar, scene.

There were two softball teams playing in a steady rain at 10 a.m., not a common sight since games are usually held nowadays in the evening.

What was going on was a weekend tournament – once a staple of summers in the Copper Country.

But that was back in the early 1970s when slow-pitch softball was just hitting its stride.

Ontonagon County was the first local area to pick up on the concept. Tournaments were held in Ontonagon, Mass City, Rockland, Bruce Crossing, etc. and were drawing large numbers of fans.

One of my first stops after getting out of the service in 1972 was to take in the Tubby’s Bar Tournament, held close to the shores of Lake Superior.

The calibre of play was impressive to my inexperienced eyes.

Slowpitch always put an emphasis on hitting the ball, and the teams I saw were doing just that. The particular game I saw ended up 30-28 in favor of a very good Dry Dock Bar team.

After putting together a team the following season, we decided to start our own Karvakko’s Market Tournament in 1974.

Using the general blueprint from the Ontonagon County events, we soon realized that such an undertaking required a ton of preparation and hard work.

One person had to line up the teams; another had to assemble a ground crew to take care of the field (rain was always a good possibilty); and others had to take care of concessions, where your major money came from.

We made some mistakes that first year, most notably putting a $2 daily fee at the beer barrel. Every heavy drinker in the four-county showed up … and soon disposed of all the liquids on hand. We weren’t going to make that mistake again.

But by 1977, we had the format down. A total of 28 teams, from as far away as Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and Duluth, entered that year and we had to turn down another seven squads for a tournament bursting with applicants.

The crowds were also far beyond our expectations. On championship Sunday, approximately 4,500 fans showed up – give or take a few – to enjoy the softball and all the ambience surrounding it.

The late Keith Karsama, one of the primary organizers of the tourney, commented to me.

“Do you realize that right now … Tapiola is the third largest town in Houghton County?”

The tournament continued for another 25 years, albeit on a smaller scale, before lack of interest in slowpitch finally ended it.

But it returned this past weekend with a Jack-and-Jill event and an Over 35 class. It was fittingly named the Keith Karsama Tournament.

Small beginnings, yes. But look at what happened in 1974.It could happen again here and now.