Recreation : Parks Offer Alternative in Softball

Gary Van Kirk joined a softball team 17 years ago, and many of his teammates considered it sissy to use a glove to catch the oversized 16-inch ball.

But after they suffered several broken fingers, the men on Van Kirk's team decided to be less concerned with macho and more with safety: Most have opted to wear gloves.

"Nobody used a glove because that's the way the game was developed," Van Kirk said. "But nobody needs a broken finger."

Playing with a 16-inch softball, commonly called a mushball, has become a popular alternative to the conventional slow-pitch or fast-pitch game.

Players such as Van Kirk, 40, of Reseda, prefer to use the heavier, larger softball because it makes for a less demanding game although the rules are the same as regular softball.

"It's more easygoing, not as cutthroat, because the ball can't go as far when you hit it hard," Van Kirk said. "Everybody goes out there just to have fun and they don't care so much about winning."

In 16-inch softball, pitching is less important than being strong enough to smack the cantaloupe-shaped ball out of the infield. The ball gets softer the longer the game lasts, making it more difficult to hit in later innings. A ball usually lasts only one game.

The softer ball calls for specific strategy. Positioning defenders is essential in order to prevent an opposing team from dropping in hits between the infielders and outfielders.

"A man can hit it real hard, but if the fielders back up too far, then he can just dink in a hit," Van Kirk said. "You're trying to hit the gaps more than pound it over somebody's head."

The Los Angeles City Recreation and Parks Department stages an 18-week season for 16-inch softball that ends after the first week in August.

The Gaelic gang: The Young Ireland's, one of two Valley-based Gaelic football teams, will play the Orange County-based Wild Geese in Westminster on Sunday to determine Southern California's representative in the Western Regional finals of the North American championships Aug. 13-14 in San Francisco.

The Young Ireland's advanced to Sunday's game after defeating the San Diego-based Clan Na Gael on July 17.

In the Western Regional finals, a Southern California team will play a Northern California team for a berth in the North American championships. Gaelic football teams from throughout the United States will converge in San Francisco on Labor Day weekend for the championships.

City softball playoffs: More than 300 teams representing the Los Angeles City Recreation and Parks Department will compete in the City Softball championships at sites throughout the San Fernando Valley beginning Aug. 8.

Teams from nine divisions and 150 leagues will compete in the single-elimination, slow-pitch tournament. A championship team will be determined by Aug. 31.

In addition, teams from 17 leagues are scheduled to compete in the City parks and recreation department's fast-pitch tournament Aug. 12-14 at the Hjelte Sports Center.

Information: 818-783-0738.

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