Independent sports are way down

Looking at the state of the so-called “independent” sports in our area, it’s hard to believe things have changed so much.

By independent, I’m talking about baseball and softball for the most part.

Those were the main sports played by people beyond high school age in the past.

Baseball is still going …. but not even close to past seasons.

The Twilight League, which once had as many as two divisions and 14 teams, is down to four teams. And that’s been the case for the past decade or so.

The four-team format number is considered the minimum by most organizers.

In our area, the work of such people as Daron Durocher and others, has kept things going on the ball diamond.

Durocher’s Stanton ballclub sponsors an annual tournament named after the late Leo Durocher, one of the league’s great players and organizers.

Hard ball teams from other areas have helped to fill out an eight-team format that has proven to be very popular with fans.

The story of fast-pitch pitch softball is a sad one.

There were once as many as three fast-pitch leagues in the area. There was a North and South Division in Houghton County and a Baraga County league.

When district tournament time rolled around in August, there were as many 22 teams on hand at old Hubbell Field — one of the few to have lights

The crowds who gathered on the hillside there were large and boisterous.

Unfortunately, the league ran out of players by the middle 1980s as youngsters started to leave the area to find jobs in bigger cities.

The advent of slow-pitch softball in the early 1970s also cut sharply into the numbers.

There were once 27 teams in the county league (three divisions of nine teams) who came out to the enjoy the offense-oriented game.

Ontonagon and Baraga also had their own leagues or ten or more slow-pitch teams.

The overflow number of teams led to a tournament practically every weekend at every small town in the western U.P. Those tournaments often drew 20 or more teams.

In 1977, the Karvakko’s Tournament in Tapiola had 28 teams entered and attracted a crowd estimated at 5,000 on the final day. Seven teams were turned away.

But even slow-pitch interest began to fade. There are just eight teams in the Houghton County League today. In Baraga County, the lack of interest has led to teams playing just one day of the week.

Sure, the influx of other forms of activity have taken away numbers from baseball and softball.

And our local youths just out of high school will continue to seek employment elsewhere.

Is there a way to get back interest back in independent sports?

If there is, no one has a ready answer ….