Softball a big hit in Clovis

CNJ correspondent: Liliana Castillo Nicole Marez of the Lady Takers prepares to take a swing during Thursday night’s game against the Vipers at Guy Leeder Complex. The Clovis Softball Association sponsors leagues during the spring, summer and fall.

Dave Wagner

When members of the Clovis Jaycees sought to start a recreational softball program for the city in the early 1960s, their first thought was to go with fast-pitch.

After only a couple of years, it was evident the interest wasn’t there to maintain it. At that point, the Jaycees changed course, and slow-pitch in Clovis was born.

After nearly five decades the local program is still going strong.

“We couldn’t get enough people interested in fast-pitch because it required more skill, so we switched over to slow-pitch after a couple of years,” said Tom Wade, then a member of the Jaycees. “We started with four teams and we added a couple of teams a year for several years.”

The leagues started playing at what is now Dickenson Field in the late 1960s. The Clovis Softball Association was formed in 1972 — Wade, who still operates Tom’s Barber Shop on Prince Street, served as its president for the first three years — and eventually what is now Guy Leeder Softball Complex was built.

Wade said he “recruited” Leeder out of the Jaycees to help with the organizational work. Leeder was heavily involved in the CSA until his death in 2007.

“Every year or two we added a new field because (the program just kept growing),” said Wade, who played and umpired in the CSA until the early ’80s. There are now five fields at the complex.

The program has grown dramatically over the years. Eventually, teams were separated into a Church League and an Industrial League.

“Around 1968, we had some women interested in playing, so we formed a women’s league,” Wade said.

Roger Jackson, who has served as the United States Slow-pitch Softball Association area director since the mid-80s, said between 125 and 150 teams currently participate in league play in one or more of three seasons — spring, summer and fall.

The Church League plays on Mondays in the spring and summer, men’s leagues are scheduled for Wednesdays and Fridays and the Women’s League plays on Thursday, with Tuesday’s an “overflow” night for makeups and extra games. League play is combined in the fall.

“We found out that in the fall, we get some new teams forming for the next year,” Jackson said. “We try not to turn anyone away. I think the only reason we turn anyone away now is because they procrastinate and don’t get their entry fee turned in.”

Jackson said originally the Church League had more participation, but other leagues have since surpassed it.

Yvonne Lumsden, director of the women’s league the last seven years, said her league has enjoyed its best year in terms of participation in 2011.

“We ended up with 40 teams,” said Lumsden, who plays and coaches on a team in the league. “It’s growing and growing and growing. I hear from other teams it’s because it’s a friendly, family-oriented atmosphere out there.”

Lumsden, a 44-year-old native of Clovis and Jackson’s sister-in-law, said she’s played softball since she was “8 or 9,” but had to give it up for a while. She dropped a significant amount of weight, she said, which was tied to her ability to return to playing.

Jackson puts in long hours behind the scenes, but it’s a labor of love. He helps with scheduling, primarily for the men’s leagues, and also arranges for around 11 tournaments a year to use the facility, from youth events to adult, including some state-level tournaments.

“It’s very time-consuming with all the things we do,” Jackson said. “We have a fulltime maintenance person now (at the complex).”

Slow-pitch is a sport many people can play well into middle age and beyond. Frank Galvan of Bovina, who turns 60 in November, said he’s been playing in CSA leagues since around the time he graduated from high school in 1969.

He played baseball in high school, and noted that league softball teams used wooden bats in the early days.

“I wouldn’t pass it up for anything,” Galvan said. “I tried golf (out of high school), but that didn’t fulfill what I had in high school athletics.

“In slow-pitch, I found the competition and the camaraderie was fun.”

Some leagues are competitive, others are more for recreation. Galvan has seen a lot.

“There were some good ballplayers and some good teams, teams that could compete state-wide — and probably nation-wide, as far as that goes,” he said. “I think it gives people a chance to compete at a fairly good level without having to (travel) a long way. It’s living out your childhood dream — it’s our major leagues.”

Current CSA president Kyle Snider noted that new bathrooms are being constructed at the complex for the first time since it opened. He said his role in the organization is mainly one of oversight, including discipline when needed. “We don’t have that many problems out there, though,” he said.

Snider, who began playing softball after graduation from high school in the late 1980s, said the CSA just kind of took off.

“Every year it gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “It’s such a family-oriented deal where everybody helps and makes it work.

“Every year since I’ve been (the CSA president), we had a growth of about five or six teams.”

He said the city plans to move AYSO soccer fields currently located on 14th Street and add three softball fields in that area over the next few years.