Of all the mainstream recreational sports, none are more ubiquitous or more varying in level of skill than softball. From friendly neighborhood church leagues that are more about congregation than competition to cutthroat men’s leagues where the teams are mainly comprised of giant sequoias that can hit a ball from Kauffman Park in Lakewood to Canada with a middling swing of a $700 bat, softball leagues can vary greatly, so it can be tough to find a league that doesn’t overclock your own personal threshold for bullshit whilst maintaining a level of interest that justifies spending real time each week having some actual fun for once.
Cleveland Softball is a league that is able to find a perfect balance by holding one rule above all others: don’t be a dick. The league is led by commissioners Matt Jauch and Jae Kristoff, who have dedicated much of their summers for the past six years building a community that offers a little piece of what everyone looks for when they’re finding a way to spend their Saturdays during the warmer parts of the year. It can be nearly impossible to quantify the positive impact of a structured yet formless, competitive yet friendly recreational activity, especially one that allows for a little exercise from time to time. But running a softball Shangri-La is a delicate task.
Maintaining the fine line between disinterested Whiffle Ball anarchy and a testosterone-laden bro-down in bro-town is a challenge, but Cleveland Softball boasts a friendly atmosphere cultivated in no small part by Commissioner Matt Jauch, who strives to keep things as light and cordial as possible without sacrificing any of the fun that a little competition can bring. Jauch says, “There is a certain camaraderie with Cleveland Softball that you just won’t find with other leagues. We’re a family. Many people know each other, so every week you are playing a team that has some of your friends on it.”
Of course, as with any large group of humans, problems do arise and cause some measure of tension between parties. As Jauch points out, “Our umpires are all volunteers. There’s going to be close calls and there’s going to be blown calls here and there. That’s the human element of the game. Everyone has seen questionable calls from professional umps and refs in all the major sports. You can’t expect an unpaid volunteer to always get it 100% correct.” Though Jauch does a tremendous job of keeping his finger on the pulse of the league and deals swiftly and fairly with any problems that may arise, issues do come up from time to time. “When immature shit pops up. We pride ourselves on not having the testosterone level of the city leagues, but there are competitive people out here who do get carried away at times in the heat of the moment,” says Jauch.
Because of the laid-back, fun atmosphere, interest in the league is understandably always high, and keeping things reasonably contained is paramount to achieving the goals the league has set for itself, including keeping the number of teams trimmed down for scheduling reasons as well as simple feasibility.
Despite the somewhat selective nature of player registration, it is still extremely easy to get involved in Cleveland Softball. Though the season is already underway, the league is always looking for volunteer umpires, fill-in players, and free beer. Whether you hope to find a team to help you battle your inner softball demons, want to help out by volunteering a few hours of your time, or if you’re simply looking for a friendly environment in which to hang out and get some fresh air on any given Saturday, feel free to check the match-ups on the league’s website clevelandsoftball.com and check out a game on the corner of E. 72nd and Route 90 at Gordon Park. Just remember, as referenced in the league’s expansive and exhaustive rulebook, one rule remains above all others: don’t be a dick.