Ball family supports Dad’s goal in West St. Paul Tournament

Written by Bob on July 27th, 2012

“Wayne’s tournament is great. It’s the best. He knows how to run a tournament fantastically.” – Dave Vandenbosch, manager, Gallagher’s Bar

WEST ST. PAUL, MN – Forty-two down and eight to go.

For 42 years, 73-year-old Wayne Ball has kept the West St. Paul Invitational Men’s Fastpitch Tournament rolling along. Year-after-year without a miss.

Though he’s at an age when most fastpitch folks have long since retired, Ball has no plans on deserting his baby. His creation. His passion. Besides, he’s set a goal that he’s determined to meet.

“I have to go at least eight more years,” he said. “I’ve got to get to 50 years.”

Ball started his tournament back in 1971. It was the heyday of men’s fastpitch in the Twin Cities area and throughout the state. Getting over 30 teams wasn’t a problem. But with the decline in the game, he only had 15 this year.

Fastpitch isn’t as popular as it once was, he admits. But that’s not stopping him from hosting his tournament that is played at the West St. Paul Sports Complex.

“The tournament helps keep fastpitch going here,” he said. “We take pride in it. It’s very competitive top to bottom; the best tournament in the state.”

The Minnesota Angels won the tourney this year, which ran from July 20-22, with Fargo, ND taking second, New Image (WI) third, and Rice Lake (WI) fourth. While the local Jordan Realty tied for fifth.

But the tournament is much more than spirited competition. It’s about family. The entire Ball family pitches in. Including Wayne’s wife, Karen; their two sons Dan and Jerry, along with their wives and the kids and grandkids. And the players from the PBI team, in which Dan pitches, Jerry catches, and Wayne manages, all shoulder their share of work too.

Without his team and family there would be no tournament, he says. And if Karen decided to quit?

“I’d be finished,” Ball said. “I could never run it without her.”

Karen runs the concession stand. And though she kiddingly says she hopes her husband, “fires her,” she loves the game just as much as he does. She and the family will do whatever it takes to help Wayne reach his goal.

“He’s been the tournament director for all 42 years, and he wants to get to 50 years,” she said. “He absolutely loves fastpitch and doesn’t want it to die.”

Many players began playing in the tournament as young men back in the 1970s. And many have long since retired. But once a year, they brush off the rust. Wayne Ball starts things off with a Friday night “old timers” game. And no one escapes his ‘request’ that they dust off the old glove and spikes and come out to the ballpark.

“He personally makes about 75 calls,” said Karen, “to get two teams. We had over 50 players show up. They have fun, but it’s taken seriously.”

Over the years, some great teams and players have played in the West St. Paul Tournament. Jerry Ball, 41, says that Roman Foore, playing for Fargo, is one of the best hitters he’s ever seen. And Dave Meyer pitching for Stewart-Taylor of Duluth was one of the best pitchers.

“Dave was a phenomenal pitcher,” he said. “In his prime he could pitch against anybody.”

Wayne Ball recalls some of his favorites – pitchers Dutch Elbers (ISC Hall of Fame, 1988), Pat McKusky and Fred Smeezing from the bygone years. The younger crop of talented hurlers include locals’ Kevin Kammueller, Joel Cooley and Juan Potolichio of Argentina (Minnesota Angels), he said.

One of the best position players was Lake Lillian (MN) shortstop Dave Dollarshell. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen,” he said.

And as for the teams, they’ve come from all over the Midwest – Iowa, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, and as far west as Colorado and Utah. And of course, Minnesota produced some great tourney champions as well.

“Silver Lake and Hutchinson had excellent teams,” Wayne Ball said. “Gallagher’s Bar won it a couple of times and they had a good (fan) following. Mancini’s Bar with Pat McKusky pitching was good.”

Dave Vandenbosch manages Gallagher’s Bar. He’s entered the team in the tournament for six years.

“Wayne’s tournament is great,” he said. “It’s the best. He knows how to run a tournament fantastically. The teams he recruits are great. He calls us months before the tournament to make sure we’re in. Everybody has a great time. It (tournament) will make 50 years, I don’t doubt that.”

Wayne Ball started playing fastpitch in grade school as a 12-year-old. He played through high school and during a stint in the Army. After his military service, he returned home to West St. Paul and played with several top clubs including the COG.

He pitched and caught in his younger days. Now he manages and runs his tournament. He has 61 years invested in the sport. In 1997, he was inducted into the St. Paul Fastpitch Hall of Fame, and the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame. Both great honors, he says.

Jerry and Dan followed in their dad’s footsteps, embracing the game as he does. Soon Dan started a young team with his friends. They were known as PBI (1998 West St. Paul Tournament champion). They joined the same St. Paul and West St. Paul leagues in which their dad’s team played in.

Which meant father and sons bumped heads a time or two.

“For about the first 10 years we competed against dad,” Jerry said. “The household got pretty quiet the nights of the games. The COG was once one of the top teams in the state, so it got tense and competitive (playing them), but it was fun.”

After the COG folded about 15 years a go, Jerry and Dan talked their dad into joining PBI and managing the team. He’s been at the helm ever since.

“Mom is happy about that,” Jerry said. “She would come to the games (between the COG and PBI) and try to (support) both teams.”

This year’s tournament is now laid to rest. But next year will come soon enough. Wayne will mail out fliers, make his phone calls to the “old timers” insisting they open the tourney on Friday night. And he will rely on the backbone of the tournament that makes it all possible: his family.

And, says Jerry, they won’t let dad down in pursuit of his goal.

“The five grandkids were all working this year,” he said. “The next generation is starting to step up and help. It’s hard work but fun. Everybody knows their responsibility. But it’s dad who steers the ship. Our family goal is to meet dad’s goal.”

3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Margene says:

    The Ball family does a great job setting up and running this tournament. I was around when Wayne first started the tournament and even worked in the concessions with Karen. Dan and Jerry were the same age as their kids are now. It’s always a good time and fastpitch softball is alot of fun to watch. Congrats Wayne on another great tournament and I have no doubt you’ll make 50 years.

  2. Bob says:

    Thank you Margene. It’s people like Wayne and his family that keep the sport going.

  3. Bob says:

    A comment from Dan Ball: …it’s amazing how many people come out of the wooodwork to help out and work at the tournament even though they have no involvement or have retired from the game. When we ask why they are working, almost everyone says ‘well, it’s to be around the game and the tournament.'”

    (Wayne’s) five grandkids range in age from 7 to 12. This year my two oldest (Nick 11, Nolan 12) were up there most of the weekend keeping the scoreboard, raking the fields, doing the batters box and helping out in the concession stand. Hollly (the only grand daughter of the five) works the concession stand. She does a great job. The two younges (Trevor and Casey, both 7) work the scoreboard on various fields, so, yes, it is a true family event…

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