July 27, 2005
The gods have smiled on the softball diamonds of Aspen this summer. For starters (as of press time), not a single Aspen Recreation League game has been lost to rain.”And in this part of the world, where it likes to rain at 4 or 5 o’clock quite a bit, that’s a miracle,” says Scott “Froggy” Blair, a local player, umpire and softball beat writer. (Or, if you prefer, “The cross-dressing, self-appointed softball guru of the Roaring Fork Valley,” he says.)
“I’ve been with the league 10 years, since ’95, and I’ve never seen a season without a rainout. Now, of course, I’ve just jinxed us for next week.”Consider this: About 500 locals play on softball teams in Aspen. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings during the summer, the Coed Rec., Men’s Rec. and Men’s Competitive leagues, respectively, take over the four diamonds out on Maroon Creek Road.With 25 total teams, it makes for a lot of games, hits, outs, errors and laughs and, usually, a few rainouts.But the championship tournaments are right around the corner, in early and mid-August, and pennant races will be sewn up, won and lost in the coming weeks.”It’s been a real good year competitivenesswise,” says Aspen softball commissioner Keith Bulicz, the sports coordinator of the Aspen Parks and Recreation Department. “Last week, the Elks beat the undefeated Red Onion 4-1. That was a pretty big deal.”Of course, softball in Aspen is about more than just the win-loss column, and there’s no shortage of characters and story lines at play this summer.
The Rockers of the Men’s Rec. League are languishing in the middle bottom of the standings this season, much to the disgust of player/manager Dave Bluefield.”The Red Onion? They’ve just been lucky. There’s really no team that’s outstanding, in my opinion. The Elks are just great hitters. They can really hit. They battered us around,” says Bluefield.”But some games we’ve just absolutely collapsed defensively. Just collapsed. We really need to learn how to win – find that invisible thing that’s hard to nail down. We did have a doubleheader victory a couple of weeks ago that really made our season. Then we’ve lost a couple games in the last at-bat. Just horrible. Some were due to errors, some were due to good hitting, and some were just one of those things. If we got a couple bounces our way, we could be one of the top teams in the league. In fact, we almost beat the Red Onion twice. Now, we’re planning on surprising some people in the tournament.”
Years ago, Bluefield, 58, keyboardist in the legendary band Three Dog Night, was surrounded by teammates who were also fellow musicians. It was longtime John Denver collaborator John Sommers, the author of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” who, about a decade ago, passed the Rockers’ player/managerial torch to Bluefield.”But over time, it’s no longer musicians – but we’re still the Rockers. Now we’re thinking of putting a rocking chair in with our logo, because the mean age is about 45. So it’s kind of amazing we’re able to stay competitive,” says Bluefield.Steve Cole, a talented sax player who plays with Bluefield in the Network Band and the Uptown Strutters, and Dave Dawson, the Rockers’ pitcher, are the only musicians left.Thinking back, Bluefield says the team always seemed struck with the blues, even when the lineup was packed with musicians. “We’d never, never do well in tournaments. The first game was usually early on a Saturday and nobody could get to the game on time, or in shape, because we were out playing gigs. Those days are done, but we’re still having a lot of fun.”Hell, most of the other guys my age are using pinch runners! But at the same time, I try not to play any defense.”
“The best thing about softball: You play for an hour, you get to talk about it all week.”- Froggy”In the Men’s Comp. League, Zane’s is running away with it. They’ve sewn up the pennant already at 11-1. Everybody else is playing for a podium spot,” Froggy says during a recent far-reaching conversation about softball. “And softball is life,” he adds, echoing his familiar refrain.
Over the last four years, Zane’s Tavern of Snowmass Village is 71-9.”That’s pretty damn good,” says Froggy, “and they’re also very good in the Coed League.””That Eddie Zane is a great guy, and a great sponsor. He runs that team like the Yankees, right at the top of the food chain here in Aspen, Colorado.”Froggy’s team, the Red Onion, is tops in the Men’s Rec. League at 11-2. But after starting out 11-0, the team has its weaknesses, which the Elks and then Jimmy’s (restaurant team) exposed in the last two weeks.Froggy has an explanation for the Elks’ loss, at least. “We were playing on the ‘Sun Field’ – Lower Moore. We were wearing sunglasses and couldn’t see, they were wearing welding goggles and could – that’s the only reason they beat us,” he says.
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Of course, the Elks also have a great deal of experience. In fact, between their three pitchers, Froggy notes, they’ve got a combined 180 years of experience. Froggy’s referring to Maypo, 53, Gack, 63, and Chuck “Doctor K” Tower, 64. (“Coincidentally,” Froggy says, “Doctor K shares Aspen’s most-veteran-player status with Jeff Seguin, who plays with his son, Mike, on the Avalanche Construction team in the Coed League.”)”Maypo really is a legend, though. An icon. He dares you to hit him. I’ve seen him drilled in the face and he doesn’t move. Really, an institution, and he should be institutionalized,” says Froggy.Froggy recently reported that Maypo recorded his 500th career victory. “Now, that’d be 500 career wins in the Aspen leagues, but he had some back in the Minnesota leagues. He’s kind of like Satchel Paige – you don’t know just how many wins he’s got, but you know he’s darn good,” says Froggy.With 10 teams, the Coed League is the largest of the three Aspen Rec. League divisions. And according to Froggy, it’s also the most exciting.”That’s where it’s happening. That’s where you’ve got the most volatile testosterone-estrogen cocktail in the valley. Every game is happy hour,” he says. “Where else can you see the studs and the fillies strutting their stuff in Lycra?”
SmartWorks is tops in the league at 8-0, with a recent forfeit win over the hapless Aspen Times team (aka The Hard Times). SmartWorks fields five women in the infield. Their pitcher, however, is male.”It’s like the only person in the infield without a sports bra is wearing a cup,” Froggy says. “And these women are all very good, very solid.”In fact, Froggy says the key to success in the Coed League rests with women.”A good coed team? Your chicks have to beat their chicks. That’s what coed ball is all about,” he says.Keelty Construction is right behind SmartWorks with a single loss. Player/manager Patrick Keelty also owns the distinction of having the oldest team in the Aspen leagues, at 17 years. “And his team has been a front-runner for 17 years,” Froggy says. “Another class organization, that Keelty Construction.”
Looking toward the future, Froggy notes that the teams that continue to fare well are also some of the most aggressive recruiters. “Put it this way, the good teams recruit. The other teams, well, they all probably all work together. But the good teams, they’re thinking about next season the day the season ends,” he says.As for his own team’s chances, the Onion, Froggy says a hot rumor seems to have injected new life into his teammates.”If the Red Onion wins the league and the tournament, Red Onion management, as the rumor goes, is considering sending the team to Mexico for winter ball,” says Froggy. “And, now, that’s something to play for.”Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org