Steamboat Springs If one were to compile a list of Colorado's competitive adult slow-pitch softball teams and compare it with the participation list for this weekend's Triple Crown tournament, the differences would be hard to notice.
"We are 8 to 10 short of having them all," said Patty Harsch, organizer of this weekend's Triple Crown tournament. "It's the best of the best."
The slow-pitch tournament opens Friday with 149 teams, including two from Steamboat Springs, in seven divisions.
Steamboat Blue and Pioneer Materials Dawgs will represent the town in the Men's E division of the three-day tournament.
Titles also will be up for grabs in the Men's C (the tournament's highest division), Men's D, Women's Upper, Women's Lower, Mixed Upper and Mixed Lower.
Although Dawgs sponsor Sean Hicks will be vacationing this weekend and won't be available to play, he said it's easy to understand why the annual slow-pitch tournament in Steamboat Springs remains one of Triple Crown's more popular events.
"For one, it's something reasonable to drive to," Hicks said. "Three hours from Denver and three hours from Grand Junction and you're here. They rent their condos and bring their kids and make it a fun weekend. People from the city want to be in the mountains during the Fourth of July. Steamboat has a lot to offer and Triple Crown accommodates them in a great way."
Harsch said a variety of activities are planned for Triple Crown participants and their families this year, as the opening day of the three-day tournament falls on the Fourth of July.
Games will begin at 7 a.m. Friday and continue until 9 p.m. in Steamboat, 4 p.m. in Craig, and and till 3 p.m. in Hayden, allowing teams playing in the outlying towns to return to Steamboat for "the world's largest potluck" and fireworks display at 9:30 p.m. at Howelsen Hill.
A deejay will provide music and assist with a jersey auction benefiting the American Cancer Society scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday.
An all-star game with the state's best male and female softball players is scheduled for after the fireworks, as well.
"Those are just ways to add spin to an event," Harsch said. "Basically every team looks to Steamboat Springs over the Fourth of July anyway, but we don't want to take advantage of that. We like to make it new and exciting."
The Triple Crown atmosphere provides the Pioneer Materials Dawgs and Steamboat Blue a chance to compete on a different field. Although they are familiar with Howelsen Hill and each other from the Steamboat adult leagues, both teams will face competition from across the state.
"Everyone's family is around, and there will be plenty of people there to watch," Steamboat Blue's Joey Rind said. "We don't care what weekend it is. We'd still sign up."
Representing Mountain West Insurance, Spiegel and Sons, Architectural Doors and Windows, and Old Town Pub during league play, Steamboat Blue opted for a shorter name, organized uniforms, and added a couple of players to the roster for this weekend's event.
"As in everything else in life, we learned our lesson last year," Rind said. "We weren't deep enough and didn't have enough guys. What we've done to supplement our roster is picked up a couple other players who are involved in the league."
The Dawgs and Steamboat Blue are eager to see how they fare this year. The Pioneer Materials team already has qualified for the Triple Crown St. Augustine Fall National Finals with a strong showing in an earlier June tournament.
"If we play anything like we did during the first tournament, I think we'll do real well," Hicks said.
In the Men's E division, in which the Steamboat teams and JABT from Craig will play, the men are not allowed to hit home runs -- a difficult task for some.
Hicks added that although the area teams are in the lower E division, mistakes still prove costly in softball in a competitive division filled with talented former college baseball players turned softball players.
Admission to this weekend's tournament is free, and a complete schedule of game times and teams, along with the Colorado All-Star team will be released on Triple Crown's Web site www.triplecrownsports.com today.