A holiday softball tradition

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Softball isn't for sandbaggers, so Triple Crown Sports made some changes in its adult slow-pitch softball rules.

In the men's B/C classification, a team is allowed four home runs a game. Any additional home runs are scored as outs. At the D level, all home runs are scored as outs. At the E level, the first home run is an out. Any home runs after that automatically end the team's at-bat. By penalizing high-scoring plays, the rules discourage teams from playing below their ability levels.

"That's how serious we are about dealing with classification issues," said Patty Harsch, Triple Crown's director of slow-pitch softball. "It's been an issue for so long. We are taking drastic measures to make sure people play in the right division."

For many men competing in this weekend's annual Triple Crown Fourth of July Mountain Magic slow-pitch event, it will be difficult to keep the ball inside the fences in Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek, Hayden and Craig.

Harsch thinks the teams with big swingers will move into the appropriate divisions because of the rule changes. Because multiple home runs will hurt a team, the incentive to play down a division just to win games is gone.

Steamboat will have two teams in this year's men's field, and Craig will have a team in the coed division. The Ball Busters will play in the men's B/C division, the highest classification this weekend. They open against the EAS/Pollards/Eas--ton team from Greeley at 1:50 p.m. today at Adams field. The Ball Busters play again at 4:10 p.m. at Adams field.

The B&K Distributing team is playing in the men's E division and open at 8 a.m. today at Adams field against Wins Inc. from Colorado Springs. If B&K Distributing wins, they play at 11:30 a.m. at Ski Town North. If B&K Distributing loses, they play at 9:10 a.m. Saturday in Craig.

"We feel pretty good about our team this year," B&K Distributing player Sean Hicks said. "I think we're ready. Guys are excited to play. They want to win. We want to be playing the last day and not in Craig. That means we are in the consolation bracket."

Hicks said the B&K Distri--buting team playing this weekend essentially is the same team that plays in the local adult league, with the exception of a few players. This weekend, the B&K Distributing team will have to keep its home runs to an absolute minimum because it's in the E division.

"It's not that you try," Hicks said. "You try to hit the ball hard, and it gets away from you. The teams that win hit single after single after single."

In Triple Crown tournaments, Hicks said the softballs are pitched a little flatter and are of better quality, which combine to make it easier to hit the ball farther.

This is the first tournament of the year for the B&K Distributing team, which also may put it at a disadvantage. Many of the teams in town this weekend have been playing for several months.

Dustin Jensen, a member of the Team Rival (men's D) and Fire in the Hole (coed) teams, said the men's team typically competes in two or three tournaments a month. Last year, the Castle Pines-based team finished 12th nationally in the C division of the Amateur Softball Association of America.

But the Fourth of July tournament in Steamboat Springs, entering its 23rd year, is a unique tournament for the group.

"It definitely turns into a family vacation of sorts," Jensen said.

Harsch said teams begin signing up for Steamboat's tournament in December. This year, 127 teams are registered.

This weekend's tournament includes the Colorado All-Star Game at 9 p.m. today at Adams field and a Louisville Slugger Longball Contest during the game. The Triple Crown party and auction are at 9 p.m. Saturday at Levelz.

"This is a definite softball tradition in this state," Harsch said. "Anybody who is anybody comes to Steamboat to play in the Fourth of July tournament. We have tried to make it a tradition."

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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