Steamboat Springs A sports tourism company wants to host a 150-team men's slow-pitch softball tournament in Steamboat Springs this summer - the type of event that has proved politically explosive for the raucous reputation that accompanies it.
Preferring a much smaller event, city officials have responded coolly to the request from the World Softball League. But given the suffering state of the local economy, a Steamboat Springs City Council member and local restaurant owner said Thursday that they are open to the possibility of an event that would invigorate an otherwise slow mid-August weekend.
"I think it makes sense to at least keep our options open and see if there's openness to that," Councilman Jon Quinn said. "At this point, I think it makes more sense to keep doors open than close them."
Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Director Chris Wilson explained his reasons behind preferring a smaller event at Tuesday's meeting of the City Council. Years ago, softball players gave Triple Crown Sports' a cooler-toting, bar-brawling, late-night-partying image, and the city asked the company to move toward more family-oriented youth tournaments.
Adult softball was drawn down to just one weekend of Triple Crown's 10-week schedule in Steamboat, and the company announced that last year's softball games would be its last.
"The community was very vocal and very clear this was something they wanted to get away from," Wilson said about men's softball at Tuesday's council meeting. "Imagine the magnitude of (a) Triple Crown (weekend) with all adult men."
Slopeside Grill owner Chris Corna did just that - and liked what he saw.
"I'd stand on the top of Rabbit Ears Pass with a welcome flag," said Corna, who guessed that some of the visitors also might return in the winter. "In this economic time, you don't turn away business. : It would be my opinion that you take anybody and everybody you can get and make them feel welcome."
In a memo to council, Wilson said the World Softball League's request was to host a national event here Aug. 14 through 16. In addition to 150 or more teams, the company would bring TV crews and a semi-pro exhibition team called the Long Haul Bombers who sometimes play in Major League Baseball stadiums.
"We'd be picking balls up off Lincoln (Avenue) the way these guys hit," Wilson said.
In addition to Steamboat's fields, the company also would have to arrange for the use of fields in Craig and Hayden, and Wilson said the company would expect concessions such as lodging and fee waivers. Wilson said it makes more sense to start with an event of about 15 to 25 teams.
"You have a lot of single guys who are here for a men's outing, and it's a whole different group coming into town," he said. "We believe this may be a fit for us, but we'd like to try something smaller."
John Daniels, CEO of the World Softball League, said the sport's reputation is undeserved and that his league has the ability to ban players who cause trouble. Daniels said his most recent North American Championships were held in Panama City, Fla., with 225 teams and "not one problem."
"I think the perception that softball players are all big, fat and all they want to do is drink beer and chase women is a false perception," Daniels said. "To be honest with you, there's going to be teams that get beat out and go to the bar. But drinking and stuff hasn't been too big of a problem in our deal. To me, that's a non-factor.
"There's a lot we can bring to the table," Daniels continued. "We want someone who wants to showcase their city, and we can do that. : Cities really enjoy the cash influx, and it brings a lot to the community."
Although Corna said he has never had a problem with any Triple Crown-related customers in 15 years, others were glad to see the switch to youth-oriented tournaments. Last year, Audrey Enever said that when she managed condominiums years ago, Triple Crown softball players would pour beer in hot tubs and do other "horrible things."
"It was more of the beers and coolers and adults that weren't here to play any kind of competitive softball," Steamboat Resorts President Bob Milne said last year. "They were here to party. All they were spending money on was beer, and they were barbecuing every chance they got."
Quinn noted that the city's contract with Triple Crown lasts only two more summers. With the uncertainty as to whether the company will remain long-term, Quinn said it makes sense to establish a relationship with another organization.
"As much as we can, it's our responsibility to make sure we're not closing the door simply because something was ruled out years ago," he said.
Phillip Small, western regional director for the World Softball League and formerly of Triple Crown, said he understands the politics of softball in Steamboat and is OK with starting small. He said the smaller event would be very similar to the Triple Crown event that was cut after last summer and even bring some of the same teams. But the company still ultimately hopes for the larger event.
"It's all up to the city of Steamboat," Small said. "A late-summer national (tournament) in Steamboat is not out of the question. We're ready to do it whenever they are. : We'll start small, we'll play nice, everybody will like us, and we'll grow when they're ready to let us grow."
The city also is negotiating with the American Baseball Association to bring a youth baseball tournament of about 25 to 30 teams to Steamboat during Memorial Day weekend.