Triple Crown softball players crave time to play some ball in Steamboat |

Triple Crown softball players crave time to play some ball in Steamboat

Luke Graham

— The best ball being played in Steamboat Springs took place Saturday at Howelsen Hill.

There, multiple high-level traveling softball teams took the field as part of the Triple Crown Fourth of July Mountain Magic tournament. Although the tournament was absent from Steamboat last year, and only 30 or so teams came this year, the allure of softball never left.

"It gets us away from reality, basically," said Will Sanchez, who plays for the Denver-based Stars/Combat team. "It's us being kids again for a day or a weekend. It brings groups together so we can hang out as a group."

The softball tournament was the only one of the year under the Triple Crown name. But it isn't a sign that Triple Crown is getting back into the softball fold. The company moved away from softball in 2008 because of the changing economic climate.

For Triple Crown, softball was the aging right-hander destined for retirement. Youth tournaments were more popular and profitable.

But since the city had a contract with Triple Crown, this year's tournament director, Patty Harsch, said they decided to have a tournament to benefit the Pitchers, a Fort Collins-based competitive women's softball team.

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"I think what's happened is because of the economy people need to find more affordable things to do," she said. "They are staying a little closer to home and doing things more affordable."

Although numbers may have been down, the competitiveness was not.

Sanchez's team plays in three to four out-of-town tournaments a year. He said he's noticed a difference in the past couple of years in the softball world. Gone are the times of traveling all summer.

Instead, in an economic climate like this one, Sanchez said his team plays in more local and regional tournaments.

But where there are tournaments, high-level teams are likely to follow. Although the upper men's bracket featured only a few teams, all were of a highly competitive nature.

"For our level, (the numbers) have been the same pretty much consecutive years," said Jeremy Mercer, who plays for the Triumph/FRST/Aflac team. "It's a higher level for sure. That's why the bracket is small up here."

Mercer's team plays in 15 to 20 tournaments a year, five of which take place outside of Colorado. He said there is no secret to why his team does it. Most at one time played collegiate baseball and still itch to compete at that level.

"Here's what it is," said Mercer, who played baseball at Southern Illinois University. "Most of us were competitive at one time with what we did when we were younger. This game is different, but it's the competitiveness that keeps us coming."

The tournament continues today, with the championship games before the fireworks.