Once thriving sport of fastpitch softball now thing of past at Prescott Field

Editor’s Note: The following comes from the Lebanon Daily News in Pennsylvania and is, sadly, a sign of the times.

Daily News Sportswriter
Lebanon Daily News
Updated: 05/25/2009 11:08:46 PM EDT

This summer, the benches and bleachers at Prescott Field will be void of fastpitch softball players and fans. (Gordon Oliver / Lebanon Daily News)

PRESCOTT — It wasn’t all that many years ago when it would have been unthinkable. Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, had arrived, and Prescott Field was dormant.

Once, not that long ago, Prescott Field was one of the most-used facilities in Lebanon County.

Prescott Field is still used, but not to the extent that it used to be. Men’s fastpitch softball, the sport that once dominated Lebanon County’s summers, has effectively ceased to exist. The last holdout, South Lebanon TNT, disbanded shortly after last year’s ISC II tournament in Wisconsin.

The decision to disband the team was made by Irv Lutz, the team’s general manager and the man who had been fighting against the odds for the better part of a decade to keep fastpitch going. Some serious health concerns, and a handful of other factors, led to the decision.

“I always thought I couldn’t live without softball,” Lutz said, “but when I ended up getting ill and finding out that my health was important, I thought it would be a tough thing this year not having a team, but I’m living with it.”

Lutz began having difficulties in 2005. Forced to go on dialysis because of kidney problems, he developed a back infection that led to two major surgeries. There were some additional problems, as well, and Lutz found himself hospitalized with uncomfortable frequency.

“I was a person that was always on the go, and now I have to depend on people to help me,” he said. “If it wouldn’t be for my wife and two boys… They’ve been the Rock of Gibraltar for me.” The health problems simply exacerbated other problems.

“My brother Lee, he was a big help as far as the coaching went,” said Lutz, “and after we won the championship in 2007, he said he’d commit to one more year. He decided to get out of coaching.”

There was also the fundraising. Although he was quick to credit Leonard Tobias of TNT, the team’s sponsor, for his financial support, Lutz noted that the team still had to raise additional funds, and that task fell to his wife, Deb.

“It just became too much,” he said.

Still, it wasn’t without regret that Lutz decided to call it quits, especially in looking back on the Lebanon County’s fastpitch history.

“In the late 1960s and 1970s, and into the 1980s, either here (at Prescott) or at Stoevers, that was the hotbed of softball in this area,” he said. “The City-County League, games would be on the radio, and you’d come here for a game, and there would be 1,000 people sometimes. There were a lot of good players in this league. It was very competitive.”

The biggest competition was between South Lebanon — sponsored by Country House, then Wet Your Whistle, and finally TNT — and Jolly Molly.

“That rivalry went back for years and years,” said Lutz. “Today I have a lot of friends from Jolly Molly, but back then when you stepped on the field, you weren’t friends. The fans could see that competitiveness. They had a lot of good players over the years, and we had a lot of good players over the years. After the ’80s, when they got out of it, that was the demise of softball. That really hurt because you didn’t have the tournaments we used to have.”

The success of those two teams had a ripple effect.

“There was a softball tournament almost every weekend in Lebanon County,” said Lutz. “Lebanon was known for its softball. When you said Jolly Molly or Country House, everybody in the state knew where you were from. As far as the economy around here, people don’t realize how much it hurt the economy. All the tournaments we had, we always hurt for hotels, but we’d have 30-team tournaments back in the ’70s and ’80s.”

The success of South Lebanon and Jolly Molly also raised the level of play for other teams in the old City-County League.

“Teams like Strickler’s Insurance, Risser’s, Lauck’s, they all wanted to beat us,” said Lutz, “and they did sometimes. The league was competitive. We had A, B and C. We had a C league, and we had the Industrial League. Some of those guys played in both leagues.”

It was, said Lutz, men like his brother Hal, who died in 1997; the late Ray Brown, the man behind Jolly Molly; and Ron Weidman who played a major role in making the game what it was.

“When you have a leader like Ray Brown was, he was a big booster of softball around here, like my brother Hal was, you’ve got to give him credit,” Lutz said. “Like Ron Weidman. Those guys were the reason softball was the way it was. Ray Brown, Hal Lutz, Ron Weidman, when they got out of it, that really took a toll.”

And the game, in Lebanon County, may not recover.

“I prayed and hoped (fastpitch) would make a comeback,” Lutz said, “but there’s just so many things now. I don’t see it coming back unless you get leaders like Ray and Ron and Hal. They just put things together, and unless people come to the front, it’s not gonna happen.”

Comments are closed.