While all the attention seemed to be focused on the Amphitheater, the Hall of Philosophy and Bratton Theater during Week Seven, a dramatic performance was also playing out on Sharpe Field. Four teams in the men’s league contended for softball supremacy in a week long bout of comebacks and generational rivalries.
As the summer’s schedule winds to a close, many Chautauquans have noticed the seasonal programming begin to heat up with climactic events. Softball at the Institution is no different.
When Barbara Jacob was in high school in Detroit, she used to cut school to usher at the theater downtown so she could see plays for free.
Lauren McElree stepped up to the plate and took a long look down the third-base line. As she stared the pitcher down, concentrating on the ball, her teammates clapped and cheered. Silence took the field as the softball rose in a slow arc.
Chautauqua Institution is saturated with the tradition of re-creation through recreation. To anyone who grew up on Sharpe Field, softball is part of that tradition.
The aroma of smoldering charcoal looms through the air, and the setting sun burns low against the horizon. Laughs, cheers and shouts merge with the murmur of waves, advancing and retreating in sync with the clean-up runner leading off first base. Clay sticks to cleats. It’s no wonder the baseball diamond traditionally epitomizes an American summer.
A group of Chautauquans will pay tribute to a friend by celebrating two things he loved: professional baseball and thoughtful discussion with friends.
The organizers of the “5th Annual Joe Rait Memorial: Chautauqua to Jamestown Excursion” said the event is the perfect convergence of passion for professional baseball and engaging in meaningful social discourse.
This year’s memorial will be a departure from the previous year’s events. The group will not attend a baseball game, but rather a discussion with former Detroit Tigers slugger Willie Horton.
As long as some form of baseball or softball has been around, people have complained about umpires.
“What are you, blind?”
“You’re missing a great game, blue!”
“Get some thicker glasses, you idiot!”
Those are just a few of the pleasantries I’ve heard baseball fans yell throughout my 20 years of watching the sport.
So, naturally, when Mark Altschuler, commissioner of the Chautauqua slow-pitch softball league, asked me to umpire a few games, I jumped at the opportunity.