From the “ting” of the bat sending another homerun over the fence, to the constant chatter in the dugouts (a.k.a. the trash talk), there’s something special about the popularity and longevity of summertime softball.
Maybe it’s the squirrely attitudes that so many have when they can finally participate in an outdoor activity for the first time in several months. Maybe it’s the reunion-like feel when you reconnect with teammates and opponents that you may not have seen since the leaves were turning color. Whatever summertime softball means to you, I get it.
This past week, Midco Sports Network® broadcasted two events that not only featured all the above, but also displayed the positive impact the summer pastime can have in giving back to the community. I’m referring to our live televised coverage of the Carson Wentz AO1 Charity Softball Game and the 44th Annual Sam McQuade Sr. Charity Softball Tournament. And while each tourney had its own highlights that made them great, here’s my take on each event.
Carson Wentz AO1 Charity Softball Game
I’ll begin with a memorable night at Newman Outdoor Field featuring a star-studded lineup of former Bison football players – playing a game where fans are able to see their faces, instead of being hidden behind a helmet. The Carson Wentz AO1 Charity Softball Game on Wednesday, June 26, was a well-planned and -executed event.
NDSU football fans had to be grinning from ear-to-ear when they got to see former NDSU Head Coach Chris Klieman (current Kansas State head coach) and new Bison Head Coach Matt Entz toss out the ceremonial first pitches together.
First up, Esley Thorton’s victory in the homerun derby was a nice touch. After all, he is a former Bismarck High Demon now winning an event put on by a former Bismarck Century Patriot Carson Wentz.
Then there was the actual game that featured memorable homerun celebrations, web gems and plenty of trash talk in a showdown between former NDSU offensive players and defensive players. While Wentz played more of a coaching role in the softball game, he couldn’t help but enjoy the mix of competitiveness and comedy.
“This takes you back to fall camp back in the day, competing with the offense versus the defense,” said Wentz during our coverage. “The tension is building, the rivalry, the trash talk – and the whole nine yards. A lot of these guys are out of their element now and are maybe a little washed up over the years, but they’re still out here having fun and enjoying it.”
Wentz could’ve chosen any type of theme for the charity event, but I think softball was a solid choice. It was fun to see the football players a little bit out of their comfort zone, but still playing a game and competing. I emphasize a “little” bit out of their comfort zone because some of the players looked like softball superstars – and several of them have a baseball background.
Mother Nature cooperated, players had a great time – translating into the fans having a blast, too. It’s not every day that you get to be up, close and personal with several NFL® players. Whether it be new Green Bay Packer guard Billy Turner, Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman Joe Haeg, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Chris Board or the Philadelphia Eagles superstar quarterback himself, Wentz.
Think about this for a second. What if Wentz would’ve opted for a charity golf tournament? I just don’t think you would’ve seen the overwhelming positive response from both his former teammates and the fans. The softball game was and is a homerun decision and the community should be excited about the announced return next summer.
The event raised $200,000 according to the AO1 Foundation and that money will help with the three ministries of the foundation: the Haiti Sports Complex, the Outdoor Ministry and Thy Kingdom Crumb food truck.
However, when it comes to charity softball, nobody does it better than Wentz’s hometown of Bismarck.
Sam McQuade Sr. Charity Softball Tournament
Last weekend, Bismarck and Mandan proved once again that the Sam McQuade Sr. Charity Softball Tournament is the top event in the country… involving a neon ball, that is.
USA Patriots Head Coach Randy Raper, who has played and coached all around the country, told me during the broadcast, “If you got a bucket list as a softball player, you better put McQuade’s at number one because it is. It’s a very special event.”
That high praise is warranted as the tournament has grown to become the country’s largest non-for-profit, single weekend slow-pitch tournament in the country. The event turned 44-years old this year – and has shown no signs of slowing down. A whopping 457 teams competed in 16 divisions this year and an estimated 15,000-20,000 fans attended games all over the two cities. As for the bigger purpose of it all, the McQuade family will almost certainly raise $100,000-plus for a sixth consecutive summer with all that money going to local charities.
The well-oiled machine is run by a volunteer board of directors, including the granddaughter of Sam McQuade Sr., Shannon McQuade-Ely. The tournament directors are Mike Wolf and Jack Jones.
Wolf proudly told me, “I travel around the country to a lot of softball events and they ask, ‘How do you put on an event that big?’ And I say it’s our volunteer groups – and they say, ‘We couldn’t do that in Minneapolis or other parts of the country.’”
That statement says a lot about the people of Bismarck, Mandan and the surrounding communities. It truly is ‘North Dakota nice’ on display when you see over one thousand volunteers chipping in to help. It can also be described as organized chaos because the players and spectators don’t come empty-handed. Coolers stocked with beer and liquor, among other things are in full force, too. But, between the volunteers and law enforcement, I think they do a fine job of maintaining a safe environment.
There’s also a challenge of keeping the event fresh and new each year.
“It has become a challenge. Every time somebody throws something at us, it’s like, okay, we could try that,” said Jones.
That’s where the exhibition games have shined. For instance, this year they added a Play Ball! youth clinic event in conjunction with MLB® and USA baseball/softball on Thursday evening. Then it was followed by an exhibition game pitting the USA Patriots, America’s amputee softball team, against a team of McQuade’s All-stars at the Bismarck Municipal Ballpark.
All-in-all, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we just witnessed a pair of very special events in the state of North Dakota and proved how powerful of a role softball can play in bringing people together in the summer months. Whether it’s for a great cause such as these – or just connecting with friends on a regular league night.
On behalf of MidcoSN®, it was a pleasure to broadcast the action and showcase the sport and the state of North Dakota. Enjoy the summer and have fun on the diamond – and here’s my salute to summertime softball!