More Than Just a Game

Spring is a wild season for Byers Softball Complex at Phil St. Clair Park, formerly known as Belleville Softball Complex.

With only a few weeks before the first game, softball staff have their work cut out for them as they create league schedules for almost 200 teams, and this is just the beginning. With nearly 215 years of softball experience amongst them, the commissioner, assistant commissioner and diamond supervisors of Byers spend night after night and weekend after weekend all season long working at the complex simply for the love of the game.During the offseason, some might drive right by the narrow gravel path off Mayflower Road, not noticing Byers Softball Complex. However, starting on that first game day in April, that same path becomes impossible to miss. Players and their families line up on the road to get into the packed parking lot so they can begin their evening of competitive fun.“Each year, it’s so great to see the community come together on that first weekend,” said softball commissioner John Walczewski, “The success of Byers Softball Complex is attributed to our awesome staff and grounds crew for all the time and preparation they put in to getting ready for the season.”

For many people, opening day marks the beginning of warm summer evenings with family, relationship-building among teammates and the embodiment of inclusivity in the South Bend community.

The atmosphere is unforgettable on game day. Players chat amongst themselves in the dugouts while crowds made up of their friends and families fill the bleachers behind the fences of one of the complex’s five diamonds. Every couple of minutes, sounds of bats hitting softballs are followed by cheers from teammates and audience members alike, as children run around and play on the outskirts between trips to the concession stand to buy hot dogs and candy.

“It’s a blast playing at Byers,” said long-time Byers softball participant and USA Softball umpire Jonathan Hampton, “One of the things I enjoy the most is interacting with the other players. I’ve built a diverse circle of connections here […] There’s a kind of camaraderie here that goes beyond the league. Most of the time, people will go out, get pizza and hang out after.”

These excitement-filled evenings aren’t only for veteran players. The complex is always looking for new members to join softball leagues. Several participants use Byers Softball Complex’s Facebook page to find teams to join; others reach out through softball commissioners and staff.

“One guy moved to South Bend from New York a few years back and didn’t know a soul here before joining a softball team. This year, he was asked to be on three different teams,” said Walczewski, “We see generations of players come through this league. We have teams of friends that have been coming here for 20+ years, we have kids of past players making their own teams, we have work teams, and it never fails that we have new faces as well.”

With that hospitality and empowerment in mind, it’s no surprise that this first-class facility has won the James Farrell Award of Excellence 15 times. The criteria for this award requires that a softball facility has a 96% or higher approval rating from UIC (Umpire in Charge) and USA Softball representative. When calculating this percentage, staff organization, bracket board, communication with teams and national office, how the tournament was run and other factors are all considered. This award also considers evaluations from participating teams.

The complex will also provide its excellent services and amenities as it hosts two national tournaments over the next two years. The ASA Major Fast Pitch National Championships will take place on August 2-5, 2018. The Northern Men’s Class E Slow Pitch National Championship will be played on August 24-26, 2018.

“Byers Softball Complex is about so much more than just a game,” said Walczewski.