By MIKE SANDROLINI
FOREST PARK | What was a dream for Chicago native Al Maag and fellow 16-inch no
gloves softball enthusiasts 20 years ago became a dream come true last Saturday.
The 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame museum, which honors hundreds of the game’s
players (men and women), managers, umpires, organizers and teams, celebrated its
grand opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by 2013 Hall of Fame
inductees, and hundreds of fans and dignitaries, including Forest Park Mayor Anthony
Calderone, State Sen. Kimberly Lightford and State Rep. Chris Welch.
It took nearly two years to build the Hall of Fame, located just off the corner of Des
Plaines Avenue and Harrison Street. The building stands next to Inductee Park, where
photos and caricatures of each inductee are located. The Hall of Fame also is just west
of the three Park District of Forest Park softball fields that will host the 46th annual No
Glove Nationals tournament. The tourney gets under way Thursday and concludes
“It’s a great week for softball,” said Ron Kubicki, president of the Hall of Fame Board of
Directors who’s a Hall of Famer himself and managed two national championship
teams. “I walked in today and it actually exceeds my expectations. When people come
in here, I think they’re going to be in awe.”
The Hall of Fame is chock-full of artifacts, memorabilia and interactive video and audio
displays that tell the story of the history of 16-inch no-gloves softball—a sport that was
invented in Chicago in the late 1880s.
Maag, one of the Hall of Fame’s founders who is retired and lives in Scottsdale, Ariz.,
was literally putting the finishing touches on the hall, centering a plaque on a wall near
the entrance an hour before the building officially opened to the public.
Then an art director for the defunct Windy City Magazine in the 1970s, Maag—himself a
softball player back in the day—got interested in the game’s history after reading
accounts written by the magazine’s publisher. After that, Maag and some friends
decided to produce a documentary about 16-inch softball which ended up being hosted
by legendary Chicago Cubs play-by-play announcer Jack Brickhouse.
“We thought we could do it in a couple of weeks, and then we started meeting more and
more people with wonderful stories,” said Maag, also a Hall of Fame inductee. “It ended
up being a lot of fun.
“Me and my friends, we became historians all of a sudden. Now we started meeting
more people who had the same feelings we had about the game. And it became pretty
apparent that they’d like to have a Hall of Fame. Now it became, ‘Maybe we should do
Inductee Park opened in 2009, and construction of the building commenced in 2012 as
more funds were raised. Companies such as Molex, Waste Management, Inc., MB
Financial Bank, March Manufacturing of Glenview and Topps Construction of Chicago
are among the Hall of Fame’s chief sponsors. More than half of the estimated $500,000
needed to cover the costs of funding the hall has already been raised, but Maag is
actively seeking more donations.
Since the Hall of Fame is now open, Maag said, “I hope people don’t say, ‘Well, we’re
done now (with fundraising).’ That’s not the case. “We’ve gotten some support (from
large companies in the Chicago area), but I expected a beer company, I expected some
other Chicago brands (to support the hall). I thought we’d have this paid for by now, and
we have some work to do.”
March Manufacturing CEO Fritz Zimmermann, a 1999 inductee, still pitches for two
teams—The Doctors and his own March Manufacturing club—in 50-and-older leagues
in Berwyn and Cicero. His company sponsors four teams. “It’s the friendships and the
camaraderie you make,” said Zimmermann, whose company manufactures pumps.
“And the love of the game. It never goes away. “And that’s basically why this building is
here. It brings everybody back and I’m hoping that the younger generation will continue
to keep coming back to see this.”
One of Zimmermann’s teammates in the 50-and-over league is Ray Topps, owner and
operator of Topps Construction who pitches and catches.
“I’ve told people in the past, ‘To me, softball players were like a college fraternity,’ ”
Topps said. “The game is not exclusive to Chicago, but for the most part, the
Chicagoland area is where it’s really played.
“If you’ve played this game, you know guys from every team—the best players down to
the church leagues. You know everybody and everybody knows you. That’s what makes
it unique and also fun.”
Topps’ company constructed the building, so Topps routinely witnessed everything
coming together. “This building was done in phases financially,” he explained. “We
knew there was a lot of fundraising done. Initially, we did have enough (funds) to get the
shell completed, and that’s what we did. We got it to the stage where we had the
outside completed, and then we just waited for additional funding to move to the inside.
“I’m in the business, I’ve been doing it forever, but I’ve been playing softball for 40 years,
so you know what? It’s fun. I love what I do for a living. The extra special involvement
was the fact that I’m in the Hall of Fame; I enjoy doing this kind of stuff. Every day was
fun coming here.”
Kubicki also wanted to thank the village of Forest Park and the Park District for helping
the Hall of Fame become reality. “We partnered up with the Forest Park Park District
and the village of Forest Park,” he said. “I cannot say enough about that community.
They are incredible, fantastic people to work with; they’ve bent over backwards for us.”
Softball Hall of Fame a
dream come true