ANACONDA – A couple of softball teams from Missoula drove nearly 2 hours to Anaconda for the chance to play against each other.
They wouldn’t have it any other way.
Team Geritol and Press Box are two of several softball teams in Anaconda this weekend doing their best to win a state championship. In addition to women’s Division C and D tournaments, men’s 40-plus and 50-plus tournaments are also taking place at the Charlotte Yeoman-Martin Sports Complex.
Team Geritol and Press Box, Missoula teams in the men’s 40 division, combined to win three games on Saturday morning, with each team positioning itself for a head-to-head showdown into today’s championship semifinal.
“They’re a good team,” Team Geritol coach Mike Perry said of Press Box. “We’ve gone back and forth against them a few times this season.”
Press Box, by virtue of being the defending state champion, enjoyed a first-round bye on Saturday before beating Helena’s Brewhouse in the second round.
Team Geritol sent Butte Depot into the loser’s bracket before beating Billings’ Old Chicago in a second-round slugfest.
While many think of slowpitch softball as a sport where players hit the ball as hard and as far as they can, there are rules from preventing that sort of thing from happening in this tournament. Each team is allowed to hit a maximum of three home runs per game. Any additional home run will count as an out.
“You play a kind of small-ball and try to get guys on base,” Perry explained. “It’s not long-ball.”
With the limit on home runs, batters do their best to keep the ball in play. That leaves infielders vulnerable to hard-hit balls coming their way. To some players, like Old Chicago second baseman Brad Pancich, that didn’t seem to matter. Pancich was up to the challenge, making several clutch plays in the field.
“The other key thing in slowpitch is defense because everybody hits the ball hard,” Perry said.
Longevity also seems to play a key role in a team’s success. Many of the players on Team Geritol and Press Box have been together for several years. Team Geritol got an influx of new blood this season when a handful of players turned 40.
While age is a requirement in some divisions, talent comes in handy all the way around. So does attitude.
“I built the team around character,” said Press Box captain James Jones, who owns the Missoula restaurant/casino with the same name. “I wanted guys who could jell with the team. I pride myself on finding what’s a better fit.
“A guy might come up to me and say he’s played third base his whole life but I might want him to play first base because it’s a better fit for the team."
While some might beg to differ, today’s 9 a.m. showdown between Press Box and Team Geritol could end up being more entertaining than the eventual championship, which is set to start at 12:45 p.m.
The importance of playing in and winning this tournament was underscored by the fact that Team Geritol’s Jason Farner was even playing this weekend. Farner hit a grounder in a game last Sunday and was hit in the side of the head by the throw from shortstop. Farner lost consciousness and crumpled to the ground. One teammate said Farner looked like a crash test dummy that had been thrown out of a car.
He didn’t seem to be affected by the injury as he made his way around the bases on Saturday, though he admitted that his vision was blurred.
A clear picture of which teams are the best in the state will emerge this afternoon when the tournament wraps up.
Anaconda’s Club Moderne outscored its opposition by a combined score of 35-3 to advance to today’s Women’s D semifinal. Club Moderne will face Rocky Mountain Aircraft (Kalispell), which beat Helena’s Grub Stake and Missoula’s Eagles Ice on Saturday.
The Women’s C semifinal will feature Press Box/Bill Long Trucking, from Missoula, and Helena’s Commercial Bar.