Saturday, August 2, 2003

Competition stronger than friendship in Metro softball



By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CROSBY TOWNSHIP - For many of the millions of American males who play softball every week, the sport is about two things - buddies and beer. But for many of the players who participate in the highly competitive Cincinnati Metro Softball Championships, advancement in the sport means having to leave behind at least one, if not both, of those things.

In a tournament where division winners have to step up to the next division the following year, it's hard for one group of beer-drinking friends to stay competitive, let alone improve.

HIGHLIGHTS
MAJORS: Watanabe Optical, one of the pre-tournament favorites, will try to start its climb from the losers' bracket at 5:30 p.m. today. Watanabe lost to Perkins 23-14 in the first round.
'A' DIVISION: Marty's Pub beat Sidelines 19-7 in the winners' bracket to advance to play the winner of Blitz vs. JSA/Nasty Boys on Sunday.
"Every team has to go out and get new talent," tournament director Danney Saylor said. "It's very rare for a group of guys to improve together.

"So it becomes a question of, how tight do you hold that friendship bond? Do you keep a guy that's your buddy but is holding you back? Who do you leave behind?"

For manager Terry Walton, the answer is simple - very few.

Walton's team, the Blitz, started as a group of Lawrenceburg High School friends in 1992. They were a "D" team, the lowest rung of competition. Over the years, many of the players moved on to squads in higher divisions until most of the original team reunited in 1999 to take seventh in the "C" Division of the Metro.

In 2000, the team brought back even more original members and won the "B" championship. The Blitz are now a competitive "A" team. But that's the exception, not the rule.

"It's definitely difficult to do," Walton said. "But we've kept a solid core of players. It's a real family atmosphere. It's not so much how a guy plays, as much as how they fit into the team chemistry."

Team chemistry can be hard to find in the upper divisions - "A" and Major - where a few players usually find a sponsor, then set out recruiting others to fill the roster.

The recruiting bug has bitten the Blitz a little. Although the team has only five players left from its championship squad in 2000 - a team mostly made up of high school buddies - it still underwent less of an overhaul than most "A" teams.

But Walton said that 2000 club will always be special: "No matter how many championships we win, nothing will ever feel like that."

E-mail rernst@enquirer.com




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