BY STEVE KRAH
Tying communities together and enjoying camaraderie and competition.
That’s what the Hoosier Townball Association — a 30-and-over baseball league for men and women — brings to west central Indiana.
“There’s interest and it’s growing,” says Matt Nelson, who runs the organization with the help of Edwin Walker and is a second baseman/manager with the Pittsboro Sluggers. “Baseball is rooted in values, playing hard and having work ethics.
“It’s a very positive experience. It’s something that unites and unifies people. It’s the same people we’ll cross paths with in our occupations and personal lives.
“We’re playing kids’ game as old men. You don’t get this with other sports.”
With many players having families and being youth coaches, HTA contests are slated at 1 and 4:15 p.m. with 3-hour limits in the Sunday wood bat league.
“We wanted to play ‘real’ baseball,” says Nelson. “There’s nothing like swinging a piece of lumber.
“At some point you don’t want to play church league softball. You want to play hard ball.”
Safety is also taken into a account. Balls tend to come off wood bats at a slower clip than metal bats.
“Plus it just sounds better,” says Nelson. “Everybody tries to find the most obscure bat company they can find. But it seems we all wind up with a $19.99 Louisville Slugger we can pick up at Dick’s (Sporting Goods).”
There is free substitution on defense and everyone in the lineup bats.
“This is an at-cost league,” says Nelson. “We try to play at the nicest fields we can for the least amount of money.”
HTA venues include Franklin Park and Hummel Park in Plainfield, Memorial Park in Lebanon, Cascade High School in Clayton, Virgil Benge Community Sports Complex (ask The Benge) in Jamestown and Kokomo Municipal Stadium for Saturday barnstormer series games, if those are allowed this summer.
July 12 is scheduled as Opening Day for the league’s seventh season.
The Coatesville Bluz won the league title in 2019.
Before that, Plainfield Fireball strung together four straight championships (2015-18).
The Mooresville Reds took the first HTA crown in 2014. The champion of the end-of-season tournament — usually played in early October — earns a traveling baseball bat trophy. The league is not affiliated with any other organization.
“It’s a compact season,” says Nelson. “We play for three months and talk about those three months for the next nine months.”
A 12-team circuit in 2020, the league also features the Avon Athletics, Brownsburg Bats, Clermont Bombers, Danville Tomahawks, Greencastle Toxic, Lebanon Chiefs, Martinsville Mayhem, Monrovia Longhorns and Thorntown Rangers.
There was a time all around the country that townball meant that all players came from the same place.
When the HTA began there was not enough interest to pull 15 or 16 from some of these small towns. But many squads have a core group from that locale who have brought in their friends and relatives to join in the fun.
The Pittsboro Sluggers and Coatesville Bluz take their names from town teams that played back in the 1910’s.
During that era, many players rode the railroad to and from the ball field on Sunday afternoons.
“Baseball history is important to a lot of us,” says Nelson, who has a collection of old baseball gloves.
A unique aspect of this 30-and-over league is that the players’ parents — some well into their retirement years — come to the games, cheer and snap photos.
“They remember seeing their kids play in high school,” says Nelson, a former center fielder for head coach Chris Goodwin at Yorktown (Ind.) High School.
While nothing is yet on the books, Nelson has been in contact with the Jasper (Ind.) Reds about playing a game against players from the HTA.
The Reds trace their origins back to 1893.
“I told (team historian) Bob Alles, you have to keep your steak alive,” says Nelson. “You have to play at least one game.”