Hall of Fame pays tribute to 16-inch softball enthusiasts
Sixteen-inch softball is as much a part of the Chicago landscape as deep-dish pizza, but there is no deep dish Hall of Fame.
There is, however, a Chicago 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame, and has been for the past 13 years.
Bloomingdale's Gary Thorsen has been president of the 16-inch Hall of Fame for all but its first year, and there are few people more passionate about the game.
"Sixteen-inch softball is a way of life for me," Thorsen said. "Once it's in your blood, that's the way it is."
Several hundred like-blooded enthusiasts assembled at Hawthorne Racetrack Jan. 24 for a dinner honoring the nine 2008 Hall of Fame inductees, as well as several other honorees.
Nearly 300 players have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, while a number of teams, umpires, sponsors and supporters have been recognized each year. Players are selected from four different eras (1950-63, 1964-79, 1980-92 and 1993-present), along with a separate category for women.
Currently, another 11 categories are honored each year, and none was more important at the January ceremony than the Man of the Year category.
Three men actually shared the award due to their efforts to secure a physical site in Forest Park for the Hall of Fame. The Men of the Year were Forest Park's mayor, Anthony Calderone; the park district's executive director, Larry Piekarz; and park district Commissioner Howard "Bud" Boy.
"They afforded us the opportunity to have the physical Hall of Fame in Forest Park," Thorsen said. "There's a building there, but it has to be renovated. We've been working on this for many years and they gave us the location. Forest Park has been so gracious to us at the Hall of Fame."
The plan calls for the physical site to be completed in two phases, with the first being an outdoor exhibit and the second being the renovated building housing the memorabilia, artifacts and history of the game.
"Hopefully by the end of July we're going to have our outdoor Hall of Fame done," Thorsen added.
The selection of Forest Park as the site of the Hall of Fame building seems natural given the town's affection and support of the game.
Forest Park has been host to the annual No Gloves National Tournament for more than 30 years. Its support for the induction ceremony's booklet was second to none.
"These people are great," Thorsen said. "Between 30 and 40 ads in the ad book came from Forest Park. That's how much this community is behind this Hall of Fame. It's amazing to me how they sent the letter out to businesses and towns and the businesses all supported it. I was so taken back by it. It's terrific."
The capital fund has a target of $500,000, and the Hall of Fame is more than 20 percent of the way there. Donations are always welcome and can most easily be handled by visiting the Hall's Web site at 16inchsoftballhof.com.
Thorsen, 58, has had a long distinguished 16-inch career himself, beginning in 1970. He has played on a few teams that have been recognized by the Hall and is grateful for the many friendships that have developed along the way.
He has been involved with the Hall of Fame long enough to know that induction into it is an honor, but that is not why players play the game.
"Going out there and playing the game and being recognized by your peers when you do well in a game, that's enough recognition for anybody," he said. "(The Hall) just happens to be the frosting on the cake."
When Thorsen isn't wearing his Hall of Fame president's cap, he is the director of special events and assistant village manager of Bensenville.
He remains as much an ambassador for the 16-inch game as anyone, although he has been playing a little 12-inch softball lately. It gives him an opportunity to travel around the country for tournaments, but he makes it clear where his heart lies.
"Playing 16-inch is like playing chess," he said. "But playing 12-inch is like playing checkers. There is such a talent to playing 16-inch. Unless you play the game it's really hard to explain it."