Sports

In snowshoe softball, what goes down doesn't easily come back up

Snow-covered diamonds saw a day's worth of action Saturday in the Fur Rendezvous coed snowshoe softball tournament at the Kosinksi Fields, where the sport's rich language proved as versatile as a utility infielder.

A bang-bang play at first base? It's what happens when the runner and the infielder both crash to the ground while lumbering to the bag.

The hidden-ball trick? It's when a ball hit to the gap disappears into deep snow. Also known as a sinker.

Dugout? Turned into two words, it describes how a sinker is retrieved by an outfielder.

Welcome to snowshoe softball, where the cry "Batter up!" is usually followed by a shout of "Runner down!"

"I thought it'd be like normal softball," said rookie Jarred Tuck of the Markle Team. "But as soon as you put on the snowshoes …"

Jericho Lambert, another rookie on the Markle Team, said he failed to make it to first base in his team's first two games. But he tallied several falls.

"It's a little harder than I thought it would be," he said.

Lambert helped himself by heeding a tip from a veteran who told him to bring bungee cords. One of the game's challenges is keeping the snowshoes on, so a number of players secured them to their feet with bungee cords.

The other challenge is staying upright. Almost every time the ball is put into play, someone falls, and almost every time someone falls, they struggle to get up. This tournament should be sponsored by Life Alert.

A Fur Rondy tradition for decades, Alaska's winter version of the summer game returned to snowshoes this year. Ice cleats were the tournament's footwear of choice the last two winters, when snow was absent but ice was plentiful.

"The cleats were easier than the snowshoes," said Sarah Hall of the Markle Team. "The showshoeing is really hard, but it's so funny. People will literally be crawling to first base."

Hits that go for extra bases in regular softball turn into close plays at first base when the baserunner takes a faceplant. Routine flies become extra-base hits when the outfielder trips and sinks into a foot or more of snow.

All 16 tournament teams wore snowshoes provided by the Anchorage Sports Association, which issues identical equipment to everyone in order to keep things fair.

Players wear long, metal-framed military snowshoes, and the long tails were the downfall of many.

Paul Linnell, a player for Oh Snow You Didn't, said the tails are so long they kept hitting him on the back every time he ran.

"In the first game I learned to slide on them," he said, a technique that reduced the number of times he tumbled.

Meghan Kontz of the Dirty Birds said the snowshoes are nearly as long as she is tall. A right fielder whose team sat in the third-base dugout, she got a slow-motion workout every half-inning as she trudged back back and forth between dugout and outfield.

"That's long walk," she said.

 

People who spend their summers playing softball encounter a whole new ball game in February. Matt Smith, a pitcher for Oh Snow You Didn't, said his goal at the plate "is to hit it as far as I can so I can make it to first base." His goal in the field is to stay as close to the pitcher's mound as possible.

"I told everyone, 'This is my one area and I'm not leaving it.' I fell down once and it took two people to lift me out of the snow," he said. "If I was alone, I'd still be out there."

Jimmy Skokan of the Dirty Birds joked that it took six people to hoist up teammate Mike Childs, a big guy who said he got stuck in the snow three times in one game.

Skokan spent one game in the outfield, and when his pursuit of a ball ended with him falling and sinking into deep snow, he spent the rest of the inning on the ground, unable to get up.

"I was taking a nap for the whole inning," he said. "They had to come out and get me."

In another game he played first base, where he made several admirable one-handed catches, including one that ended with him falling on his butt without spilling a drop from the beer can in his throwing hand.

"I think I'm leading the nation in that category," Skokan said. "You get benched if you spill your beer."

Beth Bragg

Beth Bragg wrote about sports and other topics for the ADN for more than 35 years, much of it as sports editor. She retired in October 2021. She's contributing coverage of Alaskans involved in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

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