Let Freedom (softball) ring!

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Photos: Courtesy John Cardullo

The game of competitive softball has been around since men in the military began having games between units, then divisions and branches back in the 1940’s. Fast forward to today, competitive softball is alive and well and growing throughout the country and in some parts, the world!

There are many affiliations that teams can play, USA/ASA softball which happens to be the governing body of softball when it comes to youth, middle & high school as well as College and the Olympics. Other affiliations include USSSA (United States Slow Pitch Softball Association), NSA (National Softball Association), ISA (Independent Softball Association) and yes there is even a SSA (Senior Softball Association). The newest member of the slow pitch game comes from Florida, it began 11 years ago and arrived in Rhode Island in 2016, The Freedom Softball Association. “Freedom began as a break away organization from the standard associations, but ramped up the game for the players”, said Freedom RI State director Bob Berard, who also runs adult softball in the City of Warwick. A long-time player himself, Berard played at this state’s highest level for years before taking over the State’s NSA program back in 2008. He was approached by Freedom Softball in 2016 and liked the idea of offering to the softball community “something different and new.”

At first, teams and officials had to deal with a learning curb, “Freedom has a rule that instead having multiple courtesy runners per game, a team can designate one player to be the “Freedom” runner. That runner can run for anyone at any time during a game, or inning. But if he is in the line-up and his batting position comes up and he is on a base running, he is recorded as an out! You can’t Freedom run for the Freedom runner.” Berard said. “this has been the most exciting and controversial new rule in the game in a long time. Teams have become very strategic when using the “Freedom” runner, because they have been burned. I have seen in many cases the same runner used two, three and even four time in one inning. That guy has to be in great shape to be the “Freedom” runner”. Other than teams adapting to a 4 foot to 10-foot pitching arc, pitchers can juke and jive on the mound to disrupt the batters timing a rhythm. Runners can “Steal” bases when the pitch crosses over and past the plate. This was done to keep catchers more involved in the game. Basically, the game between the affiliations are the same, however in Freedom if a game goes into extra innings, each team bat’s, a runner (it could be the Freedom runner or a courtesy runner if the Freedom runner is due up), is put on second base and the game converts to a “one pitch” game, with each team batting until a winner is determined. Berard says, “the one pitch aspect allows a batter to take a ball which he is awarded a walk a strike is an out. Balls hit fair is in play, a foul ball is an out.” “Each team can score as many runs as they can until 3 outs are recorded and then the “home” team gets to do the same. It is truly a different twist on how to end a game.”

Berard has 70 teams registered in his leagues which include a popular Sunday morning program with three full leagues and a long time co-ed league in the afternoon, both a Monday & Wednesday and Tuesday & Thursday twi-lite leagues and a competitive Night league that plays out of Clegg field four nights a week. In addition to the leagues Freedom offers an aggressive tournament schedule as well. “We have at least one tournament per month for the men’s program. We kick off the tournament season the first week of April with the Annual Rhode Island Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame, which a donation is made to the Hall of Fame. We have National Invitational Tournaments where the winners can go directly to the National Championship event in October, we have a Freedom State Championship tournament in both the Men’s and Co-Ed division (we are currently working on starting a Women’s program but that’s a year or two off). We have National Qualifiers to allow the winners to go onto regional tournaments to give them another chance to get to the Nationals and we have a few charity tournaments that the players play to give back to the community. The biggest is the Annual Turkey Trott tournament, which is played two weeks before Thanksgiving, with the winning team taking home frozen turkeys, this is the biggest, most anticipated event we have” Berard says. “It is a one pitch tournament and the teams are asked to bring canned goods that will be donated to the Rhode Island Food Bank. Every year since began the food drive six years ago, the teams made sure that every year was a record breaker! The Turkey Trott is usually sold out weeks in advance and it is a lot of fun, but it’s bitter-sweet because it marks the end on another softball season”.

It’s nice to know that in Warwick, from April to November the game of softball for adults is still alive and well.

John Cardullo, sports writer, RINewsToday.com