As two final teams lined up along baselines for the National Anthem, emotions were running high. But there were technical issues and the recording wouldn’t work. So organizers and players …
As two final teams lined up along baselines for the National Anthem, emotions were running high. But there were technical issues and the recording wouldn’t work. So organizers and players decided to sing acapella.
It was important the tradition be upheld and those in attendance at the Field of Dreams Softball Tournament honor America — especially this year.
The charity tournament, played on a manicured field of Garrison creeping foxtail grass groomed specifically for the annual community event, was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. The competition is enjoyed by teams made up of farmers, ranchers, bakers and hardworking folk in the Powell area and it was lost last year. Returning this summer, the joy of being reunited was evident during the three-day celebration.
The ball field was modeled after Wrigley Field, in Chicago, in honor of June Johnson, who recently passed. She was a die-hard Cubs fan.
The Field of Dreams, built in the shadow of Heart Mountain, isn’t outlined by brick and ivy. Instead, the background and outfield walls were made of more than 75 half-ton bales of hay, painted with ivy and distance markers and adorned with flags — the American flag in the middle.
The voices were weak as the nation’s song began on Sunday. Yet the sound of the 30 or so players, dozens of spectators, vendors and organizers — struggling with the notes but meaning every word — was beautiful.
The singing of the Star Spangled Banner is often a formality before game time, but on this day it meant something deeper. Voices cracked and eyes glistened in the sun that finally broke through the clouds on a chilly morning. Tears welled and dripped down rosy cheeks. As the song ended, a hawk soared above the outfield, circling several times.
They were together again and absence had done its job, forcing the hearts of the players to feel stronger than in years past. There was hope for the future. And togetherness.
“This tournament improves communication in the community. It builds great friendships,” said Heath Worstell, coach of the Misfits. “It brings all of our local people together to have fun. And through it we have grown stronger.”
As the song ended, players wiped their eyes and Dave Johnson, who started this tradition as a “sort of surprise” for co-organizer Erin Johnson’s birthday a few years back, said “play ball.”
The Misfits, a team of children and adults from the local American Legion and Powell Little League baseball teams, met a Red Lodge team called “Two Balls, a Bat and a Ton of Enthusiasm” (though most folks simply referred to the squad as Two Balls).
The team was made up of the owners, employees and loyal customers of the Cattail Bakery on Red Lodge’s Main Street; Lauren Brophy co-owns the bakery with her parents, Matt and Jane Brophy, opening the establishment in 2018.
Two Balls had a talented team featuring a core of hard hitters and decent defenders. They beat the Crushers and the Buds (who had an official name not appropriate for print) and then beat the Misfits in their initial matchup.
The Misfits had fought through tough games against the One Hit Wonders and The Sodbusters, before losing to Two Balls. However, the Misfits made their way back to the finals in a close game against the Brewers.
Two Balls opened Sunday’s rematch with a four-run lead in the first few innings while the Misfits started several players from local little league teams. The Misfits were feisty and fought back, spurred by a home run from Powell athlete and Legion baseball coach Tyler England.
In the bottom of the final inning, however, Two Balls’ Tom Kohley (a loyal customer of the Cattail Bakery) hit a homer over the left-center hay bales, helping to win the game 6-5. The team jumped for joy and then met at home plate to receive the traveling championship trophy. It’s prized by all but sort of resembles a bathroom plunger in a red, white and blue motif.
After the celebration and team pictures, Two Balls captain Lauren Brophy was thankful for the opportunity to participate.
“It feels good to be included in this community,” she said. “It’s so important. We all believe strongly in community involvement.”
The Misfits have now finished second in the tournament three times.
“I spend a lot of time with all these kids in the summer,” Worstell said while turning his head to hide his emotions. “They mean everything to me.”
Brophy and Worstell both pointed out the importance of the hard work of tournament organizers, Dave and Erin Johnson. The tournament was started as a fundraiser for the Debbie Borcher Memorial Park in Powell. Borcher was Erin’s mother and, alongside her husband Ken, helped farm the ground for more than 40 years.
Ken was the captain for Home Team, made up of mostly family, including his three daughters and several grandchildren. He was overjoyed to have the family back together and felt his departed wife, Debbie, watching the game from above — the best seat in the park.
Dave Johnson spends some long hours getting the field ready before Erin paints the backstop and outfield “fence.” For the couple, it’s all about improving the town and helping those in need. This year, with the memorial park finished and needing very little maintenance, the captain of the winning team selected charities to receive the proceeds from the tournament.
On Tuesday, Brophy announced that the $4,000 raised at the tournament would be split between Bonnie Ples — whose husband died after a longboarding accident in July — and Tyler England, who had a life-threatening crash north of Ralston on his way home from the tournament. Anonymous donors have also matched the contributions, bringing the total to $4,000 each, and added another $2,000 to go to Terry Cronin, who was severely burned in an electrical accident in August.
“It’s pretty humbling to have all the neighbors take part in this. It’s all about coming together and having some fun,” Dave Johnson said. “And we’re able to give back to our community with their help.”
To help Ples, visit www.gofundme.com/f/help-ryan-ples-and-family.