On Saturday night, Chilmark Softball co-commissioner Sig Van Raan sent out a group email to players while sitting home in the pouring rain. Opening ceremonies had moved to 9 am and, in case of rain, would be further postponed until Monday. He included the official program: “After short remarks, Sophie Balaban will sing the national anthem, more short remarks, Tony’s bench dedication, a cello duo will play a short piece by that great softball player from years ago, Lefty Ludwig V. Beethoven (Ode to Joy), Jim Feiner plays ‘To the Ball Game’ on his trombone, Geraldine Brooks throws out the first pitch, and it’s Play Ball.”
On Sunday morning, July 4, at 8:15 am, the sun eked its way out for a few minutes of sunshine before cloud cover took over. At 8:35 am, as I headed down my dirt road to the Flanders ballfield, I was remembering my time as the pitcher for the Page Six softball team when I worked as one of the three photo editors at the New York Post in the ’80s. (For the record, I’d never played softball before or since.) The official game would start after the opening ceremonies, though players were welcome to play a warm-up game. When I arrived, the field was full and the game serious. Fifty-plus people were in attendance.
Just before 9 am, the game came to a halt as Sig Van Raan welcomed everyone to the official start of the 84th season of summer softball. Then Van Raan introduced Sophie Balaban, who led players, friends, and family in a beautiful rendition of our national anthem. Sig Van Raan’s opening remarks were paraphrased from a stirring editorial from the Boston Globe’s sports writer Dan Shaughnessy: “We have lived through a horrible 16-month period and now we’re here in the middle of a cherished summer weekend and like old best friends softball is back. [A breakout of applause.] So we are gathering here today to celebrate the Fourth, to celebrate the beginning of a post-pandemic future, and to dedicate this beautiful bench to Tony Horwitz. [More clapping.] He left us way too soon two summers ago. His game, indeed, was an expression of exuberance and joy.”
Next up was the cello duo of Thorpe Karabees and Steve McGhee “playing an excerpt from Lefty Ludwig Von Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.” Following the duo, Van Raan went on to officially dedicate the bench commissioned by Geraldine Brooks in her husband’s memory. Brooks engaged Bruce Marshard to make the salvaged wood bench in her husband’s honor, attaching a plaque with his awards listed: the Howie Hustle Award 2011, and the Fake News Award 2017. Geraldine Brooks was then asked to head to the field to throw out the first pitch, and Howie Bromberg, as in the Howie Hustle Award, was asked to be her catcher. Following the first pitch, Jim Feiner made two false starts on his trombone before finding the tune for “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Everyone joined in to sing along. Last was a group shot of all the players standing behind the new bench. In unison everyone yelled, “Chilmark,” the photo was taken, and then back to the field, and the reason all were in attendance, it was time to play ball.
The official softball report from softball co-commissioner Sig Van Raan is: “After an early morning warm-up game and following the opening day ceremony, a truly splendid game was played at Flanders Field. Peter Halpern pitched a magnificent shutout, defeating Joel Bleir’s team 3-0.The game featured great pitching on both sides and excellent fielding, especially so by a number of first-time young players. Sig Van Raan incurred the first injury of the season. With a hefty swing on his first at-bat, Sig aggravated a torn ligament, and took himself out of the game as a precaution against further embarrassment. It was great to see so many players and their kids playing together. Some of the ‘kids’ of years past showed up with their own kids. This family tradition is alive and well in Chilmark.”
All ages are welcome. Games begin at 8 am on Sundays at Flanders Field on Pasture Road off Tabor House Road. Come early, or just come to cheer the players on.