Men’s softball leagues may be a dime a dozen, but that doesn’t mean that they are all created equally.
The Midtown Slopitch league, based out of Fairbank Memorial Park in Toronto, tries to create a more complete experience for its participants with a website that features original content and meticulous statistical record keeping.
“I literally learned to read off baseball cards,” said league commissioner Graeme Billinghurst. “For me it was natural, if you play baseball, you need statistics.”
Billinghurst pursued his idea by crafting a database of league statistics that ensures that every player who has taken an at-bat in the league has their own page.
His stats help drive interest in the website, which he describes as “half the league”.
Morgan Lovsin, a five-year Midtown Slopitch veteran, admits to checking in on his numbers “all [of] the time.
“I call Graeme any time I see a mistake,” he said with a smile. “I’m right on him.”
Lovsin, who hit .611 with nine home runs and 31 RBI on the season, is the captain of the John Kruks, a team that brought home its second straight “World Series” win on Wednesday night. The Kruks, like every other club in the league, are named after a former big league player.
When Midtown Slopitch first began in 2005, the squads were named after Blue Jays greats like Kelly Gruber and Tony Fernandez. Since then, Billinghurst has allowed expansion and gives teams a lot of latitude in terms of names, but he does have a single rule.
“My one thing is that the player has to have made at least one all-star game,” he said. “If they’ve made an all-star game, they are at least a recognizable name.”
As a result of this rule, the names run the gamut from all-time greats like George Brett to middling players like Ruben Sierra.
Creative team names and statistics aren’t the only thing that set the Midtown Slopitch league apart.
Each week, the website releases a “Power Rankings” that includes a write-up of on each team. The site tracks previous weeks so that players can see where their team ranked in the past and what way they are trending.
Additionally, after the season is over, the league has a banquet where it gives out a variety of unusual awards. This season, along with traditional baseball staples like MVP and CY Young awards, accolades will be granted for “Best Dressed Player”, “Best Clubhouse Guy”, and “Best Chirper”.
Chirping is rampant in the league, something that Billinghurst purposely allows so long as it’s “respectful.”
Lovsin’s teammate Lindsay Templeton is up for the “Best Chirper” award this season, and according to Lovsin, the Kruks “ride his coattails and just try to stay competitive in the chirping department.”
Beneath all the unorthodox bells and whistles associated with Midtown Slopitch is a group of guys that play high quality softball.
Kris Muccilli, a sophomore player, is drawn to the competitive level of the league.
“What makes this league different is that there are younger guys from their mid-twenties to early thirties, as opposed to most league where it’s guys in their late thirties and forties,” he said. “It’s very competitive and we’ve all played baseball elsewhere as well.”
Muccilli has a strong baseball background having received a scholarship from Notre Dame as a pitcher before injuring his arm in his third year.
Whether it’s the quirky website, the stats, or the level of play that makes the Midtown Slopitch league special, one constant is the tireless work of the commissioner, who also works as an umpire.
“He’s [Billinghurst] the backbone of this league,” said Lovsin. “I’ve played in other softball leagues, but this is the best league I’ve ever played in.”