Category Archive
for: ‘From the Commissioner’

Design League Format Evolution

So here it is March 10th and I feel SO MUCH more ahead of the game than I have in at least 2 seasons… I started trying to figure things out this season about a month ago now, earlier than normal… truth is, the last two seasons have been such a headache, I felt that I was approaching my limits for what I was willing to endure… but some good back and forth discussion has gone on between our CPD rep and myself and I would say we’re about 80% down the road towards a solution.

For my purposes, I need the Chicago Design League to return to the days when I could know our ENTIRE seasons scheduling and cost now, in March, before things even get underway… and as we are also a social league with an established tradition, it has always remained a priority that we schedule a 15-game regular season every year… so that all teams get to play all others once, at least on paper… and finally, the regular season seeds an all day tournament to decide the league champions… 15 + Tourney… considering the prevalent 7-game + single elimination format espoused by CS&S and Players… we’re blessed to have a CPD Rep who will even work with us on the matter… ’cause when you break it down, our typical season spans (3) season as the Park District sees it; Spring, Summer & Fall…

But to that end, this year yet another wild card was added to the mix… which is the Park District has decreed that Grant Park will NOT be re-opened for use AFTER Lollapalooza… at first blush, this might appear to be a significant turn for the worse… but speculation has been that it’s a move indicating a potential re-working of the diamond locations and configurations at Grant Park… perhaps up to and including the installation of lights… if that ended up happening, our format would absolutely be changing… so view what I’m describing for this season below as sort of an interim step… one way or another though, there is no alternative in my opinion as the song and dance I’ve had to pull off the last couple seasons is no longer something I’m willing to do… if it’s even viable anymore anyway…

So when I speak of our format, I’m describing regular season games starting in May and continuing through August and early September and then our Tournament in mid to late September… after Lollapalooza arrived, we evolved the first time when the month long ‘Lollapalooza Break’ became a yearly fixture between mid-July and mid-August… that went on for a couple seasons before ‘Perry’s Tent’ was introduced to Upper Hutchinson along with its diamond destroying properties… that change has caused us over the last 2 seasons to put together the tail-end of our season in a catch as catch can style… Lincoln Park, Waveland, Lawrence, etc… all at a time in the season when the sun sets earlier and earlier… that process was clearly broken and in need of alternative… so here we are in the present day…

What we’ve come to thus far looks like this… our entire season happens inside the space prior to Lollapalooza… due to the logistics of making this all work, our games would be played on LOWER Hutchinson… roughly for this year that would be game days on May 1, 8, 15, 29.. June 5, 12, 19, 26.. and July 3, 10 & 17… for these (11) dates we’d always have a 6:30 start time, we’d be following another league that was using 5:30 start times and all (8) of our weekly games would play at the same time, which would mean no borrowing of players, at least for this season… and then finally, all the June dates will be double headers… games at 6:30 & 7:30… there’s a little wiggle room here and there for the making up of rain outs, but not a whole lot unfortunately… we’ve yet to figure out the Tournament, but that would be shortly thereafter…

For my tastes, I wish we could go back to the way things were before Lollapalooza arrived, but that’s no longer a possibility… so we go with the flow and see how things go… or we’re out of options… I had preliminary discussions with both Lincoln and Union Parks and basically, they’re simply not going to let me lock anything in here in March… what they’re telling me is the same as I got last year… wait until end of July and we’ll see how our leagues are going, how many rain outs we need to make up, etc… and then we’ll know what we can offer you… and that would be, at least at Lincoln Park, at an exorbitant cost…

All that said, what last season became was highly undesirable anyway in my opinion… at least in the days of the ‘Lollapalooza Break’… we got right back to playing softball after the festival left town and we’d have 4-5 consecutive game days and then the Tourney… that was certainly doable… but last year for instance, we stopped on July 18th… had 2 more (awkward, inconvenient) games as part of a doubleheader at LP on August 29th, a single GP game day two weeks later on September 12th and then the Tournament on September 28th… that’s just not a good situation… everything far too stretched out and disconnected for no real reason…

Details are still being worked out… our Rep is on vacation for the next week so discussions are on hold… but I wanted to put this info out to everyone now that all of you are confirmed in for the season… if this change in format changes the way you feel about participating in the league this season, I wanted you to know now as the collection of diamond dues is about to commence which will be in the $1050-$1150 range most likely, but that is still being negotiated.

Also, and especially to our long-standing and in some cases original Chicago Design League teams… I know we’ve decided most everything over the last 14 years democratically… but in this case I wanted you to know that I didn’t feel I had ‘two’ choices to present… so any comments you may have, questions, concerns.. please post them here in the comments section so they’re part of the permanent record and part of the public Forum… and finally… please, please, please… forward this link to your rosters because with no more borrowing of players and double headers to contend with… it becomes more important that you have rosters that are committed…

Traditions in Jeopardy at Grant Park

It was going on midnight the evening after Lollapalooza 2011 had come to a close in Chicago’s Grant Park. I walked out to the center of Upper Hutchinson Fields where the softball league I organize has played its Thursday night games since May of 2000. The only thought I had was to wonder how the carnage all around me could have been allowed to happen. We were supposed to resume league play in ten days, but what I was seeing all around me cast a pall of doubt over that as even a remote possibility.

The grass that had formally dominated the park was gone, in its place a swamp land of mud and trampled debris. The stench of beer and litter everywhere are two things usually banned on Park District property. As it has now turned out, the rest of our season has been relocated to a park that’s about a twenty minute drive north up the lakefront. Wouldn’t seem like the end of the world but a handful of our teams aren’t able to deal with the change of venue logistically, opening us up to certain forfeits and a statistical skewing of our season.

As human nature goes, I admit to being more offended this year than in years past because the annual swath of damage left in Lollapalooza’s wake has now directly affected me and my league. For the first time since the festival arrived in 2005, the surface of Upper Hutchinson Fields had been destroyed along with Lower Hutchinson. For the uninitiated, Upper and Lower Hutchinson, located on the southwest and southeast corners of Balbo and Columbus respectively, are home to 16 of the most prestigious softball diamonds amongst the Chicago Park Districts 534 total. Centrally located, beautiful vistas, superb management, great ground crews… Summer’s were sweet in Grant Park before Lollapalooza arrived.

For the record, many in our league love the fact that Chicago has Lollapalooza through 2018. It’s a cultural touchstone and obviously a tradition in its own right having just celebrated its 20th anniversary. We’re also glad that it happens in Grant Park. It always means a month of downtime for us at the two-thirds mark of our season, but we’ve melded this fact into our own tradition over the last 6 years, it’s the dog days down time, many plan their family vacations for this period, others in fact attend Lollapalooza.

But like Lollapalooza, the Chicago Design League has its own definition of Grant Park in the Summer. We’re a collection of the cities foremost architecture, engineering and construction firms. We’ve been playing softball together for the last 25 years and we’ve been on Upper Hutchinson in Grant Park for the past 11 years. Thursday nights from May through mid-September for over a decade culminating with an epic all-day Saturday Tournament as our season concludes each year. We’ve never used umpires, absolutely all batted balls are in-play and we always make sure our trash ends up in the cans before we leave. We have a tradition in Grant Park as well… and we now feel as though it’s being profoundly threatened.

Our goal is in no way, shape or form to displace Lollapalooza. We collectively realize how much money is generated by the event and understand as well that the festival is under contract through 2018. What we’re in search of is a solution that can allow all the indigenous tribes that use Grant Park every Summer to coexist in harmony. For us specifically, that means protecting softball in Grant Park which has been a Chicago tradition for the past half century.

The dismantling of Perry's Tent post-Lolla 2011. August 10, 2011

Towards that end we seek a conversation with the Chicago Park District focused on how to better protect the 16 softball diamonds at Grant Park from the legions that annually trample them during Lollapalooza. We consider it paramount that softball may resume on both Lower and Upper Hutchinson come mid-August once the festival has left town. We’d like to start that conversation with the following two suggestions;

First, an alternative location needs to be found for “Perry’s Tent”.

For the first time in the history of Lollapalooza’s residency at Grant Park, a massive tent covering almost the entirety of Upper Hutchinson field was set up as a response to the growing popularity of DJ’s and the concert goers who enjoy dancing to them. This resulted in the destruction of the 4 diamonds on Upper Hutchinson in addition to the 12 annually destroyed by the main concert grounds on Lower Hutchinson. Previous to this year Upper Hutchinson was reserved for emergency and VIP services as well as one of the bathroom banks. This low level of usage preserved the diamonds in a playable condition giving those who organize activities at Grant Park a ‘buffer zone’ in which to relocate events displaced by the destruction of Lower Hutchinson. This buffer zone has now been taken away which has caused a displacement of far too many events to locations outside of Grant Park in Lollapalooza’s aftermath. As Grant Park is a public park, this simply isn’t fair nor is it in the publics best interest.

Second, and speaking more towards ALL of Grant Park’s 16 diamonds being returned to a usable condition following the festival every year, would be to delay the “reconstruction” of Lower Hutchinson post-festival until permitted park activities drew to a close any given year, realistically October 1st. Having spoken to landscape architects on the topic it’s preferable to lay sod at this point in the Chicago season anyway as the sun isn’t as hot any longer and more rain tends to fall. In the meantime the diamonds themselves could be quickly restored, the outfield dirt graded for smoothness and softball could continue. Not ideal… having grass in the outfields would be the best possible scenario if a way to protect it could be devised, however a compromise we’d be willing to make in order to never be displaced from our park post-Lolla again.

The Mission Statement of the Chicago Park District reads as follows;

To enhance the quality of life in Chicago by becoming the leading provider of recreation and leisure opportunities.

To provide safe, inviting, and beautifully maintained parks and facilities; and

To create a customer-focused and responsive park system.

As merely one of the organizations/leagues/traditions that have occupied Grant Park over the last decades, we feel that the Park District has run afoul of their stated mission. We ask to sit down with them now, soon, while the issue is topical and Lollapalooza 2012 is still a long ways off, to come to some sort of compromise moving forward. Understanding the amount of money that Lollapalooza brings into the city, there must be some way that can continue without further disruption to the folks that have made Grant Park their home long before there ever was a Lollapalooza.

For those that may be visiting for the first time, feel free to roam around our website a while, the tradition we are trying to preserve will show through.

Editor’s Notes > Keeping track of outside links related to this topic; Check out Jim DeRogatis’s comments from September 18, 2011 for WBEZ…

Some Notes on the Weather

Some of you have been emailing with questions regarding the weather as well as other early season situations we deal with as a league… so I thought I’d throw up a quick post to hopefully answer some questions. I’m also wanting to troubleshoot this Forum on the new season and make sure that all of you who signed up last season to receive notifications of updates are still receiving those notifications.

First off, let’s cover the light situation and the starting time for games… 6 and 7 PM are the game starting times I’ve chosen here at the end of April because I’ve found that a 5:30 starting time can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth in regards to teams that aren’t able to collect a full squad out on the diamonds by that time… that’s not to say that we’ll never have a 5:30 start time… it’s actually necessary going into September because the sun is setting at around 7:30 by that point… but right now, last night, the sun set at 7:47… and it has been the experience that you still get 10-15 minutes of playable light after that time… so as of right now, early games and late games will have the same hour to finish their games…. if you’re playing in the late game and choose to continue on past 8:00, then you’re doing so at your own risk… both in terms of safety as well as preserving the “honest” score of your game. Once no one can see the ball any longer, crazy shit can happen as many of us know… this is a decision made between Captains on the field on a game by game basis… but remember that if you agree to start an inning, that inning MUST be finished (unless the HOME team is winning of course). Play fair… and if you’re losing the game, 8 PM has come and gone and your opposing Captain decides to end the game… don’t hold it against him/her… it’s their right for both safety and score.

Second, let’s cover the field conditions in the light of all the rain we’ve been getting. One of the players on one of our teams works for the Chicago Park District at a location that’s NOT Grant Park… he emailed me the following;

“I just wanted to send a bit of info your way seeing as how the rain has already affected us I figured it would save a lot of bitching later. The park district has instituted some new policies as far as field maintenance. As of this year, any field with standing water that will take 7 to 10 bags of diamond dry is to be deemed unplayable and all games cancelled. While us guys at my yard can do a lot with 10 bags I would brace yourselves for some lazy guys on the lake front to call a game even with little rain. I am working with my foreman to talk to the guys that take care of our fields so we can avoid any unnecessary cancellations, but who knows how that will go.”

After receiving this I sent the following letter to the Park District;

This Thursday is opening day for us and considering the extended forecast I just wanted to check in with you on the state of your ground crew… wondering if they’re geared up yet this early in the season for getting the diamonds ready.

I was sent an email from a player on one of our teams that also works for the Park District at some diamonds further south and he told me that they’ve been directed to cancel games on any diamond that needs more than 10 bags of turfus to make ready… he said this limitation is new this year and I was wondering if Grant Park is under the same directive.

From which I received the following reply;

Hi Nic, we didn’t have any games last week. I spoke to the field crew, (Fran and Jose) this morning. They said things are very wet. I told them to work on Upper whenever they had the chance this week between the raindrops. I have had high school games on upper already this season, so the fields have been dragged etc.

As for the 10,5 bag rule it has been in place for a couple of years. We are a little different then the other locations as we could have 32 games a night cancelled if the fields are not made playable. They work a little bit with me as the volume is greater than other locations. The foreman did say it to me when we met this season and I explained that we do not have many dates available to reschedule to. I bake a lot for the field maintenance yard.

Hope to see you Thursday.

So that’s where we’re at… I have to say for the record that I’ve always felt really well-treated by the Park District. They’ve always worked with us on any issue that comes up and they’ve always been flexible with finding us any diamond time possible to make up game days that have been washed out. On game days with a questionable forecast, we always communicate back and forth as many times as necessary throughout the day. Every effort is always made to keep games on and when games are cancelled, it’s always as a last resort.

The worst situation for me has always been when the rain that washes us out happened prior to game time. It’s hard for everyone, including me, to stomach a cancellation when the sun is out at game time… but that’s how it works out sometimes. The fields need a certain period of time to absorb water that has fallen on them previously. Wind and sun help a lot but are not always enough to get the job done… so keep these things in mind when dealing with a cancelled game day.

As of right now I’d have to say that tomorrow isn’t looking that good… there has just been too much rain and not enough sun to burn any of it off… we may get surprised… and you should definitely have your teams ready to play tomorrow… but my expectations are low.

IMPORTANT > Anything else you’d like to add? Questions you’d like answered? Please post them to the comments section of this post and DO NOT email them to me directly… I’m trying like hell to keep questions and issues regarding the entire league out here in the public forum along with their answers and solutions. You can also post to the league’s Facebook page which can be found here. Thanks all.

Site Adds History & Gets a Fresh Paint Job

Time flies when you’re procrastinating… Turns out its been two years and four months since the Design League site was re-designed. Back in February of ’08 I worked until I just got sick of working on it… I took some notes on what still had to be done and rolled on. I’ve just now gotten back to some of those things and it’s amazing that it has been more than two years… But I realized in the process why I was procrastinating…

Getting the history up from the early years was a bit more tedious as the way we did things back then was different… the format for the Tournament was different, runs scored trumped runs allowed and there weren’t any team or captains pictures… so the teams menu disappears from 2001-2003. For those of you old timers out there, having a look back at what the website looked like back then might be interesting… the following links will only be live for a while as I will soon tear down that old, long vacant web neighborhood, but in the meantime, take a trip in the wayback machine; 2001, 2002, 2003… For the rest of you, the years 2001-2003 are now available under the HISTORY menu of the main site.

You’ll also notice that the graphics; masthead, footer and background have been updated site wide… Same idea, but more how I envisioned things back in ’08 now… The image for the masthead was taken last week of the South Michigan Avenue skyline from the fence behind Diamond 2. The image for the footer is of 1st base on Diamond 1, also taken last week. The sky in the background is a stock image as the sky rarely looks like that in Chicago ;-)

Still in the works will be a page that documents all-time records for the Design League teams. Other than that, the site is at the point I was hoping to get it to. Hope you like it.

The Forum Changes Format.

So as of today, I’m retiring the “forum” format we’ve had on the site for past 3 years and replacing it with the “blog” format you see here now. The desire is for a centralized source of information as well as fostering an active community forum where everyone can comment, have a voice and be heard.

From a functionality standpoint, the forum that we’ve had online for the last 3 years was better suited for ‘two-way communication’ unfortunately… but it required posters to register, attracted too much spam and just wasn’t being used… a little bit in the beginning by a handful of people and then it sort of fizzled out. Moving to a blogging format makes information easier to get out and easier to comment on… so I have high hopes.

Examples of what I’ll be posting here are the weekly updates, any rule discussions, changes or updates… miscellaneous game day issues that arise, general league info… I’m also open to suggestions for posts… Also, I’m thinking it will be a great place to incorporate pictures.

And here’s where the ‘community’ part comes in… every post can be commented on…and I’m encouraging all of the Captains to forward the email that got you here on to all the members of your teams so that it can be open to all. Anyone interested in being notified when there’s a new post to this Forum can submit their email address to the Mailing List on the right-side of this page… This will make the conversation much more lively plus I know for a fact that there’s a lot of great baseball minds in the ranks that aren’t necessarily Captains. I’m also open to giving ‘contributor’ status to select members so that they can post to this forum on their own… This would be great in fact.

Here in the beginning it’ll be about getting the word out and getting everyone used to stopping by here for their info. Initially, I’m going to leave things on the honor system requiring no ‘registration’ in order to post a comment, only name and email will be required. No ANONYMOUS or GMAIL ALIAS comments, they’ll be caught by the SPAM filter anyway… but if those started to become prevalent, I’d be forced to require commenters to register and log-in before posting and that’ll ruin everything. So please, keep things up front and on the record.

The design of this area will customize over time… I’m not able to spend a lot of time on that right now and I didn’t want to procrastinate in getting things up and running… so here it is… feel free to comment on any post by clicking the “Comment” link near the top of every post…