Fairfield’s Fast Pitch Softball Team needs a little help from the community.
A group of the young ladies stopped by the office recently looking for a donation for repairs and improvements for the field where they play. I suggested we do a story to let everyone know about their project, so we lined up a photo of some of the team members.
This also gave me an opportunity to check out the condition of their field, located just north of Fairfield along Highway 89.
They can use our help.
The ladies’ three teams (by age) play on a field that is located on Bureau of Reclamation land. Although the property is outside of the Fairfield town limits, the town has a blanket use permit, according to the town office.
There are a couple of dugouts, some fencing behind home plate that has seen better days, and a picnic table that appears to serve as the only bleachers. According to the town office, there was a storage shed there, but it burned down some time ago.
No one was certain how long the field has been at this location, but judging from the condition of the field, it has been there for a while.
Coach Paul Wilson told the Sun Times that there have been “at least a couple of baseball and softball teams every year,” since he moved here in 2003. He went on to say, “I’m sure there have been teams in Fairfield since long before that. The Majors program had been on hiatus for several years due mainly to a lack of interested players and coaches. We were able to revive the Fairfield Majors program in the spring of 2018.”
Wilson said, based on conversations he has had with parents of former players, the field has been in use for the last “25 years or so.”
All of the baseball and softball programs here, according to Wilson, operate under the umbrella organization Fairfield Youth Baseball. “I believe there are four baseball and three softball teams,” he added.
The teams that play at the field are the “Peewees,” ages 6 to 8; the “Minors,” which are ages 9 to 11, and the “Majors,” comprised of girls who are 12 to 14 years old. The young ladies are put into the age categories based on their age as of August 1 of the season year.
Last season, there were 40 ladies playing across the three teams, ranging in ages from 6 through 14.
The town of Fairfield helps out with the field when it can. “The town workers have been good to help us keep the grass mowed during the season, but they have a lot of other responsibilities,” said Wilson. “Sometimes coaches or other parent volunteers help mow and trim weeds.
The field gets plenty of use during the season, with practices and or games there four or five days every week. Even before the season begins, there are three teams on the field for practice, with the youngest players honing their skills around 4:00. The majors take a late practice that usually winds up around 8:00 to 8:30 in the evening.
After visiting the field, the Sun Times asked Wilson if the poor condition made it hard for Fairfield to host games:
“Every year, there is a meeting for all coaches in the league in Conrad because the league is administered by the Conrad Parks & Recreation Department. Our field in Fairfield is always brought up. Many of the coaches do not want to have games here because they are worried about injuries, and I don’t blame them. It’s by far the worst field in the league that we play in.
We have still gotten home games scheduled, but we’ve had dozens of hours of field maintenance donated by volunteers to try to make the field safe and playable. This ranges from filling in gopher holes in the outfield to bringing in sand and leveling off the infield. As far as safety goes, the biggest issues are the infield, backstop, and lack of fencing along the baselines. The infield is as hard as a rock. We put sand around the bases each year to make sliding safer. Otherwise, it would be about like trying to slide on a sidewalk. There are also huge rocks that work their way to the surface every year. It makes fielding a ground ball in the infield very difficult.”
The Fairfield teams typically play against teams from Cascade, Choteau, Conrad, Valier, Cut Bank, Shelby and Browning.
Kate Banner and Ryan and Megan Helmer coached the Peewee girls last season. Trina Wilson, Rose Cooley, and Ashley McFarlin coached the Minors, and Paul Wilson coached the Majors team with the help of Taylor Bolkcom.
Despite the poor field condition, the young Fairfielders showed their abilities with a successful 2019 season. Wilson reported that the Peewee’s won their league and the Minors took 3rd. As for the older team, the coach said, “My Majors team had a great season, but we always seemed to have one inning that put us behind the 8-ball. We won several games and competed well against every team in the league.”
The teams are seeking $10,000 in donations. Of that, $3,000 to $4,000 would be used to put in a new backstop, and that does not include demolition and removal of the existing one. Another $4,000 would be used to take out some of the existing infield material and replace it with a good infield mix that would allow better drainage and “stay a little softer so the ball bounces true and sliding into a base doesn’t leave scars on the girls’ legs,” said Wilson. “We also need about 400 ft of fencing along the 1st and 3rd baselines to keep balls in play and protect spectators. We are currently using snow fence for our outfield fence. Another 360 ft. of fencing would be needed for the outfield to make it more permanent and safer for the players.”
Donations can be delivered to Michelle Gjerde at 3 Rivers, Taylor Bolkcom at Gary Kasper’s office, or to Paul Wilson at Greenfield School. We are in the process of finalizing our status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit so that all donations will be tax deductible.
Ongoing needs are met through fundraisers conducted by Fairfield Youth Baseball by selling Elliot’s Cookie Dough each spring.
For this project, the young ladies are seeking donations, but they are planning to do more fundraising before the next season begins. One idea they are tossing around is a “cash calendar.”
In addition to raising money, the teams are always seeking volunteers. According to Wilson, all the coaches serve as volunteers. “Coaching the peewees works best when there are many coaches so you can split the girls up into small groups to work on skills and rotate them through different stations. The older girls can work fine in bigger groups, but I haven’t turned down any offers to volunteer yet. We also have a huge need for umpires for home games. You don’t have to be an MHSA certified umpire. Anyone with a basic understanding of baseball and/or softball can do it.”
When the Sun Times met the teams, Taylor Bolkcom and Wilson at the field for the photo, it was late on a Friday afternoon, just as summer was coming to an end. We weren’t certain how many players would show up for the photo.
But they came. They came by bicycle and car. They came with parents or friends. Before long, the edge of the field had a long row of trucks, cars, SUVs… and bikes. That so many came out for the photo, in our mind, spoke volumes about the passion of these young athletes, as well as their parents, the coaches and the volunteers.
When asked about the turnout, Wilson told us:
“When we met for the picture of Friday, I had 7 out of my 10 returning majors players show up. On a Friday night!
These girls are very committed to the success of youth softball in Fairfield. They love to play the game. Many of them would tell you that softball is their favorite sport even though we don’t currently have a high school team in Fairfield.
I run practices five, sometimes six, days a week before we start our game schedule, and I usually have a full team at every practice. Their passion for the game is contagious, and even the more casual players work hard to improve.”