Lawrence residents were bearish on slow-pitch during the late '90s, but Bob Stanclift is now presiding over a bull market.
Stanclift, adult sports supervisor for the city's parks and recreation department, reports a spike in the number of teams and participants for league play that will begin on Sunday.
"The numbers are back up," Stanclift said, "and we're happy about that."
Stanclift expects around 250 teams will play 14 games apiece in the spring-summer leagues. That number is up 15 teams from a year ago. The all-time city record is 265 teams in 1994.
Stanclift says he wishes he could explain why more teams are participating this year.
"I don't really have a good answer," he said. "I've noticed over the years that we have fewer teams coming back after a wet summer when there are a lot of rainouts.
"Last summer the weather was good during the season. I don't know if that's it, but it's the only reason I can see."
The city is offering 32 leagues 20 men, eight coed and four women. Games will be played every day except Saturday on the four fields at Clinton Lake Softball Complex, the two at Lyon Park and the one at Hobbs Park.
Lyon Park in North Lawrence has undergone an off-season renovation. New fences and lights have been installed on both diamonds. In addition, the park has a new restroom facility.
Also, for the first time this year, Stanclift has included this sentence on each league's schedule: "Softball fees are based on the LPRD providing one umpire per game."
For many years, Lawrence was one of the few cities in the state and in the Kansas City area to provide two umpires one behind the plate and one in the field. During the last few years, however, more and more city slow-pitch games have been worked by a plate umpire only.
"There will be times when we will have two umpires working games," Stanclift said. "We do it as a back-up in case something happens on another field, or for training purposes."
City league umpires who work solo earn between $13 and $15 a game based on experience. Stanclift has done a survey of umpire pay around the state and Kansas City area, and, he says, Lawrence is competitive.
In Olathe, Stanclift says, umpires can earn as much as $18 a game, but that team fees are higher than here. In Emporia and Hutchinson, he said, the maximum umpire pay is $13 a game. Topeka and Salina, like Lawrence, pay $15.
City slow-pitch fees have climbed 5 percent per year since 1993. Lawrence teams currently pay $410, or about $29 per game for a 14-game season.
"Teams in Johnson County pay $42 to $45 per game," Stanclift said.
On the field, city league teams for the first time will have the option of using the standard white softball or the optic yellow ball more commonly used in softball.
"People asked me last year if they could use the optic yellow ball," Stanclift said. "It was legal in youth leagues last year, and now it's legal for the first time for adult leagues, if a team wants to use it."
Since each team supplies the ball it wants to hit, it's possible both the white and the optic yellow ball could be used in a game at the same time. Each ball, incidentally, costs the same, about $6 apiece.
In other slow-pitch news, Lawrence will play host to the Kansas Class D Men's Tournament. The D meet, a fixture in Fort Riley for several years, is scheduled in August at CLSC.