PITTSFIELD -- As spring training works its way toward opening day of the major league season, Pittsfield Girls Softball League players, their families and volunteers are out gathering support and funds to host the Babe Ruth Softball U16 World Series this summer.
The series will take place at Pittsfield's Doyle Field between July 28 and Aug. 5. With an estimated price tag of $125,000 to run the event, players took to downtown Pittsfield on Saturday to bring awareness to their fund drive and solicit donations.
Money is needed for new scoreboards, improved field drainage and irrigation, tents, a sprinkler system, transportation costs, a welcoming breakfast and other items. Plus, the league must pay a $45,000 hosting fee.
The Berkshire Force team, comprised of Berkshire softball players under 16, has qualified for the series four times in the last six years, and will receive an automatic berth this year as the host team.
Taconic High School outfielder Jillian Campbell and Pittsfield High School shortstop Allie Hunt were on last year's squad that played in the World Series in North Carolina and are expecting to be on the team this summer.
"That was the best ever," Campbell said. Campbell, an outfielder for the Braves, said the team's effort showed it can play at the same level as other top teams in the country. "Our team was hard to beat last year," she said.
Campbell said the team's comraderie was instrumental to its success. The team was known for its singing at games, she said. "There was no drama," Campbell said. "We made friends that we [otherwise] wouldn't be able to talk to that live across the country."
The Force's coach for the last 15 years has been Jim Stimpson, who is the director for this summer's tournament. Stimpson credited the friendship between the players and their positive energy as keys to the squad's success last year. They had to win the state and regional tournament to reach the World Series.
One of the team's players, Kirsten McNeice, was honored with the tournament's sportsmanship award.
This will be Stimpson's fifth World Series as coach. A hockey player in his youth and in the Navy, Stimpson got involved in coaching baseball and softball after his sons and daughters started playing.
He places an emphasis on team attitude. Last year's squad was the best he's coached. "We had a great family-oriented team," he said. "It was more than just softball."
The World Series was last held in Pittsfield in 2008, when Stimpson's daughter, Serena, won the tournament's sportsmanship award. She is now an assistant coach.
While nine teams played in the 2008 series, 20 are expected this year. The Babe Ruth league estimates that the series had a local economic impact of $2.1 million that year.
"It was good for the economy. It was great for the community," Stimpson said.
Tournament organizers are hopeful that impact will be replicated. Stimpson said the size of the Pittsifeld Girls Softball League has increased by about 60 percent since 2008 to approximately 400 players.
League president Tom Murphy said the 2008 series and pitching of the Force's Tori Shepard inspired his daughter, Julia, to play softball, and influenced his decision to get involved in the league. "I was more of a fan last time," he said.
"It's very exciting. We're thrilled to be the host league," Murphy said. "It's a great event to foster some good community spirit."
The Pittsfield Girls Softball League is run by volunteers, Murphy said. Right now, the organizers are concentrating on securing enough hotel rooms for the hundreds of people expected.
Tryouts for this year's team will likely happen in June, Stimpson said.
"These kids will take these memories for the rest of their lives," he said.
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