By Martin Kane, Business Manager, Light weight 155mm howitzer programJanuary 27, 2011
I started playing in the Picatinny Softball League in 1980.
Working in an office without any softball players, I responded to an article in The Voice looking for employees interested in participating.
I was assigned to the "Jerkweeds" as colorful a group as you could ever imagine. What we lacked on the field, the team made up for off the field. Having participated in softball leagues growing up, I was impressed by the competitiveness of the league at Picatinny.
That year, the league was dominated by the Avengers, a team which would fight for championships over the next decade or so. This was a time when players made every effort to schedule summer vacations around the softball schedule and to get back early from travel so as not to miss a game.
Many of the local "taverns" sponsored teams and certain teams were known to support their sponsor both before and after games. We on the Jerkweeds just struggled for respectability but had a heck of a time in the 16-team league (and made a lot of money for the Mount Hope Inn).
In response to an inquiry from Joe Hamill earlier this year, I contacted a number of long-time and former participants to try to piece together the history of Picatinny's softball league.
Sports at Picatinny have a long tradition. In 1937, Picatinny employees published a hardcover yearbook called the Ordnance Bomb which captured life on post. In this publication, it was noted that "In the realm of recreational activities at Picatinny Arsenal, athletics have played a prominent part, particularly in the last decade.
While we do not pretend to convey the impression that Picatinny is a proving ground for Olympic aspirants, the facilities for outdoor sports are surprisingly adequate."
During the 1930s, Picatinny had a baseball league, which was organized in the spring of 1932. During these years there was no field on post and the league first played on the Mount Pleasant Baseball Field and then moved to Replogle Field in Wharton.
Known as the Picatinny Arsenal Twilight League, it was comprised of four to six teams. The Ordnance Bomb noted the league played "a high degree of baseball at well attended games." In 1936, there were teams from Administration, Inspection, Loading and Metal Components.
At some point in the past, the baseball league at Picatinny gave way to a fast pitch softball league that maintained many of the same rules associated with the national pastime. This league appears to have been popular in the 1950s and 1960s.
It had been believed that the slow-pitch league started sometime in the early to mid 1970s and with some rule changes along the way had continued for the last 35 or so years. Thanks to the help of Picatinny historian Pat Owens, it came to light that slow-pitch softball at Picatinny actually dates back to 1968. Pat located an article from the March 18, 1968 Picatinny News (the predecessor of the Voice) reporting that the "Men's Softball League" expected to adopt "a slo-pitch rule." The June 17, 1968 issue reported that the new rules were working out okay. Pat also located issues of the Voice from 1971 and 1974 indicating that the Men's League will "again" use the "slo-pitch rules."
In trying to piece together the early years of the league, we relied on memories, recollections and enormous assistance from Pat Owens. The early years of the Picatinny Softball League were dominated by the Vets, organized by Army veterans and led by such colorful and engaging characters as Dominick Moreo and Ed Colantoni.
Getting younger in later years with such familiar Picatinny names as Jim Shields, Kevin Fahey, Jeff Dyer, Chris Hatch, Dave Panhorst, Bob Dombrowski, Pete Errante, Ken Heider, and John Pedersen, the Vets would win the Picatinny championship nine times. Members of the team would morph into the Destroyers, a team which would win the championship an additional four times in the 1990's.
The 1980s were extremely competitive in the league with only the Bombers and Avengers winning more than once. The mid 1980s also saw the formation of the Stealers by Lee Moreau. "Stealing" players who were friendly outside of work, but had played for different teams, Lee put together a strong club that continues in the league today, nine championships later with only two of their original players still active (the old-timer writing this article and the former "young pup" of the team, Phil Gorman).
The 1990s saw three teams dominate the league with the Vets, Stealers and Destroyers splitting the ten championships. The first decade of the 21st century was dominated by the Stealers and a controversial team from Rockaway Township with a mostly non-Picatinny roster each winning the championship four times, with long-time teams, the Youngbloods and War Pigs, each winning a championship. During this period, there was concern that the softball league would fold.
Down to just eight teams at one point with an aging workforce, many thought that softball would follow the flag football and basketball leagues into oblivion. This was why a non-Picatinny team was allowed into the league.
However, the hiring surge that followed 9-11 and the war on terrorism greatly increased Picatinny's workforce and lowered its average age. An entire new generation started playing in the softball league (as well as restarting or expanding other sports leagues at Picatinny). The Picatinny Softball League expanded and is once again a very vibrant 18 teams.
Changes in Picatinny softball over the years have included the introduction of a mat for the calling of balls and strikes, as well as eliminating a maximum arc height for pitches. These changes helped end some of the traditional controversies with umpire's calls.
The league also now uses certified umpires, a change from the earlier exclusive usage of Picatinny employees. Perhaps no change has been more significant that the inclusion of women over the years. In earlier years, Picatinny used to field two teams in the women's league conducted by the Morris County Industrial Recreation Association. In recent years, while still a relatively small number, more and more women have started playing in the Picatinny Softball League.
This past season the Alpha Betas won their first league championship with a team that will surely be a power in the upcoming years. So while the league continues to evolve, it remains a wonderful way to meet folks from various backgrounds, ages and occupations at Picatinny.
For me, the Picatinny Softball League has been an extremely rewarding part of my life and career at Picatinny.
The camaraderie and friendships endure even after players stop playing or retire. With snow on the ground it is nice to look forward to another season of Picatinny softball. See ya out there this summer!