Elite teams to play ball

DeKALB - Even though they haven't won a game the last two years, the DeKalb/Sycamore Church Softball all-star team is still optimistic.

"We have a chance to win a game this year," Keith Miller said. "We really have a good team collected."

This will be the third year the local all-star team has competed in the Hogs Icebreaker Men's Fast-Pitch Softball Tournament. The sixth annual exhibition tournament will be held May 4, 5 and 6 at Katz Park in DeKalb.

Teams and players from four different states and four different countries will be coming to play in the tournament, publicity director Ben Forsythe said.

Among the world-class players scheduled to compete are Tom Crouch of DeKalb, who is on the United States' men's national team; Ales Jetmar of the Czech Republic, who pitches for the Aurora Shamrocks; and Karl Gollan, the top hitter of the New Zealand national team that is a favorite to win next year's World Cup. Forsythe said the outfielder is one of two New Zealanders who will play on a team from Des Moines.

"We call it an exhibition tournament because most of the teams won't start their  seasons until mid- or late May, so it's kind of a kick-off tournament," said Crouch, who occasionally plays short stop for the DeKalb Hustle Hogs when he isn't playing for the Minnesota Angels in the International Softball Congress (ISC).

"We talked about having a bigger tournament and doing it in the middle of the year rather than the beginning, but for myself, I'm in full play with my team in Minnesota so it's harder for me to find a weekend where I'm free. So instead of having 12 to 16 teams and having payouts, we keep it simple."

Through his connections as an international player and as chairman of the ISC player representative committee, and through the Hogs' connections, Crouch said they were able to line up a number of international players for the tournament.

"It was for local teams, and then the word has kind of gotten out, so now you have some other teams wanting to participate as well," Crouch said.

One reason is that many top players, like Crouch, see the tournament as a chance to get in shape before the summer season.

Crouch said the Hogs try to limit the tournament to just eight teams. Last year, Miller said, there were six teams.

"It's a nice mix, in my opinion," Crouch said. "We enjoy having the  flavor of international players to interact and play against local and recreational players. You have everything from high-level players to the Hogs players who travel a little bit."

"The tournament will give local players an opportunity to compete against a few world-class players and pitchers," Forsythe said.

"It's good for local players to see that there are other opportunities outside their local league," Crouch said, "and to see that there are higher levels of softball throughout  America and maybe they want to join a team that would travel a little bit."

There will be eight teams in two pools. Heading up Pool A is the DeKalb Hustle Hogs, who will be joined by the DeKalb/Sycamore Church Softball all-stars, Des Moines and New Image of  Madison, Wis.

Pool B consists of the Aurora Shamrocks, Mazon Merchants, the Rockford Pride and the Bloomington League All-Stars.

Crouch noted that the teams from Aurora, Des Moines and Madison are all very strong.

"This is a very, very good tournament," Miller said. "They're way above us, but we have fun."

Miller, who said that each manager of the 14-team church league was allowed to pick one player from their teams for the all-star squad, said the tournament "deserves a look."

The tournament begins on Friday with the Hogs taking on the church all-stars at 6:45 p.m., followed by Aurora playing Rockford.

Ten games are scheduled for Saturday starting at 10 a.m. The tournament concludes on Sunday with six games. Action starts at 9:30 a.m. with the fourth place teams from both pools playing each other. Two playoff games will begin at 11 a.m., followed by the two semi-final games at 12:45 p.m. The championship game is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

Since it's an exhibition tournament and there are no sponsors, the winner will get a trophy, rather than a cash payout. To help out, Crouch said some of the players will volunteer to work at the concession stands.

Admission to all games is free.

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