The Rules May Have Changed, But Denville Women’s Softball is Still Fun for Participants

 

 

 

By Steve Sears

Denville Women’s Softball at their year-end barbeque

Perhaps “Softball” should be the middle name of Denville’s BL Gross.

“I’m very involved,” Gross says. “45 years worth.” Gross moved to Denville in 1977 and got involved in women’s softball in town the following year. “I look for the players, and I encourage anyone who would like to play. We don’t have any specific rules. It used to be over age 35, then we lowered it to 25, and now it’s 18 and right out of high school. If you’re willing to walk, run on occasion, and try to catch a ball and hit a ball, you’re in. If you can walk and talk at the same time, you can play.”

The group is called Denville Women’s Softball, and there is a dedicated Facebook page for anyone who is interested. 

Gross no longer plays due to knee replacement surgery and a recent leg break injury, but she still makes sure women’s softball in Denville happens. “I just want it for the town,” she says. “I sit in the bleachers, I take care of everybody coming in, sign them in to the roster, and use my electronic megaphone to make comments.”

Gross has been a Denville Women’s Softball member the longest, but there are others with almost equal longevity. “Christine Murray has been playing almost as long as me; she’s been with us for 42 years. Donna Zablatzky is another one; she joined after 1980 traveling team got started, so she’s just under 40 years, and Sharon Matschke has been playing just about as long as Donna has. And there are others who have been with us for a shorter amount of time, and we’re grateful for all of them.” And it’s generational for Gross, too, whose oldest daughter, Laura – she who robbed her mom of a homerun in the mid 1980’s – and granddaughters Katie (BL’s temporary runner after her knee issues) and Molly (a current pitcher) have also played for Denville Women’s Softball.

The ladies play (and have always played) their games at Gardner Field. When Gross and the other ladies started out, there were seven teams with about 70 women involved, and each team had about 15 players. Gross scheduled the games, and Denville recreation provided the initial equipment. In the early 1980’s, there was even the previously-mentioned traveling team that played other local teams at their fields. “I think we might have played Tuesdays and Thursday nights, and slowly we have fewer and fewer teams and fewer and fewer people,” Gross says. “And now we’re down to one team, which plays against itself.” On this year’s roster there are 24 people, but there aren’t always 12 players for each team. “We do the best we can,” Gross explains. “We’ve changed the rules, we got rid of the umpires and saved the town some money, and we made our own rules. We used to play seven innings, now we’re down to six. You have to hit the ball or strike out, there are no walks. You can’t steal a base, you can’t slide. We’ve made it as easy as we can and still play and have fun. If you can hit the ball and get a home run, we’ll let you walk around the bases; you don’t have to run. We always look forward to it, and the last game of the season, everybody comes here (to her home) and my husband, Louie, does the cooking of the goodies on the grill and everybody brings something. And then I get to present ‘The Silly Awards’ and everyone gets something based on how their season went. It’s a fun night and everybody looks forward to it.”

So it doesn’t compete with children’s softball in town, Denville Women’s Softball doesn’t start until the end of June. “That way if they have any games or any playoffs or anything because of the weather or something, they have the field,” Gross says. “The field is for the kids, and I don’t want to infringe on that. That’s just my attitude. We start with the last Thursday in June and try to get 10 games in, but Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate.” 

Gross states with a laugh that she is a New York Yankees fan. “The two – the Yankees and softball – go together very well,” she says. “It’s just a great sport. You get your exercise, and you’re not killing yourself doing it.” Gross also mentions that, during the COVID-19 pandemic and after her unfortunate leg injury, Denville Women’s Softball still met at Gardner Field for some social distancing gab sessions, Gross in a wheelchair and the rest in the bleachers. “It’s the camaraderie with the girls and the women,” she says. “The new people come in when the older ones don’t want to or can’t play anymore, but they still come and be with us. It’s become a family – a giant family, and we care about each other.”

For more information about Denville Women’s Softball, message BL Gross through the group’s Facebook page.

 

 

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