News Feature

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Originally published in Castine Patriot, September 21, 2023 and Island Ad-Vantages, September 21, 2023 and The Weekly Packet, September 21, 2023
Grindle softball tournament—20th year
Hurricane be darned

Breton Lebel

Breton Lebel, a key player on the Brooksville team known as The Cheapskates.

Photo by John Epstein Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by John Epstein

Despite the heavy nor’easter blown in by the remnants of Hurricane Lee, hundreds of people were able to enjoy the Jared C. Grindle One-Pitch Co-Ed Softball Tournament on the weekend of September 15-17.

“It’s something we look forward to all year long,” said Brooksville’s Gwen Lebel. She was at the Brooksville Town Hall field to cheer on The Cheapskates, a team that included several of her children, cousins and in-laws.

Although Saturday, September 16, was a washout, the tournament proceeded with a compressed schedule—a home run derby event on Friday afternoon before the storm and a single elimination format for team play on Sunday.

“We did play once through a big storm about 10 years ago, but the wind was too much this time,” said Mike Grindle, who leads this event with his wife Kelly in memory of their late son, Jared.

The tournament reached completion with all the competing teams able to play at least one game, either at the Brooksville field behind the town offices or at Zig Zag field in Penobscot. Sunday’s dry and bright 70-degree weather made for almost perfect field conditions.

How the event came to be

When 17-year-old Jared Grindle died in a road accident on a wet Route 15 20 years ago, people in the area wanted his memory to live on in a positive way that reflected who he was. “He was the kind of kid who really talked to you,” said Gayle Clifford of Cape Rosier, who used to read to the boy in the Brooksville Library when he was in elementary school.

Kathy Andrews, who works in the Bucksport public schools, drove Jared to Bucksport High School from West Brooksville. “He waited so patiently when I was getting my younger kids ready each morning and he really engaged them in conversation.”

“There was a huge outpouring of grief at a memorial service for Jared at Bucksport High,” said Clifford. “His death affected so many people; we needed to do something to heal.”

At an impromptu meal at McDonald’s after Jared’s memorial service, several of their Brooksville friends and neighbors talked with Mike and Kelly Grindle about doing something to carry on the memory of their son. Jared had been an outstanding high school baseball player. Accordingly, his parents agreed that an annual charity softball tournament to help fund summer camp scholarships seemed like the right kind of event. It would be co-ed, too. “We wanted to include everyone,” said Clifford. “But we had to put this together fast in order to have it happen before it got too late in the year.”

With timely help from Turner Sporting Goods in Bangor, organizers sold 250 T-shirts, raising enough to pay the umpires for that first Jared C. Grindle Softball Tournament in September 2004. The money left over covered the cost of sending a few local kids to summer sports camps the following year. The turnout of teams and spectators over the years burgeoned. After 20 years, the Sport Scholarship Program in Jared’s memory has raised well over $80,000 and has funded camp sojourns for approximately 200 children.

Home run derby

Late on Friday afternoon before the arrival of Hurricane Lee’s wind and rain, men and women players met for the Home Run Derby competition at the Brooksville ballfield a few hundred yards behind the town hall. Spectators, many with their own beverages, ate sausage sandwiches and fries at picnic tables. “It’s about having fun,” said Arlene Labrie of Brooksville who’s been coming to the tournament since it began.

Josh Gott, partner of Tessa Grindle, Jared’s sister, organized the event with the help of Denny Rackcliffe of Blue Hill, who kept a written roster of the contestants.

“Each hitter gets 10 outs,” said Rackcliffe, who did double-duty as umpire and scorekeeper. Any ball that failed to clear the outfield fence, if hit by a man, or pass over orange cones set in the middle of the outfield, if hit by a woman, counted as an out.

Hitters were allowed to wait for a slow pitch that suited them. “Often that can take a while,” Rackcliffe admitted. Those pitchers who could serve up a nice slow softball that crossed the plate near a hitter’s wheelhouse were in demand. Sometimes it helped if your pitcher was related; sometimes, it didn’t. But Steve Peasley, veteran Brooksville lobsterman—who looked quite agile chasing down flies in the outfield—had trouble laying in just the right pitch for his son, Jack, a budding middle school athlete. “I had to call in a reliever,” Steve admitted.

As a great blue heron flew obliviously overhead, easy-going human activity unfolded on the field below. Spectators cheered mighty hits. Players encouraged each other to have good swings. A teenaged girl ran back and forth in the outfield trying valiantly, comically, and always unsuccessfully to catch fly balls. Other fielders made snazzy grabs as if they did it all the time.

After two rounds of home run hitting, the winner in the men’s category was Ron Murphy of Blue Hill, who clouted 10 balls over the outfield fence. In the women’s event, Janelle Ciomei of Deer Isle was equally impressive with her long ball hitting—she had 18.

The one-pitch, co-ed tournament

Seventeen softball teams from various towns in Maine entered this year’s tournament. Each team fielded 10 players, five men and five women. One pitch is thrown per batter, with women and men alternating at the plate.

Geared to promote equal athletic opportunity, the rules of play are unique—allowing just one over-the-fence home run per game, and penalizing teams for deliberately walking a man to pitch to a woman. The result: Games are fast moving and full of action and usually take just 45 minutes to complete.

An inter-town, inter-family rivalry

At around 11 a.m. Sunday, scores of pickups and cars lined the road and grassy fields near the Brooksville ball field. At least 200 spectators gathered in the stands or sat on picnic tables and lawn chairs.

Wearing green jerseys with a picture of a lobster boat, the Yippy-Ki-Yay team from Deer Isle stepped onto the diamond. “They’re named after the boat,” laughed Kurt Ciomei, the coach and father or father-in-law of most of the players. “Let’s see now,” he said, “there’s Janelle; Colin, his wife, Julie; Bryant; Hayden; and Nick and his wife, Jamie.”

The opposing team—The Cheapskates, dressed in aqua-blue T-shirts—assembled in the opposite dugout. According to Gwen Lebel, the squad was top heavy with her children. “Well, there’s Makyla, Breton, Miacyn, Fred and Breton; and there’s also my nephew, Marshal,” she said. “My husband used to coach the team,” she added.

Led by the sharp fielding and clutch hitting of Breton Lebel, The Cheapskates, took a five-run lead into the last inning. But Yippy-Ki-Yay made a huge winning comeback fueled by lots of walked batters and some timely hits. Gwen Lebel shook her head in disbelief.

The next crowd-pleasing event was quickly ushered in: a couple dozen toddlers and elementary school kids adorably filled the field for a short, parentally guided noon game that’s become a tradition.

The championship

The one-pitch tournament carried on with matchups at the Penobscot and Brooksville fields. Another Brooksville team, The Crusher Claws—with fierce black and red-lettered jerseys to match their name—made it to the finals. There, they met up with Northern Maine Smoke, from the Hermon area.

The game was closely contested for a while, with the Crusher Claws closing a big gap to trail 11-10 after four innings. But Smoke was able to pile on seven runs to close out their championship run with an 18-10 win. Spectators applauded, the teams shook hands and hugged. Then the champs posed for a team photo at home plate, followed by a trophy presentation.

All through the weekend, from a table and trailer set several yards behind the backstop, Kelly Grindle diligently sold sweat shirts, T-shirts and ball caps remembering her son, commemorating the day, and funding many more youth sports scholarships for next summer.

For those who couldn’t make it to the event but want to help continue the good works, checks made payable to Jared C. Grindle Youth Sport Scholarship Program (or JCGYSSP) can be mailed to 1434 Coastal Road, Brooksville, ME 04617.

The winning team

The winning team, Hermon’s Northern Maine Smoke.

Photo by John Epstein
Breton Lebel

Breton Lebel, a key player on the Brooksville team known as The Cheapskates.

Photo by John Epstein
Home Run Derby

Brooksville’s Steve Peasley with his son, Jack, after their Home Run Derby moment.

Photo by John Epstein
Women’s Home Derby winner

Women’s Home Derby winner Janelle Ciomei of Deer Isle.

Photo by John Epstein