GRANT PARK — Softball leagues will be back in action in Grant Park as soon as this week after it looked like a busy events season Downtown would force players to find another home.
Block Club revealed in February the leagues would be ousted from Grant Park because NASCAR and other big-ticket events, like Lollapalooza, would take over the park for most of the summer. Grant Park was booked 84 days May 18-Aug. 13 for the special events.
Park District officials told the softball league organizers at the time it looked “almost impossible to run a consistent” league at Grant Park this summer.
That changed after public outcry from residents, softball leagues and park advocates who questioned why private events like NASCAR and music fests should be allowed to take over a public park. Grant Park has been home to numerous softball leagues and tournaments for over 80 years, according to the Chicago 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame.
Michael Stern, an umpire and organizer for corporate softball leagues, said Park District officials reached out to him in late March asking if he still wanted a permit to play at Grant Park. He said yes.
The agreement is the leagues will be able to play their regular season while NASCAR is setting up in and around the park for its street race July 1-2, Stern said.
“The way that I understand it is once there was an agreement between the Park District and NASCAR, the [Park District] reached out to everyone who had a permit last year,” Stern said.
The Park District issued athletic permits for Grant Park fields to six leagues this year, officials said.
“The Chicago Park District is committed maximizing park access and balancing the needs and interests of all Grant Park users. This season we have successfully accommodated all sports leagues permitted at Grant Park last year and that applied to return,” Park District officials said in a statement. “The District worked closely with each league to schedule and map out games during and around event operations.”
Stern’s league will start playing Thursday and will be able to play weekly until July 13, which is right before setup for Lollapalooza. Blackout dates for Stern’s league include May 25 and June 29 for Sueños and NASCAR.
Although Stern’s league starts playing this week, he said he’s heard from others that won’t start until early May as they rush to get their teams organized.
“We’re talking about corporate teams who, until maybe about two weeks ago, thought that they weren’t playing softball this summer,” Stern said.
This year’s softball season wouldn’t be possible without people speaking up in the media and directly to the Park District, Stern said.
“Thank you to everyone who made their voices heard. … The park came through for us at the end of the day, and I appreciate that, but this doesn’t happen without all the people who love playing at Grant Park … making their voices heard,” Stern said.
Teams still looking for a league to play for can contact Stern at Sternmichael@sbcglobal.net.
In addition to the athletic fields, Park District officials said access to popular park features like Buckingham Fountain will remain open to the public “with minimal restrictions.” Maggie Daley Park, Cancer Survivor’s Garden, and the Museum Campus will remain fully open and accessible during normal operating hours, officials said.
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