Some people stick with a sport throughout their time in high school and college. For Eileen Pohlkamp though, slow-pitch softball is a sport she’s stuck with for nearly her entire life.
Growing up on a farm in Pierz, Pohlkamp began playing softball with her siblings, with the siblings making their own rules to deal with a shortage of players.
As a high school student, before girls got their own school sports, Pohlkamp was unable to play for a while, before learning about the Little Falls Ladies League in 1971, when she was 19 years old.
Pohlkamp would play in the Little Falls league for three years, before moving over to the newly-formed Pierz Ladies League after a year of playing in both leagues.
Since then, Pohlkamp has played in a league every year, even if one of those years she was only a relief player for one game due to her condition.
“One year I only played one game because I was pregnant with one of the kids,” Pohlkamp said.
The game was during the play-offs, the team had suffered several injuries and the new girls were nervous about going up to bat.
The coach called on Pohlkamp’s sister-in-law, who was suffering from a sore finger, to go to bat, but there was a problem.
“She said she had no shoes, so she batted and she got on base,” Pohlkamp said.
The bases were loaded, Pohlkamp’s team had two outs and were down by one run and her brother, the coach, asked her if she wanted to bat.
After getting some oversized shoes from another sister-in-law, Pohlkamp went up to bat.
“So here I am batting, seven months pregnant, shoes two sizes too big, and I hit a ground ball to the right side of the field that went past the right fielder,” Pohlkamp said.
The end result was a double for Pohlkamp and a victory for the team.
Her brother would later ask her why she didn’t just stop at first and let the other runners advance, to which Pohlkamp said she had only thought that if she got to second base, it was a win.
Over the years, the Pierz Ladies League faded away, while the Little Falls League also decreased.
When the Pierz League ended, Pohlkamp and her husband, John, joined the Gilman Co-rec League, which was somewhat like returning to Pohlkamp’s roots of playing ball with the family.
“It was basically all family and relatives,” Pohlkamp said of the Gilman League.
Still even co-rec teams have trouble finding enough members and the Pohlkamps moved to play in the Onamia Co-rec League with their daughter and her husband.
With this team, the Pohlkamps would win the Class D state championship, and take third place in Class C.
After that, Pohlkamp came back to the Pierz area to play, where she joined the Genola Co-rec League.
This year, her team made it to the playoffs, getting a bye in the first round, before the season ended Aug. 17 with two losses.
Over the years, the leagues have had issues getting people to play, Pohlkamp said.
One of the reasons she thinks softball leagues are having a challenge finding players is that everyone is busy nowadays, and that high school students are focused on the school sports or other activities they do in the summer.
“Back in my day, you didn’t have anything to do but play ball,” Pohlkamp said.
For Pohlkamp, softball is an opportunity to get out, socialize and exercise, and that’s why she’s stuck with it over the years.
To stick with the game, Pohlkamp said, people need to make sure they’re warming up before they play by stretching, jogging and other activities throughout the week.
The position she has loved to play the most, Pohlkamp said is what was once known as the rover, a player covering left-center field who would back up the left and center fielders, or get balls going in between the shortstop and outfielders.
As she’s gotten older though, Pohlkamp said, she’s played as a catcher more, which she’s fine with.
The best part of the game, and one of the biggest reasons she’s stayed in softball for so long, Pohlkamp said is that it is an opportunity to spend time with friends and family.
Over the years, she’s played with her husband who retired from the game two years ago, her children, her siblings and more.
Many times after a game, the team will go to thank its sponsor by being patrons at the bar, restaurant or whomever sponsors it.
Other times, Pohlkamp said the team just goes to one of the players’ homes to enjoy the 10 p.m. news and some ice cream with friends.