HUDSON — The weather was picture perfect for a weekend of softball, but the fields at the weekend's Chasco Fiesta charity tournament weren't as busy as they used to be.
Blame the economy.
The tournament that once hosted 30 teams between Jack Mitchell and Veterans Memorial parks saw just eight teams take the field this year. Fewer sponsors mean fewer teams to compete for the big trophy.
"Chasco used to be a huge tournament that had all kinds of levels," said Mike Miller, West Coast umpire in chief for the National Softball Association. "It's a reflection of the way things are in the softball world. This is the lowest amount of teams we've ever had for this event, but it even extends to our league play. We can't find sponsors unless it's taverns, and overall the amount of softball being played is down."
Eric Pavlica is a park site supervisor for Pasco County Parks and Recreation and has been the tournament organizer for the entire 15 years it has been running. He has seen the tournament go from its most competitive years to what it is now.
"We only had eight teams this year, but we had several teams that wanted to play but weren't qualified to play in this class," Pavlica said. "All the profits (from) this go straight to charity, and everyone that is here is laid-back, having a good time. It's not as packed as it once was, but it's still a great event."
The teams in the competition are composed of players from different softball league teams that come together to form an all-star team of sorts. They then enroll in various tournaments and travel to play teams from other leagues, usually on a monthly basis. This tournament serves not only as a Chasco Fiesta charity event, but as a qualifier for the National Softball Association's World Championship.
In the past, Chasco tournament winners have gone on to win at the world tournament, the premier tournament of the NSA. Former winners team Piranha from Hudson took home two world championships and one at the state level in the early part of the last decade, but have since disbanded and now use the Chasco event to reunite.
"The majority of us are from here and this tournament is a good time for us to get together and play every year," Piranha team captain Chuck Clark said. "Last year we won it and this year we decided to try it again. The event could be a little bigger, but because it's local we wanted to be in it."
Although the tournament is not played at the highest level that the NSA offers, teams need to have the complete package in order to win and have a chance at the world tournament.
"In order to win this tournament, you have to play well and know your teammates well," Clark said. "We've been playing together for years so we know what everyone can and can't do. In order to win, you just have to have a solid team and keep it together. We're lucky because all the wives come out and bring the kids and we have a lot of fun. We have people that come to watch us that aren't associated with us because we like to have fun."
For Pavlica and the NSA, the downturn in softball attendance hasn't just marked a decline in tournament entry fees or the prevalence of softball teams in the community. It's the end of an era and the days when the park had a festive atmosphere.
"It's just not like it used to be," Miller said.
"They used to come up from Miami and Jacksonville and it would be a lot of fun. I used to register about 1,000 teams every year, but so far for 2011 I've only had 300."