The U.S. Hardball Singles Championship heads to the “City of Brotherly Love” this weekend, February 27-March 1, as the culminating event of the hardball season.
Hardball Singles tournaments have been played at the national level since 1907—one of the longest running squash competitions, and most “American” versions of squash (hardball was first introduced in the states in the early 1900s, whereas softball was popularized abroad)—and continues into present day.
This year the Hardball Singles Championships feature six divisions—50+ through 80+ and an Open Singles—with over forty entrants representing twelve states. The two youngest players are both twenty-five and the oldest player is eighty-nine, demonstrating the breadth and depth of hardball’s legacy and its players.
Tefft Smith, five-time Hardball National Champion and principal promoter of the hardball singles tournament season, can’t get enough of the game, saying, “I grew up playing hardball and love the faster pace and greater variety of shot making versus softball.”
“Hardball places a premium on racquet skills, given the faster pace and greater variety of shots, that allows for more exciting play than softball with its grinding rails, lobs, drops, and premium on endurance, ” Smith said. “Hardball can be played for a lifetime.”
Charlie Baker, an avid hardballer and five time National Champion as well, is a prime example of a life time of hardball play—at almost ninety years old, Baker is still active on the hardball scene and will be competing in this year’s 80+ division.
Baker readily agreed with Smith: “Because of the fast play and variety of shots, hardball is much more exciting both to watch to play than softball.”
“It tends to be more offensive than defensive, and is more exciting. My only suggestion for improvement would be to find a ball that would play well on the wide international court, so that interest would be enhanced, ” said Baker.
“The popularity of doubles is a testament to the hardball game. Almost all the doubles players switched from hardball doubles when they got older, rather than playing softball, ” Baker continued. “Hardball singles has diminished greatly over the years, but it seems to have leveled off. Play in the Nationals this year is up by 1/3, which is a positive sign.”
Smith is most looking forward to matches in the Open Division and competing himself, “All the matches in the Open should be thrilling. It is always a privilege to watch Jim Zug play, one of most elegant and talented shotmakers ever, and Tom Harrity is always an impressive, classic hardballer who should face a great challenge from Bryce Harding in the 50+.”
Hardball Singles may be a smaller sect of the larger squash community, but if its devotees and enthusiasts prove anything, it is that hardball is a game played for life. Matchplay begins this Friday, the earliest at 2:15pm local time, at host club, the Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, PA.
For more information, including start times, see official 2015 U.S. Hardball Singles Championships tournament page.