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Changes come to South St. Paul softball league
For first time in 26 years, there will be a new director
As softball season draws closer, the South St. Paul Softball Adult League will see some changes this upcoming season, and it’s not just a change of venue.
The South St. Paul City Council unanimously voted to approve Dallas Apfelbacher as the new director for the city’s adult softball league at the Feb. 6 meeting.
Chris Esser, director of parks and recreation, said the renovated Kaposia Landing ballfields will be up and running for the 2017 season.
Work began on updating Kaposia Landing in 2015. The work included four new softball fields as well as one baseball field.
During the planning and construction phases, Esser said there was “a lot of discussion about how we operate and schedule fields at Kaposia Landing in particular.”
The council at that time talked about whether or not to continue with the adult softball scheduling system that had been in place for many years or to change it. Esser said historically there was an independent league operator, Rich Rakness, who rented the fields from the city. He added that the adult softball league was not a city league.
“Knowing that Kaposia Landing was going to open, we had an opportunity to either keep the status quo or take a look at what else was out on the market for adult softball,” Esser said.
City staff began a “request for proposal” process last December for the operation of the park’s new softball fields. Esser said two proposals had been submitted by the deadline for the RFP process.
“This was not a result of dissatisfaction with Mr. Rakness or his league. It was more of a search to see what other opportunities there are for the administration of adult softball by going through a formal process to survey the market,” Esser said in an interview last week.
He added that the city had not gone through the RFP process in the past, and would, historically, have automatically given Rakness rights to operate his league on city fields with no formal agreement.
Esser explained that staff brought both proposals to the Parks and Recreation Commission in January, and the commissioners voted to recommend that Apfelbacher take over management of the adult softball leagues and scheduling of the Kaposia Landing ballfields.
Their recommendation was then forwarded to the city council for consideration.
City staff also recommended that South St. Paul contract with Apfelbacher.
Rakness had been the softball league director for 26 years. In a statement he said it was very disheartening to know he will not be running the leagues this year at the rejuvenated complex.
“I am unhappy with the decision and the course of action that was used in this process,” Rakness said.
He added that it had been a pleasure running the program as an individual contractor for the 26 years he did it. Rakness said it was an enjoyable time for him, and “he strived to make the team’s night out as much fun for them as possible.”
Changing league affiliations
The Feb. 6 city council agenda packet included Apfelbacher’s proposal, which said he had experience as the adult softball league consultant and umpire-in-chief for Hastings.
In an interview, Apfelbacher said he decided to submit his proposal for the administrator position for a few reasons.
“I have a long history with sports in the city of South St. Paul, and want to see that tradition continue for others in the years to come,” Apfelbacher said.
He added that he visits other softball complexes across the state and country, and is impressed with the renovations at Kaposia Landing. He also described himself as having “a great passion for the game.”
Esser has personal experience as a softball league director in a different community and explained there are three different sanctioning bodies for softball. They are the Minnesota Sports Federation, the United States Softball Association (USSSA), and ASA/USA, which stands for Amateur Softball Association.
A softball operator can pick from these three bodies to sanction and affiliate their league.
“With that sanctioning becomes team affiliation for insurance and league rules and how the league is administered, but also gives those teams opportunities to go either regionally in Minnesota or outside the state to compete at a higher level than it would locally,” Esser said.
Esser said it’s the league operator’s preference on which sanctioning association to select. He added that typically umpire associations provide umpires for all three sanctioning bodies, but there are little nuances with the rules.
Since Apfelbacher will be independent, Esser said the city will not dictate to him which sanctioning body to use.
“It is their league after all and we’re allowing them use of the fields,” Esser said.
The South St. Paul league will be sanctioned under USA Softball, which is the official national governing body of softball in the U.S, Apfelbacher said. He added this allows team that wish to play in “weekend tournaments, State, Regional or National Championships the most opportunity to do so.”
Perry Coonce, executive director of Minnesota Sports Federation, said the South St. Paul league has been associated with his sanctioning body for roughly 35 years. He said he would like to see that association continue.
However, Coonce said Apfelbacher is a contractor for USA Softball, which is the Minnesota Sports Federation’s main competitor in the state. He said this means a decision has to be made on how the program is going to be affiliated in the future.
“We certainly want to continue to serve the city of South St. Paul,” Coonce said, adding the umpire association will be up in the air as well since Apfelbacher is associated with a different umpire association than the one currently used.
Coonce said he was disappointed to learn the South St. Paul softball league “was out for bid,” contending that the Minnesota Sports Federation didn’t know anything about it at the time or it would have put a bid in, too.
In an interview, Coonce said he heard a rumor about the RFP process around Jan. 15, but was never officially notified.
He said Rakness was not planning to step down, but rather was “ousted” contrary to his wishes.
During the Feb. 6 city council meeting, Mayor Jimmy Francis asked if the softball league contract will be put out to bid every year. Esser said the proposal in front of the council was a one-year agreement.
Esser said if both parties are satisfied at the end of the year, there is the option to renew it for up to an additional four years. He said it will be evaluated at the end of each season to make sure all involved parties are still satisfied. There are options if there is dissatisfaction.
Council member Todd Podgorski was at the parks and recreation commission meeting when the recommendation was made, and he said the commissioners voted unanimously for Apfelbacher.
New look; fresh start
Esser said he thinks the new fields at Kaposia Landing will increase interest in the league the old fields had issues with compaction, grading and drainage. The new fields allow for a fresh start to provide an overall better experience for players.
“During this first season we ask that park visitors and field users be patient and understand that the scheduling and maintenance of our newest community gem is new to us, too,” Esser said.
Apfelbacher said some changes to expect include incorporating a non-resident fee for all teams into their league fees.
He said this allows him to keep league fees the same for all teams. Previously, they would have paid a league fee plus the non-resident fee.
Two leagues are already full with a waiting list, Apfelbacher added.
For more information on how to sign up visit http://www.minnesotaasa.com/ssp.
Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or firstname.lastname@example.org.