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Conway ball game serious fun

History, hilarity expected on 4th

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Malcolm Corse and Mike Haley pose for the Chesbro Challenge in Conway.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Malcolm Corse and Mike Haley pose for the Chesbro Challenge in Conway.

  • The late New York Highlander pitcher Jack Chesbro of Conway in his early years.

    The late New York Highlander pitcher Jack Chesbro of Conway in his early years.

  • The Conway Mountain Mammas softball league from 1981. <br/>This was a women's league sponsored by Orchard Equipment and American Breeders Service.

    The Conway Mountain Mammas softball league from 1981.
    This was a women's league sponsored by Orchard Equipment and American Breeders Service.

  • Mike Haley hits an oversized ball with a broom for a bat from a pitch from Malcom Corse at the athletic fields behind the Conway Town Hall last year before last year's Chesbro Challenge.<br/>(Recorder file/Paul Franz)

    Mike Haley hits an oversized ball with a broom for a bat from a pitch from Malcom Corse at the athletic fields behind the Conway Town Hall last year before last year's Chesbro Challenge.
    (Recorder file/Paul Franz)

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Malcolm Corse and Mike Haley pose for the Chesbro Challenge in Conway.
  • The late New York Highlander pitcher Jack Chesbro of Conway in his early years.
  • The Conway Mountain Mammas softball league from 1981. <br/>This was a women's league sponsored by Orchard Equipment and American Breeders Service.
  • Mike Haley hits an oversized ball with a broom for a bat from a pitch from Malcom Corse at the athletic fields behind the Conway Town Hall last year before last year's Chesbro Challenge.<br/>(Recorder file/Paul Franz)

CONWAY — Once Katrina Nields sings the “Star Spangled Banner” and Mike Haley says “Play Ball” Thursday, players will take to the field for the Chesbro Challenge, three games of “wacky baseball” that promise to become a Fourth of July tradition in Franklin County.

Baseball was always part of Independence Day celebrations, but the game was never like this. First, the players on the six teams are of all ages and sizes. And they won’t know, until they step up to the plate, whether they will be batting a Wiffle ball, a beachball, or a softball, and whether they will be wielding a tennis racket, a frying pan, or a baseball bat. Conway’s 250th committee, which organized the event, sees the Chesbro Challenge as a way to honor the town’s baseball history, reinvigorate its July Fourth celebration and also make some money for the town’s anniversary in 2017. The “Challenge” and related happenings start at 11 a.m. and end at 4 p.m.

Committee member Haley, formerly an assistant director for films like “Groundhog Day” and “Charlie Wilson’s War” will announce the games. The 72 players, on six teams such as the Skillets and the Rag Shags, will compete in three, three-inning games for a special trophy. Between games, spectators can test their skills in the egg toss, the water balloon toss, or the frog walk, and watch as coach Elizabeth Braccia leads her girls’ fast-pitch team in a demonstration.

T-shirts and hats will be on sale, as well as burgers, hot dogs, soda, and other refreshments, and beer in the Berkshire Brewing Co. b eer garden. There are raffle tickets for a range of prizes, from a pair of tickets to see the Red Sox play the Blue Jays, baseballs autographed by Tom Hanks and other film stars like Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Penny Marshall and Geena Davis, to services and gifts from local businesses. All proceeds go to support the town’s 250th.

Conway’s hall-of-famer

Pitcher Jack Chesbro came to Conway in 1904, having just pitched 41 wins in a single season for the New York Highlanders, the team that became the New York Yankees. Chesbro was one of the first spit ballers and the creator of a slow pitch called the floater. When he retired in 1912, he and his wife, a Conway native, bought a farm and raised chickens. Chesbro died in Conway in 1931, and is buried in Howland Cemetery. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.

Beside Happy Jack Chesbro, two Conway ball teams of the past will be honored Thursday: “The Mountain Mamas” of 1981, a woman’s fast-pitch softball team that competed around the county, and the town’s first Little League Team, which formed in 1958. According to former member Les Reed of South Deerfield, when a Conway batter got a hit, the crowd erupted in cheers, and those in cars honked their horns. Some former members of both teams will be present for the challenge.

Says Haley, “What I really see happening is a bringing together of this community. If it turns out to be as much fun as we think it’s going to be for everyone, Conway will then have a new tradition.”

The Independence Day celebration opens at 10 a.m. with the usual parade from the Masonic Lodge on Main Street to the library. Participants will meet at 9:30 a.m. at the Masonic Common. A musical program of patriotic songs will be led by Jack Ramey on the keyboard.

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