By Dan Hardenbrook
If Mike Stephenson builds it, will they come?
Stephenson has been instrumental in keeping adult softball leagues alive in Newberry, all while helping with care and maintenance of the softball fields.
The EUP Men’s Softball League brings together athletes, current and former, for some friendly competition every Monday night at Luce County Softball Park on M-28. The league is the passion and brainchild of Stephenson, a Newberry native and current league president.
He launched the local league in 2016. “I used to play for years over in the Soo,” Stephenson said. “I got tired and worn down from travelling all of the time to play so I decided to bring a league here.”
The initial response was great. Several local players who travelled for league games and tournaments jumped at the chance to play with their friends and family here at home. At its peak there were several teams from Newberry, with both men’s and co-ed leagues, and tournaments.
Lower numbers in recent years and a shortened season last summer due to Covid have presented challenges. Stephenson and the group are hopeful that they can overcome those challenges and keep playing games in town.
There are three teams playing this summer, with nearly 50 players in the league. Each team has roughly 15 players on their roster, and most teams are sponsored by local businesses. Players range from right out of school to into their 50s. Teams feature fathers and sons, brothers, cousins, and long time friends. The league used to require players to be 18 and up but has made exceptions to accommodate all ages. This year’s league features players that have just finished the eighth and ninth grade.
“Truth be told, we would love to have more teams and build things back up,” Stephenson said. “I can remember weekends where we would have upwards of 20 teams here. I would like to bring back our annual tournament on Fathers Day weekend. We had 13 men’s teams and seven co-ed teams a few years back. That is what I envision. It’s part of why we built a third field to have ready to use.”
Now in its sixth summer of huge swings, the EUP Softball League is still all about having fun and hanging out, staying in shape, and enjoying some friendly and sometimes fierce competition.
The season runs all summer long and usually wraps up in late August. When the season’s over, the league declares an overall champion. The winning team gets a trophy, and players are given shirts.
Stephenson has been a player, coach, manager, and has organized all of the details and operations for the league. One of his biggest projects has been upkeep at the M-28 fields, which are now some of the best softball fields in the region.
“It really is a nice complex. With the work we have done we now have three fields in really good shape,” Stephenson said. “All of it is in a close location. It’s a great place to play. I think this could be a great facility for other events too.”
Field work included bringing in dirt and improving the playing surface. The infield was completely built back up, and in recent years dugouts were painted and a warning track was put in on the main field.
“I do a lot of the field maintenance,” he said. “Mowing grass, chalking lines, checking on the facility.” It’s like my own ‘Field of Dreams’. I like to think like the movie says. If you build it they will come.”
The league is still open to everyone. “I want people to keep coming out and having a good time,” Stephenson said. “Some guys just want to drink, hangout, and play ball with their buddies; others do it to stay in shape. It can be competitive or fun. We really try to work with everyone.”
For more information, you can follow the EUP Softball League on Facebook or contact Mike Stephenson. His number is (906) 322-6962.
The league is hoping to host a co-ed tournament in town the weekend of July 10 and is looking for interested teams.