For six weeks, local farmer Dave Johnson worked through a tough harvest to get Elysian West Field ready for the softball tournament. With bases made of corn seed bags and a fence made of hay, Johnson fashioned the field from a piece of flat land, never before tilled, near the base of Heart Mountain.
“It was a long, drawn-out harvest, but he worked nights and weekends to get it done,” said Ken Borcher, Johnson’s father-in-law.
While clouds hid the game day’s mountain view and a cold breeze blew through makeshift dugouts, players — some dressed in mud boots — didn’t let the weather stop their fun or the chance to honor the Debbie Borcher Memorial Park Softball Tournament’s namesake. The field, a work of art, had a welcoming feel.
In the first game, The Sod Busters beat the Boat Anchors 11-10 to move to the winners’ bracket. In celebration, Sod Buster infielder Ken Borcher pointed to the heavens after the game and said, “That was for you, Debbie.”
Debbie Borcher died on June 10. She and Ken had just celebrated 46 years of marriage. The Borchers’ daughter, Erin Johnson (who is married to Dave), is using proceeds from the tournament and a previous fundraiser to build a park to honor her mother. The park will be adjacent to Gestalt Studios at the Polar Plant — which Erin and Dave Johnson own — in the old Blair’s parking lot, near the corner of Douglas and Park streets.
Despite losing the first game (and losing pitcher Frank Fagan on a line drive to the forehead that required 16 stiches), the Boat Anchors fought their way to the championship game. They faced the undefeated OFKYABDs team from Red Lodge. Yes, it is a naughty acronym.
The players from Red Lodge doubled and tripled the average age of the Anchor players — many of whom were in their early teens. But OFKYABDs had their own struggles. A star of the team, Ivan Kosorok, had to leave after their first game after learning a family member suffered a medical emergency back home. Kosorok hit a solo homer over the left field hay bale wall during the team’s first game.
In the championship game, Heath Wostell hit a grand slam home run to put OFKYABDs up 11-5 on the Boat Anchors in the top of the sixth inning. The Boat Anchors, unwilling to give up, didn’t score in the bottom of the inning but held OFKYABDs scoreless in the top of the final inning, inspired on a diving catch on a foul tip for the first out by Ethan Melton.
The Boat Anchors chipped away at the lead in the bottom of the seventh, but were unable to overcome the six-run deficit. OFKYABDs beat the Boat Anchors 11-10 to win a handmade red, white and blue championship trophy.
“We stuck together despite family emergencies and injuries,” said Andy Simpson, team coach.
All involved hope the charity tournament will be continued next year — even Dave Johnson, who worked tirelessly to put the field together. Some even talked of a second field to accommodate more teams.
“This year it worked out time-wise,” Johnson said. “I’d love to make it an annual event.”
The field was named for Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, believed to be the site of the first organized baseball game. Dave Johnson is a New Jersey native. Elysian is also the final resting place of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous in Greek mythology.
Funds from the tournament will be used for improvements to the park property. They’ll install a sprinkler system and start growing grass, Johnson said.