A treasured and favorite Bloomington summer tradition was an annual softball tournament. When softball began to gain popularity in Minnesota in the 1950s, some of Bloomington’s firefighters joined local leagues to play. The idea to begin a softball tournament dates to 1959 with Rollie Rueger, Bob Eglund and Clarence Kelly.
“At that time, the Bloomington Fire Department had probably one of the premier softball teams in the metro area, but they could never win a big tournament. They’d always come in second or third place,” retired firefighter, Pete Heger said. “They were good. So, they thought if they could have their own tournament, then they could finally win one.”
The first softball tournament took place at Legion Fields (which was then at 98th Street and Dupont Avenue), single elimination format. The event attracted 16 teams.
“And they came in second place,” Heger said. “It was still fun for the department.”
In 1962, the 4th annual softball tournament, the BFD made it to the finals, and lost in the championship. The event drew in 32 teams, making this the largest softball tournament in the state.
Since then, the softball tournament continued to grow. In 1969, the tournament pulled in 128 teams. For the first time, the tournament included a women’s division, and 16 women’s teams signed up. An admission fee was collected at 25 cents per game or $1 for a tournament pass, but that was dropped as no one paid the fee.
By 1973, the annual tournament was held at two locations—Dred Scott fields and Valley View fields—with 164 teams. In its 35th year, the ever-popular tournament attracted 25,000 spectators over the three-day event.
In 1996, the tournament was handed off to the new sponsor, Knights of Columbus. “It was a lot of work. It took a lot of people to put on the event. We’d have to run stand-by crews to make sure the city was covered for emergencies,” Heger said. “Jeff Barnes, who had been the tournament director since 1980, worked with the new sponsor to continue the tournament.” The softball tournament continues to this day in Bloomington.