Chris Sanders sat on a patch of grass near a softball field, a game being played in the background.
Wearing a Missouri black and gold jersey and cap with gray baseball pants, Sanders began stretching his hamstrings to prepare for his first game with the Missouri United Methodist Church’s softball team.
It’s a common sight at the Rainbow Softball Center at Cosmopolitan Park, where hundreds of players flock, along with their family and friends, on Sunday through Friday evenings.
The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department offers adult softball for men, women and coed teams.
Once a team signs up, it is classified into a league according to levels of competition. Leagues are grouped as Class B, Class C, Class D, Church or Senior.
Class B leagues are for experienced players with good athletic skills, Class C is for the moderately skilled players and Class D is for pure recreation. Church leagues are relegated to church members only while senior leagues are for players that are 50 years of age and older.
Sanders, a loan officer at Allied Mortgage Group, had played softball at the park in the past but was just getting back into the sport.
“My family and I just recently joined the church, so we’re trying to meet some people,” Sanders said.
The Rainbow Softball Center is a sprawling venue located in the southeast corner of Cosmopolitan Park. It has six softball fields arranged by color, which circle around a common area equipped with restrooms, a concession stand, picnic tables and four batting cages.
Just north of this area is a full playground set with slides and climbing tires, with an adjacent sand volleyball pit.
“It’s just a phenomenal complex out here and it just keeps getting better every year,” Sanders said.
On Sunday nights there is an array of people out at the park. Some people are lining up to get pitchers of beer at the concession stand while others are pushing children around in strollers, enjoying the sunny but breezy weather.
At every hour, mobs of people begin to leave their fields and the stands as a new crowd takes over. There is a parade of colors walking to and from the parking lot, people coming to play or to cheer on families and friends.
There are six games going on at any given time, and as many as 24 games per night. Each field offers something different.
Walking from field to field, it’s possible to see a routine fly ball dropped on one play only to see a nifty double play turned on a hard hit ball up the middle on the next.
Brad Blakemore plays on a family team called Tuffy his father-in-law sponsors. They play in a coed C league.
“On Sunday nights, it’s a lot of rec. Every team has a sprinkle of good players on it, but it’s not traveling competition,” said Blakemore, who used to play for a traveling softball team in tournaments around the Midwest.
“We played at a higher level, so this is more practice, get your swings in, or a recreational-type situation,” he said.
Sanders said he also just played for fun, but that the competition was available if wanted.
“It really depends on how competitive you want to be,” Sanders said. “The coed league is not as competitive as your A and B leagues, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great time for everyone to come out here and get a little exercise and support the team they’re playing for.”
Heather Wright, who plays for Spanky’s Sports Zone, has experience playing competitive softball, but she enjoys the leagues at the softball center as well. She just got back from a tournament in St. Louis with a traveling team before her team was set to play in the coed C league.
“For the most part, most of us are out here to have fun,” Wright said. “But there’s like three or four teams that are probably all right in there together, playing for the first spot.”
Chris Sanders plays shortstop for Missouri United Methodist Church.
The church league is coed, which makes for different rules. Each team consists of five females and five males, and the batting order alternates sexes down the line-up.
United Methodist took a 13-run lead into the bottom of the 5th inning, where a variety of errors and walks helped Christian Chapel to a comeback. Christian Chapel scored nine runs before the game finally ended on a groundout to the pitcher. United Methodist won 22-18.
Christian Chapel ran onto the field and celebrated at home plate after the close loss, prompting a bystander to ask if they had won.
Summing up the overall emotion at the Rainbow Softball Center, a member of the team yelled out, “No, but we feel like we did!”