Snowshoe baseball began about 50 years ago as a winter endeavor.
LAKE TOMAHAWK, Wis. — It should have been an easy single.
After hitting a slow dribbler up the third-base line, the batter turned to run toward first base. Two steps into the sprint — OK, more of a waddle — the batter fell flat on his face. Out!
The batter didn’t look embarrassed. Nearly everyone takes a tumble while playing a brand of baseball unique to Lake Tomahawk, where the people love to watch baseball with a twist. Players wear caps, shorts and T-shirts emblazoned with their team logo — and they wear snowshoes.
They bat and pitch in snowshoes; they run and field in snowshoes. And spectators wait for the spectacular tumbles.
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Lake Tomahawk is so proud of its snowshoe-baseball league, it’s emblazoned on the community’s welcome signs.
The sport started about 50 years ago as a winter endeavor.
“The town decided to have a snowshoe league in the wintertime among the taverns and different groups. They wanted to get more people involved because in the winter there isn’t a heck of a lot of things to do,” said Jeff Smith, third baseman for the Lake Tomahawk Snohawks.
Years ago, it transitioned from winter to summer, from snow to wood chips on the town’s baseball diamond, next to the American Legion hall and fire department. Hundreds of spectators show up for the Monday night games.
Craig Holmquist has been the team’s pitcher for a decade.
“This is good for the community. I save seats for my family to come and watch. It’s the way sports are meant to be,” Holmquist said as he strapped on his snowshoes. “We’re not here to win. We’re here to compete and have fun.”
After a brief downpour, the Snohawks and a team from The Brick restaurant stood on the base paths as the announcer read the starting lineups, followed by a recording of the national anthem. Spectators spread blankets, plastic garbage bags and boat cushions on the metal bleachers.
Volunteers walked through the crowd selling tickets.
Umpires Ron Olson and Larry Schinke, brothers-in-law from nearby Rhinelander, took their positions at home plate and first base. Years ago they played snowshoe baseball on snow. Now they call all the games.
“We don’t get much lip,” Olson said.
“That’s because we don’t make any bad calls,” Schinke added.
With only one diamond set up with wood chips, the Snohawks are always the home team. Lake Tomahawk supplies snowshoes and the large yellow balls that are caught barehanded.
The key to running in snowshoes is making sure heels are down and toes are up, otherwise it’s easy to take a tumble, said Bryan Jacquest, the Snohawks second baseman.
“When batting you need to use more hips and less legs. Fielding is harder, too — your range is completely different,” said Jacquest.
While the concession stand features the usual ballpark fare — hot dogs, bratwurst, soda — Lake Tomahawk snowshoe baseball is known for its homemade pies in a variety of flavors made by community members. They’re sold for $2 a slice with a free dollop of whipped cream.
All proceeds go to the community organization operating the concession stand at that game. Last year the community raised money to bring the Wounded Warriors Softball Team for a game and sent the team of Iraq and Afghan veterans home with a $60,000 donation.
“You can’t believe how well-known the pies are. People come from all over; it’s something that’s been done here for years,” Joyce Hopp said as she finished off a slice of cherry cheesecake.
An inning ends when a team scores five runs.
On this night, the Snohawks won, 24-8. At the end of the game, teams exchange hand shakes and high-fives. Then they trudge off the diamond, still wearing their snowshoes.