By Kevin Wilson
Umpire Walter Lewis jokingly refers to it as, “the boondocks.” Though outside of the city, the Custom Classic bracket refers to it as “Portales.”
Its real name is Industrial Park, but it might as well be called the battlefield. Teams come here because they have to, and their only mission is to leave alive in the Custom Classic softball tournament
This is the 20th time the Custom Classic has been held, but the eighth time as a two-city tournament. Since the time the four softball fields at Industrial Park have been built, Portales has played home to a segment of the double-elimination tournament.
In this case, the fields normally used for Portales church softball are the home to losers’ bracket games.
“You come down here, this is your last chance,” said Lance Langan, one of four tournament directors for the Custom Classic. “You’ve got to win.”
Langan has been a director for six years, and 2003 marks his third-straight time as the director responsible for the games in Portales — the other tournament directors are at Guy Leeder Softball Complex or the Bob Spencer Complex in Clovis.
Langan’s responsibility covers 56 games in the tournaments. Part of that responsibility is to communicate with the other directors via cell phone to fill out each bracket — to let them know who’s in and who’s out. In return, Langan is told who to expect in later games.
The fields are more than 20 miles apart, but it feels like 2,000. The fields are different, and so is the atmosphere.
Following a game between the Strokers and Whiskey Stix, Lewis goes up to a fan and clarifies a call he made earlier. Lewis insists it’s something he does in any situation, but it’s obvious that the smaller crowds help make both fans and umpires more approachable.
The atmosphere is a study in polar opposites. On one end, the smaller area and lack of constant music make it more laid-back. On the other side of the spectrum, it’s a pressure situation because the loser of each game has the rest of the weekend freed up.
Just like the atmosphere, the playing conditions differ from the tournament’s original starting (and ending) point of Clovis.
“You’ve got your adverse conditions,” Langan said. “It’s hotter, for one thing. There aren’t any trees, so wind is (more of) a problem. You play with much tougher conditions than you do under Guy Leeder with the plush green fields.”
The losers’ bracket is also longer. A team in Class D could play up to 10 games just to get out of the bracket — a team that stays in the winners’ bracket could be to the title game in as few as five games.
“You don’t want to be here initially and you don’t want it to end here,” said Greg Garcia, the captain of Da Dawgs. Garcia’s team, last year’s fifth-place finisher in Class E, ended up in Portales after a first-round loss to Knockaround Guys. Da Dawgs stayed alive with a 24-4 victory over Brew Crew — one of several games where two teams from Clovis end up meeting in Portales.
Despite its problems on the surface, everybody involved is thankful for Portales’ fields. Without them, a tournament the size of the Custom Classic is a laughable concept. With a 20-team increase from last year’s tournament draw, Industrial Park became that much more important.
“it’s helped us out a bunch,” Langan said. “This year, we’ve had to accommodate 130 teams and without these fields, we wouldn’t be able to do that.”
While Portales helps out Clovis, Clovis helps Portales. Larry Urioste, the director of Portales’ church softball league, worked the concession stand on Saturday like he does every Monday and Tuesday during the summer. Saturday’s schedule includes nearly twice the games that a week of church league softball does, so the profits for the concession stand also rise.
“It’s a lot busier,” Urioste said with a laugh. Urioste added that the money collected from concessions will help defray the costs of additions such as scoreboards for each field.
“I’m tickled to death to be able to help them,” said tournament organizer Roger Jackson, “but in return they’re helping me also.”
Jackson, who has been involved with the tournament since its inception, stresses the economic impact the tournament has on both cities, mainly in the form of hotel and restaurant profits. In no uncertain terms, he’s glad the tournament has a home in Portales.
“I personally am very proud that Portales is a participant,” Jackson said. “They’re not just a sub-city — they’re their own entity.”