86ers don’t win often but they’ve never lost their spirit
“Did we win?” Erik Van Assche jokingly asked as the referee called the game Monday night.
The rest of his men’s league softball team got a kick out of the comment. They most certainly did not win. The 86ers don’t win.
The team now known as the 86ers have been around for a decade. They are a ragtag group of snowboarders, beer aficionados, fathers, friends and co-workers. In the past, they’ve been known as Ball 4 and the Sports Stix. This year, they have new jerseys, sponsored by The Barley, and a new name.
“(The term) ‘86’ is a restaurant term, usually people use it when you’re out of something,” said Barley owner and team sponsor Justin Keys. “We use it for when we don’t let people back in. You’re 86ed. We thought it was funny.”
The name appears on the left breast of the team’s green and white collared jerseys. On the back, they have numbers below “The Barley” written across their shoulders. The jerseys unify a group of guys who come from all over. Some are locals; some are new to the Yampa Valley. Some work together, but some are just friends with one player and are getting to know everyone else.
“I think it’s hilarious,” team captain Bernie Tomassetti said. “We’re kind of like the misfits because most people in the league take it extremely seriously. … But it’s men’s beer league softball. We’re just here to have a good time, drink some beers and laugh and try to be competitive.”
The general manager: Bernie Tomassetti
About 10 years ago, Tomassetti and his longtime friend Ben Sarri roped together some friends and formed a men’s league softball team. Sarri moved to Tennessee about a year ago, though, leaving Tomassetti as the captain, general manager and recruiter.
“It’s just kind of an excuse to get the guys together, to have fun, to hang out,” said Tomassetti, who owns Powder Tools. “To get everybody out of the house and try to pull hamstrings.”
It also served as an excuse to see his employees and friends he normally only sees at work in the winter. Isaiah Martin is assistant general manager at Powder Tools during the winter but runs a landscaping company during the summer and lives in North Routt. If it wasn’t for softball, Tomassetti and Martin wouldn’t see each other much during the summer.
This year, the team has struggled a bit with numbers since some players are dealing with injuries. Two minutes before Monday’s game was supposed to start, just five 86ers were in attendance, half the number needed to take the field. The team wasn’t too worried, though. Everyone has an as-long-as-the-cooler-shows-up mentality.
They’ve always been that way. A few years ago, the team won back-to-back championships, and other teams were seriously irritated.
“Some of the teams that are extremely serious, a lot of them played AAA ball, or pro ball or Division I baseball their whole lives, and they’re really competitive. They would just try to hit home runs all day long,” Tomassetti said. “We’re not that team. We’re a bunch of average-sized dudes who play small ball. We hit the ball and get on base and run. People didn’t really know how to stop that.”
The veteran: Nick Hebel
Hebel is one in a small core of players who have been on the team for years, alongside Martin, Travis Mathey, Brian Roe and Drew Stachnik. During his five years on the team, Hebel’s seen the 86ers win back-to back championships in the late 2010s.
Back then, the team went by the name the Sports Stix, which came from a player they called “Easy Steve,” who notoriously chain smoked throughout the evening.
“He thought he was an athlete. We were like, ‘Give this guy a sports stix,’” Tomassetti said.
Hebel was happy about the jersey update. He wasn’t a fan of having a cigarette on his shirt. Hebel’s also seen the team endure some rough years, like this one, when wins are hard to come by.
Erik Van Assche
Going into Monday, the team was 1-7 with three weeks left in the season. They don’t mind losing, but the one win was motivation to get another.
“Winning is great,” Hebel said. “We get pumped. Everyone’s getting animated and piles on each other and makes sure everyone’s doing well.”
Hebel hopes this group can stick together for a while and can develop into another championship squad.
“(We’re) fun. New and fun,” he said. “Hopefully, it’ll turn into old and fun.”
The sponsor: Justin Keys
Keys pulled up to Adams Field with a six pack of beer from The Barley. Each beer is wrapped in its own koozie to keep it cold in the early evening warmth. Keys doesn’t play for the team, but a lot of his employees do. He prefers to watch, drink a few beers and hang out with the team after games conclude.
Keys got involved with the team through Tomassetti, whom he’s known for 20 years. Keys grew up with Tomassetti’s wife and served as a bridesmaid in their wedding. Now, he sponsors the 86ers.
“They have a lot of heart. They just want to play, want to have a good time,” Keys said of the team. “They obviously want to win, but that’s not what it’s really about. It’s about getting together once a week and seeing everybody. Being a team means a lot more than the competition itself.”
Keys is one of a few regular fans who show up every Monday, including Sarri’s dad, Mike. Sarri is no longer in Steamboat, but Mike will always cheer on the team.
The newbies: Chad Oliver, Triplett, Erik Van Assche
With some of the original team members moving away or getting injured, 2021 is a bit of a rebuilding year for the 86ers. There are many first-year players, including Griffin Triplett. Triplett was convinced to join by his real estate broker, Matt Kaufmann, who helped Triplett and his wife buy a condo when they moved to town two years ago.
Chad Oliver and Erik Van Assche were snowboarders sponsored by Powder Tools. Their buddies at the snowboard shop convinced them to fill some holes on the team this summer.
Oliver is the obvious newcomer. He plays behind the plate, where he sees little action, and he wears jeans. Early in Monday night’s first game he slid to the plate, tearing the knee on his pants for, apparently, not the first time.
“If it’s good enough for Benny the Rock, it’s good enough for me,” he said.
Oliver doesn’t get a ton of action while fielding, but he has tons of practice at the plate.
“The last time he played ball like this was T-ball,” said mom Simonne Oliver. “He has no idea what he’s doing.”
Chad Oliver admits the same thing. He’s a boarder, not a ball player. He still gives it everything he’s got.
“You got to give it 100% every day,” he said. “Every day, 100%.”
“It’s fun doing things you suck at,” Van Assche said.
“It’s true,” Oliver said.
Oliver is definitely getting better, though. He’s making contact more often and making big plays for his team. After a rough game one Monday, the 86ers led throughout the second game. Oliver heavily contributed with a triple that scored two runs in his team’s second win of the season. The team is now 2-8 with two weeks left in the regular season.
The squad gathered on the grass after the win, packed up the coolers, swapped cleats for sneakers, then headed to The Barley.
The 86ers are a self-proclaimed band of misfits in the men’s softball league. They are bad at winning but good at downing beers and having a good time. They are special in some ways and extremely ordinary in others. pic.twitter.com/WuWibSJVSo— Shelby Reardon (@ByShelbyReardon) July 13, 2021
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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