Neither rainstorms nor threat of tornado has stopped the Bud Open 16-inch Softball Tournament in the past.
But on what was to be the tournament’s 40th anniversary, the event has met an opponent it can’t overcome: the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19, which has wiped out all kinds of events and disrupted so much of everyday life, tagged out this year’s Bud Open, which was scheduled for Friday through Sunday, June 19–21, at the Carroll Softball Complex.
Bob Fasbender, tournament director and Carroll City Softball president, and Jim Auen, president of Auen Distributing Co., which has sponsored the tournament throughout its history, decided last week to call off the event.
“We’re disappointed,” Auen said. “It would have been the 40th Bud Open, and it’s our 70th year of business, but the health and safety of fans and players are more important than softball games. Bob and I have had discussions about it, and we look forward to putting it together next year, so we have to deal with what we’re given here.”
Fasbender cited the difficulty of enforcing social-distancing guidelines and keeping players, fans and concession-stand volunteers safe. The state currently limits sporting-event gatherings to 10 people, which prohibits two teams on a softball field. Even if that order were relaxed soon, it would be too late to organize the tournament, according to Auen and Fasbender.
“There’s too much planning that goes into the Bud Open,” Auen said. “You have to find the teams, you have to find the volunteers.”
Fasbender and the late Dave Auen, Jim’s brother who was Auen Distributing president at the time, spearheaded the inaugural Bud Open in 1981.
Fasbender said the tournament has prevailed through all kinds of weather; however, it’s always been played. In 1996, a deluge of rain did force the crowning of co-champions: Graphic Edge of Carroll and the Electric Company of Des Moines.
Fasbender recalled one of the most challenging tournaments: “One year, we got rain on Friday and Saturday, and everything was rained out. So we played all the way through (Saturday night and Sunday morning). I remember games at 2, 3, 4 in the morning on the Little League field (then located near the current Des Moines Area Community College campus). It had rained so much it was foggy out. We had cars with their lights on around the field plus the lights that were there in order to keep playing. We got back on schedule Sunday morning. So we’ve always finished.”
Fasbender said the tournament’s long, proud history has made it a fun reunion event.
Auen noted that a new generation — sons of former players — now participate in the tournament.
“It started out as the brainchild of my brother Dave and Bob to bring a premier softball tournament to Carroll,” he said. “In 40 years, families have come through the system. Dads and sons have played.
“And we get so many positive comments about how Bob runs the tournament. The Carroll community has always treated (visiting fans and players) well. They love it. It’s been a positive thing because the tournament has been run so well by Bob, and the community has done a great job.
“The softball community should be thankful for Bob because of his promotion of softball. Granted, we need players and we need fans, but it’s a passion for Bob to keep it organized and keep it rolling. If it weren’t for Bob, we wouldn’t have the Bud Open this long.
“Teams come in, they have great playing surfaces, they have a well-organized tournament, and there’s a strong fan base in the community. That’s why it’s 40 years.”
The tournament field grew from 24 teams the first year in 1981 to a high of 34 in 2005 and still as many as 28 in 2009. However, the number of teams slipped to 17 last year as participation in softball — as in many other recreational sports — has declined nationwide.
With this year’s cancelation, Fasbender laments the loss of funds the tournament generates that’s enabled the Carroll City Softball Association to award scholarships to high school seniors every year since 1985. The number of recipients has ranged from two to 25.
“We’ve tried to honor as many (applicants) as we could,” Fasbender said.
He added, “You can’t afford to do the scholarships (because of the cancelation). I hate that. We’ll roll the scholarships over to next year.”
The tournament also has helped fund upkeep at improvements to the softball complex.
Auen Distributing works with many other summer events in its service territory, such as community celebrations, and Jim Auen said the Bud Open may not be the only one called off.
“We see uncertainty on how many events will be held this summer,” he said. “Within our market we have probably 25 special events, festivities, festivals. Right now we’re not hearing much from people, and there’s an uncertainty on whether they will occur.”
For his part, Fasbender said, “We’ve always gotten the Bud Open in no matter the conditions. But this is something you can’t control. Your hands are tied, and you can’t do anything about it. And you don’t want anybody to pick up the virus here. This is an important time in everybody’s life. Hopefully we have a good 40th next year.”