"Good game, good game." (Photo courtesy Ben Shimon)
With no shortage of summer softball leagues on the North Side of Chicago, S3 Singles Softball focuses on exactly what its name says: single people. It’s a league designed to maximize the opportunities for people ages 21-39 to meet, make new friends and possibly find that person who will never let them play singles softball again.
The idea, according to founder and league coordinator Ben Shimon, 27, was to force people to meet each other.
“For a lot of leagues, it can be tough to get enough people to form a team,” Shimon said. “We take care of that.”
Players sign up either by themselves or with a friend (i.e. wingman or wingwoman) and Shimon constructs the teams randomly, dividing 470 men and women evenly. Teams are matched approximately by age and neighborhood as often as possible. Following games, all teams congregate at the same bar rather than branching away to separate drinking establishments. This method encourages fraternization.
“I was new to the city when I joined in the summer of ’09, and some of my best friends in the city are from that summer,” said player Jimmy Kimball, a 30-year-old accountant. “Softball definitely gets you there, but it’s the carrot. You end up hanging out after the games and on the weekends.”
Shimon pointed out that it’s not only a way to start potential romantic encounters, but also it’s for people to start up platonic relationships.
“If you’re a single guy or girl and you don’t have a lot of friends in Chicago yet, it’s just a good way to make friends,” he said.
Nora Cay Ryan, 33, agreed wholeheartedly.
“No, I have not met the man of my dreams,” she joked. “But it’s to the point now where I hang out more with softball people than my old group of friends, who are all having babies or in relationships.”
Ryan said part of the league’s appeal is that she gets to meet a lot of people who are in the same situation — as in, people who aren’t ready for the babies yet — and that this commonality makes for fast and easy friendships.
“I know I’m not the only single person left in the city of Chicago,” she said.
The league has become popular enough that Shimon has already filled all the spots for the current season (though he said this doesn’t mean spots don’t open up at the last minute). He’s already started a sister league in New York City and a bowling league at Diversey Bowling as well.
The league plays at Oz Park and Wrightwood Park, and local bars sponsor T-shirts and post-game festivities.
Shimon, who basically runs the entire league himself and claims to have come up with the model on a bar napkin after quitting his job, sees possibilities for expansion in the future.
“People keep the friends they make in the league,” he said. “What more can you ask for?”