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Catching Up: Some ups, some downs for homeless shelter’s softball teams

August 12, 2018

The only win they had notched so far was by forfeit, but the Street Pulse Sluggers and Beacon Eagles still managed to field enough players for most games.

That’s no small feat when about the only home some players can count on from week to week is home plate.

The Sluggers and Eagles -- men’s and coed teams, respectively -- were made up of members of Madison’s homeless community, the formerly homeless and advocates for ending homelessness. They were sponsored in part by Madison’s Downtown homeless resource center, The Beacon, and wrapped up their seasons this month after play began in May.

Last week, manager and chief organizer Mike O’Neill said he wasn’t immediately interested in coming back for an encore next year.

“The whole thing was difficult because a number of the people being unreliable in terms of coming or not coming, he said. “Right this minute I wouldn’t do it again.”

Getting people without permanent homes to games often means getting people without reliable transportation to games, and that was a constant problem, he said.

And yet there were bright spots.

O’Neill said that without one player’s van to take players to games, “we couldn’t have survived,” and “a number of people made great effort just to get to these games.”

There was also little sign on the field of any of the mental illness or substance abuse common among the homeless, he said, although a pitcher did at one point bring a beer with him to the mound.

The Catholic Charities-run Beacon resource center also sponsored a trip to a Madison Mallards game for the Eagles, where one of the team’s most consistent players, JoJo Frieson, was honored.

“He threw out the first ball and he really did a good job,” O’Neill said.

Jackson Fonder, a player and head of Catholic Charities of Madison, said the Eagles “might not be remembered in the 2018 season as one of the best teams based on their record.”

“But in my opinion, it was a team that had fun, developed skills, formed friendships and brought a lot of heart to each game,” he said.

He said the homeless “tend to isolate themselves,” and “the chance to be part of a team encourages working together and cooperation.”

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