ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A heat wave is sweeping across a lot of the U.S. this week, from the central Plains to the East Coast. Swimsuits are more common than snowshoes in this weather, but you will find plenty of snowshoes in the Wisconsin town of Lake Tomahawk. Reporter Mackenzie Martin of member station WXPR explains why.
MACKENZIE MARTIN, BYLINE: When you drive into this town of just more than a thousand residents, a sign reads, welcome to Lake Tomahawk, home of snowshoe baseball. Yes, I'm talking about a game of baseball played on snowshoes, though in reality it more closely resembles a bizarre game of softball.
MARTIN: Every Monday night in the summer, and on the Fourth of July, hundreds of tourists and residents gather to cheer on players who strap on snowshoes and hit a large softball around a field of woodchips. This has been going on since 1961 when then town chairman Ray Sloan came up with the idea. An earlier version of the game was played on frozen lakes, hence the snowshoes.
Admission is free, but slices of homemade pie cost $2. And pie is a big deal here. On any given night, you can find 40 different flavors.
SHEILA PUNCHES: They say they come for the pie and stay for the game.
MARTIN: Sheila Punches has been coming to games since the 1970s, and she says pie is one way she measures its popularity.
PUNCHES: There was a time when 30 pies was enough. And then it was 40, 50, 60, 70. A hundred pies is not too many pies to have. I think somebody said they had 160 pies last week for the Fourth of July.
MARTIN: The game starts with a rendition of the national anthem by the local barbershop chorus.
UNIDENTIFIED BARBERSHOP CHORUS: (Singing) Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we...
MARTIN: Then two local commentators lead the way. In a recent game, someone takes a swing and misses the ball, then switches bats.
JIMMY SOYCK: Felt a little wind up here, Gunner (ph).
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SOYCK: It's the bat. It's the bat.
ADAM LAU: Always the bat's fault.
MARTIN: Then, when he does hit the ball, he trips right after leaving home plate.
MARTIN: This hilarious scene is all too common, especially for newer players. Longtime commentator Jimmy Soyck says you can't run in snowshoes. It's all in the shuffle.
SOYCK: You got to shuffle your feet. You can't pick them up. You pick them up, and you're going over - no ifs, ands or buts about it.
MARTIN: The game carries on this way until about the seventh inning, when one lucky batter gets a disguised cantaloupe thrown to him instead of a ball.
MARTIN: He makes contact and immediately scatters the baseball field with pieces of melon.
JEFF SMITH: When that thing hits, it splatters everywhere.
MARTIN: Jeff Smith coaches the home team, the Snow Hawks.
SMITH: And it's painted to look just like - pretty much like these balls there. And the batter's not supposed to know until he hits it, so (laughter).
MARTIN: It's easy to laugh at the idea of people playing softball in snowshoes in the middle of the summer, but it's part of this town's fabric. Residents like Macey Macintyre grew up watching this game.
MACEY MACINTYRE: You know it's the whole town because you see everybody week in and week out. It makes me just kind of love my town and the people in it a lot more.
MARTIN: So if you're in Wisconsin's Northwoods on a Monday night this summer, you can come watch snowshoe baseball in Lake Tomahawk. The season ends in late August.
For NPR News, I'm Mackenzie Martin.
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