Chances are, if you are in a room of former Northside softball players talking about the teams they were on, the guys they had played with, and the leagues and tournaments they played in, Portage Park would surely be mentioned. Portage Park is well represented in the 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame with numerous players, managers and teams inducted throughout the years.
Named for a major portage linking the Des Plaines and Chicago Rivers along what is today known as Irving Park Road and Central. The Northwest side park served as a focal point for recreational opportunities in surrounding communities. Portage also claims a part of international history as the host of the 1959 Pan American Games swimming events and the US Swimming Time Trials for the 1972 Summer Olympics.
In addition to the baseball and softball diamonds, football and soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, the park has a Gymnasium Building, Fieldhouse, indoor and outdoor pools, a Wood Shop, community rooms, children’s playground, dog park and green space for passive recreation.
In 1946, with soldiers returning from the War, a traveling 16-inch Adult Softball league was formed between Portage and Riis Parks, with 4 teams from each community. The leagues quickly grew to four nights a week, with the teams sponsored by local politicians, businesses and organizations. Softball thrived at the park as local teams like the Cullerton All Stars, Kiwanis and C Davis Rentals continued to be the main participants through the 1960’s.
Portage Park “A” and “B” leagues were formed and became the alternate nights for the Clarendon Park leagues in the early 1970’s. Over the next 20 years, legendary teams could be found at the park, including Lyons 45’s, Playboys, Bobcats, Circus, Stones, Rollers, Leprechauns, Road Runners, Registers, Scrappers, Bakers, High Times, Baggers, Woodmen of the World, Laborers, J Birds, Scorpions, Takers, Spoilers, Fusion, Alley, Jets, Lickers, 3rd Generation, Pipe, Wedge, Neighborly Inn, Lockwood Tap, Six Pack, Black Jacks, Drifters and Aces – just to name a few!
By the 1980’s, Portage was running 3 tournaments a year: a 16-inch Team Open Tournament, a “B” League Tournament, and an 8 Team Invitational. Stompers, Whips, Rollers, Runts, Playboys, Stones, Blues, Safari Tigers, Taggers, High Times and Jesters were some of the premiere teams at those invitationals.