Back in 2002, Tom Franke and Patrick Murphy, two men with Chicago roots, were talking one evening about 16-inch softball. The game is a form of slow pitch softball popularized and played for years on playgrounds and parks throughout Chicago.

Patrick Murphy is flanked by Archbishop Jerome Listecki (left) and Bishop Jeff Haines.

“We were having dinner one night and we were both reminiscing about how that’s all we did in the summertime, and we jointly said, ‘Yeah, we ought to have a game to commemorate that,’” Murphy recalled. “So, I took the ball and got it started that very year.”

This year, the Sixteen Inch Society will celebrate their 16th annual softball game on Sunday, June 11, 2017 at LaFollette Park, 9418 W. Washington St., Milwaukee. The game will start at 1 p.m. with Auxiliary Bishop Jeff Haines delivering the first pitch.

Beginning with the very first game, it was decided that the annual event should benefit a Milwaukee charity that had a Chicago connection. Past organizations include Pius XI High School, St. Ben’s Meal Program, House of Peace, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and Open Door Café at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Together, more than $156,000 has been raised since 2002.

This year’s event benefits St. Catherine’s Residence, which is part of Mercy Housing, Milwaukee, a 501(c)(3) organization. The mission of St. Catherine’s, located on the lower East side of Milwaukee, is to ensure safe, affordable and supportive housing to low-income women of diverse talents with special needs.  The Chicago connection is Mark Angelini, the president of Mercy Housing in Milwaukee, who was born and raised near the west side of Chicago.

While organizing the annual game might seem like a huge undertaking, it really isn’t that challenging when you have a few friends willing to lend a hand.

“It wasn’t difficult to organize the first game because there were some good people who had a similar interest that I was able to get involved right away,” Murphy remembered. “For example, there was a fellow who grew up in Chicago who worked at Robert W. Baird and Co., and so they handled the finances, and have been doing that since day one.”

Larry Kenny, a former Milwaukee County Supervisor,  who also worked for the Milwaukee County Parks Department, is still their “go-to” guy for all things field-related.

“Larry also was originally from Chicago, and was interested in helping in the society,” Murphy explained. “He helped with the logistics of getting the field, the permits, the bats and bases, and still does that today.”

Martino’s is also a well-known name within the Sixteen Inch Society. Located at 1215 W. Layton Ave., Milwaukee, it specializes in Chicago-style hot dogs and is a must-have for an authentic 16-inch softball game, according to Murphy. The restaurant underwrites all food for the day, with spectators and players alike giving free-will donations that go directly to the charity.

“One hundred percent of what anyone donates goes to that year’s charity,” he said. “We take nothing off the top. Any expenses that we incur, (the Sixteen Inch Society) takes on that expense ourselves.”

The annual game is more than just a few enjoyable hours on the field, said Murphy. While the first game attracted about 40 people, it has now brought out more than 100 people looking to experience an aspect of their childhoods again.

“When the game first started, some of the first people who showed up were playing catch and warming up for the game, and had tears in their eyes as they held the ball,” Murphy said. “If you yourself had never experienced the game before, you will be in for a treat.   If you were a kid growing up in Chicago, that’s what you did in the summertime.”