19 years in an LGBT Softball League (Story)
John (far left, middle row) has been in an LGBT softball league for 19 years now. From making it far in the World Series to coaching a team for a couple years, he's experienced a lot with this sports community. He wanted to take some time to share his experiences about how joining an LGBT league helped him grow and how he became part of this new found family.
This is John's story.
What an amazing year of softball!!! I have been trying to process so much since our last game ended. It was an incredible year for our league. Being named the best Minnesota softball league by our local CBS TV station, having four teams play on championship Saturday at the Gay Softball World Series (GSWS) and the Steel winning the C division and breaking the twenty year Twin Cities Goodtime Softball League (TCGSL) drought. Having battled along side many of them for many years, trying to achieve the same goal, and falling slightly short on several occasions, I am thrilled to see each team pull out hard fought victories.
My own team, the Twin Cities Freak, also had an incredible year taking second in the B division. I have been with this group for four years and coaching them the last three. We have experienced many highs along with a few lows. When a group of friends put their blood, sweat and tears into pursuing a lofty goal a special camaraderie forms. Each person wants the same ultimate goal but having different ideas in how to reach it. It takes listening, compromise and trust when it might not be either warranted or desired. It also involves taking a leap of faith to overcome what might appear to be insurmountable obstacles, as well as the commitment to examine oneself to put egos on the sidelines and contribute more both on and off the field.
Our team didn't always accomplish these formidable goals, but certainly did more often than not. The group itself changed periodically, as some left and others joined. The mission was never easy and the fit wasn't always right. But the group adapted, the culture was refined, the team soldiered on with big goals in mind. It took us a couple of years to truly believe, as we cautiously talked in code words like "expect big things," "let's make this our year." If we hadn’t encountered an Austin team that executed their plan slightly better, we would have reached our ultimate destination. However, second place was never something I thought we could accomplish when we started this adventure.
Second place is an ambivalent position. Better than virtually everyone else but not quite victorious. What could we have done differently? What could I have done differently or said? It's easy to forget all the amazing things everyone did to get you there.
After a few weeks I'm realizing we did win. Won a lot. We won an understanding of what it takes to be great, how to achieve it, that each of us have the ability to achieve a goal that exceeded our wildest dreams. While this was just a game with a small yellow ball, a few white bases and some sweaty guys yelling and running around, it was so much more to me. For me, this team, along with my nineteen years of playing has been life changing. I started as a timid, socially awkward, barely out of the closest gay man trying to figure out my life. I never considered myself an athlete. What did it mean to be gay? When I first joined a spring practice at the Bryn Mawr fields in 2000, I wasn't sure what to expect. My mind envisioned a bunch of feminine guys running around in skirts screaming like little girls. I couldn't have been more wrong. It was just some "regular" guys hitting the crap out of the ball. They were welcoming and encouraging. They showed me a lot including that being gay doesn't exclude you from being a great athlete.
This group of guys and league became my family, which has been so crucial to me as I lost the family I grew up with when I came out. Having a chosen family to provide countless examples and role models that broke every homophobic negative stereotype and battle I faced allowed me to overcome that obstacle.
In 2007, my partner and the other rock in my life suffered a debilitating stroke that left him in the hospital for a month. It robbed him of the life he knew and thrust me into a new role of caregiver. It turned our worlds upside down. My softball family was there for me and helped us find a new normal.
As the chapter of Freak softball comes to a close, there are so many to thank who helped make this happen. Everyone that has worn the Freak jersey, thank you for helping us on the journey, you contributed whether you know it or not, while we may not be on the same softball team next year I consider us still working together to accomplish goals that far exceed anything on the field.
The significant others of the players and fans, thank you for sitting through spring snowflakes, sultry humid summer days and long tournaments with either record rainfall or large forest fires to cheer to support and console us.
Also I would be remiss if I did not thank the many people who give countless unseen hours to allow the players to play the sport they love and build these critical life long friendships.
As I look to the future I realize life will throw more inevitable obstacles. However, I know have a tribe that will support this still socially awkward guy and this proud openly gay athlete will support them too.
John, proud TCGSL athlete