Volume 74, Number 30 | December 01 - 07, 2004

Gay softball: A (nonexclusive) league of their own

By Judith Stiles

Jerry of the Barracudas team at bat
“Did you know that the Gay Softball World Series is the largest annual sporting event in North America?” boasts Lon Berger, commissioner of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association. He adds “this World Series includes teams representing leagues from 27 cities, 150 teams that qualify for the World Series and over 10,000 softball players across North America.” By all estimates this translates into 16,000 jobs for people supporting these leagues from cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Baltimore, Providence, Portland, Montreal, Vancouver, B.C., Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa and more.

Move over rabid soccer fans in England, gay softball has arrived in London, too. There is a league called the Rainbow Raiders based in London.

A member of NAGAAA,The Big Apple Softball League, New York City’s gay and lesbian softball league, is open to all persons regardless of age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or playing ability. It is a highly organized, community-based league that has been in existence for 28 years. BASL not only provides very competitive and recreational divisions for people over 18 years old, it is also a nonprofit organization that gives back to the community. BASL has a major fundraising engine that supports numerous community, nonprofit groups such as Equity Fights Aids and Life Beat. All board members and administrators are strictly volunteers who among other things have the common bond of loving softball and organized sports.

“And no, you do not have to be gay to play,” says Al Messia, manager for the BASL Barbarians team. “We don’t discriminate based on age either, but you have to go to the tryouts and make a team,” he adds, pointing out that one of their divisions includes a first-rate pitcher in his mid-80s; a strike-out maestro who still loves to play the game. Several players in the recreational Division D are in their 60s, and almost 30 percent of players in the B, C and D Divisions are women, while the A Division sports several athletes who played at very high levels in college and even semipro ball.

Messia adds that “gay, lesbian, straight, transgender, bisexual or whatever, you are welcome in this league.” A common theme among these adult softball players is that when they played ball in high school or college, many did not enjoy an atmosphere of inclusiveness or tolerance about being gay or lesbian.

The Big Apple Softball League prides itself in providing a positive softball environment for not only gays and lesbians but also straight men and women, people of color, as well as players over 55 years old, if they choose to play in this league.

“We strive for the highest level of play, the highest level of sportsmanship, the highest level of integrity and the highest level of diversity and tolerance in our organization. We seek nothing less,” says Pamela Dunnam, commissioner of the Women’s Division at NAGAAA.

When most leagues have put away their bats and gloves for the winter, BASL is gearing up to send teams to prestigious tournaments such as the Orlando Meltdown Tournament in Florida on Jan. 15-16, or the Gasparilla Softball Classic in Tampa, Feb. 19-20.

The spring season tryouts are scheduled to begin March 28 and the details can be found on the Web site, www.BigAppleSoftball.com. The league boasts over 28 teams and 500 players, but unfortunately since 2001 there have been cutbacks in field space allocated for games and “we might have to turn players away,” notes Messia, an enthusiastic and energetic former centerfielder, who has been with the league for over 17 years.

The Big Apple Softball League puts all its non-operating capital back into community nonprofit groups that are in need. Village businesses that sponsor teams, such as Cowgirl Hall of Fame, Ty’s, Village Apothecary, Dugout Bar, Stonewall Bar, Bluemoon Café, Manatus and Little Ricky Productions, are in turn supported by the players who frequent their businesses.

The Big Apple Softball League was born in Greenwich Village and was the major player in founding NAGAAA and all they are asking is that they be given “grandfathered” consideration in getting field space to continue to play their games, rather than the cutbacks that were dished out since 2001. But with the advent of new fields in Hudson River Park and the refurbishing of East River Park fields, BASL hopes the Santas who dole out the permits for fields will acknowledge and appreciate what the BASL members have done for the community.

As Messia sits in a booth at the hospitable Hudson Diner in the West Village, he is already planning the post-holiday meetings and tryouts. He lingers and sips a lone cup of coffee, as he becomes quiet. He speaks in a measured tone as he concludes, twiddling his fork in anticipation, “We are good citizens, we pay taxes and we just want a piece of the pie.” And to play ball!

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