After winning six consecutive games, the Chicago Express were eliminated on Saturday, August 31, in the 37th annual Gay Softball World Series, held in Washington, D.C.
The Express finished fifth in the 49-team C-Division, which was the best showing of the four Chicago teams among the 156-team field for this year's five-day softball slugfest, sanctioned by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association (NAGAAA).
"It was fantastic to be playing on Championship Saturday," said Steve Kasperski, coach of the Express. "We had high expectations, so I think some of us were a bit disappointed not getting to the final four. But going through the loser's bracket cost us a lot of energy, the energy that we needed to push into the finals. And it caught up to us.
"In order to win, you have to play as a team. In order to play as a team, people have to sacrifice, and I think that those personal sacrifices allowed us to succeed, and earn fifth place."
Mark Sakalares pitched for the Express in his third Series, which he said was, "an amazing time."
"The highlight for me was being part of a team that stayed strong and fought through each game," Sakalares said. "It was great seeing the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association (CMSA) represented so well. All [four] Chicago teams played with heart and showed what a great spirit of sportsmanship we have in Chicago."
The Express opened Series play with a 13-3 loss to the Nashville Force, but then stopped the Twin Cities Force, 19-3. The Express and the Long Beach Pegasus battled to a 12-12 tie, thus the Express carried the No. 25 seed in round-robin play.
The Express then lost 8-4 to the Dallas Drillers, pushing Kasperski and Co., into the loser's bracketand that's where they next met, and eliminated, the Chicago Crush with a 16-9 win.
The Express then defeated, in order, the Dallas Wreckin' Crew, the Long Beach Pegasus, the Seattle Honey Badgers, the San Diego Sol, and the Philadelphia Wolves.
The Express was ultimately eliminated by the Los Angeles Softball Cartel, losing 13-3.
"In the Los Angeles game, fatigue set in and we made a lot of mental and physical errors," Kasperski said.
Ryan McGowan was an offensive star for the Express. "He's become a pure hitter, and was smacking the ball all over the field," Kasperski said. Jack Komar, meanwhile, "played unbelievable at shortstop," Kasperski added.
The speed of Komar and Paul Kenost caused havoc for opponents, Kasperski said.
"The hardest thing was having to play against the other Chicago team. Someone was basically done after that game," said Kasperski, 51, who was playing in his 19th World Series. "The C-Division is so competitive, from top to bottom.
"The Series, to me, isn't just about the on the field play, but also about experiencing the cityand Washington D.C., was a great city for that."
Tom Alcock played outfield for the Crush, sporting uniform No. 14 for his third Series. Alcock, who is straight, has played in the CMSA open division Sunday softball league for seven years.
"The highlight of the Series for me was a person at the Talent Show talking about a team that they played [against] with no third baseman. That was us," Alcock said. "We laughed for a while about it. We only had nine guys the first day and tried mixing it up and forcing the Knoxville team to beat us down the line. They did, but didn't score until the third inning."
The Crush went 1-2 in pool-play, with the team's lone victory coming over the Los Angeles Thunder, 15-7. The Crush went 2-3 in round-robin play.
"I love being part of NAGAAA and CMSA because of how welcoming everyone is and how easy it is to make friends. People are always smiling, on and off the field. It's a great time," Alcock said.
Olin Eargle, who has played CMSA softball since 2007, was playing for the Crush in his second Series.
"Our team played hard each game, but we came up short and lost a couple close games," Eargle said. "The one thing I hate most is that, per the way the brackets worked out, we were slated to play [an] elimination game against [another] team from Chicago, who we play [against] during the summer."
Eargle played exceptional defensive shortstop for the Crush and was 14-for-23 at bat, including two triples. The Crush, in one of its games, batted around the lineup and put 13 runs on the board that inning.
"What a great time [the team] had together, on and off the field," Eargle said. "Though we didn't come home with a trophy, we represented Chicago."
The Chicago Menace went 3-3 overall in the top-tiered A-Division, with wins over the Atlanta Sluggers (11-10), Palm Springs Rounders 2.0 (14-10) and the Houston Force (18-10).
"The DC World Series was a strange one for the Menace," said Menace player-coach Cameron Turner. "We started out with two games of round robin play on Thursday. We won our first game against the Atlanta Sluggers, 11-10. We didn't play great, but at least good enough to hang on to win. Our bats really cooled off in the second game and we lost 11-5 to the Atlanta Venom. We came back Friday morning and won our third round-robin game against Palm Springs, 14-10. We played a solid game against them and rode that momentum into our fourth round-robin game, beating the Houston Force, 18-10. That was, by far, our best game of the Series. The 3-1 round robin record gave us the No. 2 seed for the tournament.
"Unfortunately, that's where the team highlights ended for the Menace. We lost our first elimination-round game to the Phoenix Toros. That sent us into the losers' bracket, where we lost immediately to the Atlanta Sluggers, eliminating us from the tournament. We led in both games, against the Toros and the Sluggers, but we got cold and our opponents got hot late in the games."
Turner said this year's A-Division was as wide open as any he's played in, with no clear favorite. "The field was very balanced, and anyone could beat anyone. And it played out that way too. Whichever team got hot was going to win the tournament, and there were a lot of 'surprise' results," Turner said. "The real highlight for us was how well we played in round-robin. Not only did we go 3-1 and [earn] the No. 2 seed, but we beat the eventual tournament champion, the Houston Force. It was a rather sound victory and the only loss that team suffered the whole week. So, we have something to walk away withif we can just play like that next year, we can beat anyone and win the whole thing."
Joe Bland was an offense star for the Menace, hitting over .800 for the tournament, with four home runs. Kevin Ball also excelled on offense. Scott McDonald played an excellent defensive shortstop, Turner said. "Charles Piper made some nice plays in the outfield, including robbing a home run."
The Chicago Dragons went 1-2 in pool play, and then 2-3 in round-robin action to finish 33rd in the 39-team B-Division
"This was my first time going to the Gay Softball World Series and the experience was amazing," said Steven Solari, who played left field for the Dragons, and has played CMSA open division Sunday softball for six years. "All these teams from all over the country playing for a trophy. Hats off to all the Chicago teams who left their hearts on the fields; we represented our city well."
Chicago also was represented among the umpiring crew. Shawn Albritton and Doug Malm wore blue in the Series.
"One of the best aspects of umpiring is being at the fields all day and watching every game. One of the worst aspects of umpiring is being at the fields all day," said Albritton, making his ninth Series appearance, his fourth as an umpire. "I enjoy seeing friends that I've made over the years from all over North America."
Albritton and Malm each were selected to umpire a championship game, "which is obviously a huge honor and I think reflects well for Chicago," said Albritton, 38, who lives in the Rogers Park neighborhood and has umpired in CMSA for nine years.
Malm, 50, who lives in Andersonville, has been a CMSA umpire for 11 years and this was his fourth stint as a Series ump. He was a player in the World Series for the first time in 1993 and has been a player in the Series 14 times overall, including a second- and a third-place finish.
"What I really like about working the Series is seeing the passion that players bring to the field," Malm said. "Everyone is there to win the Series, but I see friendships being made and rekindled from various cities and teams.
"I did an elimination game on Friday in the D-Division and it was great to see these new players coming to the Series giving it their best. When the game was over, both teams did a group hug and the losing team cheered the winning team on to victory. To me, the spirit of the game and the Series was displayed in that moment."
Malm umpired 26 games over five days in D.C., including the C-Division championship game on a four-umpire crew. "It was a great privilege and honor to be asked to work a GSWS championship game," Malm said. "The C final was as great to umpire as it was to watch. The final was 3-2 and was a very competitive, but friendly game."
ï¿½ Esera Tuaola, the out former NFL player, played on a B-Division team.
ï¿½ Neither Chicago women's team returned with a trophy from the annual Amateur Sports Alliance of North America (ASANA) World Series, held in mid-August in Portland, Ore. The Chicago Free Agents played in C-Division, while Chicago Raw Energy battled in D-Division.
ï¿½ The 2014 NAGAAA Gay Softball World Series is Sept. 22-27 in Dallas.
ï¿½ The 2014 ASANA World Series, Diamonds In the Desert, will be held Oct. 13-18 in Las Vegas.
Here is a look at the 2013 Gay Softball World Series winners:
Champion: Houston Force
2nd: Phoenix Toros
3rd: San Francisco Steel
4th: Orlando Force
Champion: Boston Blizzard
2nd: Atlanta Genesis
3rd: Twin Cities Frostbite
4th: Dallas X-Plosion
Champion: Orlando Fury Unleashed
2nd: Los Angeles Softball Cartel
3rd: Philadelphia Triple Play
4th: Tampa Hammerheads
Champion: Mid-Atlantic Lightning
2nd: Houston Dirty
3rd: Los Angeles Honey Badgers
4th (tie): Austin Pride & Ft. Lauderdale Bombers
Champion: Southern New England Cranky Yankees
2nd: Tampa Sluggers
3rd: Los Angeles Gang Grey
4th: San Francisco United
Here's a look at the ASANA World Series winners:
Champion: Mo's, San Diego
Champion: Somebody's Ex, Long Beach
Champion: San Jose Sidewinders