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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Play Ball: Gay Softball World Series
by Ross Forman
2006-08-23

This article shared 9339 times since Wed Aug 23, 2006
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Brett Akers, photo by Ross Forman

_______________

FT. LAUDERDALE—Brett Akers of the Sidetrack Stampede, an A-Division softball team, has played in 21 Gay World Series … and he's only 39.

'At my first Series, I was afraid, intimidated just coming out to it; it truly was overwhelming,' Akers said. 'But, the Series really has helped me come to terms with who I am; it's made me comfortable who I am.'

Akers was back on the World Series fields in Florida last week, playing shortstop for Chicago's best slow-pitch softball team, even though he now lives in Pittsburgh. He was a member of the Chicago Cougars in 2003, which won the Recreation Division championship at the Series then held in Washington, D.C., his fondest Series memory.

'The relationships I've built through the World Series; that's the best thing about the Series,' Akers said.

So how many Series players have participated in more than Akers? 'Probably only a handful,' he said.

Akers said the biggest Series change over the years has been that the annual affair has 'become more and more competitive and larger.'

'Sure, we come to win, but it's really about the people,' he said.

Akers' partner, Brian Boeglin, also plays for the same Sidetrack Stampede squad.

The 30th annual NAGAA World Series was held Aug. 15-19 at three multi-field softball complexes under the banner of Pearl Edition. Heat and humidity reigned, and rain also caused chaos throughout the annual affair.

Here's a look at some of the World Series moments:

HOME RUN

Roger Bearri of the Texas Toast hit the first home run of this year's Gay Softball World Series, or at least the first at Brian Piccolo Park, since his game was the only one started close to its scheduled 8 a.m. start. Bearri hit an inside-the-park home run, helping the Toast to a 14-1 win.

'My batting has been horrible, but it came back yesterday,' said Bearri, 35, of Dallas, who plays right centerfield. 'I got a good stroke on it and never expected it'd go for a home run because I rarely hit home runs. I usually just ( hit home runs ) when they make mistakes. It probably would have been an out in the next level up, but I'm thrilled it went for a home run.'

CUBS FAN FOR A REASON

Although he is a Texas Rangers fan and lives in Dallas, Grady Callaway sported a Chicago Cubs hat during games.

'The hat matches our uniforms and I like the Cubs … plus, it reminds me of someone,' said Callaway, 30.

That 'someone' is Austin Baidas, who lives in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. Baidas plays ice hockey and softball in Chicago. 'We're kind of dating; I like him a lot,' said Callaway, who attended the Closing Ceremony of Gay Games VII at Wrigley Field with Baidas.

The two met at a gay softball tournament earlier this year in Palm Springs. They see each other several times per month, Callaway said.

QUOTING

'I don't dive on the grass; it hurts,' said a player from Crew's Blues of Toronto.

SWEET HAT

Arthur Allione sported a cowboy hat during play because 'it's practical and serves a purpose.' Plus, he added, 'I don't look good in baseball hats and it's all about the image.'

Allione has worn a straw cowboy hat for the past three years, thus becoming his 'trademark.' The 26-year-old Allione, who is gay, pitches and plays left field for the San Francisco Metro Angels.

THE EYES OF TEXAS

There's something about that Texas flag. Not being from Texas, I don't get it, but, it didn't surprise me to see the Houston Force hang the flag from the backstop before its games. Problem was, they hung it upside-down. The white portion of the state flag is the top … and Ray Mata was quick to change it. Mata actually is the team's true multi-talented member. He plays third base, coaches third base and, before a Tuesday game, brought the lineup card to the pre-game meeting with the umpires. Mata also is a cheerleader, of sorts. He attended many games featuring other Houston teams, even going to different complexes from where the Force was playing.

UH, YOU HAVE BLUE HAIR

John Thomas, playing in his first Gay Softball World Series, was one of two players on the Toronto Crew's Blues who had bright blue hair. 'It's just something we did. It gives me energy and I love the attention,' he said. But why? 'Why not,' he said.

'The World Series has been great, a lot of camaraderie and a lot of friendships … and there's some great softball ( being played ) , too,' he said.

HELPING HAND

Even a teacher needs a little teaching at times. Such was the case with Scott Knapp of Chicago's 312 Crew team. Knapp, who lives in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago and himself is a high school teacher, was getting hitting tips from a teammate before the team's Tuesday game. 'We all try to help each other,' said Knapp, 29, who plays first base.

'The Series has been great; the competition has been very good, a lot different from our ( Sunday ) league back home. There's a lot of pressure in these games; each games means a lot, so each inning and each out means a lot.'

And, yes, Knapp admitted he was nervous before the team's first game. 'I just went out and did what I've done hundreds, or, thousands of times before,' he said.

BACK, BACK, BACK … GONE!

Paul Hines of the Houston Force drilled a three-run home run against the Fort Lauderdale Predators, an A-Division game that featured several over-the-fence home runs. Hines plays right field, but the Force lost to the Predators.

SKINNY-DIPPING ANYONE?

Wayne was one of eight players from the Tavern On Camac D-Division team ( Philadelphia ) who invaded the hotel swimming pool, uh, without any clothes. 'We started a tradition,' Knaub explained.

Wayne, 30, who plays second base, was a bronze medal-winning ice hockey player at the Gay Games in Chicago.

'Winning the bronze was the best sporting experience I've ever had,' said Wayne, of Philadelphia. 'I like ( playing ) both sports, but softball definitely is the more relaxed sport of the two. Softball is more about the social aspect of the event.'

INJURED COACH

Joey Lucas is the normal shortstop and leadoff hitter for Philadelphia's Tavern On Camac D-Division team, but was relegated to coach for the World Series. He's on the disabled list, you see.

Lucas shattered his left elbow about six weeks ago and has had it replaced with a steel joint.

'It's very frustrating not being out there ( playing ) , but at least I'm here,' said Lucas, 34, of Philadelphia, who is gay. 'These are my best friends; some of them I've been playing with for eight years.'

UMPIRES

The Series featured umpires from across America and Canada, including Chicagoans Julie Colwell, Marc Gofstein and Bob Nicholson.

HALL OF FAME

The new Hall of Fame class for the Open Division featured Mark Graupmann, Matt Miller, Mike Price, Tony Pritchard, Bill 'Woody' Wood and Jim Young. The Women's Division saluted Toni Carr, Jeannette Fulcher, Rhonda Graham, Virginia Gutierrez, Lynne Mobley, Ace Polodichuk and the late Patty Price.


This article shared 9339 times since Wed Aug 23, 2006
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