Sports: Playing the field

Match-ups from across the Carolinas: Softball World Series

by Jon Hoppel  Contributing Writer  
Published: September 15, 2012 in Playing the Field

With over 4,000 participants and fans from 44 leagues in North America, the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association’s (NAGAAA) Gay Softball World Series (GSWS) is the world’s largest annual LGBT sporting event. Taking place Aug. 13-18, Minneapolis, Minn., had the honor of hosting the 36th year of the tournament.

Jon Hoppel (l) and Shawn Carlton from ATL Genesis at the opening ceremony.

To qualify, a team must compete in a NAGAAA sanctioned league, win the regular season championship, or win your league’s tournament. Unfortunately for many athletes in Charlotte and the rest of the Carolinas, there is not a NAGAAA approved league within a couple of hours travel, forcing many of the area’s athletes to travel to cities like Atlanta, Knoxville or Chattanooga in hopes of winning a league title and making it to the World Series.

There were 151 teams split up into four divisions based on skill level and one based on age. Here is how the groups broke down: 11 teams in the highest skilled division, A; 35 teams in division B; 53 teams in division C; 44 in division D; and six teams in the Master’s division, which consists of only players 50 years of age or older.

On Aug. 13 the festivities began with the Opening Ceremony held on picturesque Nicollet Island in downtown Minneapolis. In typical gay fashion, there was loud house music pumping all afternoon and evening, a drag queen doing drag queen things and plenty of alcohol to lubricate the conversations between teams all vying for the same prize. It is a great opportunity to meet players from all over the country (and Canada), trade team shirts and maybe find someone to “get to know” the rest of the week.

Round-robin play started on Aug. 14 and continued through Aug. 15. Based on how a team performed, it was seeded against the rest of the teams in the division accordingly. With each team in the Series having already won their local leagues, proving that they are all good teams, the level of competition was very high and there were very few teams that won or lost all four of their round-robin games. After more than eight hours of play each day, the first two days of competition saw some incredible hitting and defense and more than a few frayed nerves as the competitive level at this year’s tournament was truly a step above previous years. The early favorites were dominant in the preliminary rounds. The Twin Cities Edge and the Orlando Royalty went 4-0 and earned a 1 and 2 seed in C division, respectively. The Atlanta Sluggers looked sharp in A, as well as Boston’s Cafe Club Angels in B and the Philly Honey Badgers in D.

Atlanta Sluggers, A division champions

A fast forward to championship play on Aug. 18, where after three more eight-hour days of high level softball, 4 teams remained in each division. The highlights saw several close games in the top three divisions between the remaining teams. In the A division final, the Atlanta Sluggers came out on top because of an outstanding play made in the bottom of the final inning, runner on second and two outs. The Sluggers were in the field, trying to protect their one-run lead and hold on to the victory when the first basemen from the Phoenix Toros launched one deep to right center field. Everybody thought the game was over, and it was, but because the right fielder jumped up, scaled the fence and brought the game winning hit back over the fence to record the third out and end the game.

In the B division, it was an all-California affair with the Long Beach Rounders 2.0 faced off against the San Diego Spikes. High scoring and well played, the game was exciting and close throughout, but the Rounders’ clutch hitting in the final two innings provided the difference that the Spikes just couldn’t overcome.

The Tampa Venom in the C division came out of the loser’s bracket to claim the crown after beating the previously undefeated Orlando Royalty twice in the finals, making them the biggest upset win of the week. And their reward, besides a big shiny trophy? The top two finishing teams from each division, or B, C and D, are bumped up and have to play at the next highest level the next season. This is the NAGAAA’s way of ensuring that no team dominates each and every year.

All in all, Minneapolis was a great choice to host the series this year. The people were nice, the bars were plentiful and overall the sportsmanship was outstanding. I look forward to next year when Washington, D. C. takes its turn as the host of the world’s largest gay sporting event! : :

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Top four teams result in each division:

A Division
1st: Atlanta Sluggers
2nd: Phoenix Roscoes Coors Light HP2 Toros
3rd: Chicago Menace
4th: Fort Lauderdale Noize

B Division:
1st: Long Beach Rounders 2.0
2nd: San Diego Spikes
3rd: Boston Cafe Club Angels
4th: Portland Brewers

C Division:
1st: Tampa Venom
2nd: Orlando Royalty
3rd: Atlanta Menace
4th: Houston Toros

D Division:
1st: Seattle Inferno
2nd: Tulsa Razors
3rd: Philadelphia Honey Badgers
4th: Twin Cities Titans

Masters Division:
1st: Seattle Strokes
2nd: LA Gang Grey
3rd: Chicago Sidetrack
4th: Twin Cities Line Drive