One hundred and fifty-six teams from across the United States and Canada. Five thousand players and fans. Five straight days of competitive softball. That is what the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance World Series (NAGAAAWS) is in a nutshell. And, my team, the Knoxville Cyclones, was luckly enough to qualify and attend one of the biggest softball tournaments in the world.
It all started on Tuesday, August 27, with the opening of round robin games. With so many teams in five different divisions (with 50 teams just in C division alone), teams had to go to one of five different parks in either Virginia or Maryland to play.
My team was sent to Virginia on day one to play the Chicago Force and The Los Angeles Thunder. We entered the tournament undermanned, only bringing 11 players for this week-long affair. But, we were not as shorthanded as the Force, who only had nine players who could attend the first-day’s games. This left them with third baseman versus a team in the Cyclones who loves to go down the left field line. It did not bode well for Chicago and we were able to win easily 14-6.
After an hour turnaround, we were matched up with the LA Thunder, who were coming off a very poor performance versus the third team in our pool, the Seattle Honey Badgers. Like any good team at the Series, LA refocused and gave us all we could handle in a very close game. But, in the end, our fielding and defense was the difference and we eked out a 12-8 win.
Day two was a long day. Our first game was at 9 a.m. against Seattle, following by a seven-hour wait before our next game at the same field. And, with the host hotels being 45 minutes to an hour away because of the horrendous D.C. traffic, teams were forced to sit it out and wait in the on-and-off-again rainy Wednesday weather. Knowing we would be stuck there all day, we made the most of our time, crushing the Honey Badgers 15-3 and earning a 5th seed for the duration of tournament.
After a long wait and a first round bye, the Cyclones ended up facing the Chicago Force again in our first tournament game. This time, however, they had a full complement of players and were coming off an electric performance in their first-round match.
This game was tough and hard fought throughout. We went up early, 5-0, but an inning later the Force answered back, throwing up their own 5-spot on the scoreboard. This trend continued each inning. The Force would score 2, the Cyclones score 2. We’d score 3, Chicago would score 3. We ended up in the top of the 7th inning trailing by two runs.
Yours truly started off with a triple off the fence, followed by Jonathan Crowe doubling, and eventually scoring, off of a line drive from Quinton McNutt to tie the game and force extra innings. In the top of the 8th, we were able to put two more runs on the board and Chicago was unable to match it, losing to us 11-10. I cannot accurately explain in words the feeling you get after winning a close and dramatic game like that. Our team was riding high, going undefeated in our first four games and playing extremely well. However, that would be short-lived, because the next day, the injury bug started infecting our team.
A cracked rib from diving for a ball in the outfield for our left fielder and severely strained bicep for our right center fielder caused us to rearrange our defense, which had players playing unnatural positions. This was evident our first game on Thursday against the Houston Toros. We were out hit, out played and scrambling in the outfield through the first half of the game. We rallied in the later innings, but the hole we dug for ourselves was already too deep and we lost 16-6. This loss put us in the loser’s bracket, meaning one more loss would end our chance at the title.
After a three-hour break, we were back at it, refocused and facing the 7th seeded Houston Knights in a do-or-die elimination game. It was an odd thing though as we were surprisingly loose and stress-free considering the situation and our lack of fire the previous game. But, there was absolutely no carry over into this game and we came out hot. We batted through our lineup in the first inning and even hit a three-run homer (power is not something our team is known for). The Knights never knew what hit them and were blown out, 18-4. We had our mojo back and on Friday, we would be playing the Toronto Swallows for a chance to move into the Elite 8.
But, just like the bad energy did not carryover from our loss into the game with the Knights, the good energy did not carry over into game against the Swallows. We were beset by bad hitting, multiple errors and even a couple of base-running mistakes that should not happen with a team at this level, this far in the tournament. I have no explanation, sometimes it just happens and it could not have been at a worse time. We were easily blown out by Toronto, 21-6 and our run was done, finishing 13th out of 50 teams.
The feel of defeat and your goal coming to an end are hard pills to swallow. But, Knoxville played with dignity, poise and class that made me extremely proud to be called a Cyclone and a part of a brotherhood that you can only find in athletics. Next year, we will try again, and hopefully improve, like we have done the past three years, and have a real shot at being champions.
Champions: Houston Force
2nd: Phoenix Toros
3rd: San Francisco Steel
4th: Orlando Force
Champions: Boston Blizzard
2nd: Atlanta Genesis
3rd: Twin Cities Frostbite
4th: Dallas X-Plosion
Champions: Orlando Fury Unleashed
2nd: Los Angeles Softball Cartel
3rd: Philadelphia Triple Play
4th: Tampa Hammerheads
Champions: Mid-Atlantic Lightning
2nd: Houston Dirty
3rd: Los Angeles Honey Badgers
4th (tie): Austin Pride & Ft. Lauderdale Bombers
Champions: Southern New England
2nd: Tampa Sluggers
3rd: Los Angeles Gang Grey
4th: San Francisco United