Switch Hitter

Before swinging a bat in a lesbian softball league, pick a side. Gay or straight? Or something else?

With so many straight women in the sport and an increasingly diverse lesbian community, "the stereotype of lesbians playing softball has gone by the wayside," says Pat Griffin, author of Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sport. "At the same time, there's still a lot of homophobia out there. Players are still defensive about the image of the sport. There's a huge push to focus on girls like Jennie Finch, the pinup model."

Finch, an Olympic gold medalist in softball, is a beautiful blond pitcher from California. The biography on her website lists the names of her husband, son, and Yorkshire terrier, Prada. Finch modeled for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition after becoming a gold medalist at the 2004 Olympics but turned down a lucrative offer from Playboy to pose in the buff.

Griffin says that by refusing to talk about lesbians on the softball field or by shifting the emphasis to "girly" players, the softball community is making gay athletes "invisible again in a different way." The pressure on college softball players to appear straight is enormous. "There's all this big, long hair on the softball fields," Griffin says. "It's almost become a joke in some circles."

Young-Min Yoon
Mirna and Theresa were the only couple on the team; they invited the author to pile her glove on top of theirs inside the dugout during the Law Dawgs' short-lived stints at bat.
Michael McElroy
Mirna and Theresa were the only couple on the team; they invited the author to pile her glove on top of theirs inside the dugout during the Law Dawgs' short-lived stints at bat.

My affiliation with the Florida Amateur Athletic Association begins with tryouts one Sunday in February. Carlos, my husband, is disappointed that I'm joining a women's league; he thought we were going to play together on a coed team. I'm convinced that we won't get much playing time with the fellas (me, because men can be ball hogs; him, because he has never hit a ball in his life). Like a true sport, my husband accompanies me to the tryouts anyway.

Once there, I'm alarmed to discover that after years away from softball, I now throw like a girl. It's horrifying. Fortunately, everyone who wants to play is placed on a team. I get a call from a woman named Liz. I'd later learn that Liz led a team to a Gay World Series victory in 2006. Our sponsor is a lawyer, so we are christened the Law Dawgs. All the games will be played on Sundays.

I show up for our first game feeling anxious. I salute the girls with a perky "hello" and get a few grunts in return. Oh man, I think, this doesn't seem like a fun bunch.

In our first game, the Twisted Sisters crush us, 17-4. Afterward, my teammates look seriously grumpy. "Bitches? Complaints?" Liz asks before we all shuffle away.

Carlos shows up to watch the first game and sees no one — that's because he's at the wrong ballpark. When I report that my teammates seem surly, he decides not to be a spectator. I'm secretly relieved. I fear that some of my teammates might be man-haters, and I already feel like a lone femme in a field of butches. I need to boost my confidence in my playing skills before introducing him.

The next Sunday, we're scheduled for a double-header. I'm tasked with playing catcher for the first game, against a team called Last Call, and I'm nervous about getting hit. A friendly Nuyorican named Mirna shoves a mask into my hands just in the nick of time. As I accept it, gratefully, one of my teammates says in a gravelly voice: "Whaddaya care about your face?"

That's Lee. Her own face is busted that day. She has two black eyes and a thick cut across the bridge of her nose — from a rogue fly ball hit while she was practicing with an ex-girlfriend, she says. We suspect a brawl. Lee is a 39-year-old carpenter with a tough exterior. Years of smoking and downing beers have made her voice gruff, and her walk is a swagger. But there's a sweetness there too. Lee is tiny, and when she lifts her sunglasses, her bright blue eyes are disarmingly soft.

Last Call creams us 13-4. Our pitcher, Lucy, is now limping after an entire game trying to catch my wild throws. Liz is prepared to play catcher until Lucy grumbles, "Why the hell would I want to look at your ugly face? Give me that young one." That's how Caroline, a cute blond college student, became our catcher. I catch a break as a designated hitter.

But my stint as a catcher shows me just how out of shape I am. My body is so sore that I cringe with every step for a solid week.

On a subsequent Sunday, Last Call's shortstop — a former college player with a bullet arm — guns the ball to home plate. The catcher, as is customary in this tough-chick league, is not wearing a mask. The ball slams into her chin. The injury requires 30 stitches.

The next time we face off against Last Call, we get an injury of our own. Theresa, our left fielder, hits a ground ball and sprints toward first base; the same shortstop hurls a wild throw at her. Guess what? Theresa isn't wearing a helmet. Nobody wears helmets in this league. The ball makes contact with Theresa's left cheek, which swells to the size of a grapefruit. The ball's stitches leave an imprint on her jaw. She's lucky, though. Nothing is broken — not even a tooth. Theresa refuses to go to the hospital, and she actually keeps playing.

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