We're slouching around a wooden picnic table, killing time before our final game of the season, when my softball coach asks me the question I've been dreading for months: Are you in a relationship?
It sounds like a harmless inquiry. But it's one that will force me out of the closet with my lesbian softball team.
The coach swoops in with a follow-up before I can even finish the sentence. "To a man or a woman?"
"To a man."
Every pair of eyes at the table has turned my way. The air feels tense.
"Huh," our manager grunts. "So we have two straight people on the team."
I'm an anomaly here in the South Florida Amateur Athletic Association, which defines itself on the web as "a gay and lesbian softball league... for both gay and non-gay participants." There are 22 teams in the women's division, which kicked off in 1999. The environment is supposed to be "conducive to the gay community." Unsure of what that meant and eager to duck discrimination, I decided to adopt the military motto: "Don't ask, don't tell."
I had found the league by Googling the words softball and women and Lauderdale. The description was OK with me. It's no secret that lots of lesbians love softball. And the last time I played the game with men, I felt like a second-class citizen; they relegated me to the bench and let me bat only once the team was up several runs. It's funny how some men assume that they're better at sports than women.
But I neglected to read the lesbian league's fine print. The rules state that each team is "allowed to have only two non-gay players active[ly] playing at any time in the game."
That doesn't seem so straight-friendly. And where do the bisexuals fit in? Asexuals? Same-sex curious? I remember answering a questionnaire before joining. It asked each prospective player about their perceived skill levels and whether they played college ball. Adding a question about sexual orientation would be, well, like something out of left field.
"It's OK if you sleep with a man," the coach assures me, as the rest of the team absorbs the news of Amy's orientation. "I used to."
An hour later, we lose to the Twisted Sisters. That's no surprise. We always lose. But this will be our last loss. Final tally: 1-16. The single win was actually a forfeit, because the other team didn't have enough players to take us on.
With our basement-dwelling season finally laid to rest, I'll be free to nurse hangovers on Sunday mornings. No more bolting out the door while my husband and dog are still happily asleep. No more frantic phone calls to the park's rainout line to see whether I can just climb back into bed. No more of that distinctive moldering-leather smell on my left hand from the glove I've been using since I was 7 years old.
Has my softball career been ignominiously laid to rest too? Softball will always be a part of me. My childhood revolved around the sport. My toddler years were a blur of ballparks and playgrounds. The glare of outdoor lights. The freedom of the sandbox. The glee of watching my father knock the ball over the fence. Pizza. Hot dogs. Licorice ropes longer than my legs.
Mom played too. And my older sister. Softball seemed inevitable. Eventually, I'd be old enough to join tee ball. Then a recreational league. And ultimately, one of those crazily competitive traveling teams that eat, breathe, and sleep a sport.
Softball cranks into hyperdrive in the summertime. My family would crisscross the country so that my sister and I could play on orange dirt in places like Lafayette, Louisiana, and Muncie, Indiana — places that, otherwise, I would probably never have visited in my lifetime. Each town has lovely, nearly identical ballparks.
Then there was a lengthy hiatus. All that time, travel, sweat, and sunburn eventually wore me down. It weighed on my parents' marriage too. My mother began to loathe the sport. My older sister didn't dare tell my mom (who was, at the time, a Bible-thumping church lady) that girls from opposing high school teams were hitting on her; one third baseman even pinched my sister's butt as she slid into the base. The opposing players teased my sis relentlessly for looking like a cheerleader (blond, stacked, with a full face of makeup).
It might just have been an intimidation tactic. But she was losing interest anyway, and as I approached my middle-school years, so was I. There didn't appear to be any fat paychecks awaiting serious female softball players, and — for me — hitting the books seemed like a safer investment toward a college scholarship. So I gave up on softball at 13. That decision was one of the biggest disappointments my father has ever been dealt as a parent; to this day, he still brings it up on holidays. "Your sister was a good ballplayer," he likes to say, "but you were really good."