The largest annual LGBT sporting event continues to grow as the Gay Softball World Series jumps up two teams from last year to 153 when play kicks off Tuesday, Aug. 14, at multiple fields in Minneapolis. There are 2,404 registered players across five skill-based divisions, except Master’s, which is for the over-50 crowd. The top-tiered A Division has 11 teams, followed by B (35), C (53) and D (48).
But is the Series getting too big?
Quite possibly, said Chris Balton, the commissioner for the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, which hosts the event.
“It is something, at some point, that we are going to have to address: the growth,” of the World Series, Balton said. “It truly becomes a matter of, can a larger bracket be handled? That will be a challenge.
“(The event) can get bigger, but the bigger it gets, that then will limit the number of cities that can host it with the (limited) number of facilities/fields,” that most cities have.
There are 44 NAGAAA member cities, with Sacramento, Madison (Wisc.) and Cleveland joining this season, and 41 of the 44 will be represented in Minneapolis. The three member cities not sending teams to the 2012 Series are Toronto, Montreal and Silicon Valley.
The 2012 Series has the potential for 602 games, even as many as 607 if all of the championship if-games must be played.
Balton said that several cities, such as Memphis where he lives, are likely not capable of hosting the event in the future, simply based on the number of fields needed for five days of games. Then, for instance, cities such as Washington D.C. would have fields it could use but they are at least 45-minutes apart, “and that’s not ideal,” he said.
Still, such cities as Orlando, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Dallas are among a list of cities that could host future Series at its current size or even a drop larger.
Balton, 52, who also pitches for the C-Division Memphis Neons, is playing in his 10th World Series – but has never played for a championship-winner team. He was on a second-place team in 2007.
Balton stepped into the NAGAAA commissioner role earlier this year when Roy Melani, of Oregon, stepped down.
“Probably, the biggest challenge that Minneapolis had was, the Minnesota Same-Sex Marriage Amendment,” that will appear on the November ballot, Balton said. “Many sponsors were pretty tapped out,” after donating to oppose the amendment that would define marriage in the Minnesota Constitution as between one man and one woman in the state, though the measure may leave open the possibility of same-sex civil unions.
The local organizing committee needed to raise $150,000 for the Series, Balton said, and that total was reached in late-July.
“(The slow fund-raising) just made us nervous and made us work a little harder,” Balton said.
The Series kicks off Monday, Aug. 13, with the Opening Ceremony at Nicollet Island Pavilion, featuring the traditional music, food, drinks and a special appearance by Miss Richfield 1981.
The Closing Ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 18, has the potential to be, “one of the best Closing Ceremonies we have had in a long, long time,” Balton said. “It will be an incredible Closing Ceremony with a big surprise for everybody."
As for the on-field action, the participating teams include two Atlanta teams (Sluggers and Venom) in the A-Division, and three B-Division teams from Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the host Twin Cities.
The C-Division features such teams as the Chicago Sidetrack Blues and Chicago Roscoe’s Reapers, Denver Zocalo Wild, Kansas City Barbies, Orlando Royalty, Rhode Island Providence Grind, St. Louis Squirrels and Tampa Crocs, among others.
The D-Division features the Birmingham Sliders, Houston Divers, Long Beach Queen Marys, Nashville Misfits and San Diego Blasters, among others.
All teams this year will benefit from real-time scoring, thus, standings, scores and more can be monitored by smart phone.
“By far, this is a monumental change for NAGAAA,” Balton said. “We have never been able to do real-time scoring, and this is one thing that our membership has been asking for for years. It’s phenomenal, huge. Thus, seeding should happen almost automatically after the last pool-play game ends. This (program) will make us more efficient and more accurate. The players have been screaming for this for years, and to be able to deliver, this will make our customers satisfied.
“This is something that we need for the accuracy of getting records, scores and seeding correct. It takes a lot of the potential for mistakes out of it, if done manually.”
The annual NAGAAA Hall of Fame will include 12 this year: Dan Schaefer (Washington D.C.), Matthew V. Bittner (Washington D.C.), William (Whitey) Whitehurst (Long Beach), Wayne Guethlein (Atlanta), Scott Palmer (Atlanta), John “JT” Thomas (Twin Cities), Pat Conlon (San Francisco), Mark Ertel (Southern New England), Brett E. Akers (Southern New England), Andrew A. Bourne (Los Angles), Jason Winburn (Los Angeles) and John G. Skoubis (Chicago).
What: The 36th annual NAGAAA Gay Softball World Series
Who: 153 teams with 2,404 players in 5 divisions.
When: Aug. 13-18, hosted by the Twin Cities Goodtime Softball League
For more information: www.twincities2012series.org