SF gay amateur softball team continues winning streak and encourages community

In January, the Impact earned a hat-trick in the masters division at the Sin City Classic. The glory of winning, however, is only a small factor in why Impact members, many of whom have played softball for decades, continue to play the sport. For them, softball is a way to stay connected with friends and maintain community.

Outfielder Tyler White throws a ball during practice at Moscone Fields in San Francisco on February 12, 2022.

On Friday and Saturday nights in the late 1980s, with $5 for the bus ride and drinks, and perfume to spray off the sticky smell of cigarette smoke, Orlando Diaz would head to Breadsticks, the local gay bar of Flushing, Queens. One night, Diaz was shooting pool with some guys there, and they announced they were forming a new softball team. They offered Diaz to come and give it a try.

“I’ve never played before,” Diaz recalled.

“It doesn’t matter,” came the reply.

As an 18-year-old gay man longing for a sense of community, Diaz decided to follow through. Soon he became a member of their team, the Bandits, which played against other gay teams in New York.

“We were playing softball, then going to Breadsticks, having a few beers, playing pool, laughing, then going home,” Diaz said.

Diaz, a mortgage broker, hasn’t stopped gambling for 36 years. He is now a coach and pitcher for the San Francisco Sluggers, one of 40 teams in the San Francisco Gay Softball League.

When the Sin City Classic, a multi-day LGBTQ+ amateur track and field event in Las Vegas, opened a Masters Division in 2019, Diaz brought together members of the Sluggers aged 50 and older and formed a new competitive team. known as Impact.

San Francisco Sluggers coach and pitcher Orlando Diaz leads a practice at Moscone Fields in San Francisco on Feb. 12, 2022. (Kavish Harjai/Peninsula Press)

In January, the Impact earned a hat-trick in the masters division at the Sin City Classic. The glory of winning, however, is only a small factor in why Impact members, many of whom have played softball for decades, continue to play the sport. For them, softball is a way to stay connected with friends and maintain community.

“It’s like coming home when you [play]”, said team sponsor and first base coach Bob Siefert, owner of a mortgage company. “It’s like a big extended family.

The Impact members credit their title as undefeated champions of the Sin City Masters Division Tournament in mid-January to the close bonds they share and the ability to stay calm in stressful times.

The Impact led throughout the final game against the Washington DC National Allstarz, until the Allstarz rallied in the fifth to tie the game 10-10.

“So I brought them all in, and what I say to my guys is, ‘As a team, let’s all take a deep breath and just exhale – the only thing that matters is what we do. right now,'” Diaz said.

Outfielder Tyler White, a retired software developer, said the team tempered his nerves.

“It was slow and steady,” White said. “We said, ‘Well, our turn, let’s hit them and hold them.'”

Bob Siefert during a San Francisco Sluggers practice at Moscone Fields in San Francisco on Feb. 12, 2022. (Kavish Harjai/Peninsula Press)

When the Impact went out in the 6th inning, the wispy clouds over Sunset Park in Las Vegas began to dissipate. Under new indigo skies, the Impact scored five more runs and held the Allstarz scoreless in their batting final. With a 15-10 victory, the Impact won its third straight tournament title.

In the end, the Impact members would have left Las Vegas with fond memories, even if the outcome had been different.

“I remember hanging out, stuff off the court,” said team member Steve Wanczyk. “Those are the things that resonate with me.”

From his early days in the sport, Diaz said he remembers bonding with his teammates as they traveled around the country for different softball tournaments. They flirted with other players, negotiated who could get the hotel room for a date, and held a mock funeral for each other when they passed out after drinking too much.

“We would lay flowers, take the Bible out of the hotel and get down on our knees, as if we were praying,” Diaz said, describing the mock funeral. “They are still playing. I play and we always have a good memory every time we see each other.

For some, like White, softball was a conduit to a more tolerant world.

White played Little League as a kid, but said he wasn’t very good.

“Part of it was because I didn’t feel comfortable knowing I was gay,” White said.

Diaz leads a team meeting after practice at Moscone Fields in San Francisco on Feb. 12, 2022. (Kavish Harjai/Peninsula Press)

Things began to change for White when, at the request of a friend, he attended his first softball tournament in 1995 in Fort Lauderdale.

“When you’re locked up, young, and figuring it all out, … you don’t know what the rest of the world has to offer,” White said. “It was validation…to be in a place where you’re suddenly part of the majority.”

The more he played in the gay leagues, the more comfortable White felt and the better he played.

Softball also creates an opportunity to propose to your 18-year-old partner — at least that was the case for Diaz and Siefert.

The duo met at a gym in 2003 and moved in together soon after.

“It was like love at first sight,” Siefert said.

They went to their first tournament in Palm Springs a few months later, and Diaz finally convinced Siefert, who had retired from softball, to join the sport.

Over the years, Diaz estimates that he and Siefert have played nearly 90 tournaments together. At a team dinner after the 2021 Gay Softball World Series in Columbus, Ohio, Siefert gave a customary speech, thanking the players for their commitment and celebrating their accomplishments.

Then he invited Diaz, got down on one knee, and proposed.

A close-up photo of a hand with a ring holding a softball with the word
Diaz shows off the ring her husband and teammate Bob Siefert used to offer to the 2021 Gay Softball World Series after practice at Moscone Fields in San Francisco on Feb. 12, 2022. (Kavish Harjai/Peninsula Press)

There were a few snafus during the proposal: Diaz, who described himself as “a nervous wreck”, held his cocktail in his left hand throughout the proposal, and Siefert put the ring on his right hand . Then the ring fell off Diaz’s finger, but it was quickly retrieved with the help of restaurant patrons.

Within five minutes, Diaz said he was bombarded with text messages from softball friends across the country.

“I thought it was pretty cool and made me feel even more special because even people from other cities and different teams were there to share this moment,” Diaz said, “and chose to share it with largest softball community.”

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