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    SF Fireballs’ Hot Season Lands Them a Spot at the Gay Softball World Series

    By Tony Jasinski

    The Gay Softball World Series, with over 5,000 participants and fans from 44 leagues in North America, is one of the world’s largest annual LGBT sporting events. This year, the Gay World Series is being held in Dallas, Texas, from September 22 to September 27, and is expected to be one of the best yet. I recently caught up with a few members of the SF Fireballs, who will be competing in the “C” division. The Fireballs are just one of three San Francisco teams in that division. Still more SF teams will be competing in different divisions.

    The Fireballs’ captain and 2nd baseman, Cesar Lorenzo, was very pleased with his team’s performance this season. Last year, the team won one game while losing 14, but this year was a complete turnaround. The team, with mostly the same lineup as for 2013, went 11 and 3, which qualified them for the Gay World Series. Lorenzo said that he started the SF Fireballs 18 years ago, and this is the first time they qualified for the big event. He beamed like a proud (albeit, very youthful looking) father.

    Lorenzo credits much of the success to team camaraderie and, as he puts it, “no drama.” Six of the players on the Fireballs will be experiencing the World Series for the first time. Teams cannot attend the Series unless they have earned a top place in the local organizations’ standings. Lorenzo said he played for ten years before he was on a team that qualified. The Fireballs lost their first game of the season, so expectations were low, especially from the opposition. The Fireballs therefore enjoyed the role of being an underdog for most of the season.

    In the category of unsung heroes there is Russ Smith, a pitcher and a coach for the SF Fireballs. Smith revealed that, though he has worked at the same job for 28 years, he has played in the local gay softball program for 32 years. He has participated in the Gay World Series three times before: in Kansas City, Portland, and Philadelphia.

    He didn’t want to be quoted about the Lone Star State, but he did tell me, “I want my opinion of Texas to change.” He said that he didn’t have a very good time on a previous visit to Dallas, with most people being rather unfriendly towards him.

    Speaking of political conservatives, when Smith was in Portland for a prior Gay World Series, he happened to stay in the same hotel that President George W. Bush was also at for a fundraiser. Smith was amused because Secret Service agents watched him closely. They even prevented guests from leaving the hotel for certain periods of time (fifteen minutes or so) as part of security control. Smith regularly observed sharpshooters on the roof of nearby buildings.

    Such memorable experiences are par for the course for Smith, who has been involved in competitive sports for years. He has refereed LGBT basketball events. In the 80’s, he even refereed one such game that featured a gay men’s team playing against a lesbian team all for a good cause—the AIDS Emergency Fund.

    footballMore recently, he refereed a basketball game for the “Shirts and Skins” television show that was on LOGO. In that game, it was the oldsters versus the youngsters, and the oldsters just could not keep up, except for Smith!

    Lorenzo said, “Russ has the biggest heart of anyone I know.” Not surprisingly, Smith was assisting a griller at a fundraiser for the team’s expenses at the Mix when I was fortunate enough to cross his path. I asked him to share advice for younger players hoping to make it to the Gay World Series too. He said, “It doesn’t matter if you have prior baseball experience, as all women and men are welcomed. There is a ‘free-agent’ setup so that people will be added to a team that is appropriate for their current skill.”

    So give softball a try for a season. It’s a great way to meet others and to stay in shape. Plus, like Lorenzo and Smith, you could find yourself competing at a World Series event. As the logo for the Series says, be “Proud to Play.”

    For more information about the Gay World Series, please visit:

    Check out the Fireballs at:

    Tony Jasinski is the former president of the San Francisco Gay Basketball League.