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    The San Francisco Cougars Roar to Victory Both On and Off the Softball Field

    By Anthony “Tony” Robbins–

    In 2003 I served as a member of the Castro Country Club (CCC) Community Advisory Board (CAB) and one day, while standing on the top step looking at all the people not doing much other than lounging on the step drinking coffee, I thought that the CAB should coordinate more social activities for people in sobriety. But that is as far as my idea got because I could not think of any social activity at the moment.

    At about the same time I was thinking “there should be more sober social activities offered by the Country Club,” Vincent (Fuqua) walked by and asked me what I was doing. I told him what I was thinking and he said I should start a softball team, to which I responded with, “I don’t know anything about softball!” He told me he would teach me whatever I needed to know. So, I went about flyer-ing the Country Club to see if there were any interested patrons in being on a softball team. 

    The response was slooooow, but it steadily grew until there was enough interest to have a 20-player team and to get a coach. At the next meeting of the CAB, I told the members and the manager that we had a team. Their response was that they would not financially support the softball team. At that remark I told them that I wasn’t expecting the CCC to put up any money, that I would find a way to raise funds but I would at least like to use the BBQ in the back to host a fundraiser once in a while. They said, “No.”

    The first season of the sober team was fraught with so many difficulties. We faced financial difficulties, leadership difficulties, and team unity difficulties. 

    To resolve the financial difficulties, I took the cost to register the team and the cost to rent practice fields and divided it equally among all the players so we all shared in the expense in order to get the team started. Then the coach quit just a few weeks before our first scheduled game. I managed to work out joint practices with other teams so their coach could teach us and we could do scrimmage games. When we finally had our first real game, we had no one to lead the team, so everyone looked to me to do it … the guy who knows nothing about the game.

    I did my best, but I didn’t know how to do a lineup or substitutions or much of anything. I had a lot of personalities who knew how to “do it better” but none of them wanted to take the responsibility. So, needless to say, I pissed off a few players because I didn’t know how to substitute them into the game, so they could play. And I didn’t know how to sub out my short-stop who showed up drunk to the game. It was a nightmare.

    After that game, the team wanted a meeting at the CCC to discuss the events of the game. It got ugly and about 5 players quit the team. I started to think that having a sober team was not such a great idea and told myself that I would just try to get the remainder of the team through the season, and I did. During that season I was on the fast track to learning all there was to know about the rules of the game, the responsibilities and skills needed for each position, and a lot about managing players.

    I got a break in our fundraising efforts when one of the members of the CCC, a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, told me that the CCC softball team should challenge the Sisters to a softball game as a fundraising event. We did. It was so much fun. The Sisters cheated and everyone had a great time. We sold a BBQ hotdog, chips, and a can of soda for $5 for a small profit, and the Sisters passed the bucket for direct donations. We raised over $600 that day, which was enough to register the team for a second season, buy a few bats and bases, and practice field time.

    But, in our very last game of our first season, I had only 8 players. You need a minimum of 9 to play, otherwise you forfeit the game. I didn’t want our last game to be a forfeit, so I begged an injured player, who just came to watch his team play, to be in the game and he agreed. We still lost, but we lost while swinging. After that last game, the division representative came up to me and asked me if the sober team would be in the play-offs. My response was, “There’s more?” He told me it was voluntary and I told him that I would put it to the team and take a vote, expecting the team to say “no.” I was stunned when they said “yes.”

    Playoffs were “double elimination.” We played 2, lost 2, and were eliminated and the season was over. After our playoff games, the team looked at me and asked me if we would have a team for next season … (what?!). I wanted to say, “Hell no,” but what I said was, “If we have enough interested players to make a team, then I will register a team.” For the next 16 years, we had and continue to have many such interested players.

    Over those 16 years there have been over 260 players that have played on the sober team. I served on the San Francisco Gay Softball League board, coached 7 teams, created 9 new teams, and had so many fun times.  

    I’m proud to say that I played a part in it all and all I had to do was say, “Yes, I’ll try.”

    Anthony “Tony” Robbins is a former San Francisco Gay Softball League official and coach. He is the founder of the league’s Sober Team.

    Published on February 24, 2023