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New beginnings and halfway points

By Jeff Praught | Dugout Chatter

Padres sign Athlete Ally Pledge

On April 27, Alicia Jessop (@RulingSports) tweeted out that the Padres will become the first team in Major League Baseball to sign the Athlete Ally Pledge, a commitment to promoting LGBT diversity and inclusion in sports.

Good on you, San Diego.

Obviously, real change needs to come from within the walls of the clubhouses that define the heart — and thinking — of a team. Signing a pledge does not magically erase discrimination or tame even the mildest of jokes.

What it does is continue the baby steps that Major League Baseball — and our hometown team — are taking to finally stand up against the machismo of professional sports that suggests LGBT athletes are lesser people than their heterosexual counterparts, or that a major league clubhouse is not prepared to welcome them as equal members.

The AAP is not just an internet-driven symbolic gesture, either. While nearly 25,000 people have taken to signing this pledge, many established professional athletes, including stars, are among them. This includes Brandon McCarthy, one of the best follows in the Twitterverse and a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers (who unfortunately tore his UCL in a game at Petco Park against the Padres and is now out for the season), and Jason Collins, the NBA’s first active openly gay basketball player.

Josh Ramirez takes a swing for AFCSL’s D Division Fireballs (Courtesy Flicks Fireballs)

Josh Ramirez takes a swing for AFCSL’s D Division Fireballs
(Courtesy Flicks Fireballs)

Athlete Ally actively promotes diversity not just throughout the country, but across the globe. It has organized conferences to discuss ways to make further progress. It has tackled issues such as LGBT discrimination in Russia before the Olympics were held there, the Religious Freedom Protection Act laws in multiple states here in America, and other causes. Athlete Ally partners with the players associations of the NBA, MLB, and the NFL, among others.

Hopefully, gone are the days of players feeling a desire to express to the media that they would not be comfortable with a gay teammate. While I support freedom of speech and the right to have your own personal views, I believe sharing them with the media takes it a step too far.

The Padres’ action today is yet another fantastic step in the drive towards making major league baseball what it is: America’s pastime for everyone.

AFCSL hits halfway mark

America’s Finest City Softball League (AFCSL)’s Open Division has evolved into a whole new animal, with perennial contenders struggling and new teams climbing towards the top of the division standings. The league rests on a better foundation when there is parity and teams feel they have a chance to compete, year in and year out. This year, that parity is here.

In the D division, Team Shade (formerly Krush) has jumped out to a fast start at 10-1, though they were just hit with the difficult news that their star shortstop would have to move up to the C division due to being underrated. This could open the door for George Biagi’s Babycakes (9-2) team to take control of the division. The two teams play once more this season, and Babycakes is as strong as ever after starting as team full of newbies four years ago.

In third place, it is hard not to appreciate the job Austin Jacobsen and the Hitmen (9-3) have done. This team finished second in Spring 2014, but saw as much turnover as any roster in the division, with players being bumped up to C. Jacobsen re-tooled the roster and though it may not always be pretty, the team has won repeatedly, doing well in close games. Right behind them are the Rebels (8-3), off to their best start in their short history, and Raw (7-6), who deserve special credit for playing so well out of the gate in just their second year of existence.

The Flicks Fireballs (6-7) team that I coach got off to a rough start this year, but they have really improved recently, and I give a tip of the cap to Laura Szymanski, our team mom who has run the team recently in my absence. We’re in every game and have suffered three one-run losses. Win or lose, we still have as much fun as anyone.

In the C Division, there are no more Lawmen-Outlaws wars to speak of. The Outlaws split up, and the Lawmen are a shell of what they were. This does not mean Roman Jimenez’s Flicks team is not capable of putting a beating on teams; the Lawmen have some new, young players who could give them a strong core in the future. But there’s a new sheriff in town.

The Breakers (9-4) sit atop the division and are made up of part of the core of last year’s SOL team that won so many games. Right behind Bill French’s team sits up-and-coming Firestorm (8-5). Led by Kyle Matthews and Brian Burnett, the Firestorm used to be an easy win for teams, but the past two seasons, they have grown as a young team, learned how to win, and are now beating teams with their defense and speed. They are tied with the Scorpions, a team which includes other members of that SOL team. The Lawmen are laying in the weeds at 7-6, but it would not surprise me to see them go on a run and make the C playoffs. Four other teams sit within two games of Flicks.

In B Division, the dynamic of the division is a little different because all three teams are assured World Series berths at the onset of the season. That said, everyone is competitive and wants to win. The Spikes are as good as any B team in the country, boasting an A-level offense that is relentless. But they can be beaten, and the improved Strike Force has taken them down twice. My Loft team, the division champs in 2011 and 2013, has really struggled this year, failing to field a consistent lineup and having yet to beat one of its division foes. From the manager to the players, our team has underachieved, but is capable of beating anyone.

Four weekends of softball remain before playoffs, and we could be looking at a league-wide slate of new division winners come June. Check out AFCSL at afcsl.org to learn how you can get involved in time for the Fall Season. 

—Jeff Praught is actively involved in the LGBT sports community, having participated in softball, basketball, football and pool as a player, serving on AFCSL’s board, and currently serving as the commissioner of SD Hoops. He can be reached at dugoutchatter@gmail.com.

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