SCSL members recall league’s 25-year history

The Steel City Softball League has launched a “Year 25” campaign to promote its quarter-of-a-century history and to continue its legacy as one of few organized outdoor recreation options for gay and lesbian Pittsburghers.

      The SCSL officially opens its 25th season on April 30. The regular season runs through July and concludes with championship playoffs during the first week of August.

      Prior to the start of the season, the league will hold two “spring training” sessions for new and prospective members. League officers, team managers, current players and social members will attend each of the training sessions, scheduled to be held at the West Penn Field on Polish Hill April 9 and April 15, from noon until 3pm both days.

      As part of its “Year 25” campaign, SCSL officials hope the membership drive that began in March will attract new players as well as former members and supporters of the league.

      Jeff Freedman, founding member and former commissioner of the league, recalled that the SCSL had its origins in “pick up” softball games in North Park.

      “My roommate and I went [to the park] just to get picked up,” Freedman told Out. “We didn’t get a date [but] we both ended up playing and having a great time. And the rest is history.”

      According to Freedman, nine members of the Cabbagetown Group Softball League in Toronto visited Pittsburgh in October 1981 at the request of an individual who was interested in starting a similar league here.

      “The [SCSL] started out with the idea of non-team sponsorship,” Freedman said. “[The league] invited the community to support the league as a whole instead of an individual team”—a concept that was quite successful in Toronto, he explained.

      Freedman said the policy against individual team sponsorships was controversial at first. “We were not allowed to advertise, do membership drives or do fund-raisers for a while. It was a rocky start, to say the least.” He noted that an individual team sponsorship policy was eventually adopted by the SCSL, and that each of the league’s teams currently has a sponsor.

      Freedman attributes the league’s growth over the past 25 years to the strength of its members. “This is a very sports-oriented town, so the league is a good fit,” he said.

      He also pointed to the league’s role as a social organization that extends beyond the competitive nature of sports. “The one great thing about the league is that it doesn’t take talent to play, just willingness. There are plenty of non-playing positions [on teams and in the league] as well. It’s a great social outlet,” Freedman believes.

      SCSL Commissioner Greg Cooper, who has been with the league for 11 years and is serving his sixth year as commissioner, also stressed the social importance of the SCSL.

      “[The league] offers members of our community a way to meet and make new friends outside the traditional venues,” Cooper said.

      Cooper said social opportunities off the ball field include an outing to a Pittsburgh Pirates game, an event that has been incorporated into the Gay & Lesbian Community Center-sponsored PrideFest celebration; the annual “A League of Our Own” variety show; and cookouts and other gatherings that allow league members to meet. “We started ‘sister teams’ last year, which encourages two teams from separate divisions to plan social activities together,” Cooper explained.

      He added that the league provides an outlet for people who may not have participated in athletic competition in school. “Many of our members have never hit or caught a ball in their lives. They’re often the ones who get the most enjoyment from the league,” Cooper said. To accommodate the diversity of its members, the SCSL divides teams into separate competitive and recreational divisions.

      Cooper said the varying skill levels among league members create exciting seasons. Cooper and Freedman agreed that the Rogues have the best record historically among SCSL teams, but Cooper contends that the league is so unpredictable that “anyone can win in any given season.” Both men recalled the infamous rivalry between the Rogues and the Millhunks during the league’s early years. According to Cooper, the Millhunks were champions for seven of the league’s first eight years, but since the Rogues won their first championship in 1992, they have won seven out of the last 14 championships.

      The Rogues are the only team still in existence since the league’s inception in 1981, Cooper told Out.

      Beyond hometown rivalries, SCSL teams have also represented the city in tournaments throughout the United States and Canada. Cooper said the SCSL has received a number of trophies for placing in the top three teams in out-of-town tournaments. The SCSL is a member of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, which sponsors the annual Gay Softball World Series.

      “We always send at least one team to represent Pittsburgh in the World Series. Currently, there are three teams planning to attend the series,” Cooper said. The series is held in a different city each year; the 2006 competition will be held in Fort Lauderdale in August.

      The league held membership drives at area businesses throughout March, and will host an information session for prospective new players at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center in Squirrel Hill on April 5, 6:30-8:30pm.

      “No matter how I say this, someone will take it wrong, but our league is always in need of pitchers,” Cooper added.

      Cooper and Freedman are both proud of the league’s history and attribute the dedication of executive officers, coaches, managers and players for keeping the organization alive. Both men said they have created lifelong friendships because of their involvement with the league. Freedman expressed his gratitude for the impact the SCSL has had on his life.

      “The SCSL has been more than an organization for me. The friendships I have made have lasted a lifetime. Starting the league was an incredible experience,” Freedman said. “We just wanted to play gay softball and have fun, and… oh yeah, get a date.”

For more information about membership drives, contact the SCSL by e-mail at membership@steelcity  softball.org or visit the league’s Web site at www.SteelCitySoftball.org.

The Q Archives and articles like this are republished here by the kind contribution of Tony Molnar-Strejcek, the publisher of Pittsburgh’s Out. Maintaining the cultural history of Pittsburgh's LGBTQ Community is made possible by contributions by readers like you.