Way back in 1998 a bunch of touch footballers wanted to compete in the Amsterdam Gay Games. Their enthusiasm remained even when they discovered there was no touch football event, and they formed a softball team instead. Great fun was had socially but competitively the team was way outclassed. Despite its failings, this first gay and lesbian softball team was the start of Sydney OUTfielders.

By 2001 eight teams played, by 2004 about 100 people were involved and after a little winter publicity more than 160 signed up for the current summer league. From 6pm the Robertson Road, Moore Park, diamonds are filled with teams of up to 15 players. Lois, the captain of the Friends of Henry, says the first thing she has to do is sort out who has actually turned up. Rules state she needs at least seven people and her team takes part for the fun and companionship. Originally from Washington DC, Devon is one of the more accomplished players. Her team is proud to have got through last season undefeated but a bit miffed about losing the first game this time round.

Early in the season the word mixed is apt. Each team must be mixed genders. Mixed body shapes, mixed ages, mixed abilities, mixed clothing and mixed competitiveness seem to follow. Slow-pitch softball is the social version of the game and very accessible to new players. The ball, pitched underarm, is not too difficult to hit and the fielders get to see plenty of action. There always seem to be plenty of gloves and bats lying around and no-one really worries if all the team’s tee-shirts don’t match.

Players do get more competitive as the season progresses. During one of the changeovers Lois and the Friends of Henry discussed their strengths and weaknesses. A decision was made in favour of Sunday training with batting in most need of improvement. Across the diamonds and playing in various teams, OUTfielders’ members were training hard for the Gay Games and the Outgames in Chicago and Montr? next year. They are determined to put on a better showing than they did in Amsterdam.

Some got hooked on international competition at the Gay Games in Sydney and some are just thrilled with the personal improvement required to make the teams. And everyone has an eye on the league ladder, determined to be near the top at the end of the season.

Whatever the level of play, this is one of the friendliest sporting groups in Sydney. The playing field is a sports venue first but nevertheless provides a great place to interact and make new friends. The requirement for each team to have at least three males and three females means the chat between the sexes is relaxed and friendly. And there are all sorts of people here. Some are hurrying in from work exchanging their corporate drag for tee-shirts, shorts and sneakers. Some are really keen with their own bat and glove and some teams are kitted out in professional-looking matching shirts. But this is never going to be American baseball style. It’s always going to be social first, competitive second and drinks and potato wedges at The Fox and Lion hotel third.

This season the teams are set, the umpires are calling play ball and the pitches are being made. If you want to find out more about the OUTfielders, want to join in the social games or think you might field a team next year, wander on down to Robertson Road on a Tuesday evening or try out the practice session at four in the afternoon on Sundays. Check out the website at www.sydneyoutfielders.org.au for contact details. Batter up, game on, three strikes and you’re out!

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