Ten Montrose Softball teams are swinging for the fences at their chance to bring a national Gay Softball World Series title home to Houston as the series unfolds this week in Dallas.
Last year, the Houston Force won the A division crown and teams across the B, C and D divisions hope to find that same success this week. Among the Houston teams at the series is a first-ever Masters Division.
“Last year, everything clicked for us,” Force coach Mike Harwell says. “But all the teams in the A division are capable of winning. We are such a small division, so competition is fierce. I think we are better than last year so our chances should be good . . . but you can have the best player at every position and if things are not clicking you could lose every game. Our team has an incredible chemistry and most of us have played on the same team together for over 20 years.”
Houston teams competing in the series include the Force (A), Bomb Squad (B), Revolution (B), Toros (C), Texas Twisters (C), Wild (C), DKnights (D), Divers (D), Sons of Pitches (D), and HardDrive (Masters).
Houston teams in lower divisions face a larger pool of competition than the Force in A. That means Coach Rita Guzman and her D Division team, the DKnights, will not only have to weather a force of Twisters, Cyclones and Thunder from cities across the U.S. (and Canada) for the win, they may also battle hometown teams in their brackets.
But that doesn’t scare Guzman.
“We’ve been practicing every Sunday since July, and weekdays to boot,” Guzman says. “I believe our chances of bringing home a title are as good if not better than any of the 63 D teams competing this year.”
A DKnight win would be more than just validation for the team’s first series, it would honor a promise Guzman made earlier this year to a fallen teammate. DKnights player Ronnie Ramirez died suddenly after a bout with pneumonia led to a fatal lymphoma diagnosis. Ramirez played with the DKnights last year during the team's inaugural season.
“[Ronnie] was also one of our straight players and served in the Navy. He never spoke a mean word about anyone and was always the first person to stand up for you and give his all. It showed on and off the field. He was loved by everyone in MSL, if not only for his signature haircut. He always wore a Mohawk and painted it the color of the team. Everyone knew him and those that didn't still knew of the Mohawk guy,” Guzman says.
Guzman hopes to bring the title home to honor Ramirez.
“Ronnie was a fighter but never had the chance to fight. Although we didn't make the series last year, our first year, I had a conversation with Ronnie and I told him 2014 would be our year to go and represent. Little did we know that Ronnie would not be making the physical journey with us. But he is with us in spirit. We will do everything in our power to make our hero in the sky proud,” Guzman says.
While they must battle more teams in their division, Houston teams hold a bit of home court advantage only having to make the less than four-hour trip to the Dallas dugouts for the 2014 series.
“The determination the teams have, plus all the hard work they put in throughout the year I feel will pay off,” says Henry Gonzales, MSL Commissioner and Bomb Squad Manager. “Each team knows that there are many other great competitive teams out there that want the same there. The difference is we’re playing in our own backyard. With the determination and hard work, I think we’ll do very well.”
Staying put in Texas means that while other teams worry about the heat and humidity, Houston players will be a bit more relaxed.
“If the other teams can take the Texas heat, more power to them,” Gonzales says. “We play in temperatures that others simply cannot handle, or choose not to. Being used to the heat and with the support and positive energy from the other Texas cities will definitely help tip the scales to our competitiveness this year.”
Gonzales says Montrose Softball is a big family and the support and positive energy it creates help the league's teams to thrive.
“I have never seen so much support not only from teams within our league,” Gonzales says. “Every year we all come together and give to charities throughout the Houston community. It feels good knowing that we, as a league, did something to help other organizations within our city.”
Photos by John Cox Photography