by Jessica Carreras
For some, family is – for better or worse – something you’re born into. For others, it just depends on which softball team you join.
The family that comprises Between The Lines, who play in the LGBT Metro Detroit Softball League, is an eclectic mix of teenagers and middle-agers, gay and straight, men and women and a slew of races and ethnicities. “That’s what makes our team,” says assistant coach Kelley Youngman. “We’re so unique in our own ways.”
For example, their youngest member, Andrea, whose girlfriend also plays on the team, couldn’t participate in the first games of the season because she doesn’t turn 18 until May 30. Youngman and her partner Mary Ann Senske, however, are both in their mid 40s.
Their differences don’t stop at physical characteristics, either. During the first few weeks of practice when the team was coming together, personality clashes almost broke them apart.
Luckily, that’s all in the past.
Now, they not only practice and play together, but they also have bar nights and talk about each other’s personal lives. “We’re there to support one another as a team,” said Youngman. “It’s really a family.”
The team split their first two games last Sunday, winning against Club Flamingo, 9-7, and going down to Blue Moon Video in a close 12-11 loss. Not bad for a team that has been practicing with its current lineup for only two weeks. “We sincerely played a really good game,” Youngman says of the loss against Blue Moon. “Everybody on the team did a wonderful job for our first game as a team. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.”
Though some on the team are brand new to softball, others, like Youngman, are seasoned veterans of the sport. Youngman, who also plays women’s rugby, used to play semi-pro. Several others on the team played on their high school and college teams.
Youngman, whose handshake could put a hand out of commission for half a day, admits to having a competitive nature. Working with less serious players can be frustrating, both for her and those who she critiques. “I tend to voice my opinion and I don’t realize I come across as rough,” she confesses. “That’s just the competitiveness that’s in me.”
In contrast, Senske, a soft-spoken nurse, is in it for the fun and camaraderie. “I just want to play,” she says with a shrug.
Still, Youngman holds, the new players have come a long way in their short time of practice. “Half of these people have never played ball before,” she says. “Looking at them, you would never know.”
Dynamics between the team members make it clear that winning isn’t the first thing on their minds. But fun is. Youngman and Senske say that younger teammates are often energizing the older players. “Everyone on the team benefits from that space of age,” Youngman explains.
The team is definitely one of the less serious competitors in the league, falling in division D of 16 teams. Sponsors are numerous from the gay community, and include teams from Affirmations and Soho, Hayloft Saloon, Danny’s Irish Pub and Menjo’s. Though Between The Lines is brand new, MDSL has been bringing together LGBT softball teams for over two decades. This summer will mark their 24th season, culminating with a Sept. 13 banquet at the Century City Grille.
Throughout the next few months, Between The Lines will play 22 games at the league’s field in Rochester Hills. After taking a week off for Memorial Day and another for Pride weekend, the teams will play again on June 8. Fifteen games will be within each division and seven will be against another division. Division D teams will play division C and divisions A and B will face off. Whatever the outcome, Youngman says she expects that the team will only get better with time. “The more we play together, the better we’ll get,” she rationalizes. “I’d like to see this team stick together.”
And though the team members are all drastically different, their bonded by their connection to the LGBT community, whether gay, straight, bisexual or an ally. “Being diverse is our own individual background,” says Senske. “But I feel that being gay is what brought us to the team. In MDSL softball, that’s the glue that binds us.”