“Opening day. All you have to do is say the words and you feel the shutters thrown wide, the room air out, the light pour in. In baseball, no other day is so pure with possibility. No scores yet, no losses, no blame or disappointment. No hangover, at least until the game’s over.”
— Mary Schmich
Take me out to the ball game! Yes, people, softball season has begun. It’s the time of year for camaraderie and angst, trials and triumphs. If you didn’t know, the City of Brotherly Love Softball League is one of the oldest sports organizations in Philadelphia. It has been around for more than 30 years and promotes LGBTQ inclusion on and off the softball fields. The games are played in Fairmount Park, with three different divisions within the league — men’s competitive, women’s and co-ed recreational — so everyone is welcome to play! League commissioner Kevin Armstrong gave us the rundown on his new role and the 2015 season, which kicked off last weekend.
PGN: So, you’re the commissioner of CBLSL. Are you from the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection?
KA: No, I grew up in upstate New York, in Ithaca.
PGN: You must be used to cold weather.
KA: Yes, I don’t like it but I’m used to it. I remember a time back in about ’93 when we had a huge blizzard. I think we missed a whole week of school and it’s not like down here where you get a few inches and they shut everything down: It has to really snow for us to miss school. Ugh.
PGN: Big family? Little family?
KA: Medium: I’m the youngest of three. I have an older brother and sister.
PGN: And the folks?
KA: They were both born and raised in Ithaca. My dad was a high-school English teacher and my mom was the head of the billing department at a doctor’s office. They both just retired last year.
PGN: So you had your education and your health covered!
KA: Oh yes.
PGN: What was your favorite class?
KA: I enjoyed social studies and history. I always found it interesting.
PGN: What was a fun family tradition?
KA: Well, I can tell you that we didn’t take many family vacations, but we were all really into sports. My dad was an English teacher but he was also a coach in high school: baseball, hockey, you name it. So we were always at some sporting event. My grandpa was a football coach and my older brother played college baseball too.
PGN: Do you think being in a family of jocks made it harder to come out?
KA: Gosh, you know I’ve never thought about that; it’s a good question. I don’t know, I was pretty athletic as well. I played sports growing up and varsity sports in high school. I guess maybe I worried what they would think but it ended up being OK.
PGN: What was your primary sport?
KA: Baseball and hockey and I did crew as well.
PGN: Who was your best friend in high school?
KA: A girl named Erin Whipple. Actually I just went to her wedding last summer so her new last name is Preat. We were good friends and obviously got along really well.
PGN: When did you come out?
KA: Well, it was by accident when I was about 19 or 20. I’m glad it happened because, to be honest with you, it made life easier in the long run. Basically, the way the story goes is that I was back at home during a college break. This was back before everyone had their own cell phones, so I was talking on the landline to this guy that I was interested in and my dad overheard the whole conversation. So there was no denying it at that point. It wasn’t funny at the time but now I look back and laugh. And it took away a lot of the angst of figuring out when I was going to tell them or how I was going to tell them.
PGN: When had you realized to yourself that you were gay?
KA: Actually not that much before my parents found out. In high school it wasn’t a predominant concern: I had some high-school girlfriends and I liked them. It wasn’t until college that I really began to realize it.
PGN: Was there an “aha” moment?
KA: Yes, there was. I remember sitting in a common area at school, people watching, and you know, you glance up every once in a while at people going by and I remember saying to myself, OK, clearly you are taking notice of the guys walking by and not the girls. And I had that epiphany, Oh gosh, I’m gay! I know a lot of people think it’s an odd story but it literally was like that. Something just clicked and I knew there was no going back.
PGN: What do you do now?
KA: Right now I’m a school counselor and before that I was a social-studies teacher.
PGN: So you followed through with your love of the subject.
KA: Yes, I did.
PGN: Are you out at school?
KA: Well, yes and no, sort of. There are people who know, but it’s not something people ask me about.
PGN: As a school counselor, what was one of the craziest problems a kid has come to you with?
KA: The funniest one well, in hindsight it was funny happened the first year. I was a fifth-grade counselor and a student had come to me hysterically crying … I mean hysterically. He couldn’t breathe and it actually took him a minute to calm down enough to be able to talk to me, and what I finally got from him between sobs was that somebody in his class had told him that Santa wasn’t real.
KA: I know. That was the last thing I expected to hear. I guess I expected that by fifth grade everybody knew about Santa already! I was trying my best not to laugh because he was just devastated. And the kids deal with so much these days. Social media is very tough for them. They put everything out there and they’re not prepared and don’t have the skills to deal with the backlash. It’s something that I see a lot of them struggle with; they just can’t figure out how to navigate the waters of social media. It’s totally different from when I went to school. Every one of them has a cell phone so they never escape it. If something goes down at school, it goes home with them. They get texts and Facebook posts and Instagram shots. There’s no getting away from it.
PGN: OK, batter up. How long have you been playing with the softball league and what position do you play?
KA: My first summer was 2008 and for the most part I play outfield. I started as an infielder and sort of made my way to the outfield. I can pitch a little but I’m not crazy about doing it.
PGN: What’s fabulous about being part of CBLSL?
KA: There are a lot of things. Honestly, the best thing about it is the social aspect. I’ve said from year one that the best friends that I’ve ever had are people that I’ve met through playing softball. The people that I call my best friends today are all people I’ve met through playing. It’s given me a lot but, for me, if there’s a reason to join the league, that would be it. For some people, they enjoy the competition of playing a sport, but that’s not the most important part for me. I play in other leagues to be competitive but I play in the CBLSL for the camaraderie.
PGN: How good do you have to be to play? Do you have to try out to get on a team?
KA: There are no tryouts. We have a range of skills, from some of the best players around to players who can’t hit or throw. We actually divide the league up into divisions so that we have a recreational division, which is comprised of people with less competitive skill levels who are more interested in the social aspect of being part of a team, and then we have a competitive division as well for people who are at a little higher skill level.
PGN: What was one of your favorite moments?
KA: A couple of things come to mind. Every year there’s a world series that the league competes in and each league gets to send a couple of teams. The team that I’ve been a part of for the last couple of years — I’m on a different team this year — has gone to several world series. My first year playing, we got to go out to Seattle to play and we ended up in second place. Now, that’s out of about 55 teams so that’s pretty good! Another year we went down to D.C. and ended up in third place. I really enjoyed that trip. We weren’t the best but we won the games that we could and we did very well. I think those are my two favorite moments.
PGN: Any stories about someone who joined the league and found it transformative?
KA: Me! As I said, I joined the league in 2008 because I needed something else. I don’t want to say I didn’t have friends; I certainly did but I needed something … I don’t know how to describe it, I just needed something else. I forced myself to join a team and, I’ll tell you what, I’m so glad I did. And I see that a lot. People enjoy it for different reasons: the competition, the socialness, the fun.
PGN: It’s nice for people to have an alternative to the bar scene.
KA: Yes, and I think this is the league’s 32nd year, so it’s been successful. I believe this year we are up to 33 teams. There’s been a lot of growth the last few years. You can come out any given Sunday and find a game. It’s kind of cool.
PGN: How did you become the commissioner and what does the position entail?
KA: Our former commissioner stepped down after a year. It’s a two-year term so we needed to find a replacement. I ran for it and won. It entails a lot of phone calls and paperwork. The main things I’m in charge of are securing the playing fields and creating the schedule, helping to plan league events both during and before the season and helping the teams find sponsors. We also have an annual event called the Liberty Bell Classic and I’m running that this year as well. So there’s a lot to be done.
PGN: Are there a lot of events off the field, fundraisers, etc.?
KA: Yes and no. The good thing about the league is that you can be as involved as you want. You can play ball and go home or you can be more social. Each Sunday, we have what’s called the Bar of the Week. That’s where after the games we all go to one of the bars that sponsors a team and hang out there. And we have different events throughout the year: On St. Patrick’s Day we did a bar crawl — we had about 300 people participate — and last weekend we had an Opening Day Block Party on Camac Street. We’ve done Quizzo and Bingo nights too.
PGN: Speaking of all things social, are you single or partnered?
KA: I have a partner.
PGN: And he is?
KA: Zach. He’s a music teacher. We’ve been together for about six years. I actually met him at one of the CBLSL block parties.
PGN: Does he play as well?
KA: He does now; he didn’t at the time.
PGN: And what musical instrument does he play?
KA: Trumpet is his main instrument.
PGN: What’s a fun adventure that you’ve had together?
KA: We do travel, mostly for softball, different tournaments, etc., and we really enjoy it. It’s something we both look forward to.
PGN: What do you think Zach would say are your best and worst qualities?
KA: [Laughs] Oh boy, I think he would say that my best quality is that I try to be kind to everyone. I’m a school counselor but I think I try to bring that compassion outside of school as well. I’m a great believer in second chances. I think you can get a lot farther being nice to people than you can if you’re nasty to them. I think he’d say that was one of my better attributes. A not-so-good attribute is that I’m a worrier. I’m not a perfectionist by any means, but I worry that things aren’t going to go as planned. Will people show up, will people like it, will it rain? I can get a little pessimistic. I try not to, and don’t show it in public, but at home I can be a bit of a worrywart.
PGN: Any hobbies off the field?
KA: Just hanging out with my friends. I like to go out to eat. I enjoy coming in to Philly a lot or going up to New York.
PGN: Where do you live?
KA: In Ewing, N.J. It’s just outside of Trenton.
PGN: If you weren’t a teacher or counselor, what would you want to do?
KA: I’d probably be a psychiatrist.
PGN: A best birthday?
KA: I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really make a fuss about birthdays. Some people celebrate their birthday week or month, I’m not even a birthday-hour kind of guy. It’s always been kind of, Eh, yeah, it’s my birthday, no big deal. Once you’ve passed 21 it’s just another day. But I’ll tell you something I’ve never told anybody: I’ve always secretly wanted a surprise birthday party.
PGN: Well, let’s hope Zach reads this! You’re a nice-looking guy, but what’s something you’d change about your appearance?
KA: My thinning hair! I can’t stand it!
PGN: Three people on your ultimate baseball team?
KA: Oh, Derek Jeter, I’m a huge Yankees fan. They’ve always been my favorite team. I would pick Babe Ruth, just because he’s the greatest baseball player of all time, and I’d pick my brother. It would be cool to play on a team with him.
PGN: What’s on your bucket list?
KA: I’d like to go to London, I’ve never been there. I’d love to get a doctorate, Ph.D. of some kind. And I would like to win the lottery!
PGN: Any pets?
KA: A gray cat named Chase, after Chase Utley. I didn’t name him, though I like the Phillies, as long as they’re not playing my Yankees!
For more information on CBLSL, visit cblsl.org.