It is the peak of the summer season. Grass is growing green and tall and the sun is beaming down, creating perfect, but searing, conditions for softball.
Several teams are playing on three different diamonds in Dairy Field in Fairmount Park. Teammates are chanting for each other, coaches are encouraging players to throw harder and hit the ball, and friends and family are staying cool in lawn chairs, cheering on their partners and friends. And in the middle of it all is Steve Mast, walking proudly with his partner and their dog as he surveys the team camaraderie.
Mast, 35, is commissioner of the City of Brotherly Love Softball League, an LGBT slow-pitch softball league that serves Philadelphia and the surrounding areas.
CBLSL celebrated its 30th anniversary last season but dates back to the 1970s, when it was just a collection of players who called themselves the Masterbatters. The team recruited more players and divided into five teams by 1984, becoming known as the Philadelphia Gay Softball League.
Now, CBLSL encompasses more than 30 teams and more than 700 members.
Mast, who took the helm of the organization at the beginning of this year, walks around the three fields, looking out over the teams that are playing. He sports a blue and white uniform, gearing up for his own 10 a.m. game with the Tavern on Camac Wolves.
While he spends his Sundays at the softball fields, during the week, Mast works in investment administration at PNC Bank. He lives in South Philadelphia with his partner, Sean, but hails from Dover, Del. Mast is a graduate of Wilmington College, where he majored in finance.
It was at age 22, when he was ending his college career, that he came out; however, Mast says, it wasn’t his doing.
“My coming-out story is sort of the boring part of me,” he said. “I was in the car with my mother and wasn’t hiding my sexuality but I wasn’t coming out either. I think it was Thanksgiving or some holiday and she was talking about dinner at my sister’s and she goes, ‘You know, Stevie, you can bring anyone you want.’ And I just thought, OK. I was like, ‘I don’t know what that means’ and she goes, ‘Well, if you want to bring a male friend, you are able to do that. Just so you know your sisters, me and your brother, we all know.’ People pretty much already knew so it was easy for me.”
Mast added that he did have a boyfriend at the time but didn’t bring him to the holiday dinner, although he was grateful to his mom for opening the door.
His post-college years also allowed him to discover the sport of softball.
Sports had always played a role in Mast’s life. He played little league baseball and continued the sport in both high school and college.
While living in Delaware, a roommate encouraged him to again pick up a bat — and join CBLSL.
“I didn’t really play softball but a roommate I had when I was living in Wilmington joined the softball league and he got me interested in the league, so I’ve been playing softball since I arrived in Philly in 2005,” he said.
Mast played on the Key West team his first year.
“The team was a great group of guys who had been on the league for a number of years and they were very welcoming,” he said. “That year was a great year; I won Rookie of the Year and got acclimated into the league and everyone was very nice.”
He went on to become treasurer of the league for two years and finance commissioner for three.
Originally, he didn’t have his sights set on commissioner, but said his fellow board members and teammates made the decision, and ensuing transition, an easy one.
“The commissioner role wasn’t something I really wanted to be but the guy who was doing it — Bob Lenahan — he thought I would be great for the position and others did too. It took me a while to think about it but I thought, if they all think I can do it, then so do I,” he said. “I am passionate about this league, I want to see it run well and taking over the role wasn’t a tough decision.”
Since assuming the position, Mast said he has been grateful for the opportunity to meet the myriad and diverse people who comprise the league.
It’s apparent that Mast’s presence on the fields is known to the teams, as the coaches turn their heads and wave in his direction.
Despite it being game day, Mast said Sundays are usually the easiest days he has in terms of commissioner work; throughout the week, in addition to his full-time job, he juggles arranging umpires for the games, catching up on emails and troubleshooting issues with teams.
“Sundays ... It depends on when I am playing. I am playing at 10 a.m. today so I am usually out here before games start, before 9 a.m.,” he said. “We have to unlock Port-A-Potties and we want to make sure the fields are up and running and are in good condition. Sometimes players are late and we have to check with umpires and make sure the games are still running. I have three assistant commissioners and board members helping me out, but usually on Sundays, it is smooth sailing.”
Mast said the league has seen tremendous growth in recent years; when he joined it had 20 teams and he hopes to keep the expansion going, although finding space to accommodate so many players can be challenging.
“We’ve grown with 10 teams in that 10 years. We could probably do more but we are limited in our field space,” he said. “We have six fields so we can only play so much. The growth has been expansive and it is a great way to meet people. People have grown friendships from this and it is something fun to do on Sundays.”
Mast said the league has also been effective in changing minds about homophobia in the sports world, a climate he said he hopes continues to change.
“If anyone comes out here and sees us play, we have some pretty badass gay players here in softball and other sports,” he said. “We play just as well.”
The league also works to give back to the LGBT community. Mast said he is honored that the organization’s community work has been recognized by such organizations as the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, which presented CBLSL the 2014 Nonprofit Heroes Award.
“It feels great, just coming from myself and my other board members, we work really hard to make it a great league and we love our members and what they make this league to be. It means a lot to get that recognition from a community that has always supported us.”