Cactus Cities Softball League
Fall season preps players for World Series
By Laura Latzko
This year, a number of teams in both the open men’s and women’s division will represent Phoenix at the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance’s Gay Softball World Series Sept. 22-27 in Dallas.
And shortly thereafter, women’s division teams will be heading to the Amateur Sports Alliance of North America’s Softball World Series Oct. 13-18 in Las Vegas.
“The World Series is the pinnacle, the best of the best,” said Aaron Fullerton, open division commissioner and AZ Ice player. “It is the peak of the peak with competitiveness.”
Fullerton, who has attended the World Series since 2008, described it as an opportunity that allows players experience a higher level of competition.
To have a strong showing at the national tournament, Fullerton said it is essential that players develop their skills through regular season and tournament play.
“It takes a lot of practice and dedication,” Fullerton said. “It takes a lot to be competitive nationally. You have to play year in and year out.”
The Toros, one of the league’s A Division teams, returns to the tournament after placing in the top three in its division for five of the last six years. In 2009, the team won the A division during the World Series in Milwaukee.
John Deffee, Toros coach and player, aid this year, the Toros are going into the tournament looking to bring back a championship trophy to Phoenix.
Deffee, a member of the 2009 championship team, said he and other players have gone into the season with the motto “no more silver” and hope to prove they can win it all again.
“We don’t want to be known as that Phoenix team that only won it one time,” Deffee said. “Now that you’ve had a taste of it, and you know you are so close, now you’re like, ‘we can’t accept anything less than the best now.’”
Members of the AZ Elite, an A Division team made up of former Diablos and Trojans players, look to have a strong showing after finishing second in the Gay Games.
Other teams going to the NAGAAA World Series include the AZ Ice and Crush in the B Division, the Aztecs and the Spartans in the C Division and the Grizzlies and Monsoon in the D Division.
Phoenix teams will compete against more than 150 of the top teams from across the country, including last year’s A Division champions, the Houston Force.
Women’s division teams representing Phoenix at the ASANA Softball World Series include Moxie in the B Division, Raw and PHX Heat in the C Division and the Honey Badgers in the D division.
Teams advanced to the World Series based on their spring league standings. And, during both World Series tournaments, teams play round robin games to determine brackets and go on to a double-elimination tournament.
According to Fullerton, the combination social events, the sense of community, camaraderie among teammates as well as players from other cities makes the event special and the tournament atmosphere unique.
“It offers so much more than just softball for me,” he said. “We don’t win every game, but after every tournament, I feel like I have won because it is such a special experience.”
For many players, regular season and tournament play provide open and accepting environments they invite out their friends or families to be a part of.
“It is easier to be yourself when you are around that environment,” said Heidi Dillon, a Moxie player and 11-year league member. “You don’t have to worry about the outside people passing judgment on you and it is family oriented. We had our kids out there all the time when they were younger.”
The Toros, a team that has been together for 10 years, played in a summer league in Peoria, held regular batting practices and have attended tournaments throughout Arizona leading up to the World Series.
Deffee said that playing before the tournament gets players mentally and physically ready for the World Series.
“Everyone is already excited to go. So everyone is focused and dedicated,” he said. “We are always dedicated, but the ambition and the drive peaks with us right before we go.”
The Toros have become known as one of the top teams in Arizona by winning city leagues and tournaments and, in the process, have changed attitudes about the competitive nature of LGBT teams.
Teams in the A Division, a smaller division with the most skilled players, play each other regularly and have to be strategic in how they play each other, Deffee said.
“We know it is not a matter of skill. It is a matter of how we play when we are there,” he said. “Are we going to play smart and if we are struggling, are we going to adapt? I’m not saying nobody can beat us, but it’s going to be really tough to beat us … we play smart.”