BY ANASTASIA KALIABAKOS | Social communities are extremely important to the functioning of society. We saw that most clearly during the pandemic, where people from all over the country and world found themselves seeking out creative and unprecedented ways to connect with others. Strong, close-knit, small social groups can connect to one another through shared experiences. An example of this community-based bonding can be found in the Big Apple Softball League, or BASL.
BASL was formed as a safe space for members of the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community, along with allies, to come together in friendship and fellowship. This unique softball league offers a discrimination-free environment where all ages, races, sexual orientations and nationalities are welcome to participate and have fun.
The idea of a New York City gay softball league came to fruition in 1976 through the hard work of several men and activists — Chuck Dina, Rich Diaz, Mike Cary and Fred Howell to name a few. Back then, outreach efforts were very different from today. Without social media, the men took to the streets and bars of New York City, hanging handmade posters to garner the support and attention of fellow New Yorkers. Ultimately, they raised enough interest to form a 12-team league to start playing in the 1977 softball season. They were initially called the Metropolitan Community Athletic Association.
While the fledgling league may have, to outsiders, simply been just another bunch of softball players, M.C.A.A. served a deeper purpose — it provided a secure environment for gay athletes to get to know one another. At the time, most places where L.G.B.T.Q.+ people could meet were bars and clubs, which, while fun and exciting, were anything but laid-back. Softball allowed true bonds of friendship to form among queer New Yorkers and was so successful that similar gay sports teams began in volleyball, bowling and even pool.
In 1980, the M.C.A.A. softball league broke away from the larger Manhattan Community Athletic Association of New York to form the Big Apple Softball League (BASL). By doing so, the league was able to offer more events for members to meet each other, both on and off the field. Additionally, BASL began to provide softball training, educating the community about the physical, social and psychological benefits of athletics.
More than four decades later, the Big Apple Softball League has boomed in popularity. In 2009, the league introduced the Women’s Division, which has also seen growth and success. Altogether, BASL now has more than 600 members total on 30 different teams. It has also grown from using just one field to more than 12 fields across the city.
Robert Hanley, who has been a part of the BASL community since the ’80s, strongly believes in the mission and success of this softball league.
“Being on the Cyclones, a BASL team, has been an extremely important part of my life,” he said. “I have had the opportunity to make so many friends and to meet people who have had a great impact on me personally. I am so grateful to the founders of the league and the message our existence has even to this day.”
Another player, Joey Fracchiolla, who founded the BASL Cyclones team, said, “What makes this current roster unique is the wide range in ages. We have a few players in their 20s, and the age goes all the way up to the oldest players, who are 70. And our scorekeeper is 81.”
That kind of statement truly is a testament to how impactful this sports community is to individuals throughout New York City.
Another unique aspect of BASL is that, while it fosters community between L.G.B.T.Q.+ individuals, it is also open to allies and any person who is interested in the environment BASL offers. One can see the support for the league through the diversity of its sponsors, which range from the historic Stonewall Inn to a personal-injury law firm — Hach and Rose Attorneys at Law — and Village Apothecary, a community pharmacy at Bleecker and W. 10th Streets that specializes in H.I.V. care.
For more information on BASL or to join one of its teams, visit bigapplesoftball.com/home.