In the continuing Blade series on the rookies and veterans of the LGBT sports teams in Washington, two players from the Chesapeake and Potomac Softball League step up to the plate.
Spring season ball started last weekend for the players and registration is now open for the summer league. This August, the League is expecting to send five teams to the Gay Softball World Series in Columbus, Ohio.
Softball player Glenn Conklin points to two athletes who exemplify the type of players the league is proud to spotlight.
“Billy Sanchez is a new player that has infused so much enthusiasm into his team that he has reminded us about having fun with the game,” Conklin says. “Chris Ryon is a long-time player who fosters relationships with rookie athletes to encourage them to stay in the sport and advance to more competitive divisions.”
Sanchez grew up in California and began playing baseball for a travel team at age 7. He dropped the sport in high school because he was gay.
“I went to a Catholic high school and there was an incident in the locker room with a gay basketball player,” Sanchez says. “The desire to play was still there, but the obstacles felt too big.”
It was especially disappointing for Sanchez because baseball was something he shared with his father.
After he settled into his career as a behavioral therapist, Sanchez began taking his students to baseball games as part of the curriculum. The urge to play again crept into his head and after moving to D.C. with his partner, he happened to be at Nellie’s while the league was having its season kick-off party.
Sanchez was too late to join that season so he waited for the launch of the summer 2014 season.
“When I started playing and realized I could still do this, it was absolutely phenomenal,” says Sanchez, who is 30 and plays shortstop. “I could still hear my father in my ear giving me tips.”
Sanchez had his partner film some footage of him playing to send to his dad in California who responded with some familiar critiques, telling him he was making the same mistakes he made as a kid.
That was a great moment for Sanchez as it felt good to rebuild that part of their relationship. His family even drove out for Sanchez’s first softball tournament with his D.C. teammates in Las Vegas last January at the Sin City Shootout.
Sanchez noticed in his first season that the veteran players had a dominant presence and he found himself asking a lot of questions to help build similar relationships with the other players.
“It feels good to be competitive again,” Sanchez says. “I love the team comraderie. This feels like a big family.”
Chris Ryon grew up in Northern Virginia and played every sport he could get his hands on including tennis, soccer, track & field and swimming. Two sports missing from his list were baseball and softball.
He dropped out of sports after college and something clicked in him when he came out at age 27.
“I was looking for something and realized that sports had been such a big part of my life,” Ryon says. “I had no gay experience and no softball experience, so I joined the league in 2006.”
Ryon had always liked watching baseball, but found out that he was pretty lousy at playing.
“I could catch and run,” Ryon says, “but I was lucky if any of my ground balls made it out of the infield.”
His answer to that was to spend a lot time keeping score for other teams and reading baseball literature such as the book from legendary baseball player Ted Williams on the science of hitting.
Ryon ended up leaving the LGBT league and joining a straight league, the D.C. Think Tank League. He found their league to be boring and he returned to Chesapeake and Potomac Softball where he formed his own team.
Now in his 10th year as a softball player, the 37 year-old athlete, who is employed in network tech support, has found his niche in the LGBT softball community.
“If I see a player who is struggling, I will offer tips,” Ryon says. “The details are what make for better softball.”
Tournament action started for Ryon five years ago and he is hooked on what they have to offer. He has traveled to multiple cities including Las Vegas, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston and the 2014 Cleveland/Akron Gay Games.
In the past few years, his improvement on the field has led to two tournament titles and three second place finishes.
“Playing for so many years, it was great to finally win one. I love the tournaments because you get to play all day,” says Ryon, who plays second base. “Winning is a mindset as much as it is an ability. Every play can change a game.”
Recently, the veteran asked the rookie to join his travel team for the upcoming Philadelphia tournament.
“I have seen how Sanchez plays; he has a great arm,” Ryon says. “Playing with new players improves everyone’s abilities.”