When Cameron Turner steps on the field with the Segal McCambridge Menace at the annual Gay Softball World Series, it certainly will be an emotional week with Chicago's top-tiered A-Division team.
Turner is moving to Miami later this year, but just to avoid Chicago's winter.
Turner and his Menace are determined to win the title for Chicago in this, the fifth consecutive year Chicago has fielded an A-Division team.
This is the ninth time Turner has played in the Gay Softball World Series, a predominantly-male event run by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance ( NAGAAA ).
The Series is Sept. 22-27 in Dallas, and there are eight A-Division teams, including the defending champion Houston Force.
"We started out great last year [in the Series], but then fell apart in elimination play," said Turner, the Menace player-manager. "We were the only team to beat the eventual champion the week of the Series, but that came when it didn't matter in round-robin play. We need to play solid all the way through this year.
"We have given a lot more thought to how to preserve our energy over the course of the Series and take advantage of our depth. We also have shaken up the lineup a bit this year and experimented with different combinations to find the winning one. And, we have had an amazing 2014, probably our best season to date."
The Menace is 32-5 this year and finished in first-place in an Elmhurst league that it competes in.
Turner said the biggest surprise of this year's team is its "ability to win all kinds of games. We have played in conditions [less than ideal] to hitting and won low-scoring games 4-3 and 4-0. Next game we can turn around and score 25 [or] 30 runs when the hitting conditions are favorable. We have a lot of versatility."
The top offensive stars for the Menace are Kevin Ball, Scott Heichert, Matt Walus and Joe Bland. The team's top defensive players are Scott McDonald, James Platt and Charles Piper.
Ball is the team's primary pitcher.
"We hope to break the 'middle of the pack' bubble we have been stuck in since joining the A-Division," Turner said. "The A-Division is all about what team can string together the most good games in a row, and when that happens, any team can beat any other team. We are focused on how best to be that team this year."
The Menace finished third at the 2012 Series in Minneapolis.
"We are quietly confident going into Dallas this year," said Turner, 42, an attorney whobefore his move to Miamilives in Lincoln Square. "I honestly believe this our best and deepest team to date. We are playing with a lot of poise and experience. We've also added some youth to our team to keep us fresh and give us a little more energy."
The Menace will be joined in Dallas by five other teams representing the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ). Overall, this year's Series features about 175 teams, including 10 in the Master's Division for players age 50 and over, such as the Chicago Gotcha Covered Legends.
"As with many Master's level teams, experience is very important and all of the teams are going to have that. What differentiates the Chicago Legends from the other teams [is] depth of experience across a variety of positions," said Matt McGary, the team's manager. "Mark Sakalares built a roster that ensures we have quality players at every position, as well as skilled substitutes. This allows [me] the ultimate flexibility in how we play. I don't have to worry about putting in a player and the quality of play going down."
McGary said the team's goal is simple: "Have a great time and come back with some hardware."
McGary, 44, lives in Buena Park and is a technology product manager for Tribune Publishing. This is his fifth Series and there are 13 players on the Chicago Master's Division team.
"We have a well-rounded roster with a lot of tournament experience. We have depth from top to bottom and some solid bats," McGary said. "Everyone [on the team] is very excited about going to the World Series and playing at a high level."
The Chicago Legends have four skilled pitchers, if needed: Randy Detert, Mark Sakalares, Doug King and Jeff Xenakis.
The team's top offensive players are Steve Kasperski, Joe Cappeletti and Chris Vernald.
The team's top defensive standouts are Daniel DePalma ( outfield ), Greg McNitt ( first base ) and Kevin Henry ( infield ).
"The World Series always is something to look forward to," McGary said. "As [the] coach, I am challenged on how to best utilize the talent that is on this team. The roster is packed full of solid players and teammates, so it is up to me to not screw it up. I like the challenge ahead of us and think we can do pretty well."
McGary made his World Series debut in Fort Lauderdale in 2006and it also was his best memory, he said. "We had lost our first elimination game and had to play early Friday [morning] to stay alive. We ended up winning five [games] in a row and lost by one [run] in a rain-shortened game. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. As nice as that was, I look forward to creating new highlights with the Chicago Legends."
The Chicago Legends will be without Rob Paradise, who recently passed away.
"I know he will be coaching from the best seat in the house and we will do all we can to make him proud," McGary said. "The excitement comes from having talented ball players on the roster, but more importantly, great people."
The Chicago Legends will have a patch on their uniforms in memory of Paradise.
"I truly believe this team will do well in Dallas," McGary said. "Egos are not a concern on this team and the focus is to play hard, have fun and hopefully bring home some hardware."
There are 31 Series teams in the B-Division, including the Chicago Gotcha Covered Dragons.
The C-Division will be represented by Steamworks/iCandee Chicago Adrenaline and Chicago Corruption.
"We have the right guys to win a lot of games [in the Series]; we just need to execute and play smart," said Stacy Gorgas, 38, manager of Chicago Corruption, in his fourth Series.
The 14-member Corruption features pitcher Kevin Touchette, and offensive standouts Anthony Miceli, Jeff Weber and Ryan McGowan. The team's top defensive stars are Gorgas ( third base ) and outfielders Peter Bonavia and Steven Valdez.
Gorgas said the Corruption features a loaded lineup. "We just need to come together at the right time," he added.
Jack Neilsen, 39, who lives in Andersonville and is an office manager, also will serve as coach/manager/captain for the Steamworks/iCandee Chicago Adrenaline. He plays pitcher and catcher and this is his 10th Series appearance. His team features 12 players, including pitchers Ken Hawrysko and Steve Renteria. The team's top offensive players are Renteria, Matt Hernandez and Neal Dotson. The Adrenaline's top defensive stars are Jason Mahilo ( outfield ), Matt Hernandez ( outfield ) and Matt Jones ( infield ).
"I think [our team's goal] is the same goal for everyone, to win the Gay Softball World Series," Neilsen said. "I believe what sets us apart is our team chemistry.
"I've had the opportunity to play in each division except Master's, and each team is unique in its own way. I don't think you can compare this team to past teams."
The Chicago Replay Jox will be competing in the D-Division, which is the Series' largest division.
The Chicago Sidetrack Classic, playing in the inaugural Master's Division in 2011 in Chicago, was the last local team to win a Series championship. Before that, Chicago last won a World Series title in 2009, with the Spin Cougars in B-Division.
The Gay Softball World Series was first held in 1977 in San Francisco. It was held in Chicago for the first time in 1983 and that was the first time a Chicago team won the title.
The women's softball World Series, run by the Amateur Sports Alliance of North America ( ASANA ), will be Oct. 13-18 in Las Vegas.