Games were played Aug. 4, but with heavy heartsand tribute ribbons attached to players' and umpires' uniforms. The balls and strikes, safe and out calls were, in large part, secondary to the memories that ran throughout the Open Sunday Softball League of the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ), at all fields, in all games, in all divisions.
CMSA, particularly softball, lost a local legend on Friday night, August 2. Robert F. "Bobby" Nicholson passed away, leaving a long local and national gay sports legacy that dates back about 40 years. He was 69.
Nicholson is a member of the CMSA Hall of Fame, inducted in its second-ever class of inductees in 2008, along with Richard Essig, Art Johnston, Doug Malm and Sidetrack. He also later served on the CMSA Hall of Fame committee. Plus, Nicholson was a 2009 inductee into the NAGAAA Hall of Fame from the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, which operates the annual Gay Softball World Series. That 2009 induction class also featured fellow Chicagoans Phil Runions and Sam Coady.
"CMSA would not be what it is today without Bobby Nicholson. It's no surprise that he's been inducted in every Hall of Fame out there," said Shawn Albritton of Chicago.
CMSA Hall of Fame member Marcia Hill, inducted in 2007, simply said: "CMSA has lost one of [its] bests."
"Bobby was in a class by himself," said Brian Sommer of Chicago. "He was always so nice and kind to all softball players."
And comical, too, even if it was a dry humor.
Sommer, for instance, recalls umpiring a game with Nicholson, with Nicholson working as the plate umpire. "He told me that he would signal [to] me every time the teams switch, so I would know if it was the top or bottom of the inning," Sommer said. "So, for the top of the inning, he would stand in front of the plate and just start hitting the top of his hat, [thus] I knew we were in the top of the inning. Then for the bottom of the inning, he would stand in front of the plate and just start spanking his own butt.
"I laughed so hard whenever it was the bottom of the inning.
"I will miss his humor and kind words so much."
Albritton added, "His fun spirit and sportsmanship rubbed off on me and those who knew him."
Nicholson was from suburban Evergreen Park, but lived in Kansas City, Missouri until his return to Chicago in 1965. He joined the Gay Athletic Association ( GAA ), the predecessor to MSA and later CMSA, to continue his lifelong joy of playing team sports.
From 1980 through 1999, he was a softball player, in both 16- and 12-inch gay softball leagues in Chicago. He was a member for 13 NAGAAA Gay Softball World Series teams.
"Bobby represented the best of LGBT sports," said Kevin Boyer of Chicago. "He was always there with a joke and a laugh. [He was] smart, fair, and committed to the players. Every game [that] he umpired was more fun."
Added Brian Lopez, of Chicago: "I'm having trouble comprehending that he's gone. Unfortunately, I don't have a quote or words to express how amazing this guy was. For so many of us, he was one of the first introductions we had into the gay sports world, and what an incredible representative he was."
Nicholson, during 1983-1999, was the co-owner of The North End, a sports bar in Boystown, and he financially sponsored softball, bowling, volleyball and flag football teams.
From 1984-1990, he bowled in the Thursday and Friday night GAA/MSA leagues.
Nicholson was the 1995 recipient of the James R. Brody Award, presented to the Open Sunday Softball League player for outstanding sportsmanship.
Nicholson started umpiring CMSA's Open Softball league in the late-1990s, including a time as its umpire-in-chief.
"I knew Bobby for 28 years … he was my umpire mentor many years ago," said Doug Malm, who is now the CMSA Open Sunday Softball League UIC. "He taught me how to be an umpire on the field and a better person off the field. I will miss his friendship."
Hill added, "Bobby was a class actas a player, coach, manager, umpire and friend.
Nicholson was a founding committee member in 1999 of the Senior Cup and team sponsor of Bob's Old Bats.
Nicholson was, for years, an umpire in the annual Gay Softball World Series
"[Bobby] was the one who got me to start umpiring, and [he] mentored me," said Albritton, who tagged Nicholson as a "very dear friend."
"He was someone who I always looked up to and aspired to be. I was lucky to [also] play in a couple of softball tournaments with him."
Nicholson was voted Most Valuable Player at the Emerald City Classic softball tournament in Seattle by his Chicago Jackhammer teammates.
"When I think of Bobby, I will always remember his smile and the way he made everyone feel special," said Julie Colwell. "I always had a blast [umpiring] the Senior Cup for Bobby.
"He truly was an ambassador for CMSA Softball, [a] hard-working umpire and [he] could remember softball stories for days.
"The entire NAGAAA family will miss his smile, his laugh and wit that made you just want to hug him. He will just have to share his softball stories with all the Cubs fans in heaven."
Sam M., a longtime friend of Nicholson, added: "I have a tremendous amount of great memories from my friendship with Bobby. First as a player with the [team called the] Bushmen, then as an owner/sponsor for The North End, then just as a player again.
"I was so excited that Mike Travers and me, along with our teammates, were able to retire the 16-inch championship trophy to Bobby and The North End. I was sad when Bobby sold his part of The North End because he also had to 'sell' the MSA trophy to the new owner. Bobby told me that was his only regret about getting out of the bar business[that] he couldn't keep the trophy.
"I'm going to miss that guy. He was a major supporter of GAA/MSA and me. He'll not be forgotten by me. I think the ribbons worn by the players [on August 4, the day after his death] was a fitting and well-deserved honor for a great guy."
Nicholson played in the Windy City Athletic Association's basketball league in the mid-2000s.
He also was the umpire-in-chief for the 2006 Gay Games, held in Chicago, for both the men and the women's divisions.
Nicholson's longtime partner, David shared the sad news, saying: "It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I write to you [that] our dear friend Bobby Nicholson passed away today. According to his wishes, there will not be a public service. Instead, we ask that you pause and reflect on those special memories you shared with him, remembering the laughs and smiles you brought to each other's day. He truly enjoyed time spent with friends and family.
"Tonight, before you fall asleep, as a tribute to Bobby, whisper 'Good Night Irene' to wish him well on his journey. Thanks for being a part of his life!"