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SPORTS Steve Kasperski, knocking it out of the park
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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Steve Kasperski had a memorable summer on the softball fields, claiming championship medals in two of the most prestigious international events.

The 56 year-old Kasperski—who lives in Hyde Park and Melrose Park, and has been playing gay softball in Chicago since 1991—went to the Gay Games in Paris in early August with a San Francisco team, with the squad winning the bronze medal. Then in early September, he was playing for the Philadelphia Triple Play Master's Division team in the annual Gay Softball World Series in Tampa Bay, and his team was named co-champions after the final game was rained out.

"I had mixed emotions when we won the Master's [Division] this year. I was happy that we won, but disappointed that we were denied playing the final game due to rain," he said.

Kasperski was born in Chicago and grew up in Cicero. After living out of state for almost 20 years, he returned to Chicago in 2001—and he now works in the justice system for Cook County.

"I [started] in [the] Windy City Athletics [gay sports league] in 1991 when my partner then played tennis and volleyball," Kasperski said. "One day they needed a volleyball player and I was the on the court diving for balls. Jim Flint, of Annex 3 at the time, asked me if I ever played third base. [Sure enough,] I joined his [softball] team that spring and have played in softball leagues ever since.

"After that first year on Annex 3, I played on MSA Sidetrack. In 1992 while playing for Sidetrack I had to work at a horse track in Kentucky. I would drive seven hours from Kentucky every week to play softball in order to keep my spot on the team and go to the [Gay Softball] World Series."

Kasperski's softball career also included time with Chicago Hunters, and he coached that team at time, too.

"I like changing things up, playing with different players," he said. "At one time, I thought I had a pretty good idea of most C-Division player's hitting tendencies, which made me a good defensive player. I also made wonderful friendships over the years from softball. We would travel to [multiple] tournaments a year and have a blast."

Kasperski also has played tennis, basketball and volleyball in gay leagues—and he truly cherishes the fields of play.

"Sports creates social opportunities. Tournaments offer a chance to travel, room with and get to know people better. There are so many guys [who] I got to know better [through sports]," Kasperski said. "Some of my favorite moments include winning our first tournament the first time I went to one with Annex 3 in Birmingham. There were other good moments too, including winning as a manager. Beating other Chicago teams in tournaments and playing on Saturday in the World Series [also are fond memories].

"My nephew, who is straight, played a couple of tournaments with my team last year. He finally got to experience the fun that I always talk about. One of the best things about softball is when my son comes to the games. He loves to support us and has his favorites on my old team, [the] Sidetrack Black Widows. He often gets my glove ready for me when it's time to go back into the field after batting. He offers me a review of my play after the game just like I do with him. He adopted some of our team slogans and sense of quick wit. Each team I played on welcomed him into the dugout and included him in an age-appropriate way.

"I will always be grateful to all of them as well as opposing players who did the same. I have a picture of when he was 2-years-old at my games. He says he remembers that day. I am sure it is the love and fellowship expressed regularly before, during and after our games that he remembers."

Kasperski's softball career dates back longer than some foes in CMSA's Open Sunday Softball League were even born. Heck, this was his 24th Gay Softball World Series.

"Winning [the Series title this year] was good, but the run in Chicago on the Spin team was even better for me," he said.

Now batting … Steve Kasperski

—Favorite baseball team: Chicago White Sox. "I still recall my gramps taking me to a bat day [at old Comiskey Park] when [Dick] Allen was the [team's] star. They broke my heart chasing the Oakland A's in 1972. I loved the Sox in 2005," when the team won the World Series.

—On pro athletes: "I'm not really impressed by athletes in general. I don't remember getting an autograph [as a kid]. I admired those men and women who overcame barriers to succeed. I loved to watch Tiger Woods when he was on top of his game, [and] am enjoying his comeback. I can appreciate Jim Abbott, too. "

—In the stands: Kasperski has attended the U.S. Open and White Sox playoff games.

—More softball memories—on flights to, from tournaments: "Mark Vild would do a recap of the tournament on flights. Once, he and I made little dolls representing each player. He brought his out on the plane and did impressions of our team play. Travelers and flight attendants wanted to know more about the dolls. I should have known this was no ordinary group of guys during my first tournament. Once, on the plane, I went to the bathroom, and when I came out, the guys on Annex 3 were passing my boxers around the plane."

—Speaking softball: "The level of [softball] play has really improved [over the years]. We used to have a competitive and non-competitive division. Now we have six divisions. The top-tier ( B and C Divisions ) have some talented players. Beside growth in numbers, the tournament play has really expanded. There are tournaments throughout the year. Finally, like pro sports, the equipment is better, which helps player's performance. And, the players are fitter and stronger."

—No gay, but play: "There is disagreement regarding the number of straight players allowed on a team [in the gay leagues]. I'm of the opinion that we should have no restrictions; we should be as inclusive as we can be."

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