Joe Green had only been out a few years when he started playing in a gay softball league, and yet still wasn't comfortable with being gay and living in the suburbs where he didn't know a lot of other gay people.
But suddenly, through softball, Green met hundreds of other people who were "just like me," he recalled. "[The league] made me feel like I found a place where I can just be me and not hide; it gave me a voice.
"I always had a competitive nature, knew how to play and was excited about meeting new people. I wasn't the strongest arm, nor the biggest bat, but I was fast and that helped me feel confident. Back then, teams would hang out together after the games, and your teammates became your friends and your extended family. The players on the other teams became your friends, too. I went from knowing about 10 gay people to 100-plus. It made going out to the bars easier as there was always someone you would run into that also played softball and you can just have a conversation with them."
When the softball season ended, "I couldn't wait for next year to start all over again," he added.
Decades later, Green is still playing softball through the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ). And that's just the start of his sporting career.
"I think I've tried just about every sport," said Green, who has played in numerous softball leagues and countless tournaments, and he also has tried his sporting blood in flag football, volleyball, basketball, kickball, dodgeball, badminton, tennis, bowling, billiards, darts and soccer. He has participated in the Gay Games when it was hosted in Chicago, and he medaled in the long jump ( gold ), triple jump ( silver ), 4x100 relay ( bronze ) and flag football ( bronze ).
In addition, has been a CMSA coach, umpire, referee, Main Board Member, Individual League board member and longtime sponsor.
And, he met his husband through softball. Green and Brian Kettner have been together for 16 years, the past three married.
On Saturday, July 28, Green will be inducted into the CMSA Hall of Famer, along with Bill Enright and Bill Helton. The ceremony starts at 7 p.m., at Andersonville Brewing, 5402 N. Clark St.
Green said the Hall of Fame induction means that "I can be visible."
"Growing up, I played a variety of sports, but I was average in stature and wasn't a star player; and being more on the quiet side, I didn't really want to stand out," he said. "I knew I was gay early on, but didn't know what it meant. Growing up in a military family, I used to hear stories of my dad coming home with stories about how other [military] service men were getting dishonorably discharged from service for being gay. I equated being gay was something that people were keeping as a secret life and got in trouble and losing their career if caught.
"In high school I did more individual sports, such as tennis and chess, part [as] my limiting belief that being gay I shouldn't do anything that made me stand out.
"I still have a relatively reserved life as part of that 'closeted' upbringing is still there. So, being honored and recognized is not something that I comfortably accept. At the same time, it's like a weight being lifted and the doors opening, if that makes sense."
Green, 52, has lived in Chicago since 1988 and is the owner of Green Team Properties as well as a realtor for Keller Williams Chicago Lincoln Park.
Green's sporting career has been filled with years of highlightsand some bloopers, too.
He was, for instance, named MVP of his softball team in his second or third year playing. He's made countless plays at home while a catcher and wasn't afraid of the collision. He had four interceptions in one flag football game during the Gay Games, two of which he returned for touchdowns and another in which he pitched the ball to another player for a touchdown.
Then there was the softball tournament in which he was playing right field, and a ball was hit down the right field line. Green caught the ball and went crashing into the fence where his shorts got caught on the fence and he ended up hanging upside down with his pants around my ankles."
Green and Kettner met during a softball tournament in Milwaukee. Kettner was new to the league and Green was a pick-up player for that team for that tournament. "It truly was love at first sight for both of us," Green said. "We were both talking to our friends about each other, like we were back in high school."
Green and Kettner are, and have been for years, teammates on the fields of play, not just off.
"Being 50-plus, I'm definitely on the retirement track. It [will] be hard to stop playing [softball], but it's getting close to that," Green said. "I've had so many great memories, made great friends. Softball has given me life and made me more alive."
Green, who admitted he has grown more comfortable with being gay and accepting of who he is and of others through gay sports, also embraces those who are pioneers for the league and for the gay movement, plus those who have stood up for gay rights and the rights of others.
"I'm not the one standing on the pedestal or on the microphone shouting out for equal rights, but I do feel that I am more of that supporting cast member that does a lot of the work behind the scenes to help others," he said. "From giving the encouraging words to a player on my team or even those on other teams, which also flows into my business career of wanting to help as many people as I can in their real estate needs. I don't seek to be the center of attention, which is why I'm so honored to have been recognized and selected to be inducted into the CMSA Hall of Fame."
Extra innings with … Joe Green
Best sports: Softball or billiards
Worst sport: Bowling
Favorite pro sports team: "I appreciate teams [when] they are good, [such as the championship] run the Chicago Bulls had, the Bears when they did their Super Bowl Shuffle, the Cubs of recent [years]."
Favorite pro sports stadium: Wrigley Field
One pro athlete who you'd like to meet: David Kopay
Still to do: "I wouldn't mind going after gold again in the long jump in the next Gay Games, [which] would put me in the 55-plus age group. As I joked, [the long jump] is about running really fast, then kicking your legs up into the air for as long as you can until you land on your ass."