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Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011

Play Ball, Milwaukee!

LGBT teams in Dairyland softball tournament

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Brian Reinkober has been the commissioner of Milwaukee's Saturday Softball Beer League (SSBL) since 2002. The 34-year-old LGBT league is holding its annual Dairyland Classic softball tournament at Wick Field on Sept. 3-4, followed by awards and entertainment in Catalano Square in the city's Third Ward. All of the events are free and open to the public.

What's the SSBL story?


Tommy Salzsieder was very instrumental in starting it in 1977. The purpose was to provide a place where LGBT athletes could be in a safe environment and play like anybody else. Over the years, it's become a great thing to do on Saturdays, a social gathering for people who want to play softball with their friends. This year we have 15 teams sponsored not only by gay and lesbian bars, but also—for the first time—by a straight bar, Club Charlies. In the 1970s, being gay was by and large a hidden culture. Now there's interest in the straight community to sponsor a team that's predominantly gay. That wouldn't have happened even 10 years ago. SSBL started because Tommy had a vision of what life could be like here. He comes to the ballpark every Saturday and you can just see him brimming with pride. In the end, it's nothing more than a softball league, but we're very proud to be a founding member of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA), along with New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto. Our gay forefathers had the foresight to put that together.

NAGAAA?


It presents the Gay Softball World Series. Milwaukee played host in 1979, 1985 and 2009, when there were 126 teams here from the USA and Canada. [The tourism bureau] Visit Milwaukee estimated the impact at $4 million added to Milwaukee's economy.

Did we win?

We're always a bridesmaid, never the bride. We've taken second place a myriad of times.

And the Dairyland Classic?


That's our regional tournament. This year there are 30 teams, from Chicago, Minneapolis, Florida, California and Toronto, as well as Milwaukee. It's a coed tournament. First- to fourth-place trophies are presented in two divisions—competitive and recreational. This year the entertainment at our “Party in the Park” is highlighted by Almost ABBA, the No. 1 ABBA tribute band in North America, along with comedian Dear Ruthie and DJ Kelly.

What's the route to becoming commissioner?


I've loved sports all my life—all sports. I was playing soccer at the age of 5. I joined the SSBL in 1996 for a team called Mama Roux's. The commissioner role just kind of happened by accident. In the early 21st century, the league seemed to be stagnating. I looked at Tommy and thought: I can't let this die. The rest is history.

For information on teams and sponsorship, visit www.ssblmilwaukee.com.