It was the Fall of 1987 and the Brandy’s Bail Bond Bandits were playing the Fort Lauderdale Cops for the city championship at Hardy Park in Fort Lauderdale.

I was the starting centerfielder and the captain of the Bandits. We were down 3-2 in the seventh inning when we loaded the bases with two out and I came to the plate with a chance to win the game.

I took the second pitch and lined it into the gap in right center field. Two runs would score and my teammates greeted me in a mob scene as I rounded first base.

“Pretty good for a faggot,” I told them.

Until Chuck Dima, Jim Stork, Dave Litty and a host of other really good people came together to form the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Softball League, it was never easy being a gay jock in this town.

Hell, it has never been easy being a gay jock anywhere in America where group sports have been involved. Homophobia invades locker rooms, and guys who are not macho and masculine are demeaned as “faggots, queers, and homos.” It’s still pervasive enough that scores of gay athletes, even Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, won’t come out of the closet.

In the past year, we have seen Michael Sam’s name called in the NFL draft, after he came out. It was a first. We saw President Obama call and congratulate basketball star Jason Collins when he came out, and that too was a first, both for a president and a hoopster.

For years, I have believed athletes could care less who you sleep with if you could take two and hit to right. But my belief is a little fantasy, too. The truth is that gay athletes are still not openly accepted, or it would not be news if they came out of the closet. Irreverent reactions from multiple players have shown us we have a ways to go with lots of people.

Last year, the Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame opened in Chicago, with a host of inductees, including Chuck Dima, one of the founding forces of gay softball right here in South Florida. This year, our paper features more names, highlighting the lives of these individuals who stood out and proud in the face of public disapproval.

Our lives are ours to lead, and the paths we take are always our own. Still, we have reason to celebrate when people buck the tide and pave the way, whether it’s a high school center coming out of the closet, or a retired pro footballer. Years ago, it was David Kopay. Last week, it was Brad Thorson, in an Independence Day declaration. Let’s not criticize those who took a while getting here. Let’s just say ‘thanks for arriving,’ and welcome to the party.

People like Greg Louganis had to deal not only with being gay, but being HIV positive. His life has not been diminished, and he has been a role model for many. So too can we hope that for the many more whose names will follow. They are out there, and we know this to be so. We have seen gay umpires, gay team executives, and gay coaches. We also know the path is slow and measured, the road still tempered. Individuals want to be measured by their deeds on the field, not in a bedroom.

We used to feature Kyle’s Bed N’ Breakfast, a great gay cartoon penned by Greg Fox. One of its main characters is a baseball player, Brad that has not yet come out of the closet. His animated life resembles many of those in our community. His day has not come. When it does, he will be free. So to will you. Live your life outside the cartoon.

Become who you are. Be Free.