Schlepping Home player Tom Howe in action. (Photo/Instagram @schleppinghome)
Schlepping Home player Tom Howe in action. (Photo/Instagram @schleppinghome)

Schlepping Home: Jewish gay kickball team in S.F. wins games, and friends 

During a Sunday afternoon kickball game in San Francisco’s Mission District, one baserunner twerks on second base in between pitches. Another, standing in the dugout, cheers on a teammate at the plate by shouting out R-rated encouragement. Free and unfiltered expression is a highlight of the season-opening game between the Schlepping Home squad and a team called “Freed Britney” in reference to gay icon Britney Spears. Both teams compete in OutLoud Sports’ San Francisco kickball league for the LGBTQ+ community and allies.

Schlepping Home is a “Jewy” team with a Jewish tinge, according to founder, head coach and player Blake Gottlieb, but people of all religions and backgrounds are welcome to join.

Freed Britney posted a 7-3 victory in the 45-minute contest on Sept. 11, thanks largely to scoring four runs in the first inning and a solid defense anchored by a sure-handed third baseman, but Schlepping Home’s priority remains deeper than winning.

“Many gay Jews feel uncomfortable on sports teams, and this is an attempt to reclaim that experience that many of us missed out on,” Gottlieb said. “This team is a safe space.”

While the players value having fun and socializing more than winning, they still take the commitment seriously. A few days before the season opener, the Schleppers met to discuss strategy — over bagels and lox, naturally — followed by an on-field practice session on fundamentals. After the opening loss, Gottlieb delivered a pep talk, highlighting ways to improve for the next game.

Part of the team’s social routine is to go out for food and drinks after games. They frequent the Detour, on Market Street, a welcoming bar for their community that also sponsors the team. (The players use the sponsorship money to purchase team shirts adorned with the Detour’s logo, equipment, or food and drinks.)

Post-game hangouts are a big part Schlepping Home, Sept. 11, 2022. (Photo/Gabe Fisher)
Post-game hangouts are a big part of Schlepping Home, Sept. 11, 2022. (Photo/Gabe Fisher)

Socializing transcends team affiliation, too. One player said that when he’s on base, he likes to flirt with opposing players if he finds them cute. Schlepping Home also has an upcoming mixer with players from another team it has befriended.

Gottlieb established the team in 2017. Its initial crop of players connected through Nice Jewish Boys Plus, a social group for LGBTQ+ Jews, and some “free agents” were assigned to the team by the league. Gottlieb said the idea to form a gay-Jewish kickball team in San Francisco derived from his time in Washington, D.C., where he competed on a similar team called the Matzah Balls.

Schlepping Home is well established, consistently finishing in the top half of the standings and entering the playoffs in the intermediate division. (Each year there are three seasons, and the team won a championship last year.)

Gottlieb says the team’s main on-field goal this season, which runs through Nov. 6,  is to either win the intermediate division title again or qualify for the top division, although he contends the latter would likely result in a quick loss in the playoffs.

What’s the main goal of the season, though?

“Having fun, meeting people, playing our best and being good sports,” Gottlieb said.

Schlepping Home founder, head coach and player Blake Gottlieb poses with his dog and team mascot, Leo, Sept. 11, 2022. (Photo/Gabe Fisher)
Schlepping Home founder, head coach and player Blake Gottlieb poses with his dog and team mascot, Leo, Sept. 11, 2022. (Photo/Gabe Fisher)

Since Schlepping Home’s inaugural season, there has been roster turnover, but Nice Jewish Boys Plus events have continued to uncover potential players. Sam Grossman, for example, joined the team after meeting Gottlieb and other players at an NJB+ Shabbat some years back.

“I figured it was a good opportunity to be more social,” Grossman said. “Blake told me kickball is the most social-oriented of all the sports, as opposed to being more competitive and intense.”

Russell Ladd, a non-Jewish player, first entered the gay-Jewish kickball scene as a member of a different team, but he moved to Schlepping Home in part because of its inclusive spirit.

Ladd formerly was part of  a team of random players, but for the last game of a season four years ago, his team had to forfeit because not enough people showed up. So he walked over to watch another game, which happened to feature Schlepping Home.

“They were really friendly and asked me if I wanted to go to the bar with them,” Ladd said, “and then they asked if I had a team for next season. After I said no, they said I should join their team.” He did.

As for being a non-Jew on the squad, Ladd said he initially felt some impostor syndrome, and was insecure about potentially taking up space in a place that wasn’t his. But characteristic of the team’s culture, he received ample reassurance, alleviating his concerns.

“This team hasn’t changed their name to have a plus on the end, but it has that same kind of feeling,” he said.

Gabe Fisher
Gabe Fisher

Gabe Fisher is a freelance journalist who served as interim editorial assistant at J. in 2022. Follow him on Twitter @ItsGabeFisher.