By John Alexander
I became active in the LGBTQ+ softball community in 2004 where I was playing in the upper C competitive division. I was a part of several awesome teams through the years, even creating a new D division team while learning to coach. While the C division was a lot of fun and challenging, they were a bit too competitive for my interests and I was looking for more of a recreational vibe. After playing two seasons in the new C2 (c Rec) I knew I was more at home , so I started my own team.
The timing was perfect as the San Francisco Eagle, which had closed for a long while, was slated to reopen. The SF Eagle is a historic bar in the city as it was the first leather bar to receive that status. The owner and has continued to live up to that legacy while providing a safe space for LGBTQ+ people and groups for decades in the past. As they prepared to reopen, we hatched a plan to connect with the SF Eagle and ask them to sponsor our newly intente recreational softball team, we wanted SF Eagle to be our home.
Taking flight for the first time in 2013, our clutch of baby Eagles traveled to nearby Sacramento to play in our first tournament. While we lost all four of our games that weekend, we had no where to go but up. We decided to keep the team moving forward and joined in our first regular season with the San Francisco Gay Softball League. We chose to play in the league’s hybrid division called C-Rec or C2 which was created for the intermediate skill set players who didn’t want to compete at the higher C1 level.
Our first season was ultimately a resounding success! We weren’t worried about wins or losses, we were having the best time, creating new friendships, and developed lots of fans from our home at the SF Eagle. It was a whole a thing and we were stuck, so we decided to keep the roll going and signed up for the 2014 Gay Games in Ohio.
Along the way, we picked up fellow SFGSL players as well as a few free agents who were looking for a team to join at the competition and off we went. The 2014 Gay Games was our first international competition, and we were excited. However, Cleveland wasn’t excited for us as we were rained out for the first few days, but eventually the clouds cleared up and we finally got to play ball. We played nine games in two days and rose through the brackets all the way up to the championship game. Our opponents for the championship battle were an east coast combined team from Philadelphia and Newport Beach. We definitely put up a strong challenge and kept the match up close, it was quite a championship round, only for the east coast team to beat us in the final game and put silver medals around our necks. We exceeded our expectations in play, had an amazing time, and to come home with the silver, what a thrill
We jumped right into the 2015 season thinking we should get some fans on the field, we had a lot of interest with new players so we started a second team under the SF Eagles family, and the SF Eagles D team was born. Shortly after the season started my grandmother became ill which was a hard time for me and I traveled to the Carolinas to help care for her in her final weeks. When I came back to San Francisco after the funeral, my team was there to welcome me home with warm arms, a big hug, a banner made in honor of my grandmom, and even team shirts with her name on the back. I can’t even describe just how heartwarming it felt to have so much love and support from my team, they truly are my family and really helped me through a difficult time.
With two teams in hand, our 2015 season continued as we played and thrived in our regular season games. We also got the opportunity to travel all over the country for tournaments far and wide and we became a traveling collective. We had folks from other teams asking to play with us and even join us after watching a tournament, helping at a beer bust fundraiser or simply meeting us while we were out and about at the SF Eagle.
Shortly thereafter, we started practices and games during the week, joining the San Francisco Parks and Rec SF Softball League. We were played Sundays and Mondays and during this time our teams went co-ed as we had some amazing women join our team as well. We continued to play and thrive season after season and game after game. In between our tournaments, practices, and fundraisers, we all bonded, became a tighter and more close-knit group of humans. As 2018 came around, we were excited to prepare for our next Gay Games in Paris and to play again with other softball teams from all over world. Originally, we had only planned on sending one team to Paris, but our list of players kept getting longer and longer, so we sent two teams. 29 players and myself in total and we were off to France. We were also there with our sister team from SFGSL and good friends, the Inferno’s Blazing Hot Peppers women’s team for whom we all came together, 40 players from San Francisco total to represent the San Francisco Gay Softball League. we had a blast. Our upper team came away with a Bronze medal, the Peppers came away with a bronze from the Women’s and bronze from the Open as well. To be abroad playing the recreational sport we love so much, we celebrated with a big team meet up for a photo at the Eiffel Tower viewing area and we were having the time of our lives.
We were part of Team San Francisco which included 800 to 900 other athletes competing along side of us in their own disciplines. Team SF is the organizing non profit for Gay Games athletes from SF bay area, they raise money for scholarships and organize social events for teams preparing for Gay Games and they help organize all of us athletes from San Francisco at the Gay Games to support each other. Our city is “where the games began” as San Francisco hosted the first two Gay Games events in 1982 and 1986, and we send hundreds of folks to compete in the quadrennial Gay Games around the world.
As the pandemic hit, we were put on hiatus like everybody else around the world but still kept close to each other and whenever possible we would get together to play or hang out at the SF Eagle. 2020 was definitely a blur but as we came into 2021, we were able to start playing again. 2021 was the first time the SF Eagles qualified for the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance’s Gay Softball World Series (GSWS) which was hosted in Columbus, OH. The GSWS is the big championships that the major leagues, including ours, the San Francisco Gay Softball League, end of year tournament. Throughout the year, we play regular league play with other SF teams and as we rack up our wins and losses throughout each season, our team is ranked alongside our competitors based on the number of wins. The top ranked teams in each division are the ones who get to represent our league at the GSWS every year and 2021 was the year of the Eagle as we made it to Columbus for our first Gay Softball World Series! While we didn’t take home the championship, we had an amazing time and a lot of fun playing ball at this level with over 200 teams and thousands of athletes playing. We returned in 2022 for the GSWS in Dallas, Texas with our sister teams, SF Xtreme and SF Phoenix as well
2023 is going to be a big year for us as it is the SFGSL’s 50th anniversary and the SFGSL will be sending 15 + teams, including the SF Eagles (that’s us!) to the Gay Softball World Series in Minneapolis, Minnesota on August 28th-September 3rd, 2023. We are also gearing up and training hard for the upcoming Gay Games in Guadalajara this November, which were originally to be hosted in Hong Kong in 2022 but Covid had made things difficult, so we will be competing in Guadalajara this November instead.
So far, the softball roster for the Gay Games in Guadalajara is quite slim and we are looking for more athletes and teams to get involved and register! Myself and Sheryl Phipps from the Inferno Softball Collective are spearheading the efforts to get the word out and encourage people to register for softball at the 2023 Gay Games, especially after we had such an amazing time in Paris. I know Guadalajara will host an amazing event and I can’t wait to see what Mexico has to offer.
They are currently accepting teams and individuals to sign up and everybody is welcome to join, the Gay Games tenants are built around Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best of which our team, the SF Eagles has come to embody and we hope to inspire other teams and athletes to find that within themselves. We hope to see you in Guadalajara this November! Check out their many sports and cultural activities to participate in online at https://gggdl2023.org/
Photo Credit: SF Eagles