Devorah Talia Gordon
Did you know that a frum softball team won a Los Angeles City League softball championship in January?
12 Tribes is a frum team with Jewish players from all over L.A. Founded ten years ago by Yitzy Katz, it is currently managed by Ari Shandling. The participants come together every week to play softball against non-Jewish teams in a Los Angeles City League.
The winners of seven championships (out of about 14 opportunities over ten years), Katz acknowledged that, “We have been on top, and the other teams know who we are. They respect us, and we play them year after year. And yes, they do want to beat us.”
Surely, playing in a non-Jewish league must have its challenges, and Katz explained that scheduling issues do come up, with games falling on Pesach, Sukkos, and other yamim tovim. “But we have the credibility now, it’s been long enough. They work around us, that’s the biggest challenge. If you miss a game, it does hurt your standing.” The guys used to be in the Sunday morning league, but with a group of married men, various events (like brisim) made it challenging to make the games. They then joined the Monday night league.
The team plays most of their games at Rancho Park/Cheviot Hills, but they have played games in parks all over Los Angeles. 12 Tribes is the only team that gets fans at their games. Shandling’s parents, for example, have been to more games than any player. “Even if Ari can’t make it, his parents do. That’s very rare! We have family and friends that come and to cheer us on, everyone sees that…” The commissioner, grounds crew and umpires also know the players by name and love to watch them play.
Everyone also witnesses how the 12 Tribes respond when a game gets tense. “Things get heated…we are there to have a good time but we also want to win. Let’s say there is a throw at home, or some sort of collision… as a team, we remind ourselves and say out loud to each other, ‘b’tzelem Elokim,’ and we calm ourselves down.”
Although 12 Tribes is respected by the other teams in the league, and is now considered “on top,” this wasn’t always the case. “Our first game in 2006 was against a team of 50-60 year olds. We thought we would crush them. Well…they mercied us – beat us by so many [points] that the umpire called the game midway. We came from playing baseball, so high-pitch softball was hard to switch to. It took time, but we figured it out.”
Not only did they figure it out, but the core group of six players has stuck together for a decade, with a waiting list of guys itching to fill an open spot. “We have a sub list, so if someone has to miss a game we have a guy to fill in. Unlike some teams, we have never had a missing guy, but always fill the spot.” The guys range from age 26 to almost 40.
Katz started the team to fill the void of sports activity and boost camaraderie in the community. “We have guys in Hancock Park, guys in the Valley, guys in Pico. It’s an L.A. community team. We live in different areas, go to different shuls – including YICC, BJ, Mogen David, Yavneh, YIHP, Rabbi Rubin’s shul and Shaarei Tzedek – but we come together for this community team.”
What’s next for the 12 Tribes, after such a successful decade? Katz suggested, “There was an L.A. shul league, which would be great to revive and compete in.”
Then he joked, “If that doesn’t happen, we have our eyes set on the Rio Olympics.”