The Kickball Chronicles
Who’s on first? I don’t know, but I want to meet her.
By Toby Smith
Cafeteria lunches that tasted like dinosaur vomit. Bodily worries, arithmetic fears, teachers who should have been prison guards.
Then there was recess. That you loved, for recess often meant “soccer baseball.” Today it’s called kickball, and it’s the preoccupation of twenty- and thirtysomethings.
It’s the same kiddo game, except with adults it’s clearly played with more passion. It’s played across the country, in fact. In Iraq and China, too.
Yet here is the secret: Kickball is where you can find a partner for an inning or three, for a season, forever, maybe.
Once found only on grade-school playgrounds, kickball is the dating game of this millennium.
“It was spring,” says Monica.
“No, the summer, I think,” says Lucas.
“The spring of ’09.” Monica is sure.
“I was on Less Think, More Drink.”
“I was on ...”
“You were on the same team. I know it.”
Lucas says it was Monica’s speed that attracted him. “She’s easily the fastest female.” (Let it be understood that being the fastest woman here means running the base paths and nothing else.)
“I ran track for Mayfield High School in Las Cruces,” Monica says. “The 100 and 200 yards.” She also played varsity soccer. In other words, she’s a born baller.
“Ninety percent of the time I can get on base,” Monica says. “I can beat out bunts.”
“She kicks top of the order,” says Lucas. “We race, and she’ll beat me three out of five times to first. Not bad for a guy with a beer gut.”
“We’re both super-competitive,” Monica offers. “But we don’t bring it home.”
“Any arguments we have are about how our team could do better,” Lucas says. “You know, changing lineups, that sort of thing. We try to win every game, and if we lose, we don’t care.”
Lucas and Monica got married in the backyard of Monica’s grandmother’s house in Santa Fe.
“Two girls on our team were bridesmaids,” Monica says.
“A lot of guys on our team were at my bachelor’s party,” Lucas adds.
“Kickball brings people together,” says Monica.
“We go to dinner as a group of kickball players,” says Lucas. “We have cocktails together. We have the same email streams.”
The Big League
There is also a new Sunday afternoon league at Montgomery Park. Games are five innings and usually last about 45 minutes. Teams must have a minimum of four men and four women on the field at all times.
Everybody gets four balls and three strikes. Three outs a side. It’s baseball without bats or gloves. And you get a putout by bonking a runner with the ball, just as you did when you were 8-years-old.
No bench-clearing brawls mark kickball games—for there are no benches. Three umpires work to keep order.
“We play to win,” says Dandee Fleming, who plays for WIFF. Fleming was named for “Dandy Don” Meredith, the old Dallas quarterback. “My parents were Cowboys fans.”
“We hold practices,” says Fleming, a thirtyish software tester who is taking a Starbucks break this morning while we speak. “We talk strategy a lot. We bunt a lot to move runners along. We go for sacrifice flies. We play ‘small ball.’ ”
A lot of people play kickball for fun. Fleming did so—for a while. “There are teams that don’t care what happens on the field. I could never quite see that. If you show up, you should play to win, and you should keep score.”
WIFF became a team by splitting off from Taco Kick. Some saw the breakup as a mutiny, and a rivalry rose up. Fleming says Taco Kick had too many players. But then he confesses, “Many of us wanted to be more competitive.” Taco Kick members wear pink shirts, yuk it up as they down adult beverages and give not a crap which team is ahead or behind.
Such a stance causes Fleming to shake his head. His new team, WIFF, stands for Winning Is Fucking Fun.
Lovers and Ballers
Frohreich’s team, Howie’s Heavers, chooses to be competitive. “We have plays that we call”—just like a third-base coach.
Mr. Hankey’s Kickball Special was the only New Mexico team invited to participate in this fall’s Founders Cup in Las Vegas, Nev.—a sort of World Cup for kickball.
Two standouts for Mr. Hankey’s are Keith and Kelli Jansen. Keith is 29 and a mechanical engineer. Kelli is 26 and the financial officer for a roofing company. They were married in August on the top of Durango Mountain. Almost everyone on Mr. Hankey’s attended.
The couple met at Coaches Sports Bar & Grill after a game. On this Saturday afternoon, they are sitting with teammates at The Barley Room, a pub on Eubank.
“It was love at first sight,” remembers Kelli of their first meeting.
Keith doesn’t seem to remember. He wants to talk kickball. “I would rather win than lose,” he says. “We don’t run up the score. At least on purpose.”
“I don’t drink much when I play,” Kelli says. “Maybe a sip.”
“I drink more than a sip,” says Keith.
Scores of kickballers meet up after games at that season’s bar of choice. That’s where the mating dances take off. Games are merely foreplay, or as Fleming says, conversation starters.
Not everyone is enamored with the sport. Jeremy Allison, who plays for Sister Mary Catherine’s School for Girls, met his wife playing kickball. “She played three seasons, then quit. She didn’t drink, and she felt uncomfortable with the social aspects.”
Adults obsessing over a childhood game can come across as a bit too precious. Some of the uniforms—lederhosen and Oktoberfest garb, for example—conjure up kids at Halloween. Team names can be equally puerile. Like: Going Down While Seeing Brown.
“Kickball is a strange addiction,” Frohreich says. “It’s hard to explain the appeal unless you’re out there and you see it and do it.”
WAKA’s fall season in Albuquerque runs until Thursday, Nov. 17. The season-end tournament is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 19. Registration for the spring season begins in February. For more information on Albuquerque kickball, contact email@example.com or call 553-4800.
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