MELISSA KEYES / Bull
A blow-up sheep stands at the sidelines. Everything from AC/DC to Aretha Franklin has been blaring in the background, and people wearing shirts with pink pig tails attached to them are running around.
This isn’t rush week at a college campus. This is a Thursday night at a local North Hollywood park with baseball diamonds.
And this is kickball.
Welcome to the wonderful world of kickball; part sport, part social networking, all fun Yes, that grade-school, try-not-to-be-the last- picked P.E. game has found new life as a competitive adult sport.
At any given game you’d expect to see grown men smashing the life out of the rubber ball, watching nothing but the backs of the outfielders as they futilely try to chase the ball down.
Surprisingly that’s not the case. For a lot of teams, it’s more about the short game. The bunt.
The problems with a power hit is that all it takes to get the out is one person. With a bunt though, it not only has to be fielded cleanly, but then thrown to the proper base. This is a big bouncy rubber ball we’re talking about here, making where it’s supposed to be thrown a lot easier said than done.
Jordan Peterson, a newcomer to the sport, was looking for some type of athletic activity to add to his routine. He avoided taking the obvious route of joining slow-pitch softball league saying that “softball feels a little too pro.”
“I wanted to play a fun sport,” he added.
He’d heard of kickball leagues being played and looked it up online. He didn’t bother with a Google search, he just tried his luck at typing in www.kickball.com.
It worked. The Web site is the home of the World Adult Kickball Association, better known as WAKA, one of the largest recreational adult kickball association in the US.
Searching for a league is simple. Just enter the ZIP code near where you want to play and leagues will come up. Take care though, not all leagues are created equal. Many leagues are competitive, highly competitive. It’s not easy for a beginning team to enter these leagues. It’s worth the time to do a little research on the league to know what you’re getting into. “People take this serious(ly),” Laura Michl, a new player, said. “Who knew? They’re like hardcore out here.”
Luckily, the league Jordan joined, CA STAR, was a newly formed league. With teams who have names like Piglet’s Revenge and Bro’s Before NoHo’s how scary could it be? The rules are similar to the schoolyard rules most people have stored somewhere in the foggy recesses of their mind. No more than 11 people are allowed on the field. Depending on the league, there may be a gender requirement. Generally, a kicker’s count is the same as a batters in baseball. The difference is that fouls don’t count as strikes, they count as fouls, and the kicker gets four fouls. The best rule is still there though, the one everyone probably remembers. That’s the rule where the fielder can choose to get the runner out by throwing the ball at them instead of just throwing it to the base. For the out to count though, the hit must be under the neck.
The fields are scattered with players of different shapes, sizes, ages and athletic ability. The shirts stand out as the obvious uniform, but there are subtler touches.
Many teams have color-coordinated, matching knee high socks. Piglet’s Revenge team members sewed on little piggy tails to the backs of their shirts. Another team, the Inflatable Party Sheep have an inflatable sheep as their mascot and bring it to each game. It’s not just cheering that’s heard either. The many teams also bring a stereo and blast music while their team members are up to kick.
It’s not just about winning, it’s about looking and sounding good when you do.
This league has a lot of younger teams and a heavier focus on fun over competition. That’s not to say tempers don’t flare, arguments don’t break out and calls aren’t contested. Losing wasn’t fun in grade school and it doesn’t get easier as an adult. But with WAKA, each league is also associated with a local bar that the players frequent after the game. Losing doesn’t feel so bad with a cool pint of beer in hand, especially if the winning team bought it for you.
As CA STAR president Cami Slotkin said, “It takes a certain kind of grown-up to play kickball.”