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Old 02 Jun 2004, 12:25 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Kickball article

Adults venture back into kickball

By Melissa Schorr, STAFF WRITER

AS A CHILD growing up in Lafayette, Ethan Salter, 28, admits to being "undersized" in the height and weight department. "I wasn't the last one picked for teams, but was definitely in the bottom half," he recalls.
So it must be sweet vindication to find himself chosen league captain of a game most adults left behind in fourth grade: kickball.

This time, though, it's for grownups.


"A lot of people say, 'I haven't played since I was 10,'" says Salter, an acoustic consultant in San Francisco. Then they ask him where they can sign up.

Founded in 1998, the World Adult Kickball Association has attracted thousands of twenty- and thirtysomethings back to that silly schoolyard game played with a silly red ball.

Recreational leagues have begun popping up across the country. Locally, the league has already grown from eight teams playing one night a week in 2002 to 16 teams playing Wednesday and Thursday nights in San Francisco, with plans to expand to the East and South bays.

On a recent Thursday night, several hundred players in colorful team jersey T-shirts gathered in the crisp night air at Golden Gate Park's Speedway Meadows. With team names like Free Ballers and Sick Balls and a boom box blasting Guns 'n' Roses, the atmosphere is more keg party than recess and continues on in post-game matches of a drinking game called "flip cup" at The Kezar Pub nearby.

Most players use kickball to socialize, blow off steam -- and relive a moment from their youth.

"It brings out your inner child," says J. R. Mellin, a research technician at the University of

California, San Francisco.

Javier Heinz, a federal worker in San Mateo, claims he was a skilled kickball player as a lad growing up in Millbrae, but brags that, at age 24, he can now run like a cheetah. "It's better than I remembered," he says. "It lets you get back to that childhood place."

There is, however, a subtle sophistication that adult players bring to the game.

"There's more strategy to it than meets the eye," explains Seeley Bair, a San Francisco teacher dubbed her team's MVP last season. "You've gotta remember, it's a really slippery, bouncy ball."

The main appeal is the lack of physical prowess required. "It doesn't matter what you can do athletically," Salter says. "People are varying degrees of athletics."

In fact, innate athletic ability is decidedly beside the point, says Martha Shaughnessy, a publicist with Landis Communication in San Francisco.

"You just can't be very good at a sport played with a goofy red rubber ball," declares Shaughnessy, who has played for three seasons with her current team, the Mighty Duffs, a name chosen in homage of Homer Simpson's beer of choice. "It's the great equalizer -- no one can be very good, and no one can be terrible."

She is far from terrible, having been dubbed "Sweat Heat" by her teammates for her pitching talents.

Women, especially, seem to delight in finally having those ancient schoolyard roles reversed: Men who can deliver magnificent pop flies into the outfield tend to be easy outs, while ground ball kicks requiring deft fielding are tougher to handle.

"You think, as an adult, 'I'll just kick the hell out of it,'" Salter explains. "But it's the reverse of elementary school. It's easy to catch, but tough to field a slow rolling bunt."

Salter's sister, Josselyn, a human resources executive at Pixar Studios in Emeryville, agrees. "I've never been super athletic, but this is perfect," she says. "I can't kick, but I can catch."

Only a few specific rules are laid out for the five-inning games. No pitching bouncies: Balls must roll rather than bounce across home plate. No nailing a base runner in the head with the ball, either.

Above all, avoid kicking over someone else's beer. "That's a cardinal sin," Salter says solemnly.

Just because the players are only semi-sober does not mean they aren't deadly serious. Smack talk reigns supreme.

"Sometimes, the teams are too intense," Bair explains.

In the third inning of a match-up between Krispy Balls, reigning champions, and K-Ho and the AC's, player Nathan Chin motors toward home plate. An infielder throws the ball at him; he leaps into the air, misjudging her aim, but the ball pegs him in the back before he lands on home plate.

Through the haze of a few beers, confusion runs amok. Was he hit before or after he landed? No one is sure. The proverbial bench empties as the team members loudly dispute their opponents.

The umpire, a volunteer in a red shirt, makes the call.

Out.

"It was a close call," Chin concedes graciously.

Although Krispy Balls eventually came back to win, 4-3, nothing really matters until the playoffs, explains Joel Pliskin, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager and team co-captain.

Last season, his 26-member team came into the playoffs as 10th seed underdogs and ended up winning the championships. "It was a Cinderella story," says pitcher Brian Cotter wistfully.

They have renamed their team "Defending Champions," solely to rile up the other teams.

President Salter attempts to downplay the intensity of competition. "Nobody takes it that seriously," he insists. "If you wear cleats or yell at other players, that's not cool."

Still, it must be noted that playing the game is not without perils. At the Speedway Meadows game, one of the players broke his collarbone racing to first base. And Kristin Kudsk, 35, WAKA's regional rep, broke her left pinkie last season and her right wrist sliding into third a few weeks ago.

Maybe the truth is that you can relive your glory days. Just not unscathed. "I think we're getting old," Kudsk confesses.

Say it ain't so.


To contact the World Adult Kickball Association and sign up for leagues in San Francisco, the East Bay or South Bay, go to worldkickball.com.
================================================== ========

It's cool seeing kickball becoming popular again.

I remeber my kickball team in 8th grade, we was Kickball's answer to the Big Red Machine.
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