Good Sport: Co-ed kickball defines athleticism by its limits

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by Jeff Laughlin

With all manner of bugs falling in front of the Kiss My Bunt dugout — their brief lives cut short by the heat of outdoor lighting — Brandon Earl circled third and scored. His team welcomed him as a hero as he accepted high-fives and congratulatory statements.

The team had earned its first playoff run.

He scored from second on a grounder to first, a play that typified the kind of hustle you need to generate runs in the game of kickball. Long touted as the sport that could include non-jocks as well as the most athletic, kickball boils sports down to four simple tasks: catch, throw, kick, run.

These staples prove difficult with a ball meant to deaden upon striking it. Most hard kicks end up in the shallow outfield after hanging languorously in the air. Catchers play up the third-base line and usually have good speed to cut down on the amount of bunting. Casual observers might think this sport takes more calculated skill than true athleticism.

Kickball boils sports down to four simple tasks: catch, throw, kick, run.

Kiss My Bunt begged to differ. Their most athletic players took advantage of any chance to take a base. In the three-run 5th inning, when Earl took home on the simple grounder, he had been employing the strategy they had used all season. Fortune favors the bold.

Unfortunately, fortune also favors the team that puts up 11 runs before the other team scores.

Bunt’s opponents, 2 Legit 2 Kick, played a methodical game. They targeted the weakest fielders and pummeled the ball toward them on nearly every at-bat. They kicked few balls in the air, but when they did, their strategy came through. Mistakes plagued Bunt, so by the time Earl took advantage of 2 Legit’s sleeping-giant status, he had cut the lead to 10.

Still, Kiss My Bunt kept their heads. They cleaned up their early mistakes, made key substitutions and gutted out four runs before taking the loss. In effect, they won the last few innings. If not for the horrific 10-run/5-error second inning, they would have had a shot — and they knew it.

With two on and two out in the 9th  their chatter still rang out. The 2 Legit 2 Kick team wrapped Bunt’s season with a phenomenal play from their catcher. He leapt and squandered what could have been a run-scoring kick only 10 to 15 feet from the plate, one last showing of 2 Legit’s superior skills.

At Local House Bar, the team apologized for their mistakes over beers. They regaled each other with their season’s best stories and lamented the calls of umpires who had no interest in arguing.

Amidst arguing over a pair of calls that cost them a run in the 6th that night, Doerzbacher reminded the team that, “There’s more that went right this year than went wrong. We should be proud of that.”

Earl chimed in.

“My team last year went 1-8. We just finished with a winning record. I’m ecstatic,” he said.

They also focused on the two teammates, Kyle Branyon and Chase Hamilton, who nearly disqualified them from even playing. They had straggled up to the game just in time to keep the team eligible to take the field.

“We were a little late because Hooters took forever to get us our tab. Plus, I had to transfer from savings to checking to cover us because my card got declined,” Branyon said.

Their wry smiles and unapologetic demeanor erased the apoplectic looks and despaired handwringing of that night’s 3rd inning. Team members posed for poorly lit pictures and planned a barbecue. A tray of shots appeared. A tray of shots disappeared. The team informed Rachael Wonderlin that she had gotten a rare kickball strikeout. She hadn’t really noticed.

They spoke of improvements for next year and ignored their athletic shortcomings for a while. Everyone smiled as if they’d known each other for years, when really, most of them had met just a few weeks ago.

Unlike those falling flies, blinded by the light, they had time to remind each other of their triumphs and travails. By next year, they may start catching a few falling flies.

What a turnaround that could be.