Lately, I've been longing for organized sports—the kind I played in grade school. Maybe it's an urge that comes from seeing athletes around town gear up for the fall season by running in long lines down Zia Road, looking slightly or utterly miserable depending on their placement in line. I certainly don't miss the running-till-I-might-die-or-hurl aspect of sports, but I have fond memories of coed soccer. It wasn't the actual games I enjoyed the most, but rather the practice scrimmages, which allowed me to hang out with people I knew, pull goofy moves, laugh a lot, exercise and be part of a team.
The scrimmage spirit lives on in the laid-back kickball games at Patrick Smith Park. I first learned of the ad hoc event from a friend, but was never brave enough to jump in. A few weeks ago, after some beers downtown, another friend and I decided to show up, only to sit lamely under a tree and mock/envy the players. Recently, I decided it was time to make my first actual foray into the adult kickball world.
The games at Patrick Smith Park aren't the most organized. Nobody ever really knows who's going to show up. In our case, it takes about half an hour before we have enough players to start, and that's thanks to a few fly basketball players in long shorts and backward hats who eventually agree to join.
As proof of the game's informality, the bases consist of sneakers, flip-flops, rope and a towel. The ball is a colorful $4 specimen from Kmart.
"Kickball is just fun; it's easy; it doesn't require as much stuff…It's like a schoolyard game," kickball regular Tommy McPartlon says. A recent college graduate, McPartlon comes to these games to have fun, rather than to get a serious workout. He knows almost everyone playing.
As the teams form, the three girls all end up on the same side—opposite a hulking 6-foot, 4-inch giant and a maniacal ball catcher who hovers in the outfield.
But even against formidable odds, something can be said for kickball's mix of competition and fun. It acknowledges what sports started out as (or ought to be): games that make you feel like a kid again. Although it isn't a serious cardiovascular workout, kickball works muscles I had forgotten about—the ones used for sprinting to first base or quickly slinging the light but unwieldy ball to the pitcher.
When it's my turn to kick, the butterflies in my stomach surprise me. Still, I manage a pretty good boot into left field and make it to first easily. The following innings go less smoothly; I never make it past first base.
In the end, our team got whooped. The closing score was 11 to three after about four innings. According to our rules, the first team to 21 points would win, but Bear, a rottweiler belonging to one of the players, mercifully put us out of our misery by sinking her fangs into the ball.
Over the past few years, kickball has gained popularity among young urban professionals. The World Adult Kickball Association, based in Washington, DC, has two leagues in Albuquerque, both of which meet weekly and include teams with names such as Chupacabra Ballin' and Swift Kick in the Grass.
McPartlon, however, is ambivalent about the prospect of joining a kickball league.
"This is just recreational," he explains. "Maybe a league might be too much [and be] too focused on winning versus just having fun."
WAKA owes its origins to a group of friends who, in 1998, wanted a way to wind down after work. Its creators' goals also included meeting girls (their rules require an even number of men and women per team), and heading to a bar after the game is encouraged. It's pretty genius, really.
Another excellent feature of kickball is that you can tag people by pegging them with the ball (below the neck)—a dodgeball element that adds a new dimension to the game.
Socially, though, the game was mostly just awkward. Most people knew each other already and didn't bother introducing themselves. (To be fair, neither did I.) Sadly, even the drinking component of the evening fell through due to lack of orchestration, and players dispersed in different directions. This is where the organization of a league could come in handy, creating an anchor for the fun.
"I think if more people [came to the games], it would also create a better social situation where you're able to talk to the people you're playing with," McPartlon says. "It could be more of a community-building thing through sports."