Beyond the tropical monsoon and distressing number of injuries, the biggest bummer of this summer’s World Adult Kickball Association championship in Miami was the realization that all the best teams shared a strategy that hinged on the repetition of the single most boring play in all of kickball: the bunt.
When I was playing pickup ball back in the late ‘90s (he says, clearing the old-man phlegm from his windpipe and easing back in his rocking chair), bunts were expressly forbidden. Yes the surest way to get runners on base is to hit slow dribblers up the third base line. But how fun is that? It’s truly dispiriting to watch players robotically repeat the same noodle-legged kick again and again in a competition to see who can be the most precisely wimpy.
So I’m heartened to discover an advocacy group devoted to the elimination of bunts in kickball. NoBunting.com includes the 10 commandments of the movement (“Number 5: Behold, bunting is an abomination unto me, and maketh thy opponent’s head like unto spoiled fruit”), an advice column called “Ask Dr. Kick” (“Are bunting addictions different for men and women?”) and a shop filled with No Bunting merchandise.
The site is the work of a 23-year-old creative marketing manager from Arizona named Russell Perry, who tells me via e-mail that “simple nomenclature” inspired him to start the group:
I’m in full support of Perry’s good work, though as a kickballer with a childhood record dominated by spastic errors and asthma attacks, I take issue with his macho posturing about players working out pent-up playground losses in their adult kickball careers. The game is big enough for all sorts – those child stars who play to relive moments of glory and those formerly picked last who play to overcome childhood humiliations that would otherwise jolt them awake in cold sweats at 3 in the morning.
But on this, we agree: for both sorts of players, the best way to enjoy the game is to cut out the bunts and kick the damn ball.
In other kickball-media related news, Newsweek just did a brief item on the resurgence of kickball and there’s a new episode and home page for “View from Home Plate,” the kickball chat show filmed inside a moving subcompact on the streets of L.A.
09.01.06 news flash: moms kick!
Time Magazine recently did a feature on moms who play soccer or hockey or skateboard or otherwise imitate their kids’ athletic routines. Seems the number of “mom leagues” has shot up in recent years, spurred by mothers who’ve gotten sick of sitting on the sidelines watching their kids play. Playing the same games as their kids “gives them a window into their kids’ experience, a shared language and a new way to bond.”
The story is like so many other articles about adults who reclaim kid games – the common tone is uniformly gee-whiz, isn’t-this-wacky, with the occasional cynical aside about overinvolvement or the pathetic spectacle of adults playing kid games.
After reading literally hundreds of these stories (and writing a few myself), I’m beginning to wonder: when will the news value finally dissipate? When will we start taking it for granted that moms can of course play soccer or hockey or even rock paper scissors? True, adult leagues devoted to kidgames are still unusual enough to warrant attention and analysis, but isn’t the novelty wearing off fast?
I for one am looking forward to the day when moms and dads all adults are free to play any game we like without raising an eyebrow. When we reach the point that an editor rolls his eyes and barks “old news!” when a reporter files a piece about grown-up devotees of Duck-Duck-Goose, we will have finally demolished the last of our arbitrary age norms.
Talk about niche programming. From somewhere along a particularly narrow stretch of The Long Tail comes this, a video blog series in which a Hollywood guy with a darling little chin beard chats about the glories of kickball from behind the wheel of a tidy subcompact. It’s a movable talk show. About kickball.
It’s called the View from Home Plate, which is really a misnomer since it’s actually a view from a dashboard, where a kickballer known as Pigpen positions his Betacam for a self-produced rant about kickball. Episode number one was my favorite, centering as it did on a call to reduce the competitiveness in organized kickball. So speaketh Pigpen:
Amen, brother. In subsequent installments, Pigpen interviewed his girlfriend Kim (also a kickballer, and looking rather uncomfortable from her perch in the middle of Pigpen’s back seat) and chats about the exploits of his WAKA team, the Pregnant Cheerleaders.
Related juicy tidbit: friend of mine plays on a WAKA team in the Hollywood division and reports that one of her teammates is a bonafide celeb: Brandon Routh, the guy who plays Superman in Brian Singer’s “Superman Returns.” Seems he’s a dedicated infielder, tho he did have to sit out a few games recently because of an injury. Boo hoo, Man of Steel, boo hoo!
08.30.06 Guest Blogger Gaga for Streetplay
In an effort to expand the number of voices on this blog (and to improve my too-often piss-poor posting frequency), I’ve asked a few kindred spirit rejuveniles to toss me an occasional Guest Blog. Couldn’t be happier that first to jump at offer was none other than the Guru of Fun himself, Bernie DeKoven. Here are some of his thoughts on the New York-based kidgame collective Streetplay:
There’s a lot of reminiscing going on about how kids used to play back in the days when kids were kids. It’s a good kind of reminiscing, a sweet nostalgia for the inventiveness and irrepressible, undeniable spirit of play. Unfortunately, we almost always follow those moments of wistful wonder with the conclusion that kids nowadays just don’t do those kind of things, and neither do we.
Streetplay is a faith-restoring site - restoring our faith both in our memories of childhood, and in grown-uphood itself. Streetplay’s collections of photographs documenting actual kids in actual play, here, and around the world, yesterday, and today, provides us with incontrovertible evidence of the ubiquitousity of the playful spirit.
Then again, there’s the nostalgia part. Surely you didn’t forget those long summer afternoons playing Stickball? And who could forget Halfball? Or, for that matter, Skully? Reading about those games, seeing the photos and film clips, even if you never played them, is a journey into the past, present, and what can easily become your personal future of fun. It not only documents what we used to do, it reminds us that we can still do those things, that we have a heritage to pass on to our children and children’s children. And our children, and children’s children have a heritage to pass on back to us.
This is a remarkable site. Rich in depth and detail, preserving and nurturing a wealth of rock solid invitations to play. It is free. You can help support the site by purchasing cool stuff from their store. There are no advertisements. A genuine gift to us all.
08.06.06 Minigolf, Seriously
My recent whirlwind tour of kidgames included one stop that wasn’t mentioned in my Salon story about adult players of rock paper scissors, tag and the like. I spent the last day of the trip in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina hanging out and playing with a few top players in the U.S. ProMiniGolf Associaiton.
Of all the games in my lineup, minigolf scared me the most. Less informed souls might think it unreasonable to feel anything but scorn for a sport so lightweight that none other than George W. Bush chose it to showcase his worthiness on his first date with Laura. But I knew better. I knew top players on the pro miniature golf circuit are so good they count it as a setback if they don’t hit a hole in one – on every hole. I knew that top European competitors, players like fearsome Swede Hans Olofsson and Czech wunderkind Olivia Prokopova, travel with padded humidors packed with temperature-controlled balls of various spin, bounce and firmness. To these masters of minigolf, the sport is anything but child’s play.
And now I was facing Chris Carpenter, the course record holder on what is known as “the Augusta of Miniature Golf.” Sure, Carpenter wasn’t on the level of those formidable Europeans, who favor the more rigidly standardized “putt-putt” form of minigolf, which is played on concrete and composite with nary a windmill or garden gnome in sight. In America, home of the more fanciful “adventure golf” variation, the purses are much smaller – prizes at the big competitions rarely exceed three or four thousand dollars – and the top players squeeze tournaments in between their day jobs and family obligations, staying in cheap hotels in small resort towns. Superstar Tom Dixon is a long haul truck driver who arranges his routes around tournament dates, while champ Matt McCaslin is a bartender at the Olive Garden.
Most competitors don’t mind at all that their most fierce showdowns take place in places that look like garden-variety tourist traps. The Hawaiian Rumble sits on an extravagantly tacky strip of highway 17 and features a three-story gurgling volcano, a parrot cage at the entrance and paintball target practice out back. I’d do well, however, to look past the “eye candy,” said Bob Detwiler, owner of Hawaiian Rumble and all-around booster of professional, grown-up miniature golf. I was about to play, he said ominously, the same 18 holes that punished top players twice a year at the Masters and U.S. Open of Miniature Golf.
“This is not a silly game,” he insisted, prompting solemn nods from Chris and Dominic Munafo, a “young gun” in two-tone golf cleats recruited to round out our party of four. “People don’t take this as seriously as they should,” agreed Chris. “Totally,” said Dominic. “Make no mistake: this is an incredibly challenging game.”
As I laid down my ball on the rubber pad at the first hole, I said a silent prayer that I could somehow avoid looking like a complete retard.
And then a funny thing happened. My first shot rolled down a dip, banked off a corner and dropped, unbelievably, in the hole. Even more unbelievably, none of the pros managed the same trick.
I went on to hit two more holes-in-one and a bewildering succession of par-twos, my focus undeterred by the deafening roar of Harleys over the hibiscus on hole six and the splattering of an overflowing waterfall on hole sixteen. I only had one truly terrible hole, and that I blame on Bo the groundskeeper, who really should have fixed that dislodged brick on hole thirteen that some goodamn fool child had kicked out of place. Even with that blunder, I finished one stroke behind Bob and six behind the course-record holder Chris. And I beat Dominic.
I could hardly believe it. I’d held my own against a trio of pros, and actually finished ahead of a rising young star! All of which would have been way more exciting if Dominic hadn’t proceeded to ruin my fantasy by immediately falling into a deep mope and telling me how badly he felt about his performance, then taking me back to his family’s roadside ice cream parlor, proudly showing off an autographed photo of Vana White and talking at length about his so-far frustrated dreams of riding miniature golf all the way out of this town toward bigger and better things. When I looked down at my pink-headed putter and hit a shot, it was a goof. But when Dominic took a shot, he pictured himself as his hero, fellow leftie Phil Mickelson: “Every time I’m out here I’m thinking of Phil, lining up a putt on eighteen against Tiger Woods,” he said, eyes downcast as he shared his secret passion. “I’m not really athletic, but at least I can do well in this.” To Dominic, miniature golf is a dream of greatness. And today, I’d helped diminish those dreams. “I guess I just got nervous,” he said sheepishly.
07.25.06 Don’t Blink Now!
While working on a chapter in Rejuvenile about the resurgent popularity of kid games among adults, I was happily surprised, again and again, to discover that if I could imagine something, it existed. Adult four square? Check. Grown-up Rock Paper Scissors? But of course. Adult tag? Why yes.
But somehow it never occurred to me to search out another favorite kid game: the staredown. Remember the staring contest? That was the game where you and a pal looked each other in the eye and kept looking and looking until someone blinked, cracked up or broke eye contact.
Wouldn’t you know it, there’s now a professional league, official merchandise, an underground band of devoted players and even an earnest feature-length documentary. (it’s available free online). The game itself is now strictly regulated, with a long list of specific rules and sanctions (players must stand a foot apart on “toe lines” painted on wood playing surfaces and are immediately disqualified for smiling, sneezing, burping or laughing). The site for the National Association of Staredown Professionals (NASP) is arch, super-serious and reminiscent of the original, Canadian Rock Paper Scissors league – both groups appear to be chuckling behind the grave expressions and pseudo-scholarly rule books.
Thanks to the intrepidly playful Bernie DeKoven for the link.
07.25.06 Kickball casualties
Yes, kickball’s a kiddie game. Yes, it’s simple and silly and summons misty childhood memories of recess rivalries and schoolyard crushes. Yes, adult players often don poofy florescent wigs and Mexican wrestler masks, boogying on the pitcher’s mound and drinking more than is strictly necessary.
But let me tell you, it ‘aint all wacky good times. Kickball is often just as competitive, treacherous and overserious as any approved “adult” game.
This was the take-home message from an epic weekend in Miami, where I attended the World Adult Kickball Association’s 2006 Founder’s Cup Championship. The tournament attracted eleven badass kickball teams from across the East (a few Western teams qualified, but couldn’t get together the scratch for the trip). And while there were a few goofballs on hand – one girl wore a nun’s habit, another dropped trou when she got up to kick – the championship was mostly an epic test of discipline and endurance.
The weather was partly to blame. A nasty tropical monsoon rolled in mid-morning, bringing gale force winds, torrents of rain and leaving muddy pools on the grass. WAKA officials called an hour break in the action, allowing players to skip and slide through puddles, then redundantly soak each other in a dunk tank. But as play picked up again, the mood turned sour. Players hopped up and down on the sidelines to keep warm, joking nervously about hypothermia, watching as teammates stumbled on the slick grass and balls bobbled through dripping turf. One player was taken to the hospital with a broken leg. On the Norfolk Virginia Tiki Titans, my adoptive kickball squad, two players broke their fingers. During a semi-final round, another player suffered a bloody head wound during a collision, got eleven staples at the hospital, and returned to the field when his team made the championship game (which they went on to… lose).
My homies the Titans suffered their first loss of the season to an efficient and joyless squad called Gonzo (the Titans finished 2-2 and will likely move up a few notches in the national ranking – which I am now following religiously thanks to Kickball 365, a message board and seeding system for kickballers from all leagues and regions). Another crack team from D.C., the Gonzos cracked nary a grin during the game, as they put runner after runner on base with slow grounders to left, then delivered them home with robotic line drives. During the rain delay, which many players used as a chance to hit the keg or revel in dunk tank hilarity, the Gonzo coach was heard to bark out, “I don’t want to see any Gonzos pulling that crap!”
Sheesh. The Gonzos went on to get knocked out in the semis, to another mostly joyless and intense outfit (the winners were four-time champs KickAsphalt, whose winning streak is now approaching a dynasty). Meanwhile the players who appeared to be having the most fun (or at least making the biggest fools of themselves) were dispatched and sent back to the hotel fo much needed hot showers. The WAKA officials were terrific and the event was a big success, but it did leave me marveling at how a ridiculous kids game is only as nice as the people playing it.
All of which was driven home when I got news that one of my Tiki teammates, while stumbling back to the hotel after the championship, was hit by a monorail. That’s right—hit by a train. Details were sketchy, but he got a bruise on his leg and was otherwise tho miraculously unhurt. Mostly, he was indignant that “stupid train didn’t have a horn.”
How’re those for famous last words?
07.15.06 The Rejuvenile Quiz
A sidebar to the recent Detroit Free Press story on rejuveniles featured a quiz meant to calculate just how much of a rejuvenile you are. It’s silly stuff, but good fun anyway.
By the way, I scored a 7, with no’s to the questions on cars (proud minivan owner), family (left home at 17 and never looked back) and teddy bears (do they even sell teddy bears at Starbucks?). Which means I need more C-Span? Please.
The CBS Early Show did a nice story Tuesday on the surging popularity of adult kickball, which included great footage of players mixing it up beneath the Washington Monument, a mention of the unfortunate lawsuit between WAKA and DCKickball, and a few pundit-y remarks from yours truly. Seeing such a fantastic display of kickball’s maturation into a grown-up sport has got me thinking again about how the sport triggered my own rejuvenile awakening.
I was a floundering single guy working at a weekly newspaper and living with five roommates and two pet chickens (don’t ask) when a friend led me to a scrubby little league field in Silver Lake (called, appropriately enough, the Field of Dreams) for a Sunday afternoon kickball game. This was in the pre-WAKA days – the group I hooked up with started as a fluke surprise birthday party hosted by a twentysomething girl who had heard her boyfriend chatter on about how much he loved the game as a kid. The party was such a success that it became a regular Sunday pickup game. People brought pets, coolers of beer and boom boxes. A lot of those players are still my closest friends and loved ones – including my wife, who I proposed to by planting a ring in a ball, reinflating it with a patch kit and dropping to one knee at home plate. We played a full 10 innings and the games could get surprisingly rough – my friend Bob had to be taken to the emergency room one memorable game after splitting his chin open diving into home. He still wears his kickball scar proudly (he scored).
As much as I enjoy the game itself, I was reminded during my recent play with Norfolk Virginia’s Tiki Titans (recounted in last week’s Salon story) that kickball is about far more than the game per se. After a brisk double header, the 300-some players in the Norfolk league fled to a downtown bar. “Now you’ll see what kickball is really about,” a tie-died referee informed me. As a freak thunderstorm pounded down outside, the kickballers got down to a night of serious drinking, macking and the playing of a boozy team sport called flip cup. At one point I was chatted up by a hot blonde Navy lady named Nicole, who confided that even though she was now a flight test engineer who worked on F15s, she never quite got over always picked second-to-last in kickball. I might have been imagining things, but I’m pretty sure she had more in mind than a friendly interview in mind, which let me tell you was way more thrilling than anything I experienced on the kickball field.
Special thanks to Jeff Cartwright, ace coach of the Tikis for allowing me a spot on their lineup, which went undefeated in its final tournament and is is heading to the national championships on July 22 in Miami (expect purple Mohawks and war chants). And a shoutout to the Oregon-based Recess Time, which operates a one-stop-shop for all your fondly-recalled-kidgame needs (kickball, dodgeball, ping pong and bowling).
05.22.06 Come Out & Play
I recently finished work on a magazine piece in which I traveled around the country going head-to-head with the most dedicated adult players of five choice kid games. I played tag in Kansas City, Mo., kickball in Norfolk, Va., rock paper scissors in Las Vegas, minigolf in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and a “watergun assassination tournament” in L.A. By the end, I was both humiliated and exhilarated and left with a profound new appreciation of the value of kid games for adults.
The experience also left me to wonder if the mysterious mass reclamation of kid games over the past few years would ever coalesce into something more unified. What if the tag players met the kickballers and the minigolfers? I began daydreaming about a national conference on kid games, a massive playdate for adults from all over to share their favorite pastimes and mix it up together.
Seems I’m not the only one daydreaming. Details are still sketchy, but a group of play enthusiasts has announced a three-day event in New York City to be called the Come Out & Play Festival. The festival isn’t geared toward kid games per se; the lineup so far favors more conceptual, technology-assisted street games like PacManhattan, I Love Bees and Conqwest. Organizers say they want to help promote the natural evolution of streetgames like stickball and scavenger hunts, games that transform cities into gameboards and “combine the virtual and real.”
Count me jazzed. Come Out & Play promises to be an amazing opportunity to sample a new form of gameplay with a group of highly creative playful adults. Four months and counting…