Monday, June 16, 2008

Where the rubber meets the grass


To some, it may be an excuse to relive old glories on the playground.
To others, it’s a chance to get a little exercise, meet new people or rekindle a passion that never really died.
And the ingredients are there. The carefully placed bases, the undersized baseball diamond, the flabby red rubber ball. It all adds up to one simple word: kickball.
One night a week for the past few months, hundreds of young adults strapped on running shoes or cleats, pulled on an official team t-shirt and hit the field at Santa Barbara Junior High School for five innings of action.

It’s even got a cool name — WAKA’s Fiesta Division.
Started several years ago as the local chapter of the World Adult Kickball Association, the organization has seen skyrocketing growth, doubling in size from last fall to nearly 350 participants and 16 teams.
“I think it fits the Santa Barbara lifestyle pretty nicely,” said Adam Waskewics, the Fiesta Division’s official WAKA representative.
Officially dubbed a social-athletic organization, the league offers a largely laid-back atmosphere — where participants don’t need to be all-star athletes or really know much about sports at all.
Even so, competition was stiff Monday evening, when an eight-week season culminated with semifinals and the championship game.
In semifinal action, “athletes foot” blanked “GoToGeeks” 6-0. On the other field, “Thats What She Said” came through with final-inning heroics in a 3-2, come-from-behind victory over undefeated “Playin Through.”
In a hotly contested final, “Thats What She Said” prevailed again with a 5-3 win.
In addition to bragging rights, the top finishers get an invite to the Founders Cup, the WAKA world championships, which take place this August in Las Vegas.
When asked if they’ll be heading to Vegas this fall, Steve Gaebe, star pitcher for the winning team, glanced over at his teammates and turned back with a grin.
“It’s a strong possibility,” he said. “It’s not that far a drive for a little kickball.”
And while some veteran teams hold practices weekly and are pretty competitive on the field, most are just looking to have fun and make new friends.
“Drinking is condoned,” Waskewics said, noting the 21-year-old age requirement. “Not on the field, nothing like that, but after games.”
In fact, divisions across the country are encouraged to find a local bar to act as a sponsor. As a result, Sharkeez is emblazoned on each team t-shirt as the local sponsor.
Teams often gather at the State Street drinking hole after the game, where they get special deals on libations and snacks. Drinking games also offer a chance at redemption.
“Rematch at the flip cup table,” said Marco Farrell, the division’s charity chairman and a “Surly Pirates” team member.
Even so, Waskewics was careful to stress that the league is far from a joke and people aren’t showing up each week simply to drink.
“I think it strikes a nice balance,” he said.
It’s even gaining traction in the corporate community, perhaps stealing a few folks away from the standard slow-pitch softball option.
Citrix Online has two teams, Waskewics said. Horny Toad Activewear employees formed another.
The rules of the game are pretty simple. Four men and four women must be on the field for each team. Pitches have to be on target and not too bouncy. Standard softball rules apply.
And there are secrets to putting the ball into play.
“You instinctually want to get up there and just kick the crap out of it,” Waskewics said.
But once the lightweight ball takes flight, it tends to float, resulting in plenty of fly-outs. That same factor applies when trying to toss the ball, even around the infield.
“If you can bunt, that’s the way to go,” Farrell said.
Even a burly third baseman would be hard-pressed to rocket the red blob across the infield on target before a runner hits first base.
The organization is also largely self-governed, with players serving as referees for games between other teams when they aren’t playing themselves.
Much of the $66 registration fee is pumped back into the system for mid-season and end-of-the-season parties, field permits and equipment.
Other than the official team t-shirts, color-coded for each squad, the outfits are widely varied and often include funky elements.
Farrell once donned a Santa suit. A player for the “Surly Pirates” might show up with an eye patch or bandana.
“Just to be a goofball,” Waskewics said.
Despite all the harmless debauchery, the organization is doing its part to give back to the community. At Monday's championship match, kickballers presented a check for $1,920 to the Westside Boys & Girls Club, money raised through fundraisers and donations.
Lindsey Leonard, director of the club, said the league offered up old bases and kickballs last year, which the kids play with all the time.
“Oh, they love it,” she said.
With the kickball allure spreading through the community, largely by word-of-mouth, division organizers expect to see record participation for the fall season.
Registration should open up about a month before Labor Day, Waskewics said, and those looking to get involved should check out
Many get into it as Waskewics did three seasons ago — asked by a friend if they’d like to play a little kickball.
“I thought, that’s kind of something different and just signed up and played and had a blast,” he said. “Everybody can play kickball and everybody just loves kickball from their elementary school days.”


Anonymous said...

Go TWSS! Party time w/ My Little Sister on Thursday! Champions!

Anonymous said...

Go Gaebe, you da man! . . . (That's what she said)