Let people boast about being MVP of their basketball, baseball or football teams. I reigned supreme on the kickball field. During recess. And never received any awards. My legendary kicks to the outfield guaranteed a homerun for me and scores for others already on base. I was one of the first ones chosen by team captains who otherwise barely spoke to me during the school day. Jumproping wasn’t a team sport, but I was a rockstar at that too. While other jumpers tripped and stumbled on their ropes or tired out, I continued for minutes at time. My skill was limited to jumping. I never learned any tricks like doing backflips while still swinging my rope. I still can’t do that cross-arm move that boxers do. Let’s not even talk about my hula hooping skills…
Hula hooping was the only childhood game I keep up with. From time to time while watching TV or waiting for my fingernail polish to dry, I’ll give it a whirl for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Last weekend on a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, decades after leaving elementary school and kickball, I walked onto a Manhattan playground to join a co-ed team of adult kickballers. I found the Meetup.com group a year and a half before; it had been about a year since I had participated in any activity. The first and last outing I attended was a night trip to the Brooklyn Museum on First Saturday. I RSVP’d for a dinner and movie outing once, but didn’t show up. There were several postings for kickball games, but the dates and times were never good for me. This time my calendar was clear. My final decision was made when I saw the red, bold letters “no athletic skill is necessary.”
My usual Sunday consists of sleeping in to 8 or 9 am, a marathon phone call with my LA cousin, during which I prep, cook and eat a veggie omelette with a side of sausage, wash dishes and watch a DVR’d show or two on low volume. The call usually ends because one or both of us wants to squeeze in a workout. She goes hiking, while I pop in a DVD and get my cardio in my living room. The Sunday of the kickball game my routine was remixed. Despite having attended a party the night before and getting home late (or early depending on how you look at it) I had been awake since 7 am.
Butterflies were fluttering in my stomach. I was excited not only about participating in a beloved childhood team sport, but also about trying something new and fun. I was more nervous about attempting to catch the ball while playing outfield than at the prospect of meeting a group of people I didn’t know but may know each other. My cousin and I had an abbreviated phone call. I skipped the DVD. The game would be my workout. Instead of an omelette, I downed a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios.
I forfeited indulging in a delicious omelette because I toe the line of being a girly girl. It took some time to figure out what to wear to the game. We’d be playing outside in the cold. I wanted to be comfortable, and of course, I wanted to make a good impression. It wasn’t practical to play in skinny or wide leg jeans so I chose one of my favorite velour hooded sweatsuits in a light teal color. It had designs on the back of the sweatshirt, the pockets and over the right hip of the pants. I looked ready to play and cute.
The nerd in me printed Hopstop directions to the playground days before, yet I still had trouble finding the playground. After I exited the subway, I spotted someone dressed in sweats looking at her phone, possibly reading directions and heading in the direction I thought I should be heading. I lost her at a traffic light, but it turns out she was a fellow kickballer.
There was an absence of nerves as I walked past the basketball courts to join the group in the playing area. After signing in, I was assigned to Team 2. Most people were huddled in small groups, chatting. Urging myself to not be anti-social, which would defeat the purpose of the whole outing, I walked to the closest group, two girls and a guy, and introduced myself. Minutes later the game started. Team 2 was in the outfield.
I scanned the motley crew of 20-25 players while I stood trembling from the cold in the outfield. Men, women, black, white, Latino, Asian. The age range looked to be 20s and 30s. There was a lot of friendly banter and trash talk from both sides. New members, like me, were referred to as “New Girl.” Later because of my green coat and sweatpants, my name became Green. I didn’t take offense to not being called by my name. I had trouble remembering everyone’s name as well. It was easy to remember Robin, my team captain, Kevin, the organizer, and John, my teammate who kicked before me. My teammate Cannon proved the significance of her name by flying all over the field to catch and throw the ball to prevent the other team from scoring. She even slipped and skinned her knee during one of the plays.
The temperature dropped several degrees throughout the afternoon prompting some of us to play wearing our coats, scarves and hats. It rained on and off, but nothing heavy enough to drench our clothes or force us to leave. Several times a player kicked the ball so hard it sailed over the 20 foot fence and halted the game while the ball was retrieved. One strong kick impaled and deflated the ball on the chain link fence. There was a back-up ball so kept playing.
I had four times “at bat.” I worried about missing the ball which would be more embarrassing than striking out. Neither happened. My first two kicks didn’t make it to the outfield like my golden days, but they were high and far–the perfect combination to run and catch for an out. After watching other players kick the ball hard enough to go the distance, but soft enough to not leave the ground, I followed suit. My next two kicks I made it to first base, one of which led to John making it to home base.
We played three games: two with six innings and the last with four because of the cold. Even with my kick bringing John home, we lost the final game. In fact, we lost two. Afterwards, a few of us went to a nearby bar to replenish our energy and for warmth. Conversation was limited as we inhaled our meals and people were mesmerized by the many screens telecasting the football game. Seats were chosen based on the line of view to the screens. As I ate my burger and fries and warmed my hands around my jug of tea, I reflected on the afternoon. I’m sure I had more fun playing a carefree game of kickball in the park in the cold and rain than the millionaires playing football on TV.