by WES FERGUSON
The red rubber ball bounds from the pitcher’s mound, rolling toward home plate, and the batter boots it into shallow right field.
It’s a pop fly, which would have been a routine out in baseball or softball, but this is kickball — where every play has blooper-reel potential.
“I got it!” the right fielder calls, just before the ball bounces off his hands and runners scamper around the bases.
All skill levels are welcome, from ex-athletes reliving their high school glory days to adults who just want to socialize and be active.
“This a great sport for the person who never got picked in school,” said chatty umpire Chuck Parker, taking a break between innings at Gregg-Clarke Park. “The key is just to kick it where there’s nobody in the field.”
Also, if you’re running the bases, remember to keep your eye on the ball no matter what. Instead of a force or tag out, a fielder could decide to chunk the ball at your backside.
“The ball is poison,” Parker said. “If you’re not in a safe place, such as a base, and you get touched by the ball, you’re going to be out.”
Kickball has been bouncing in popularity around the country. It’s unique among organized sports because it satisfies people’s competitive urges while requiring almost no specialized training, said Kerry Urbanowicz, the city’s parks director. If you can kick, throw and run, you’re in.
“There’s not that many organized sports activities for the average adult,” Urbanowicz said. “If you play slow-pitch softball or something like that, there’s a little more athleticism involved. But for the average person who needs to get out and do a little more exercise, this is a great opportunity for everybody to get involved.”
Even so, the games can be quite competitive, he said, and tempers have been known to flare. This spring the city offered two co-ed leagues, one for serious competitors and one for more laid-back types who aren’t as obsessed with wins and losses.
“Some of them take it a little too seriously, but that’s part of the fun,” Urbanowicz said. “They’re out scouting teams to find weaknesses and strengths before they play them. It’s really an interesting program that’s come together.”
Pitching for the Homecourt Ballers on Friday night was Texas State University rugby player Brittany Showels, who plays in the co-ed and women’s leagues and has found that kickball helps her unwind.
“After a long workweek, it’s nice to come out on a Friday evening and enjoy the interaction and competitive edge,” she said. “Sometimes we bring a grill. Right now, it’s more about fun, but it gets very competitive come tournament time. Everyone’s family and friends come out, and we’re all fighting for the championship.”
Urbanowicz, who umpires some games, said he has watched as players’ skill levels, and their physical fitness, have improved as Kyle kickball wraps up its fourth year.
“The first time they tried to catch a pop fly it bounced off. When they ran to first base they were completely out of breath. Now they can turn a double play, or get all the way to third base or home and not be out of breath,” he said. “You see a lot of improvements in people’s physical abilities if they stick with it long enough. I think they just needed this little spur or push to get in better shape.”
Teams may field up to 16 players and must pay $500 to play in the league, which includes 10 regular-season games and a double-elimination tournament. For information, visit www.kylepard.com or call 512-262-3939.