The Greatest Game Ever Played

No, not the movie!

(Disclaimer.. this is the longest post, evar. Disclaimer.. this post is not related to Web Hosting, at all.)

Last night, four members of the DreamHost team (Nate, Andrea, Tavis (well actually, Tavis sat out with a hurt foot), and yours truly) participated in what may widely be regarded by future generations as the greatest kickball game ever played.

First, some back story.

The four of us play in the World Adult Kickball Association Hollywood Division for the LMNOPs. We had a record-breaking season, going 7-1 with our only loss coming in a meaningless final regular season game against the worst team in the division, 2-1.

Last night, the playoffs began, with us as the number one seed. We had to play the winner of the play-in game, which involved the one team that beat us all season (The Kickspitters) vs. the second-worst team (Don Rickles with a Chainsaw). Some were hoping The Kickspitters would win, to give us a chance at revenge. Personally, I enjoy a good blow-out and prefer to avoid confrontation, so was secretly pulling for Don Rickles with a Chainsaw.

I got my wish, and Don Rickles won the game, setting us up for a cake walk in the Quarter Finals…

About Kickball

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the U.S., or are so old have forgotten growing up, Kickball is a game typically played in elementary school P.E. class. It’s nothing more than baseball with a big red playground ball (like you use in dodgeball or four square) you kick, with the added bonus that you can get people out by hitting them with the ball (below the head)!

In our league you have eleven outfielders (instead of the standard nine in baseball and softball), and you’re required to always have at least four males and four females on the field each inning, lest you forfeit the game. Each at-kick you get four balls before you walk, and either three strikes or four fouls (independent of strikes) before you’re out. Games are five innings, with no overtime (except in the playoffs).

It seems straight-forward enough, but there are actually some subtle nuances. The main two that I’ve picked up in my first season (as an adult), is that no matter how tempting it is to try and boot the living CRAP out of the ball, it’s generally not a good idea. The balls are really soft and so difficult to kick far. Also, these are grown-ups in the outfield, not uncoordinated third-graders.. so pretty much anything up in the air at all is an easy out. The key to getting on base, it turns out, is the man-bunt.

The “man-bunt” is simply a bunt, except we call it a man-bunt so we don’t feel too un-manly performing it. Because the ball is so big and soft, it doesn’t go very fast when you throw it. So, if you move at all faster than tectonic plates (and hey, not everybody does), it’s pretty much a sure thing you’ll get to first. Especially because defensive players aren’t allowed to be closer than the pitcher’s mound until you make contact.

The second nuance is that, as fun as it is to nail the living heck out of somebody running between bases, it’s a horrible idea! Just get the easy force out. It’s harder than you think to hit somebody with that thing, and even if you do, the ball bounces off some funny way and any other runners on base advance! Really, it’s best to never even try and make an amazing throwing play.. this isn’t the major leagues, Jeter.

Like Fozzie Bear!

The Game

Back to last night.

For some reason, we were a little tight on players, we only had six guys and seven girls! In a first for us, we actually fielded five (later six) women on defense the whole game (no offense, ladies!)

Things got off to a rocky start.. in the top of the first, DRC scored a run on a controversial call by the umpires. The player at-foot stepped over the home plate when kicking, an automatic dead-ball scored as a foul to the kicker. One of our players caught the kick in the air though, just for fun. When this happened the player at third tagged up and ran home, and the umpires called it a fair play, one run scored. We protested to no avail. Honestly, they probably would have scored anyway, BUT STILL!

Nothing much more exciting happened until the bottom of the second, when I got to first on a man-bunt, and received a cell phone call. I continued to talk on my phone as I was walked to second, and then forced out at third. Teammates vehemently scolded me for not taking things seriously, but eh, there was no way I would have made it to third, even if I had been paying attention.

In the top of the third inning, DRC scored two more runs, due to fielding errors on our part. The team was starting to get nervous, as we were half way through the game down 3-0 to the number eight seed.

Finally in the bottom of the third, we scored one run. Then, we held them in the top of the fourth, bringing us to the bottom of the second-to-last inning, down 3-1. Our fearless captain Meghan gathered us together for a rallying cheer.. “H, I, J, K, LMNOPs!!!”

The Cheer Worked.

In the bottom of the fourth, Jen got on with a successful man-bunt, and J.R. came to kick. For some reason, all the guys (except for me) this game had been routinely wailing on the ball, and routinely popping it up. I’m not sure what about the playoffs tempts everyone to stray from the formula that had worked so well for us all season, but stray we did!

As third base coach, I implored J.R. to “Just bunt it this time!!!!!!” Heeding my advice exactly nil, J.R. kicked a long fly ball into right field.

HOME RUN!!!

We had tied the game, 3-3! The team was exstatic.

We scored another run, and by the time it was my turn at-foot again we had a 4-3 lead, 2 outs and nobody on.

This is where I made a critical decision.

Normally, I always man-bunt. After my first three at-kicks this season, I’d gotten all the boots out of my system and was ready to settle down and actually get on base. However, at this point I took a look at the line-up, and realized I had Nate after me (a man-bunter for life), followed by the bottom of our order, a string of six women (no offense, ladies!).

I figured, even if I got on, then Nate got on, the chances of any more runs coming in this inning were pretty slim. So I just decided to see how far I could send that thing.

The answer? Not far. I kicked a line-drive to the second base man, and the inning was over.

But, should the game come down to the bottom of the fifth, we now had Nate leading off.. a career man-bunter.

Kickball is no joke!

The Final Inning

Don Rickles was at the top of their kicking order, two excellent man-bunters who easily got to first and then to second with no outs. Unfortunately, our pitcher Mike Ramirez ended up walking the next kicker (A girl! No offense, ladies!), bases loaded, no outs, and we’re still clinging to a 4-3 lead.

The next kicker ended up booting a hard grounder to our short stop, J.R., who immediately closed in on home to get the ball to our catcher, Scott, and force out the runner coming from third. The play wasn’t even close, Scott caught the ball a good two steps before the runner made it home. Phew! Disaster narrowly averted! But then, a split-second later, came the call from the home-plate umpire.. “SAFE!”

Now, I’m not one to bitterly argue anything in “sports” – especially Kickball. And I’m not one to complain about a call against my team when it’s correct, or even close. But this wasn’t even close. Our entire team was in an uproar! Scott, not really the most level-headed guy to begin with, shoved the ball in the umpires chest, and spouted obscenities! The umpire repeated “SAFE!”

Scott screamed some more, then took the ball and drop-kicked it into the backstop as hard as he could. In the mayhem, the DRC player at third decided to make a break for home, scoring ANOTHER run while Scott kicked dirt on the Umps shoes! They had taken the lead, 5-4! We immediately all converged and stopped any further players advancing, and our team captain went to discuss things with all three umpires.

It was no use, both runs counted. In the ensuing screaming match, J.R., our short stop who kicked the home run, was ejected from the game. Nate moved in from right field to take his position, and we now had five guys and six girls in the field, two men on, no outs, down 5-4. Then, Mike walked another girl (no offense, ladies!), and the bases were loaded again.

On the next kicker, we finally caught a little break. She kicked a short pop-up along the first base line that looked like it’d probably bounce foul. Mike ran in to try and catch it in the air, but was too late, it bounced fair and he caught it on the bounce. The kicker was running right along the base bath, and would have been an easy tag-out.

But instead, Mike ran home and touched the plate.

Before anyone on their team (or ours) realized what was going on, he ran off to third. All their base runners were still happily planted at their bags. He touched third, forcing out the runner on second. Finally, as he made his way to second, DRC started to realize what was going on, and the guy on first took off! They converged on the bag, and at the last moment Mike nailed him with the ball… resulting in an unassisted triple play!

The Bottom of the Fifth

I’m sorry if this is dragging on, but as this was The Greatest Game Ever Played, it deserves a thorough treatment.

So there we were, down 5-4 in the first round of the playoffs, three outs away from being eliminated by the number eight seed, and Nate was leading off, followed by the bottom of our order, six women (no offense, ladies!).

Nate got on base easily with a macho-bunt.. my carefully calculated plan was working!

Next up was Karen. She kicked a weak grounder to the pitcher, who started converging on first to force her out as Nate took off to second. I’m not exactly sure what happened here, but I think his throw to first was bobbled a little by the first baseman? Nevertheless, Karen was called out, something that insanely infuriated her. I’m not sure why, but maybe it had to do with the fact that she was more than a little toasted.

You see, the other thing about Adult Kickball is, at least on our team, everybody shows up completely hammered, and gets more and more so throughout the game. The drinking in the playoffs, like the playing, is taken to an even higher intensity.

Karen’s belly-aching proved useful, as Nate took the opportunity to advance to third!

So we now had the tying run at third, one out, and five more women in the order.

This is when the chess-match began.

Next up was Meghan, who ended up doing a (wo)man-bunt along the first base line. The pitcher swooped it up, and looked like he was ready to tag her out, but at the last second he turned to Nate, who was sneaking towards home, and held him back to prevent the tying run, allowing Meghan to advance to first.

Then, up came Kayla, Megan’s sister. Jen advised her to just BOOT it, if we kicked it far enough, Nate could tag up and get home. But instead, the pitcher intentionally walked her, and she was happy to oblige him.

Bases loaded, one out, down by one, Nate’s at third.

Now, it was Andrea’s turn. Bunting was no longer an option.. to do so would result in an easy force-out at home, all but ending our chances of sending the game to extra innnings. After a few fouls, Andrea kicked what I don’t think was meant to be a bunt along the first base line. Nate broke for home, the pitcher fielded the ball and started heading home.. where he made a fatal error.

He started to get that tell-tale look in his eye. The look that has been the downfall of oh-so-many a kickballer. The I can nail the crap out of this guy look. So, instead of making the easy throw to the catcher for the force out, he got literally about three feet from Nate before nailing him in the back with the ball.

Except he didn’t.

He missed! Nate did an ever so-slight stutter step.. slowed down for a half second, then sped up and slid into home, and the ball sailed past, missing his back by about a half-inch… WE HAD TIED THE GAME!

Our bench was in a state of semi-euphoria at this point; I began to lose my voice. After things finally settled down, I came to a slow realization.. we could win this game with a walk.

I immediately got behind the back stop and began advising the next kicker, Grace, that all we needed was a walk to win the game. AND, a walk was totally within reach.. if you keep the “scales of kickball” in balance. You see, you get either three stikes OR four fouls before you’re out, and only need 4 balls to get a walk. So, if you’re patient, and every once in a while just kick a would-be-strike foul, you can pretty much guarantee a walk. It’s pretty hard for pitchers to roll that ball straight down the middle seven out of eleven times!

Unfortunately, Grace didn’t really listen to me, and she kicked a would-be-strike fair, resulting in an easy force-out at home.

Bases loaded, two outs, bottom of the fifth, tie game, and Meaghan (different than Meghan), the bottom of our order, is up.

The end-game was nigh. In my mind it was me vs. the pitcher, in a deadly dual. The ultimate prize, victory. The ball was his pawn, Meaghan, mine. Meaghan promised me she would follow exactly what I told her to do, and the rest of the team left me alone behind the back stop to advise her.

The first pitch, clearly a ball. I told her so, and she took it. 1-0-0 was the count.
The next pitch looked good, and Meaghan just went crazy and kicked it!!! ACK!!! I yelled! Fortunately, it was foul. 1-0-1.
I told her, for this next pitch, no matter what, even if it’s right down the middle do not go for it. It was, and she didn’t. 1-1-1.

(Oh boy..)

The next pitch looked good, but I saw it had spin on it, so I yelled “WAIT” and at the end it drifted wide right, 2-1-1.
The next pitch looked pretty good, so I told her to just tip it foul. She did! 2-1-2.
Now I said, no matter what, do NOT kick this ball. She didn’t and it again spun wide right! 3-1-2.

(Whew.)

Again, DO NOT kick this ball. Right down the middle… crap. 3-2-2.

(Things were getting pretty intense.)

This pitch came straight down the middle, and Meaghan was going to kick it… but I saw the tell-tale spin, and yelled “HOLD OFF!”

She did.. and it was realllllly close… but the ump had to make the call, and he did:

BALL!

Ball game! We won!

(Now that’s some offense, ladies!)