After making public my love of kickball, a friend of mine tipped me off about a league in Austin. Despite the fact that I’m not going to be in town for long, I got in touch with a team captain. He encouraged me to play because they always need girls, regardless of their level of committment. Sounds right up my alley!
So, on Friday night I found myself standing awkwardly on the baseball diamond near Zilker Park, praying to any diety who might listen that I don’t fuck up too bad. To ask for an error-free game would have been like asking for a private shuttle to Jupiter. But here, I wasn’t asking for much. I just hoped I didn’t do anything too memorable to mess up the game that this nice, unknowing team of people invited me to play with them.
Although I run to stay in shape, I am by no means an athlete. I can’t catch, I can’t throw, I can’t hit… and that’s okay. High school is over and the real world has confirmed what I already knew: Athletic ability is nearly worthless when your financial and social status is defined primarily by your career. Ninety-nine percent of the kids who play sports in school don’t go on to be professional athletes; they hold regular jobs in regular places and do regular things because they’re regular people.
But since sports are fun (they are?), many adults still get together and play them for health and fellowship. Since I like those two things, I convince myself to go out and play every few years, once I’ve forgotten the expectation and competitive personalities that accompany such activities.
No matter how cool and laid-back any team is, there’s always one person who is overly competitive. He puts in 110 percent, and is noticeably annoyed when other people don’t possess the skills he does. Although he can play the game well and knows all the rules, he’s usually not the best player on the team. He often concentrates so hard on what other people should be doing, he makes his own mistakes because his expectations are clouding his judgment. These are the people that whip the rose-colored “health and fellowship” rug out from under me and replace it the hollow memories of high school gym class.
Thus, much like the last time I formally played a sport as an adult with other adults circa 2003 (pickup games involving children, dogs, and make-shift bases don’t count), I finished the game with mixed feelings.
Unlike the kickball game I played earlier, this game involved basic strategies in the outfield that I was not aware of. In the first inning, the team captain directed me to play first base. I gave him an out, asking, “Are you sure?” He was affirmative, and despite my inability to catch and throw, I played first base.
Very quickly, my ignorance of organized kickball and plain lack of skill shined through. If I wasn’t botching a catch or throwing short, I was throwing the ball to the wrong person or standing in the wrong place.
Hence, very quickly, the overly competitive team member’s over-competitiveness shined through. Standing over on third base, he complained about my plays, complained that I was on first base, complained about my very existence… The complaints were directed at the guys around him, but this guy wasn’t exactly shy about his opinions.
The next inning, I offered to play something else, but the team leaders confirmed that I was fine where I was. I didn’t really care how important (or unimportant) my role was, I just came out to play. But I also wanted to minimize the tension. It would have been fun to watch competitive-guy’s head asplode, but he was only peeved enough to be a jerk, so I just wanted to do what I could to end it.
Even when we were at bat, he was working hard but not smart, overrunning bases and getting tagged out. If he had just thought more about what he was doing instead of how other people were doing something wrong, that might not have happened.
As a young adult with her late 20’s dauntingly laughing at her from the horizon, I take this kind of nastiness in stride. People who are hell-bent on calling out their teammates and spreading negativity are putting only themselves on a path to heart failure. They’re not even really upset with my specific actions or me as a person, they’re just upset in general.
Those negative, nasty people don’t control the game or how much fun I have playing it, but regardless, I still don’t want to be around it. Thus concludes my sport-playing for now. Maybe I’ll check back in another four years to see if anything has improved.