Where’s the Finish Line?

I volunteered to play kickball for Virgin Territory with about as much enthusiasm as most people offer to help a friend move – secretly hoping I wouldn’t be needed but willing to show up and get the job done if it came down to it. As soon as I put the idea on the table I immediately wished I could take it back and suggest a different sport – preferably one that I could drink heavily before and blame any athletic missteps on an intense pre-game rally, or “teambuilding exercise” as I prefer to call said rallies.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m not athletic. I’m training for a sprint triathlon next month and am kicking my own ass to prepare for the race. I love a good spin class and can sun salutate with the best of them, but when it comes to sports with no personal finish line and a whole team of Type A personalities I need to apologize to if I screw up… it’s just not my thing. I prefer to be focused on a finish line and in “go” mode. Many of my friends play kickball and really enjoy the lifestyle. Some have even asked me to play in the past, but after reading public Facebook apologies for not playing well and hearing post-game critical analysis of each player’s performance over a pitcher of beer, I’ve been able to decline quicker than you can say, I’m pretty happy with my current self-esteem level so I’m going to go ahead and pass on that.

But now I was committed and couldn’t take it back. No, I had just signed up for something I swore I’d never do…

On the day this game of kickball was set to go down, I met Dan at the OSM office. As we walked to the field, I mentally prepared myself to join the Assassins of Sobriety. Regardless of whether I was ready or not, it was game time and I decided I might as well just have fun. Dan introduced me to the team captain, Zach, who offered a warm welcome and pointed out the other members of my new team. I was expecting a silent and determined warm-up, maybe an intense stare down with the other team from across the field and then a group huddle where it was reinforced that winning is everything and if we didn’t we all sucked at life. As I surveyed my surroundings, I was happy to see everyone casually chatting as they made their way to where they were supposed to be. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

The other team took the field first and I stood there awkwardly waiting for someone to tell me what to do. When it was finally my turn to kick I walked up to the plate like I owned it, hoping to not look like a complete idiot. The red ball rolled toward me and I took a few steps forward to meet it. Of course it took a last minute hop and made a weak attempt at contact with my shin. Lame. But I shook it off. The other Assassins offered some words of encouragement and I was not about to let them down. The next pitch made its way toward me and I took it, determined to redeem myself. To be honest, I don’t even know where it went. I was focused on getting to first base and not letting anything or anyone get in my way. On the next play I was out at second, but the inning ended on a high note for me. I managed not to fall on my face and that’s success enough for me.

The first time the Assassins took the field, I played right center. Not much action. Not that I’m complaining. The next inning I shifted to right and prayed the ball never came my way. It didn’t and that was just fine by me. My fear was that the other team would know I didn’t really play kickball and would try to kick to the weakest link. But that wasn’t the case so in my mind, I figured I’d just hang out in right field and the game would be over in no time. Wrong. The next time the Assassins were out in the field Zach looked at me and pointed to short stop. By that point I was actually starting to have fun and up to the challenge. My team bantered back and forth and I was ready to contribute some sarcasm. Behind me in left center was Fernando, who kindly called every ball as mine regardless of what direction it was going. And after each play I assured my team that if they had really needed me to carry them, I would’ve had it.

The game moved quickly. I was happy to just blend in and not really have to contribute to any plays. After playing outfield and shortstop, I took an inning at catcher and I still don’t really know what I was supposed to do. Fortunately, it ended quickly and I was able to return to the safety of the dugout without any mishaps at home plate. Going in, I was most nervous about kicking. As a new player, I think that’s the most vulnerable spot you can be in. Everyone is watching, waiting for you to prove what you can do… I had no idea what I could do. I thought I would have an entertaining story to share about how I fell or completely missed the ball and everyone pointed and laughed at me, but unfortunately I don’t. I’m not going All-State anytime soon, but I can make contact and that’s good enough for me.

As we took the field one last time, Zach threw me the ball and gave a quick rundown of the rules of the pitcher’s mound. The first kicker approached the plate and I rolled that ball as if I’d done it a million times before. Like it was my job, in fact. I felt comfortable on the pitcher’s mound and was starting to feel like part of the team. The next kicker put the ball in the air and it arched back down to Earth directly between me and Zach at first base. We both made a move for it and without even thinking, I shouted out “I got it!”

Truth is, I had no idea if I had it. What the hell was I thinking? The ball collided into my cradled arms and just as quickly bobbled out. I was not about to let that happen. No way, this was MY play. I reached for the ball, pulled it in close, turned to my team and announced that’s how it’s done!… And of course asked Fernando where he was on that one. A few more uneventful plays later the Assassins of Sobriety claimed victory 8-0.

As we exchanged good-game hand slaps with our opponents and walked off the field, I thanked everyone for letting me play. And I truly meant it. In just one hour my perspective of kickball completely changed and I began to understand why my friends enjoy their time on the field so much. They asked if I’d consider becoming a full-time Assassin and surprisingly, my immediate response wasn’t “no way in hell.” If I hadn’t just accepted a job two hours away, I would’ve happily returned the following Thursday to risk complete humiliation once again. As it turns out, that’s part of the fun!

I thought playing kickball would be an hour sacrifice for the sake of this article. I figured I’d write about how the pressure to be an All-Star eliminated any possibility of fun and predicted I’d leave the game feeling worse about myself than I had arrived. The draft of this article I had written in my head before even playing is much different than what you’re reading now. Who knows, maybe I’ll even join a team in my new city.

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