American Kickball


John A. – Houston, TX

The first plea of our birthday boy’s kickball game came during the second at bat.  I fielded a grounder, and then threw the ball at his 1st grade friend heading to second base.

“I’m not out.  The ball hit the ground before it hit me,” says the kid, to whom I will now refer to as attorney #1. 

“Overruled.  This is not our kickball rule, nor did the ball hit the ground.”  He persists a bit walking back to home plate, but he knows neither evidence nor kickball law are on his side.

I was hosting a kickball game for my seven-year old and three of his friends.  Those boys played against me and two of my other sons, one nine and one three.  We sidewalk chalked a diamond in our Harris county cul-de-sac, surrounded by crepe-myrtles, pine and water oak.  After five contentious innings, I understood that kickball is no sport.  Kickball is America.

My five boys embrace their future as litigators, the most American of professions.  In kickball, they suggest new rules.  They argue calls.  They negotiate for a more equitable game.  It matters to them who wins or loses on a Saturday in the winter.  My kids’ will never become professional athletes, but those were the heroes of my father’s generation.  Real excitement comes watching the Bret Kavanaugh cross-examiner politely pry for details about Dr. Ford’s fear of flying.  Following the Cohen drama is far more compelling than keeping baseball stats.  Like the people they see on TV, the facts and corroborating evidence don’t really matter so much to my kids.  My Latin-learning stalwarts may play in courtrooms, fully prepared to pose conundrums and to object to the opposing counsel’s ploy on a grand stage.  Like Hans Gruber once said to Mr. Takagi, “the benefits of a classical education …” 

But it starts on the kid-chalked kickball diamond. 

“I’m not out.  You cheated,” says kid attorney #3 and my birthday boy.  My kids will not hesitate to call their father a cheater, a useful skill if they choose high-stakes politics after their legal careers.  “You saw where I was going to kick the ball and you went there before I kicked it.”

“That’s correct.  We are playing four against two kickball.  That is not cheating.”  My accuser went back to home muttering under his breath.

“It did not hit me.”  This came as attorney #1 was headed to second. 

“Young man, the ball changed direction in mid air.  It ricocheted off your shoulder.” I replied.  In American politics and kid-governed kickball, facts don’t matter a hoot.

“Noitdidnt.”    I was at a loss for this one.  He really did want to go to the replay booth.  My dad-brain briefly considered how to implement a three-camera replay system to prove the four-foot litigant WRONG.  (I just need some motion detectors, a raspberry pi, and 72 uninterrupted hours.)  Regardless, Webster’s should consider the All-American, two-syllable “noitdidnt” for 2019’s new word list.

To account for his shorter legs, my three-year old was given protective status.  He ran between teams continuously, always being allowed to take first base.  The seven-year olds embraced the cuteness, so his advantage was not subject to litigation or protest.  They applauded the Texas grit of a three-year old boy determined to play with the big boys.  “Go Andrew!” we applauded as his little legs shuffled toward the rolling ball.              

“I’m not out.  It hit me in the head.  There are no head shots.”  Now it should be a law that a dad can’t plunk a kid in his noggin, but at the same time the kid needs to learn to be a smarter base runner.  I let him go back to third because I did knock him down.  Kudos to the kid for not crying.  John Wayne would be proud. 

Americans love creative accounting and the boys have a leg up there too. 

“That’s four fouls, you are out.”  When I was a kid, four fouls at a single kick-ball at bat was an out.  During our game, the 1st graders collectively accused my nine year old of fouling out after two fouls.  I asked, “How did you get four?”  The little litigators said that two fouls from the previous bat should count against him also.  I declared the rule inconsistent with generally accepted kickball rules (GAKR).

Americans don’t quit, but little boys who get bored do.  One of the friends decided to sit out during the third inning.  I kicked a pop fly right to him as he slumped on a curb.  The dad-rule dictates that I am supposed to kick the ball on the ground, so this was an immediate out.  However, the kid saw an opportunity to make the biggest play of the game, and he leaped to make the catch.  It rolled off the front of his arms, but the thrill brought him back into the game.

Now the first-to-20 game was about done.  It was 18-17 kids, and the young man who quit the inning before collided with a tricycle while he was rounding second.  Simultaneously, my wife pulled into the driveway with a car full of groceries so she could witness the first tears of the game.  I told them to pause while I unloaded groceries.  When I came back, the game had been declared over because my eleven- year-old son had stepped in for me, not knowing he was supposed to throw the game. 

Being the American kid’s game, larger forces were at work behind a few of my dropped balls, fluctuating run limits, and some bad Dad base running.   America’s legal landscape weighs pragmatism against idealism, erring on the side du jour.  End institutionalized prejudice in the legal system vs. get tough on crime.  Take care of the oppressed immigrant and fix the immigration system.  Cut taxes and increase spending on infrastructure.  Balance the budget and meet the needs of the vulnerable.  Enable free markets and prevent the next trillion dollar fiscal disaster.  Make the kickball game interesting vs. make the kickball game equitable.

“Guys, I told you to pause.  We’ll go back to where we left off.  That inning did not count” I declared.

 With the sun setting and time running out on the party, I let two of my son’s friends on base, but I kept them from scoring.  The birthday boy kicked everyone home as scripted in my head.  He really did kick a nice ball down the first base line.  The cake and ice cream was served shortly after, where we negotiated who would get which slice first.