Softball and Kickball Play Out Rivalry

Posted July 21, 2009 at 3:25pm

For outsiders, it may be a bit difficult to understand a Congressional softball player’s love of the game. As tourists walk the Mall on weekday evenings, they often stop to stare — utterly taken aback by the sight of 30- or 40-year-olds diving into bases or arguing plays angrily.

The root of the softball passion is hard to define, but has to be, at least in part, about basking in the fresh air and the wide-open space. Players love the rush of vitality that accompanies a dramatic leap or a sprint or a dive after eight hours of cubicle enclosure.

But lately, another sport has begun to seriously challenge these longstanding softball leagues for their coveted green space, and the softballers aren’t taking too kindly to the competition.

Adult kickball leagues have only been using the Mall for about five years, but over the past few, their prominence has increased dramatically. For longtime softball players, the perceived encroachment has spawned all kinds of resentment.

“Most softball players look at these people who play kickball and say, Why would you play this sport? I mean, it’s a kids’ game,’— said Gary Caruso, commissioner of the Congressional Softball League. “It’s like, why haven’t you grown up?—

Caruso says it is often hard for him to stomach the sight of a kickball game, because to him the players just seem “obnoxious.— Other softball players define the resentment a bit more specifically, admitting that, to them, kickball players are foreign invaders who have done little to earn their space on the overcrowded Mall.

“Softball has been around for such a long time, and these kickball teams are just a new thing,— said Chris Russell, who coaches the Dukes of Haphazard, a House Softball League team. “We have always played on the Mall. If they want to play, I’m sure there are some great spots in Maryland or Virginia.—

Calls to D.C.-area kickball leagues were not returned before press time.

The resentment for kickballers is certainly palpable. The root of that resentment is a bit tougher to understand. But Matt Anthes, veteran coach of the Insliders, seems to understand why the big rubber ball seems to get under everybody’s skin. In the end, it’s all about defending space.

“They don’t understand or abide by the rules of the Mall,— he said. “There is an etiquette, and a way you go about reserving and sectioning off fields out there. They feel like the rules don’t apply to them.—

Anthes knows this first hand, he said, because he was involved in a recent argument with a kickball team looking for a place to play.

“We had been reserving a corner field since 11 o’clock. That’s what we do every week,— he said. “Then around 5:30, right before we were about to start, this kickball team rolls up and starts playing right between our field and the other corner field.—

Anthes said a heated argument ensued, and neither side was willing to move.

“So we both just started playing,— he said. “But after just a few minutes, they realized it just wasn’t going to work. They were just too close to our game, and that’s dangerous. So they just left.—

But despite his negative experience, Anthes said he doesn’t understand why some of his friends are so hateful toward the idea of kickball on the Mall.

“I hear all this talk about kickball being a kids’ game or a dumb sport,— he said. “I don’t understand all that. I mean, they are out here having fun just like we are out here having fun.—

He added, “We’re all out here trying to use the same space. We just have to respect the rules.—