The WAKA Founders Cup: What’s Kicked In Las Vegas…

…Continued from the previous post.

WAKA Founders Cup XIII Action

The Sun Sets On Founders Cup Quarterfinal Action

Jumbo Shrimp. Congressional Oversight. Flood Control…

My new favorite oxymoron? Kickball Strategy.

When we last got together, I was telling you about kickball as it is played across the country by people that have discovered the joys of the World Adult Kickball Association.

I came about this information because I happened to be visiting recently with almost 100 teams full of men and women who had traveled to Las Vegas to take part in the 13th annual WAKA Founders Cup – and its newborn sibling, the Kickball Games.

Any discussion of the WAKA game begins and ends with the fact that there are 11 fielders sandwiched onto the diamond, making any reasonably airborne kick an out-in-waiting. This puts the well-placed bunt squarely in the strategic forefront of the game.

Consequently, the most important skill in the game is the ability to throw the ball hard and straight, especially to first base. Eliminate the other team’s ability to get on base via the bunt, and you’ve pretty much diminished the concept of getting on base, period. Therefore, the best players on each team play pitcher, third base, first base…and catcher. Yes, catcher – the former province of the last kid taken when choosing up sides at recess.

See, WAKA rules allow the catcher to pretty much run alongside each kicker as they approach the ball – thus enabling them to pounce on bunts instantaneously. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for me to see a catcher retire a kicker by catching a “fly ball” (essentially any ball that doesn’t spin down into the ground immediately) right off the foot of the kicker.

Kickball Games Participant Displaying Catcher Speed

So if you’re thinking of joining WAKA and fielding a kickball team of your very own, keep these principles in mind when assigning positions:  The best arm on the team should belong to your third baseman; your quickest player should be your catcher; your most accurate thrower should be your pitcher; and your first baseman should be the most reliable catcher of the ball. Everyone else…well, they should focus intently on vocal moral support, because they are otherwise uninvolved for loooooong stretches of time.

BUT! All of the above goes out the window if the score is tied at the end of five innings – the length of a regulation WAKA game. Once the game goes into extra innings, things change dramatically.

First, each team must remove three fielders – and BTW, those three fielders are all guys. In extra innings, the teams play eight on a side, split down the middle by gender.

Then to energize the offense, the player who made the last out of the previous inning starts out the next inning on second base. This places a runner in scoring position with no outs, and presents the kicker with a comparatively wide open field.

As you can imagine, it now becomes a game much more akin to what we were used to on the playground. People “swing away” at the plate, and runs get scored – quickly. It’s not uncommon for teams in the first extra inning to score as many runs as they had in the entire five-inning game that preceded it.

I may be over-reaching here, but I’d like to offer the WAKA Commissioner one tiny rules-tweaking suggestion:  Skip the first five innings of regulation play and proceed directly to extra innings – then play five of those. Or in the alternative…get a few of those 1,278 defensive players off the field.

Plenty Of Good Seats Still Available

Just a thought. Now back to our regularly scheduled Founders Cup coverage.

Evidently there are national kickball powerhouses. Who knew? Each team that progressed past the qualifying pool play portion of the Founders Cup and into single-elimination bracket play carried a seeding, which was assigned by the tournament committee. Obviously those folks knew what they were doing, for when the dust had settled the Final Four included the #1, #2, and #4 seeds – as well as the requisite Cinderella team, which came in at #11.

That long-shot team was named Sofa King Good, and they represented California’s Studio Division, based in L.A. As they began to compile upset victories, word spread throughout the park. By the time they kicked off their semi-final game against #2 seed The Other Shot Callers from the DC Capital Division, a healthy crowd comprised of eliminated Golden State teams had assembled.

Raucous chants of “CAL-a-FORN-yah” broke out on a regular basis as tense scoreless innings mounted. Finally though, midnight arrived and Sofa King Good turned into a pumpkin. In the bottom of the fifth inning, TOSC mounted what passes for an offensive explosion in the Founders Cup. Two bunt singles, a sacrifice bunt, an intentional walk and a sacrifice fly plated the only run TOSC needed to progress into the Championship game.

While this transpired, about 200 yards away the top-seeded Meatballs of Boca Raton, Florida had been pushed into extra innings by Panik Attack, the proud sons and daughters of the Virginia Recess Division. When I arrived, Meatballs had just been retired after scoring a run in the top half of the sixth inning. When Panik Attack took their turn at bat (at kick?), I then witnessed the unimaginable – a booming shot over the head of the left fielder that went for a bases-clearing walk-off triple. Just like that, the tournament favorites had been eliminated. (See video below)

All that was left was the modestly-named World Kickball Championship Game.

This was of course preceded by the full pomp and circumstance duly accorded a contest of global significance. The Kickball Games Superlative Awards were announced. The national anthem was sung – and sung extremely well, BTW – by a WAKA staffer. I actually got chills, although they may have been a result of the fact that it was considerably darker and considerably colder than it was when I arrived several hours previously. Whatever the case, there was an undeniable Big Game feel to the air.

The Championship featured two teams that are located within 200 miles of the cradle of organized kickball – WAKA’s headquarters in Washington, D. C. Panik Attack hails from Norfolk, Virginia and The Other Shot Callers from the nation’s capital.

As it turns out, all but one of the twelve previous Cup winners has been from either D. C. or Virginia. Conspiracy theorists might have a (kick)ball with that, but I prefer to think it’s rigorous training and slavish devotion to the core principals of the Red Rubber Ball – whatever they may be. Or maybe they just drink less during games than their opponents.

The final was as expected; a tight low-scoring game, heavy on strategy and rules disputes. And injury time-outs. See, a schedule that had been slipping rapidly since the first pitch, had brought another factor into play.

The desert in October offers brilliantly warm and sunny days which give way rapidly to chilly nights once the sun has gone down. This was probably why the Championship game had originally been slated to begin at 6:00 and end right around sunset.

By the time the Championship game actually began at almost 8:00, the temperature had fallen by almost 20 degrees. Leg muscles stretched by exercise and the heat of the sun started to tighten. In the very first inning a Panik Attack player went down with leg cramps and had to be half-carried, half-dragged off the diamond by the on-site EMTs. Similar injuries followed. Not to be uncharitable, but at least this provided some sort of action in the midst of an endless, stupefying string of bunts and attempted bunts.

Despite my silent prayers to the contrary, the game almost inevitably finished five innings tied at 2-2. A break in play commenced, during which team captains huddled and plotted their strategy for the extra innings.

It was then 9:00. Cold, hungry, and most of all, bored out of my mind, what little remaining interest in who won Founders Cup XIII had disintegrated. I did the unthinkable. I left the World Kickball Championship Game before it had ended.

WAKA people – I love what you’ve done to create the franchise. Had you been around when I was younger, I would’ve undoubtedly been out there bunting (and then imbibing, of course) with the rest of the folks in the WAKA league nearest to me. And I know you created the Founders Cup for playing and not for spectating.

But at that moment, all I could think was this – maybe there are some games that should never evolve to this level of serious competition. Maybe we had it right at Windermere Elementary.

Next Up:  The SoCal Showdown Archery Tournament

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