Having a ball: Kickball not just for kids
Greg Jahner III played a lot of soccer growing up. But now, he's getting his kicks with a different type of ball.
Jahner, 31, has been playing kickball since 2007. A 2000 graduate of Park High School, Jahner and a group of friends and former soccer players formed one of 13 co-ed teams playing in the summer kickball league run by the City of Woodbury and the City of Cottage Grove.
"We couldn't keep up with the young, college guys on the soccer field anymore, but we can still kick and just had to learn how to catch," Jahner said. "Kickball is fun to do and we're pretty good at it, so we like to play it."
Jahner's team is named, "Where My Pitch Is At."
"One of the prerequisites is you have to have an unusual team name I guess," Jahner said.
Jahner said he believed the first organized kickball league in Minnesota began in St. Louis Park in 2004. Jahner played in that St. Louis Park league and one in Savage in addition to the Cottage Grove and Woodbury league.
"I'm a big advocate for it," Jahner said. "It's grown so dramatically over the years. It's gotten more and more competitive. It used to be extremely recreational, but now most leagues have a recreational and competitive division."
The sport of kickball, originally called "kick baseball," has roots going back to the early part of the 20th century in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the 1920's physical education teachers used kickball to teach the basics of baseball.
"Everybody says they played kickball in third grade, but it's so much more than that now. It's become really competitive," Jahner said. "If you like soccer or softball it's the perfect sport to play. But, kickball is for everyone."
Kickball is played on a softball field and the rules are very similar to softball and baseball - three strikes, three outs, nine players in a lineup and on the field, etc. Games are seven innings or 55 minutes long, whichever comes first. Kickers can stand as far behind the plate as they want to "wind up". An umpire calls balls and strikes. The pitcher's strike zone is 12 inches off either side of the plate and 12 inches above the plate.
The major difference is the soft, springy, inflated rubber ball - it's easy enough to connect with, but doesn't go very far and is unwieldy to catch and tricky to throw.
"Over the years, pitching has definitely gotten tougher," Jahner said. "We're curving the balls now over the plate and left and right of the plate. In this league pitching is a little more lenient, so you can have a creative pitching style out there. We always wanted to win, but we've gotten more and more into it every year. Now, it's less recreational and more competitive. We want to win the championship."
City of Woodbury Recreation Specialist Reed Smidt said Woodbury has offered competitive kickball leagues for five years in the summer and the fall.
"I think it's a great alternative to sports like soccer and softball," Smidt said. "I think anyone can do it. You can just be your average person and come out and play kickball."
This summer, the 13 kickball teams took the field at Lamar Fields in Cottage Grove. At the year's end, the top half of standings (seven teams) competed in the championship tournament, while the bottom half of standings (six teams) competed in a consolation tournament.
"There's some teams that are much more competitive and some that are more recreational and it's kind of tricky to combine all those teams," Smidt said. "I'm trying to get as many people involved with as many things as possible. It's gotten a lot of interest from the community."
Last week, "Where My Pitch Is At" was beaten 3-2 in 14 innings by "Balls and Dolls" for the championship.
"We've played each other five times over the years and have an even record now," Jahner said. "We've tied once and we beat them twice and they've beat us twice. They're probably our biggest rival,"
The fall kickball league, held every Thursday night, begins Aug. 30. Jahner said his squad will return in hope of regaining the championship title, but he's hoping for even more competition.
"The more people that show up, the more competitive the league is going to be," he said.