The team needs one more out to end the inning. A brown-haired guy steps up to the plate, raring to send the orb sailing into the next field. He uncorks a pop fly to third.
Amy Grubbs, outfitted in orange Abercrombie & Fitch micro-shorts with suspect athletic functionality, lunges for the ball, arms spread and eyes shut. Heroically, she makes the catch, and her male teammates swarm for high-fives and celebratory hugs. Clearly, the effort was well worth it.
What's a girl from Louisville to do when she moves to a city where she doesn't know a soul? After graduating from Purdue in May and coming to Washington for a job at USA Today, Grubbs found herself asking that question.
"I wouldn't have joined softball because I would have sucked," says Grubbs, 22, all aglow as she sits on the sideline. "Kickball, it doesn't matter. It's much more laid-back."
She heads for the dusty diamonds in Adams Morgan every Thursday after work. Her blue eyes are rimmed with black liner. Her blond hair is hoisted high in a perky ponytail. And her short-shorts show off two perfectly tanned legs. What Grubbs and 415 other enthusiasts understand is that everything you ever needed to know about dating you learned in kickball -- the middle school game (think baseball, but with a large, pink rubber gym ball) that is the embodiment of social splendor.
The beauty of adult kickball, thriving in Washington since 1998, is this: One need only stage a clumsy slide into first base, thus hitting the attractive member of the opposite sex playing said base, and one will hopefully get to first base with the aforementioned person that night or later that season. It's all part of the game.
"Now I go out mostly with people from the team," Grubbs says. "My teammate Laura and I actually just went out with two guys on the team Saturday night." One of them, Mark, is sitting just a feet away and happened to be the first high-fiver after her clutch catch.
It boggles the mind that a game as unsexy as kickball could be the hottest aphrodisiac in town. Salsa dancing? Sure. Hot yoga? Maybe. But kickball? Unlike most intramural softball or soccer teams around town that require just two female players on the field at any given time, the World Adult Kickball Association requires four or five, which accounts for roughly half the team. With odds like that, there's a lot of opportunity for guy-gal contact.
One home run and a dozen field flirtations later, Grubbs's team, Rambo First Balls, claims victory. Then an army of red, orange, blue, yellow, green, pink and purple T-shirts marches up 18th Street NW like a parade of M&Ms. It's a mass of girlish giggles, playful screams, poking, nudging and other forms of post-play foreplay. The civilians sitting at cafe tables along the route begrudgingly acknowledge the weekly mating ritual as it makes its way to the Adams Mill Bar & Grill.
The Adams Morgan bar is the official sponsor of the "21 and over-only" Memorial Division that faithfully patronizes the watering hole. Any sparks that flew on the field blaze at the bar. "The drinking part has a lot to do with people joining," Grubbs says as she positions herself next to Saturday night-Mark at a long table filled with shiny red plastic cups. "Everybody is pretty much a lush."
Humans have been randomly hooking up ever since a caveman named Bud brewed the first beer. Thus, the mating dance that began on the kickball field continues at the "flip cup" table if everything goes according to plan.
"The kickball is just an excuse to get to the bar. I mean, the game is only 45 minutes," Steve Minard says as he shuttles pitchers of Miller Lite (WAKA's official 2005 sponsor) to the table set up at the back of the bar. He's a member of team Conjugal Visit, which sadly lost its game and is now facing off against Grubbs and the other members of Rambo First Balls.
The weekly postgame flip cup races give the losing teams a chance to reclaim their pride after a loss on the field, while facilitating gender relations. In this game, each team lines up boy-girl-boy-girl on either side of a long table with a plastic cup holding about an inch of beer in front of each member. Then they race from one side of the table to the other to see which team can drink their beers and flip their cups over the fastest.
"Now this is my game," Minard says as he rations out the beer for the first round.
Minard, 31, has been a kickball and flip-cup devotee for four years. He and a roommate share a townhouse in Fairfax, where he works as a database programmer. Every Thursday he takes a bus and two Metro trains to partake in the August-to-November games. Although he claims to have joined for love of the game and the drink, there's a suspicious whiff of the looking-for-a-lady-love variety. "I'm the guy who's watching and not getting any," Minard says as he looks longingly over at a teammate working it with two girls near the bar. "You have to be sociable in that kind of way."
Grubbs is standing just across the beer-drenched wood table. She's still next to Mark, who bestows high-fives and hugs whenever the Rambo First Balls win a round of flip cup. As the rounds go on, interspersed with shots with the bartender, everyone gets a little louder and a lot more sociable. "See that guy? He's hooked up with three different girls just on this floor," Grubbs says, pointing to a passing male. "They say fifty percent of the people who play hook up with each other."
Around midnight things start to wind down. There's a collection of red plastic cups on the beer-slicked floor. A guy in a green T-shirt holds a girl in a pink one in a dark corner. A guy in maroon with a backward baseball cap stumbles to the bar to settle his tab. Minard has missed his bus back home by now. He decides to accept an offer from a female acquaintance on another team to crash at her place just down the street.
"It's pretty much a moment thing," he says as they exit the bar together. Still, Minard is off the bench.