Ladies, gentlemen, assembled media, teammates: thank you for coming.
The trees may still be bare, the ground still gray and muddy in the shadows, but the blue sky above, if I close my eyes, carries to me the shouts and cheers and all the beers of summers under the sun, on the kickball diamond.
It all comes rushing back: the thwack of those big balls. The drunken skids on slick grass. The sweet champagne fizz of victory. Free and easy afternoons passing into evening, twilight toasts and lukewarm burgers by the fading ocher glow of the coals.
And then we all started having kids. So many kids growing up on the sidelines, squirming in their strollers, then rolling harmlessly around near the empties, then crawling, then running wild, full of wonder—and asking questions, so many loud questions. No, Daddy can’t play ninjas right now, Aiden, Daddy’s waiting to tag up on the next fly ball because the leftfielder has no arm. Where’s Mommy? Go find Mommy. Mommy loves ninjas. Yes, I know this is a kids’ game, son, but not the way Daddy plays it.
Such special memories.
That’s why what I’m about to say is so difficult. After talking with my family, my pastor, my financial advisor, my aromatherapist, and a visibly uncomfortable guy I met last Tuesday afternoon at the bakery (which, by the way, is the cragel really a thing? because doesn’t that seem somehow like stepping way over a bright red line?), I’ve decided that I can no longer commit to playing this game I love so much. My heart falters, my body balks. The BALLZ OUT deserve my best, and I can’t give it to you anymore.
And also, I have a Thursday-night conflict now that they changed the school-board meeting schedule.
The league had never experienced anything like the BALLZ OUT juggernaut before. Not since Leslie Nielsen’s storied Naked Gun trilogy— But let’s hold up here a second. Weren’t those movies amazing? I think you can actually stream them on Netflix now, which is pretty sweet. Factoring in the inevitable shock at seeing a handsome, affable, pre-rampage, pre-White-Bronco O.J. on the screen, I’m convinced that they stand the test of time. Norbert? Was that O.J.’s character? Norbert, I think. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that it’s been a long time since the world has seen a run of dominance that compares to what we put together here in Burlington, Vermont.
Nordberg! Sorry, the name was Nordberg. Wow, how did I remember that? I guess you can never really tell what you have stored away up there. Weird how my wife is always like, “Where’s Aiden’s inhaler? I asked you to pack the inhaler,” but then, BOOM, Nordberg!
My retirement will, of course, have no impact on the BALLZ OUT legacy. I did my part, no doubt. I added, well, if I’m being honest, more than a few plays to the legends’ highlight reel. You remember. I don’t have to describe them now, if you don’t want me to—but, OK, just this one, remember that crazy play when I slid headfirst into home, the ball just millimeters from hitting my— No, no, it’s OK. You’re right, no need to repeat tales you’ve all committed to memory. I can tell by the looks on your faces that you’re reliving some of those moments right now.
Let us pause. We’ll all remember me together.
My apologies. That turned out to be an extra-long moment of silence. I guess I started thinking about all the time I’ll have to spend with my family now. That’s what they always say at things like this, right? “I’m stepping down to spend more time with my family”? No more practices, no more games, no more celebration BBQs, no more strategy whiteboard sessions, no more T-shirt design brainstorming/karaoke/Naked Gun trivia nights at the bar. I’ll get to be with the kids! All of the time! Just think of the math homework and the papier-mâché volcanoes and just, wow, all of it.
All that time together. Jesus.
The point is, my wife really needs the car Thursday nights now. But you guys will play on, kicking balls that bruise the emerald fields and rattle the fences and land, like every single fucking time, in the poison ivy. Kicking balls, all the balls, balls that send ripples out across the shining algae-curdled waters of Lake Champlain toward the heart of the sinking midsummer sun. You will win, and you will keep winning, for as long as there is kickball in the Queen City.
So this is a salute to you, and to me, obviously, but also to all the BALLZ OUT crew, present and past. I will miss you. I will miss most of you. But let’s not get into it now. You know who you are.
Though I take my leave, think of me, my friends. Think of me when the wind carries just the slightest honeyed hint of water-treatment-facility tang through the swaying lakeside pines, when an overinflated ball blasts the black plastic hipster glasses off a rival’s elaborately mustachioed face, when John—yes, John, you: don’t look so surprised—comes to the plate with a runner in scoring position but pops up to shallow right again rather than kicking a goddamn line drive low and hard between second and third jesuschrist what have I told you about that fuck.
And think of me when your beloved, your one-and-only, ambushes you at breakfast even though she knows she knows you have a trivia-night hangover and says, “You’ve got to grow up, I’m not going to raise these boys on my own.”
Think of me, if only for a moment, when you hoist another championship trophy over your heads.
I will now take your questions.
But my wife has the car running, so let’s try to make it quick. Somebody forgot Aiden’s inhaler.
Illustration by Allison Ross