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Kickball in Kaw utopia

August 28, 2012

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The home-plate umpire wears a pinstriped conductor hat, a whistle, a halter top — the zebra stripes of which flow seamlessly into a tutu — very short black shorts, a red beard, a half can of bug spray and Pabst Blue Ribbon breath.

The first-base ump sports sparkly pink-and-gray knee socks and a camel pack from which he draws occasional sips of water. Or is it water?

It’s the final Sunday night of the Kaw Valley Kickball League at Hobbs Park, where stress goes to die, good times are had by all, and on this night, some very serious athletes play one heck of a ballgame to the delight of the capacity crowd of about 800.

As is custom for the Sunday game of the week that starts at 9 p.m., the rows of concrete are filled with bodies, but according to regulars, the crowd is more subdued this time because this is the 10th-annual Kaw Valley Kickball League championship game.

Favored Pita Pit — the love-’em-or-hate-’em New York Yankees of the Kaw Valley — is the home team. Wildman Attack Force, built on speed and defense, is the visiting team and something of a crowd favorite.

They are the last two rosters standing from the 32-team league that has to turn away teams because the supply of fields doesn’t match the demand for teams.

Wildman Attack Force turns well placed bunts and aggressive speed on the bases into three runs in the top of the first inning, but the most entertaining plays come in the sixth, when third baseman Richard Davidson assists all three outs by firing a trio of accurate lasers to second base for force outs. The strong-footed second baseman, Abby Vestal, the former kicker for Lawrence High’s football team, shows she has a sure pair of hands too, catching all three throws. “Not So Late Show” host Mike Anderson calls the game for Channel 6 only because his team didn’t advance far enough for him to play in it.

Wildman Attack Force holds on for a 5-2 victory, and the trophy belongs to them for a year. The stands are swept clean by spectators, another subtlety that shows why the Kaw Valley Kickball League is the city’s hidden utopia.

“Lawrence at its finest,” said Amy Vestal, the second baseman’s mother.

No admission for a seat. No hassles. No contracts binding the players to teams from year-to-year.

Davidson, whose wife, Breezie, played despite wearing a cast protecting her broken wrist, has played three years in the league and just completed his first season with Wildman Attack Force.

“I wanted to be on a team that was more competitive, wanted to win more, wanted to win a championship, not just drink beer and have fun,” said Davidson, 30, once an All-American 110-meter hurdler at Nebraska. “Nothing wrong with that, if that’s your thing, but this fit me better.”

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