When I was asked to join the company kickball team, the selling point was that you could hold a drink in one hand and still play, and the expectation was that this activity fell under the “and other duties as prescribed by the employer” clause in my work contract. I didn’t know the rules or positions. It was supposed to be “like” baseball, but I didn’t know baseball either. I barely knew my coworkers.
“We’ll teach you the ropes, the game, the calls,” my officemate Cedric said. “Just sign the waiver, so we can submit it to the league.”
“The league” sounded official, so I waived and joined. It’s not like my supervisor Galen Harper said, “You gotta hell of a foot there, Hondo” or “Stretch here is gonna send those balls to the moon. Zingo!” It was a numbers thing. They needed warm bodies. Despite my shapely calves, I hadn’t worn PE shorts since 8th grade. However, now, the company could field a whole team and not lose their deposit.
When Catrina from Ops slid into second bean, the skin peeled away from her hip and leg like someone pulling a car registration sticker from a windshield. She stood, and the burn was so deep, we could see the white meat. The team carried her from the field as she screamed, “Pull their ears, boys! Pull their ears back until they spot!”
What we didn’t know going into our matchup was the opposing team, the Legal Eagles from the Law Office of Pungo & Prater, had brought in a ringer: two-time Superfoot silver spike champ Basil “The Spice” Lennox had conveniently started making copies for the junior associates before the kickball season started. When the Spice put his foot on the ball, you could hear the yelp of cow chaps from which the ball was crafted. And he wasn’t just all toes. The sonofabitch played both ways: hooking and parting.
With Catrina on one leg, and the kettle dejected from strike after strike (I think they are called strikes in kickball, but they might be called flints), Galen points his crooked finger at me and says, “Don’t be a hero. Just let the ball make contact with you.” Everyone on the kettle has steaks on their black eyes to bring down the swelling, signatures from the Spice’s heavy hooks. The Mulligan Agency hired me to write copy. However, no turn of phrase exists for trying to get a kickballer on bean uninjured. “Don’t fuck it up, kiddo,” Galen says.
The Spice cannot contain himself at the sight of my short shorts. The rest of the grove patch (kickball for the infield) starts laughing. I’m still holding the beer I’ve been nursing all game when the Spice deicides to give me the mustard.
“You want it overhook or underhook, Dorothy?” he yells. He might as well be speaking in Russian. Before I can answer, the cabbage skids in front of me, stops in front of the anchor (the homeplate), bounces skyward, and uppercuts me. I manage to hold my drink.
“Take your bean,” the ump says and warns the Spice, who twists his toe into the dirt. I find out later that motion is kickball for a middle finger. I struggle to focus, but when I see the Spice clearly, I charge the button. I haven’t had to throw anything in decades, so I am surprised when I sail my beer perfectly into the Spice’s ear, and he collapses. The kettles empty, and the interns from Marketing swarm the grove patch. Even Catrina is mixing it up and bleeding on junior associates in the pastoral. I lunge at the Spice while he covers himself on the button and have my hands around his throat when old man Galen pulls me back. I give Spice a heel to the breadbasket as I’m pulled away.
“I’ll sue!” the Spice yells. “We’ll sue you all!”
“Great spirit!” Galen says to both sides. “Wonderful spirit!”
The game ends in a draw, so we’ll have to see the Eagles in a playoff elimination game in a few weeks.
The Mulligan Mighty meet by the kettle, bloodied but unbroken.
“They have the Spice. We have the heat,” Galen tells the team. “And that’s how you toast cabbage. Let’s hear it for the rook.”
There’s cheers and locker room talk, and lots of victory beers and steaks are passed around—both to consume and to heal. I’ve never been suited to teambuilding, but I’ve also never downed an opposing brakeman off an intentional bolo. I’m a natural. Should’ve been playing my whole life. I can’t even imagine the promotion I’m in for when we win the whole fucking thing. I can almost hear the victory flugelhorns from the choirs.
ABRAM VALDEZ is a lapsed poet and a flasher of fiction from Denton County, Texas. His work has been featured in Bridge Eight, Eunoia Review, Fourteen Hills, and DASH Literary Journal. He mostly tweets about monsters and the Mavericks @abramvaldezCS.