I recently went on a date with an eligible bachelor who mentioned he regularly played in social gay sports leagues. Newly single and looking to make new friends (read: find a Jewish doctor or lawyer to make my parents happy), I thought this was a grand idea. I didn’t know what kickball was and am generally terrible at sports, but it was a social league! What could go wrong?
Error #1: Picking the wrong league.
Unbeknownst to me, the kickball world is split into two. The weekend league, dominated by 20-somethings who attend bottomless brunches and play somewhat intoxicated; and the weekday league, dominated by 30-something semi-pro athletes. In short, the weekday kickball league falls just short of the Olympics.
When word got out that I’d never played before, there was widespread disgust. One usually graduates from the weekend league to the lofty heights of the weekday league. I thought that meant I had to be the Doogie Howser of kickball, but that was not the case. One player teased that he heard I had watched a YouTube video to learn the rules, without cracking a smile. I hadn’t, but it was a brilliant idea and I did that night.
I desperately wanted to explain to the league that I was Jewish and that slipped discs and poor hand-eye coordination, not athleticism, ran in our families. The most athletic my school got was playing chess and occasionally backgammon. Most of the kids in my year scheduled their wisdom teeth extraction the week of sports camp.
I joked to one player that my doctor hadn’t let me play any sports where balls fly at my nose. He didn’t smile. I explained to him it was a Clueless reference. He said he knew that, and walked away.
Error #2: Not being a supermodel.
The beginning of season kickball mixer was enough for me to consider never eating again. The guys just looked like they needed a night off from their hectic modeling schedules. I definitely regretted getting Shake Shack on my way to the bar.
After scanning the male players, I thought about quitting my day job and attending a gym full-time. I blame my parents for my inflated idea of my good looks. They assure me to this day that I intimidate everyone I meet and that’s why I’m single. Nevertheless, by the end of the mixer, I was googling nose jobs, laser correction, and Equinox membership prices.
Error #3: Not knowing the Rules of Dating.
Shortly after the mixer, I received a text from a teammate I had previously been on a date with saying that we couldn’t go on any further dates until the season was over.
So, I did what any 35-year-old stocky irrational Jew would do, I texted him back to tell him that he was being ridiculous and was making the worst decision of his life. I mean, wasn’t gay kickball code for naked fun? I must have missed the memo about abstaining from sex during the season. It appeared to be some weird gay iteration of Lent.
The situation did not improve when the teams were announced. Not only was that guy on my team, but so were two other guys I had been on terrible dates with and who now refused to make eye contact with me. At this point, I considered sewing a scarlet letter to my unflattering team shirt that did little to nothing for my physique and did not complement my skin and much less my eye color.
It turns out the gay scene is small – too small.
Error #4: Being a Taylor Swift fan.
I am living proof that it is hard to be a Taylor Swift fan in this day and age. I thought a gay sports league would surely be a “safe space” for Taylor Swift fans.
Wrong! When the time came to pick a team name, I got excited. I’m relatively creative with these sorts of things and came up with a list of Taylor Swift inspired names. Each were swiftly thwarted. I may as well have been suggesting that Katy Perry and Kanye West name their children Taylor.
Putting to one side that Taylor is most definitely a victim of gross misogyny, this did not help my cause. Suffice it to say, that as opaque and questionable as the voting process was (it sort of felt like the 2016 election again), I still would have lost. (I still love you Taylor.)
Error #5: Making fun of how competitive the league is.
Make no mistake, even if this league was dead serious, they prided themselves on being “fun” and light-hearted (cut to players looking visibly distressed when their coaches had a “word” with them).
I am usually the catcher when my team is in the field. This prevents me dropping balls in the field, but apparently did not stop us from losing a game when I failed to tag people pursuant to some odd rule that I didn’t learn about on YouTube. In any event, the position allows me to hear what coaches say to their teammates who are about to kick the ball. Some of the captains are downright scary. The veins in their foreheads look like they are going to explode when their players foul or miss a ball. You can tell they lost an important game in high school and never fully recovered.
I jokingly asked one of the captains if he had his team on a strict diet of performance enhancing drugs. The suggestion was met with horror and I was accused of breaking the kickball spirit. The episode certainly cast me further from the inner-sanctum of the kickball world.
Error #6: Not improving…one bit.
As we careen into the final stages of the tournament, I am actually getting worse. I am not a mathematician by any stretch of the imagination, but people usually improve at a sport the more they play it, right? Is the pressure getting to me? Has kickball turned me into a nervous wreck making me question my very existence? Was I a nervous wreck before kickball started? So many questions, so little time.
It’s not easy seeing the worried looks on my team’s faces as I go up to kick, their winces when the ball flies high in the sky and is caught by the other team. When I jokingly suggested to a teammate that I don’t attend a game against one of the best teams (to improve my team’s chances of winning), he actually encouraged me. I had expected him to tell me it was against the spirit of kickball. Apparently not.
What’s next for me?
The question on everyone’s lips is what comes next for me? Will I turn up for the closing games? Will I sign up next season? I know you’re all thinking it. At night, if I listen carefully enough, I can hear the prayers of my teammates to their respective religious figures asking that I break a leg or move from New York.
But, here’s the thing. “Not belonging” or “not being good enough” are experiences that gays are confronted with far too often. Sure, I stick out like a sore thumb and have the sporting talent of a special needs elephant. Yes, I’m clumsy, bad at taking direction, and am becoming worse at kickball as I write this, but there is something that I am doing best at.
Being me. And, that’s something to be proud of.
P.s. Still single.