It has been a historically bad night for Derby Sanchez. After barely reaching the championship game, squeaking by 10-8 in the semi-finals of the Bloomington kickball league, the players were livid, as they had just given up more runs than they ever had before. They appear shell-shocked. The players are quiet, their eyes glazed over as if they had just stared into the abyss.
To spur themselves on, the players crank up their Bluetooth speakers to blare Drake and Lil Wayne’s “I’m Goin’ In.”
Bad to the bristle
Hat to the rizzle.
I’m so official all I need is a whistle.
Derby has redefined kickball at Olcott Park. In four seasons, the players have taken home four trophies and are planning to add one more tonight. Along with their prizes, they recruited a former NFL player, whom they recruited through the former Arizona Cardinal’s friend. One evening, after running up the score, the umpire requested the team just kick left-footed. They didn’t miss a beat and continued the rout.
Look at where I landed.
You would think I planned it.
I’m just doing me and you can never understand it.
It’s dark and it’s raining, and Derby is currently struggling to survive. The brashness and confidence the players usually exude have disappeared. Earlier in the season, when asked whether they would take home the trophy again, without a beat, multiple players said yes. Derby is finally digesting the fact that they might not stay undefeated for long.
“Time to step up,” yells one of the players.
“Let’s fucking go,” cries another.
Derby Sanchez doesn’t play the kickball you remember from elementary school recess. When the players take the field, it’s no longer just for fun and exercise. Every call matters and once the cans and bottles of beer get lighter, more arguing and trash talking is sure to follow. This form of kickball is still fun, but it’s a different sport.
With Derby, it’s war.
The Bloomington Adult Sports Club kickball league was originally created for those in the area to make new friends and get some exercise, but Derby’s dominance has fostered competitiveness, a tension that would otherwise not exist. Their game is all about the beauty of ruthlessness.
Opposing teams go out of their way to scout these prohibitive favorites and discuss approaches on beating the behemoth. No other team has a target on their back, just the champs.
Other teams use endearing if racy names like Pitch Please and Ballz to the Wallz, but Derby’s name is clearly filthy, playing off of a sexual euphemism for something that probably shouldn’t be described in print. Even the squad’s shirts play into the vulgar name. Donning pink short-sleeve shirts emblazoned with “Derby Sanchez,” black lettering creates the outline of a mustache.
Entering the 2015 fall Thursday night kickball season at 36-0, Derby Sanchez had already collected four championship belts (literally) and had the motto “45-0” as their fuel for the upcoming season. Alongside a playground usually populated by toddlers and children from Jackson Creek Middle School, where janitors will politely ask if you want to sit inside of the gymnasium if it’s under 60 degrees, lies the “Play Fields” where Derby Sanchez thrashes its foes.
Every Thursday, Derby tramples other teams like a giant in a Grimm fairytale. The team finishes the regular season with the scores of: 19-0, 23-0, 19-0, 2-0, 18-2, 12-0 and 17-0.
They’re only two runs down, but giving up that much is incomprehensible for the four-time champions.
After getting two players on base, Derby scores on an outfield error and brings their deficit to just one. The inning ends, but at least Derby has something now.
The apprehension that was once prevalent has seemed to wilt. Just scoring one run has reminded Derby of their supremacy in this league. On the Derby sideline, the dead are waking.
“I started this team at a Kentucky Derby party,” said Derby Sanchez catcher Audrey Brown. “I kind of threw it out there. ‘Wanna play kickball?’ And everyone surprisingly enough said, ‘Yes.’"
Built around a core group of players from their mid-20s to late-30s who come back every season, the team has a mythology of its own, built from countless stories of Derby’s swagger and dominance.
Early on in the season due to its tremendous lead, Derby was asked by the umpire to kick left-footed. To the other team’s dismay, the players were just as good and continued to run up the score.
These truths built upon the lore from past seasons, such as when Derby decided a Bluetooth speaker wasn’t enough for July 4.
“They had a professional DJ bring his two big speakers up on the side that Derby was playing,” said Steve Casper, commissioner of the Adult Sports Club kickball league. “They had walk-up music and then played the national anthem. There were two games going on and everyone stopped.”
The team recently added Ted Bolser, a former tight end for IU football and the Arizona Cardinals practice squad, just a year ago.
“Kevin Powell texted one of my buddies that they needed some bodies,” said Bolser. “They pretty much recruited me. It’s fun, different obviously, but I couldn’t ask for a better team and better people to play with.”
Derby also has some members who can only play in the spring due to their being busy coaching IU football during the fall months. Carter Whitson, senior director of football recruiting, Ryan McInerney, quality control recruiting/defense and Kasey Teegardin, graduate assistant, have all played for the team and will continue to do so during the college football offseason.
Throughout its undefeated streak, Derby has surely joined the ranks of teams that are spoken about reverentially.
After two innings, Derby Sanchez is still down 2-1 against The Btown Kicks, a team they only beat 3-1 in the preceding championship game.
“Come on, guys,” said Kris Scrimager while pacing the sidelines. “This is the top of the lineup, where we should get going.”
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Bolser, who changes the scope of the game with just one kick, boots a low-flying ball that drops right over the head of the third baseman. With the outfielder picking up steam as he throws the ball to second, Bolser’s slide sprays the dirt around him. He touches the base before the ball hits him.
Stress instantly vanishes from the Derby sideline and a few minutes later, an error trying to peg Bolser sends him and fellow base runner Powell home. Now, all Derby needs to do is hold onto the 3-2 lead.
These two playoff games are anomalies for Derby’s season where it throttled teams from the get-go. The mercy rule for the league is if a team is up 10 after four innings or 15 after five innings, the leading team wins.
Derby experiences this scenario often.
Playing the Balltenders earlier in the regular season, Derby led 9-0 after two innings, which prompted a member of the opposing dark green team to inquire with the ref about the specifics of the mercy rule. After being told they were on their way to achieving this goal, the player replied, “Ah ... shit.”
In order to play close and not be embarrassingly blown out, members of rival teams have asked Casper how his teams have done so well. His team, Ballsagna, only lost 2-0 to the champs.
“We try to keep a lot of people in the infield because they place the ball so well,” said Casper explaining his strategy. “The big thing is getting their guys out and not letting them get on base because they’re fast, they’ll slide and you have to try to slow them down.”
The end of the championship is wet and filled with tension. A member of the crowd says matter-of-factly, “I could pee myself so much out here and no one will notice.” Derby takes the field with energy, running and yelling to pump each other up. The players know how close they are to finishing off another perfect season.
To ensure maximum control, pitcher Brian Crooks wipes the kickball with a white — eventually brown — towel before every pitch that he tucks into the front of his pants. Depending on who’s kicking, the infielders and outfielders back up or move in regards to the kicker. One who bunts merits a few steps in, while a player with a big leg requires someone to holler, “He went deep last time, move back.”
Ahead 3-2 at the top of the seventh inning, with Derby just three outs away, a fly ball is easily caught by infielder Powell. “Great fucking catch, man,” Bolser yells. “Needed that.” This is promptly followed by a bunt that sends a girl to second. On the very next play, the ball lofts in the air and Bolser dives from shortstop to make a Superman-like snag. He nonchalantly tosses the ball over to first, as the runner doesn’t realize the catch was made.
After Derby escapes with the 3-2 victory, one of the initial responses from Nate Pope and a few other teammates is to take a photo kissing the trophy.
“This is the fourth time he’s taken this picture,” Pope’s girlfriend says. He kneels on the ground and kisses the trophy. This time, after three other instances of this embrace, the trophy finally breaks.
The uppermost piece, a tiny cup atop the award, falls to the damp grass, but Derby doesn’t flinch. The players laugh, because it’s not like anyone else will take home the trophy in the future. The broken piece will hopefully forever be theirs. They take the mandatory championship picture, holding up five fingers in case anyone forgets.
Before the parks department shuts off the lights, Derby players make sure to quickly and boisterously work their way over to huddle around a Ford truck parked right by the park’s entrance. The truck lights are the only way for the players to see as the overarching floodlights give into the darkness.
The celebratory hoots and hollers continue.
The champions stand there drinking Miller Lites, out of the bottle or a Pizza X cup, just talking. About the game, about the season, about whether or not they could go to the Video Saloon and use their $100 bar tab kickball winnings.
They gather around, the front-lights illuminating their faces gold.
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