WHEN WAS THE last time you played a game of kickball? Or asked yourself that million-dollar question as the pitcher rolls the ball in your direction: “Should I play it safe and bunt, or should I put some leg into it and send this puppy for a ride?”
Many of us haven’t played kickball since sixth-grade gym class, but some fun-loving Seattleites recently spent an entire Saturday kicking the ball around the diamond, as the Red Rubber Showdown returned after a pandemic hiatus to take over the four baseball fields at Lower Woodland Park for a lively day of kickball.
Shawn Madden is the “Ambassador of Fun” for Underdog Sports Leagues, the enterprise that runs the tournament. He says a competitive but friendly atmosphere is something event producers work hard to cultivate. “We’re here to have fun,” Madden explains. “If you’re going to be talking trash, arguing every call with the umpire, questioning the rules — we’re going to ask that you play somewhere else.”
Underdog manages adult recreational sports leagues in Seattle and Portland. It’s not uncommon for the same groups of friends to participate in Underdog leagues in various sports throughout the year. For many of these weekend warriors, the Red Rubber Showdown is an annual highlight.
The 21-team tournament field includes teams from Seattle and Portland. Teams have creative names, like Base Gods, Sons of Pitches and Hot Sauce Committee. Some teams show up in jerseys that have been tie-dyed or custom printed. Others have their own chants and cheers. At least three teams bring in large boom boxes that duel for decibel dominance throughout the day. Players grill burgers and hot dogs between games or take the complimentary shuttle to Leny’s Place, a nearby tavern that sponsors the event.
“It’s great for people who have just moved here and are looking to make friends,” says Madden. He explains that every year, there are a few “indie teams” composed of players who register individually. Sometimes an indie team might play just a single season or tournament together, but occasionally it sticks together for years.
Karina Dion moved to Seattle in 2007. She signed up for an Underdog kickball league and was placed on an indie team that included other recent transplants. Today that team is competing in its 10th Red Rubber Showdown. Teammates who once signed up as individuals have become a tight-knit group of friends. In some cases, even more.
“Now a bunch of our team is married to each other,” Dion says with a laugh. “There literally are kids as a result of this kickball team.”
The Red Rubber Showdown smells like a cookout; sounds like a summer camp; and looks, well, like a kickball tournament. Players say the sport is fundamental to the day. “Kickball brings you back to your childhood,” says Megan Dalgleish. “It brings you back to good, wholesome fun.”
“We all grew up playing it,” agrees Dion. “You don’t have to be the most athletic. You just have to want to be out here.”