Christopher Larson launched a red rubber kickball into the air, only to watch it settle into the waiting, outstretched arms of the center fielder.
Larson would repay the favor the next inning when he slid across the grassy infield to catch the ball and threw it to second base to complete a double play, snuffing out the opponents’ chance to score.
Not everything in this game played out so smoothly. The ball at times proved elusive, escaping between legs, and fielders narrowly escaped collisions.
The distinct thunk of kickball echoed around Turner Park for 45 minutes. Larson’s Red Jaguars won easily over 50 Shades of Grape in a scene that was reminiscent of recess on the playground.
But this game is not just for kids. Adult kickball leagues are starting to join the mix of recreational sports leagues in Omaha, much like sand volleyball and softball.
Kickball leagues took off long ago in other cities, but they’re still finding their footing locally. Organizers and players are hoping the sport catches on and leagues grow by word of mouth.
Larson’s team competes in games at Turner Park at Midtown Crossing. That league started this spring. Ultimate Baseball Academy in Omaha organizes a more established league in the fall.
Lindsay Fulton, an Omaha native, introduced kickball to Midtown Crossing. She got the idea to start a league after returning from Chicago, where she found plenty of intramural leagues.
It’s a great way to meet others and try something outside of your comfort zone, she said. “You don’t have to be good. It’s just to get out there, get active and start socializing.”
Fulton hopes the leagues continue to grow but expects it to take time. She also is organizing summer kickball leagues in Turner Park and Benson Park.
The Thursday night Turner Park league features six teams with anywhere from 10 to 20 players. Team members roll in just before game time to set up their kicking order and start stretching.
For Nolan Gibreal, the game has been a good way to meet new people. He knew few of the players on his team, 50 Shades of Grape. (Their team shirts are purple.) It’s also been a way to get out of the house.
“It’s better than staying home and watching Netflix all the time,” Gibreal, 30, said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Kickball games are also a good way to keep active. The sport gets players moving but doesn’t feel like a grueling workout.
An hour of kickball can burn up to 400 calories, according to calorielab.com.
Allie Hopkins, who plays at Turner Park, called it “exercise in disguise.”
Hopkins, 40, is on a team with some who have never played sports. She and teammates make a night of kickball, often going to nearby restaurants or bars for drinks and dinner.
“Thursdays all of a sudden are my favorite day of the week.”
During a recent game, players came dressed in layers, prepared for spring weather. Calls of “foul ball” and “safe” echoed across the lawn along with cheers — and friendly heckles. On the sidelines, one team was greeted by unofficial mascot Rodney, a Bernese mountain dog puppy. Another team brought their own tunes.
Larson, 24, is joined by co-workers on the Red Jaguars. He likes that kickball requires less skill than some other recreational activities.
“No one has an advantage in this,” Larson said. “No one played varsity kickball in school. You don’t have to be good.”
Ultimate Baseball Academy, 4225 S. 121st Plaza, has been offering kickball leagues for about two years after getting requests, said Larry Vavricek, director of operations. This year, the academy is adding a summer league.
UBA’s rec softball leagues are still far and away the more popular offering, with about 850 teams. Their kickball leagues have between 16 and 24 teams.
Other organizations’ previous attempts to maintain kickball leagues have fizzled out.
Omaha Parks and Recreation offered kickball and dodgeball several years ago. Organizers haven’t ruled out bringing back those programs, said recreation manager Tracy Stratman.
“I think any time a group of people can get together and get excited about any sport or physical fitness it’s a good thing,” Stratman said.
Other organizations hold one-day or weekend tournaments, many of which are fundraisers.
Despite a modest start, players and organizers say the newer leagues have staying power.
Kickball as a league has long been overlooked, said Scott Pokett, umpire for the Turner Park league. He called it a game anyone can play that almost always brings back childhood memories.
“You don’t have to be good to have a blast,” Pokett said. “Tall or short, fat or skinny, anybody can play kickball.”
The summer kickball league in Benson Park starts May 24. The league in Turner Park starts May 25. Both seasons last five weeks.
Cost is $480 for a team to play in Turner Park. Pricing for the Benson Park league has not been set.
Teams must have at least 12 players. People can also sign up as individuals and will be assigned to a team. Prices vary.
For more information, visit c3intramurals.com.
The summer kickball league organized by Ultimate Baseball Academy is set to begin in mid-May. Sign-up information hasn’t been released. For more, visit ubanebraska.com.