It’s the bottom of the sixth inning and the game is tied in a heated showdown at the Kendrick Recreation Center’s baseball field in Roxborough.
The pitcher winds up and releases the ball.
A smack rings out and the ball, briefly, is seen as a silhouette soaring against the amber lit dusk sky.
Feet scramble, players yell on the field, and orders are shouted from all directions. The runner nears first, second, heading to the third base. The ball is hurled to second base from the outfielders and then tossed to third base. He catches it and tags the runner.
“He was out,” yells a player from one side of the field.
“He was safe,” shouts the chorus from the other side.
And that’s where Norm Gray steps in.
“Safe,” says Gray.
Cheers and protests erupt.
“What do you mean Norm?”
It’s not always easy being a kickball referee, Gray says, especially because there is only one per game and no instant replay for hotly disputed plays. But Gray says most of the players in Manayunk Sport and Social’s adult kickball league play the sport to enjoy a physical outlet with their friends on weeknights, a well-earned beer afterward at the Bayou or Cactus Restaurant and Bar on Main Street, and the chance to mingle with new guys and girls at the league’s social dinners.
Gray, a silvery haired Roxborough native serves as kickball referee at the Kendrick Recreation Center several nights a week, can usually be seen puffing on his cigar and telling jokes between innings for softball teams. He’s also involved with the basketball and bowling leagues since joining Manayunk Sport and Social about eight years ago.
“Kickball is the best game to referee because it’s social,” says Gray. “These guys have a reputation for going out and having beers after the game.”
Sporting names like “I got 99 Problems But a Kick Ain’t One” show the jovial nature of the kickball teams.
Brad Yarborough of Summit Park joined the Manayunk Sport and Social Club‘s kickball league with neighbors from his Summit Park community in Roxborough. Yarborough says he met them through his job as a cable technician, and they formed the team Girls Like Big Kicks.
“At first we didn’t know eachother, but now we’re all friends,” he said.
The Manayunk Sport and Social Club’s fall adult kickball season runs through October.