Friday, September 16, 2011

Kickball is the New Grassroots

Ann Arbor has two kickball leagues – the Ann Arbor Small Business Summer Kickball League (AASBSKL) and the City of Ann Arbor Recreation and Education league.

Only one is relevant.

Founded in ’07 by Sanford Bledsoe III the AASBSKL is now in its 5th season and boasts 14-teams [see below for list]. The champion of the tournament last year was the Ghostly International. Sava’s Cafe and the Fleetwood Earls will face off Sunday, September 18th @ 5pm Veteran’s Park for the 2011 championship.

The organization and ethos of AASBSKL is DIY all-the-way-down: the umpires are volunteers (they meet at Old Town to discuss unanticipated aberrations in play that test their judgment); kids and dogs are never far; disputed calls are resolved, for better or worse, vis-à-vis a consensus model of decision-making; the teams line up and high-five after games (an impressively civil thing little kids do); people laugh, smile, drink-smoke-smoke, and talk shit.

Perhaps my favorite AASBSKL phenomenon is the regular changing of fields. The AASBSKL does not reserve fields through the city. It takes 2 or 3 games to figure out when other organized activities in the city scheduled the fields for use, although sometimes this continues late into the season.

A U-7 t-ball team or two is unwittingly in competition with Fleetwood v. 8Ball game. It is a spectacular sight to see the mostly bearded, sometimes babied and universally tatted AASBSKL spectators and players pick up and head to the next park. It is equally spectacular to see the reaction of the t-ballers and their parents witness the great kickball peregrination – mouths agape, for sure.

In these early days, the crowd is reduced to half en route from Virginia to Northside. A few players are even lost along the way. Lost to what, exactly? Misdirection? Ennui? It is uncertain.

It might be pointed out that for an organization that relies so heavily on the use of public services that they ought to contribute to their maintenance. This is an especially pressing issue in light of the proposed 270k cuts to park services. (Ann Arbor is literally choosing between park maintenance and public safety.)

There is something unmistakably Americana about the AASBSKL. Americana for the obvious reason that kickball is America’s Pastime for Dummies. In years past, players with a ‘Baseball IQ’ typically stood out for runner’s intuition (e.g. don’t overrun second base) or fielder’s intuition (e.g. if first base leaves to field a short kick the pitcher ought to cover first). And it is hardly surprising that a basic understanding of baseball would yield decent kickball play given the design of the latter.

What is striking about the play this year in comparison to the last – and this sentiment has been anecdotally corroborated by veteran players – is a kind of coming to consciousness new and old players alike have experienced with respect to the nature of the game. This awareness yields a play that is tighter, faster and – to risk unwarranted enthusiasm – quite elegant.

With five years for the maturation of the local kickball collective consciousness and close to a century for the national collective consciousness, we might say that the elegance of the play this season has everything to do with the development of a ‘Kickball IQ.’ It could even be said that this tacit intelligence has superseded that of the old know-how particular to the bat-and-ball.

The AASBSKL is Americana too for the Tocquevilleian civility that the league fosters. AASBSKL co-commissioner Audrey Karlstad said as much a few years back when asked about the aim of the league: "There were all these people that we kind of knew from different cliques, different groups …It's a way to bring people together. ... Just playing an elementary school game."

Perhaps what is most definitively Americana is the SB of AASBSKL – small business. One might suspect that the business v. (local) government staging – hilariously resonant of the contemptible dissonance of contemporary American political discourse – is the design of a Vonnegutian deity to provide a kind of parodic therapy for the Weary Majority.

Perhaps. But the opposition is conspicuous as it is hilarious.

Small business makes up roughly half of the American GDP and half of employment. The unit-size of small business is convoluted, but typically is defined by the employment of 50 persons or fewer.

It is unclear what we mean by small business today, particularly with regard to its place in our economy and civil society. The so-called champions of small business – actually champions of Big Capital – advance the idea that small business is being leached by the public sector. Indeed, the current assault on trade unions, public employees and public services in general is advanced in the name of small business. In Michigan this year, for instance, Governor Rick Snyder et al. rid of the Michigan Business Tax – eliminating around $1.6 billion in tax revenue and replacing it by way of deep cuts in HE and K-12, the introduction of pension taxes, and other measures.

It isn’t clear that small business will benefit from policies that dismantle the working and middle classesespecially given that the economic crisis turns on demand related problems. What is most interesting about the league then is the sense it restores to the meaning of small business. Notably, the players are the employees not the owners of the small business (with a few exceptions). That is, they are workers that are invested both in the business and the community –equally and with reciprocal priority.

Check out the Facebook Group here


  1. Congratulations, Adam. You just wrote an article absolutely no one in AASKBL can understand! Although, I agree with your point about park maintenance. If a league can be organized and volunteers found, certainly the members could come together once a month for a little field maintenance.

    You did me proud, Warner. I'm beaming.

  2. I can die happy now that something I created has been described as Tocquevilleian and Vonnegutian.

  3. I loved it. Elegant, and expressive. I definitely could not have said it better. Thank you.

  4. This post should be in the championship match of best Damn Arbor posts.