COLUMBIA — A yellow rubber playground ball bounces shin high across home plate. The batter stares as it rolls past her.
“The only thing I like with hops in it is my beer,” she shouts to the pitcher.
Both teams laugh at her joke. It breaks the tension briefly, but then they are back to business. These aren't your usual elementary school kickball players, these are adults in their 20s and 30s. Their smiles are gone, and they stare intently waiting for the ball to be in play. Only the chatter of the players on the bench can be heard.
“Let’s go, you know where to kick the ball,” one person shouts.
The rubber ball is kicked into the gap between shortstop and third base. The runner sprints to first, dust flying behind her. She steps on the base safely. The chatter is gone and the focus is on the game, which means more than just a medal. It is a contest between rivals for bragging rights.
The St. Louis Big Ballers and the St. Louis Kickball Association played in the championship game of the Show-Me State Games kickball tournament Sunday at Rainbow Softball Center. The two all-star teams met earlier in the double elimination tournament with the Big Ballers winning 10-0 in four innings.
“I think the competition is fun, but we come from two different leagues," said Ken Alldredge, the commissioner of the Kickball Association. "They do a lot of tournaments, we don’t. We play with a larger ball, so it’s different."
Their leagues share Tower Grove field in St. Louis and compete on the same weekends. Alldredge said the groups used to talk when Big Balls got started, but as the leagues grew, things changed.
"We used to do quite a bit of talking, but now we are rivals so there's really no interaction," Alldredge said.
The Kickball Association requires a team to have five women playing in a game and allows bunting. The Big Balls only requires two women in games and does not allow bunting. Ted McCluskey, the commissioner of the Big Balls, said the programs have developed a heated rivalry and trash talking and arguments are common.
“Our rivalry has been based on the fact his (Alldredge's league) has been around since 2000, and ours has been around since 2007," McClusky said. "We’ve dwarfed his, and when two leagues play in the same park on the same days, there’s an argument for who's the best in the city.”
Entering Sunday's tournament, the Kickball Association had a 4-1 edge in the series and won two games in early June. The victories have caused more smack talk between the two teams and heated up the rivalry. Ian Goozh of the Big Ballers says it has given his team more desire to beat the Kickball Association in the Show-Me State Games.
“We were pumped," Goozh said. "We looked forward to this game when we saw it on the bracket."
McClusky said that despite having a losing record against the Kickball Association, the Big Balls held the advantage in Sunday's tournament.
“In this tournament you can’t bunt. We go to tournaments where you can’t bunt so our girls have been kicking year around so they know how to kick. That’s our advantage,” McClusky said. “They’ve also never played on dirt, and we’ve never lost a tournament played on dirt.”
Jenna Kramer, who plays for the Big Ballers, used to play for the Kickball Association. She said she crossed over because she disagreed with some of the Kickball Association rules, becoming frustrated when her team couldn’t play sometimes because they didn’t have five girls. She said she can see a definite difference between the two leagues.
“St. Louis Kickball Association is more serious," Kramer said. "They’re a great league, it’s just different.”
The Big Ballers won the title game Sunday afternoon 4-2, but after the game, tensions eased and both sides enjoyed refreshments and music together as they made their way to the medal tent. Brandon Ross, who plays for the Kickball Association, said the loss will serve as extra motivation for their next match.
“It just adds to the fun," Ross said. "We’ve played seven games, we won a few, they’ve won some, it’s just good competition.”
Still, McClusky said the smack talk will continue.
“When we get back to St. Louis, we are going to say we mercy ruled them on our Web site, “ McClusky said. “They will probably say they played a tough game on their Web site.”