NORTHDALE — I rushed away from my grown-up job every Wednesday night and drove across the county to play a kids' game.
And at age 23, I was among the youngest in the group.
Like fourth-graders, we'd take to the field and play kickball.
Adult softball leagues are common, but kickball has long been a game for schoolyard recess. You play kickball? friends would ask.
Kermit Kauffman, 55, recently helped start the Kickball Society of Tampa Bay, which played on soccer fields in Northdale. The goal was to give adults the chance to let loose for a night and meet new people.
"There are people out here going, 'I've done this Little League thing with my kids for years, and now it's my turn to go have fun,' " Kauffman said.
The kickball league's first six-week season wrapped up last week, and it was so popular that organizers turned down several teams to keep the league manageable.
Sixteen teams consist of people from all sorts of backgrounds and areas throughout the county. The youngest were 21, the oldest in their 50s. There was a team of high school band parents and one of teachers.
The Red Rockets, one of two teams to finish the regular season undefeated, had players from the World Adult Kickball Association, which has a league in Tampa. Their experience showed.
"To other people looking in, it looks like we're pretty serious, but we're not that serious," said co-captain Matt Johnston, 28. "We just like to have a good time."
Some clearly had athletic experience. Others spent the season learning the rules, which are basically the same as in softball and baseball.
"Everybody can't play softball, but everybody can play kickball," Kauffman said. "You don't have to be good to play kickball."
My team, Nuts 'n Honeys, wasn't exactly the most talented bunch. Our only two wins came against teams with players old enough to be my parents.
Still, our time would come.
Last week's season-ending double header was theme night. The team with the most creativity would win a $50 bar tab. Our theme was "White Trash Bash," and we didn't hold back. With everyone decked out in costume — I wore jean shorts, a cut-off flannel shirt and a Budweiser hat, all of which I already owned — we nearly beat the Kickin' Chickens in the first game of the night.
Our team was finally starting to mesh. It was a moral victory, if there is such a thing in kickball.
In the second game, we grabbed momentum early and squeaked out a win in the late innings against the Grape Nuts.
Shortly after, Kauffman announced us as the winners of the theme contest.
We didn't make it to the championship game, but the league provided a night of escape from the stressful adult world.
"You have people who have kids, people who work 50- to 60-hour jobs," Johnston said. "In today's economy, it's great to not even think about that."
Kevin Smetana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2439.