If you read Calvin and Hobbes, you’re familiar with Calvinball, a chaotic game Calvin makes up one afternoon with no clear purpose or rules. If you head to the Krieg Softball Complex on Pleasant Valley to play Mojo Kickball, you’ll see something very similar – except this chaos is controlled, the rules make sense, and the list of Austinites addicted to the game is growing faster than anyone – especially Mojo Kickball inventor Eric Heiberg – expected.
Every other Sunday afternoon for the past four months, at least two dozen pious Mojo acolytes have taken the pilgrimage to Krieg Softball Complex to pay homage to their venerable kickball icons. Their communion: coolers filled with Gatorade and baskets of bananas. Their sacred robes: the “chaser” belts worn by those players attempting to retrieve balls from fielders. Their apostles: three Mojo-appointed referees.
This impressive sermon grew from very humble beginnings. The first Mojo Kickball game was a complete disaster.
The sedentary types weren’t good at things like throwing accurately or running, and the few athletes present by no means dominated the game. Mojo kickball is more luck than skill, more Charades than Scrabble. The only absolute in the game is the chaos, and, unfortunately, it overwhelmed the would-be desciples of Mojo and spoiled the outing.
Undeterred, Heiberg brainstormed ways to make the game more appealing. He lured the same group back with better treats – granola bars joined bananas in the cooler – and promises of a more competitive atmosphere with less abstruse rules. The chaos would remain, but it would be tempered with focus.
Heiberg delivered. Somehow, it all made sense.
The nerds are now hooked. The jocks can’t get enough. The pagans are intrigued. Rookies show up all the time because they saw a post about it on Craigslist. Or because a co-worker invited them. Or because they simply drove by and saw over 20 people running around a baseball diamond. Whatever their motivation for descending upon Krieg, the uninitiated take the sacrament and can’t get enough. They put their names on a mailing list and return the next week, hoping to please the Mojo gods with an afternoon of satisfactory play.
No, they don’t know why there’s a guy wearing a yellow belt chasing outfielders. And no, avoiding first base after kicking the ball isn’t natural. But the non-believers see the havoc, the chaos, and the unrequited anarchy of Mojo kickball and want a piece of it. They see the devotion in the eyes of the anointed and they want to believe.
The scene at most Mojo games has played out the same. Confused newbies crowd around the miniature demonstration field, complete with mini-Mojo kickballs, listening to the refs explain the rules. Grizzled veterans sit in the dugout discussing strategy and taking bets on who will be the first to crack and go home. Second- or third-timers quiz each other on the basics of game play, hoping to remember more than their peers but not enough to reveal that they’ve been studying. And lately, there’s been a small crowd sitting behind the kicker’s box – they’re just around to watch. With die-hard players running scenario-specific drills in their free time and camera crews filming the games, it seems that Mojo is beginning to take root and grow. The gospel has spread, and the unenlightened are beginning to listen.
Naturally, Heiberg is looking to expand. But although the Son of Mojo wants the game to be played every weekend and a league to develop, he already considers the endeavor a success. Heiberg managed to craft an event where a graceless computer programmer can outplay a triathlete, where horned-rim glasses are no less legitimate eyewear than athletic goggles. But most importantly, Heiberg has established a comfortable and fun atmosphere that somehow remains genuinely competitive, a great source of exercise, and nearly impossible to put into words.