Cabbage Ball Explained to an Outsider
Cabbage ball is a sport, I assume, that is limited to the New Orleans community. It’s quite possibly one of the most enjoyable and competitive sports played in New Orleans. People from 4 years old to 60 years old play cabbage ball and everybody is serious about it.
Due to the large Catholic population in New Orleans, there are over 50 Catholic elementary schools. Each elementary school/Catholic church parish has a “Dad’s Club,” that usually hosts a summer cabbage ball league for younger children. Each parish also has a Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), which is a youth group for Catholic high schoolers, that also hosts a cabbage ball league during the summer. Many church parishes also offer an adult cabbage ball league that plays on summer nights. Lastly, when elementary students are in fifth, sixth, and seventh grade they can try out for the cabbage ball team offered during the school year. So to refresh that in easier terms, the young children play against teams in their own parish during the summer. High schoolers play during the summer as well, but they play various CYO’s across the city; parents and adults play against teams in their own league and also play during the summer; then the ultimate league is the middle school league that is played during the school year amongst all the catholic schools—in this league they host playoffs and championships (hence why it’s more serious).
Now what you’re probably all wondering: How is this game played? Is a huge cabbage thrown around? Is it like baseball? The game is quite simple, and no it’s not played with a large cabbage. The rules are similar to slow pitch softball, but the game is played with more strategy. Three strikes, you’re out; pop fly caught, you’re out; base tagged before runner gets there, you’re out. There’s an umpire, first baseman, catcher, etc. Oh, and it’s played on concrete. You heard me right, concrete. It’s played on blacktop ground, with a small, painted field. There are only about 30 feet between each base and 10 players are allowed on the field. There are no gloves, the only things you need to play are a bat (no baseball bats, only metal, softball bats allowed) and the ball. The ball is another story. The ball is about 16 inches, it’s cushioned, and covered with cloth. All positions are the same as softball, except a “short-short” is allowed. A “short-short” is a player positioned practically right in front of the batter, inside the lines. This player’s job is to get all bunts and short pop flies. This could be one of the scariest positions, but one of the most necessary. Bunts are extremely common in cabbage ball and often help win the game. The only other differences between cabbage ball and softball include: no equipment on any players, no throwing the bat (automatic out), no sliding, the game is played extremely fast, and the catcher is one of the most important players.
To everyone who’s never played cabbage ball or has no idea why I’m devoting a blog post to it, all I can say is that you have to experience it yourself. Most of us New Orleanians had summers centered around our cabbage ball games. Moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, little siblings all come out for cabbage ball games. It’s a family affair and everyone gets into the games. While winning is always extremely important, once the game is over the players are already over the loss. Since it’s always Catholic school against Catholic school, everyone knows each other. Which makes the rivalries even stronger, but it also creates relationships among the opposing teams. They may hate each other during the game, but I can guarantee you that 15 minutes after the game, every player, from both teams, will be at the same sno-ball stand enjoying each others company.
Some of my fondest memories as a young child include playing in my own cabbage ball game, then staying after to watch my big sister play. My dad was always our coach and, perhaps I’m a bit biased, but he was the greatest coach in New Orleans. As my sister’s middle school cabbage ball coach for 3 years, he made it to the playoffs every year and won a championship. To this day memories made on the cabbage ball are still consistently brought up, grudges are still held, and victories are still celebrated.
Perhaps it isn’t the cabbage ball victories that everyone loves so much; maybe it’s just the memories we have that are centered around cabbage ball. So many of my friendships were created on those concrete fields and so many fond family memories of mine come from practicing cabbage ball in the backyard. This game may not be important to anyone outside of New Orleans, but it’s something special and unique about the city that not many people know about. It may not be famous like Mardi Gras and the French Quarter, but that’s what makes it so special.
Experience cabbage ball–you won’t regret it,