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To understand the true spirit of the marvelous California game and summer rite known as Over the Line, one only has to know that The Incredible Spinny Bunch set a personal record this year by advancing to the fourth round of the world championship tournament on the strength of a bye, a loss and a forfeit. Spinny also caught a ball for the first time and got a hit too. "They announced it over the loudspeakers," he said.
As if it were not already obvious, The Incredible Spinny Bunch is called The Incredible Spinny Bunch because Spinny is always spinning out. He wears a green cap with a propeller on top. He used to have a string that you could pull and the propeller would spin off into the distance. Now there is no string and the propeller must be spun by hand. Friends say this is a sure sign that Spinny is growing up. He is 43. He drives a lumber truck in the off-season. The Incredible Spinny Bunch says his only worry is that if his propeller ever starts going in reverse, he will spin himself into the ground.
At the other end of the Over the Line spectrum is Ron Trim, 28, a shoring-equipment salesman who takes the game seriously. He has fractured his leg playing OTL. Twice. Trim says, "People think this is a loose deal played by freaked-out fools. No go. We're dedicated. Twenty-five teams out here, you won't see a beer can in their hands. Guys can't sleep at night playing Over the Line."
Somewhere in the middle of all this are Mr. and Mrs. Over the Line, Royal and Debbie Clarke, a May-December couple who work the T shirt stand at the OTL tournament. Royal, a San Diegan who is 40 and delivers laundry to the underwater demolition teams "at the base," helped invent the game 23 years ago. His team won the championship in 1962, and he has been trying to repeat ever since. In the meantime he married Debbie, 25, a beach star whom everybody was pursuing, then watched as her team took the women's crown two years running.
Debbie, who looks like she was born on a sand dune, is kind of healthy. Royal appears to have burrowed out of the ground. His sun-destroyed eyes have been operated on four times and are considered one of the medical wonders of our age. He suffered "gut aches" from eating some bacon left in his van for two weeks. His closest friends call him Weasel. Sources claim Clarke can detail the history of OTL only if contacted before 6 p.m., inasmuch as he is rumored to sip a cocktail or two and is somewhat incoherent past that time. The sources are wrong by about an hour.
But this report is not designed to blow the lid off OTL. No CIA plotting or scandalous Cher and Gregg stuff here. Over the Line is simply a softball game played on the San Diego beaches by three-person teams that are invariably in some stage of undress and inebriation.
The team at bat furnishes its own pitcher, who sits a few feet to the side and tosses the ball to the hitter. The result is sort of a two-person fungo. There is no base running, which is fortunate because there are no bases. The object is to hit the ball on the fly over a line about 20 yards in front of the batter and into a court about 22 yards wide that extends indefinitely.
The three fielders on the opposing team patrol the court in various defensive formations—only girls are allowed to wear gloves—and attempt to make putouts by catching the ball on the fly. There are two kinds of hits—singles and occasional home runs, when the ball goes past the deepest fielder.
The only other rules to worry about are three outs to an inning, five innings to a game and no throwing beer cans or disrobing completely on the playing field. These last two rules were made to be broken.
Over the Line began in 1953 when a few lifeguards and a fellow named Ron LaPolice found the volleyball courts at Old Mission Beach so crowded they had to come up with another game. LaPolice stepped off the court and a diversion (some say a perversion) was born.