By Mary Buckheit
Page 2

SAN DIEGO -- Imagine a mix of Mardi Gras, MTV Spring Break 2006, a Jimmy Buffett beach bash and a Girls Gone Wild video.

The 100-proof, electrically hormonal offspring resulting from said components would most accurately describe San Diego's annual Over-The-Line tournament.

What is OTL? I had never heard of the sport myself until I happened into it this past weekend while visiting some fellow East Coast transplants living in San Diego. When a SoCal native left a voice mail Friday night advising us of the place to be and offering directions to Fiesta Island in Mission Bay for the OTL tournament, we decided to check it out.

In Over-The-Line, a teammate soft-tosses a heavy, foam ball. Bikinis optional.

We hopped in the car Saturday morning knowing only that OTL was some kind of beach sport tournament surrounded by a party. Or a beach party surrounded by some sort of tournament. With plenty of burritos, jello shots, bikini-clad gals and uber-competitive guys.

But there was no way of preparing us for what we were in for as we followed the signs and hundreds of cars off the I-5 exit ramp to a huge dusty parking lot packed to capacity.

Edging the lot was a line of cooler-carrying folk waiting for shuttle buses bound for the out-of-sight area of play. "Where the heck am I?" I wondered as we passed on the line for the shuttles and hoofed it over to the playing fields. We were joined on the mile-long hike by many others on foot, bike and skateboard, all making a pilgrimage to this mysterious event that hid behind the tall dunes lining our path.

Eventually, we made it to a break in the sand wall. We walked through the pass and caught first sight of the playing field and its surrounding scene. Immediately, I understood the magnitude of this event. It was a massive sandy space packed with people and teeming with debauchery.

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The OTL tournament is one of those signature events a city boasts uniquely as its own like a Tennessee-Florida football tailgate or the infield of the Kentucky Derby or the street festivities beside Boston's Head Of The Charles Regatta.

Over-The-Line was invented in the sands of San Diego years ago. It is named after its objective (to hit a heavy, foamy orange ball "over the line" in the sand 55 feet away from home plate). It is played with three players on each team on a court shaped like a pencil -- a triangle with home plate set atop a long narrow rectangle of fair territory. Teammates "pitch" to the batter from their knees beside them like a soft-toss drill. Batters must hit it over the line and within the two sides of the rectangle foul lines. If they do this without the ball being caught by one of their opponents, it's a base hit. Hit it fair and over all three fielders and it's a home run. There are no bases to run to after the ball is struck, as ghost runners bear the leg work so players can stay cool and not worry about spilling their cocktails, which are never far from hand ... especially in the hours between each game spent boozing at the tents surrounding the entire field of play.

The Rules of OTL
• Four innings per game
• Six outs per inning
• One strike per at-bat
• Three hits scores a run; each additional hit in the same inning scores one more run
• Women allowed to wear gloves
• Wood bats only
• Adult beverages allowed

Predictably, when you couple hot temps with alcohol-charged bods, men with beads and a hardly modest Southern Californian crowd, you're bound to have certain segments of the populace getting naked.

While waiting in line at an ATM sitting in the middle of the sand, I witness the following conversation among three women in front of me:

"Hey, where did you get that? Is that a blue margarita?"

"Yeah! That tent right over there. All you have to do is show your [breasts] and they'll make you one for free! If they like them, they'll give you a T-shirt, too. We went back twice!"

Now, I'm not sure what to make of this, and maybe I would understand if I had ever strolled down Bourbon Street and witnessed the magic of the Big Easy, but all I can conclude at this moment is that men are basically the luckiest hacks on the planet. I mean, what authorizes fat, hairy white guys with megaphones to barter a strand of 20-cent beads or a blue margarita for a set of 20-year-old breasts?

Batted balls must remain with the pencil-shaped foul lines.

The world might never know.

Nevertheless, the depravity is by no means a small, fleeting flash in the pan. This year marks the 53rd annual San Diego OTL tournament, which is organized by the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club. The OMBAC estimates that a whopping 52,000 people will attend this year's extravaganza, which features 1,200 three-player teams spanning 50 courts and runs for two weekends, concluding with the championships this coming Sunday. Admission is free, but team registration fees and money grossed at food and beverage booths serve as the chief fundraiser for OMBAC's charitable efforts for youth sports and amateur recreation endowments.

Although the event is a beach benefit for the community's children, this frat party is no place for young ears. Barking above the bustle of barely there bikinis and booze is the constant announcement of the ever-evolving bracket and court information. The catch is that the team names aren't your average Red Sox or Yankees. At the OTL tournament, squads pride themselves on coming up with some of the most mischievous, and more often raucous, identities for their crew. The announcers rattle them all off quite boldly, hardly ever stumbling over even the naughtiest of names and managing to maintain Vin Scully-esque modulation through animal unmentionables, explicit conquests of their closest relatives and even references to the very microphone they yap into.

Overall, the underlying good cause of the OTL tournament provides San Diegans with a free pass to party and cross over every single line of social etiquette in the books.

I can't quite claim this description of what I saw Saturday is accurate, but it is as much as I am able to disclose on this Web site. My parting counsel to you folks who are thinking about attending the second half of the tournament this weekend is that if you're into this kind of stuff (by which I mean holding your camcorder waist-high while sipping from a hands-free beer-can hard hat), you won't be disappointed by the festivities in Mission Bay.

As always ... stay classy, San Diego.

Mary Buckheit is a regular contributor to and can be reached at