Friday, April 27, 2007

Call me Luke

It’s been awhile, thought I’d let you all catch up on my sports life.

I’ve been playing in an Over-40 pickup basketball game in town. There is only one guy who I would call a good player, about half the guys have some skills, and the rest are what you would expect from an old man pickup game in an affluent suburb. This has been a great environment for developing my game, much like summer league was back when I first started making a conscious effort to develop more throwing skills. I’m finally making some basketball moves for the first time since that one year in college where I played at lunchtime most days. I even try hard on defense, harder than on O. There are two guys who play unspiritedly. One guy is old and a bit fat and is a bad player, but he’ll take down anyone who beats him and is set for an uncontested layup attempt. He’s quite dangerous, to be honest. He’ll also yell occasionally when a player is shooting. “Very classy,” I said once, but I don’t think he heard. I can excuse his behavior a little bit, because if he didn’t cheat, his team would be at a great disadvantage because he’s so bad. The other guy is more irksome, and actually caused me to lose my cool a few weeks ago. He’s one of the guys with some skills. When he plays hard, he can get open and sometimes he’ll go on a hot streak. But most of the time he’ll just play some clutching and pushing game, usually subtle enough that you wouldn’t notice it but it is what makes it easy to get open or to get in the proper place for a rebound. I got tired of it one day and grabbed his arm as he was about to push off, then did it again the next time to make sure he knew it wasn’t an accident, then gave him a gentle shove just to make it absolutely sure. I’m come very close to making a deliberate bad makeup call, but have limited myself to making snide comments.

Softball season started last night, a thrilling 4-2 win for the Cougars. I saw five pitches in three at-bats, taking one for a strike, taking one for a ball, and putting the other three into play. All of the strikes seemed like pitches I could drive rather than strikes nibbling at the corner. First at-bat was a weak grounder to shortstop that I normally would have beaten out but my legs weren’t loose despite an adequate warmup. Second at-bat was a medium-hard liner into short right-center, an easy single from the moment it left the bat. Third at-bat came in the bottom of the sixth, two outs, runner on first, tie game. It was a hard grounder that the shortstop was able to get a glove on with a good play, but it was a hit no matter how good of a play he could have made. I had hoped/expected to hit a line drive over the left-center fielder’s head. Runners on the corner. I possibly could have made second had I been thinking of it out of the box, but I had expected it to be a clean single with no possibility of making second. The next batter hit a groundball to shortstop. The shortstop fielded it cleanly and looked to toss it to second for the inning-ending forceout, but I got a good jump and got there first. The SS’s throw to first was late and then bounced off the 1B’s glove and squirted down the line. I continued round third and headed home. The throw got there first, but I slide to the outside and swiped the plate with my hand, completely evading the tag. (Merely beating the tag isn’t enough in this league, since the umps generally call any close, cleanly- executed play an out.) This insurance run took the pressure off us in the last inning and we were able to close them out. This game was a big contrast to our previous game last year, a season-ending loss in the first round of the playoffs. That final score was 21-20, featured a ton of errors and walks and home runs, while this one was cleanly-played (we didn’t allow anyone to reach on error, although there were two errors that allowed them to take the extra base). (I really ought to move away from the paradigm of “lack of errors = good fielding”. More important than avoiding errors is making the marginal plays. Our game-winning hit was one of those plays not made. My first grounder to shortstop would have been a play not made had I run a little faster. Those type of plays are at least as frequent as the errors (and many errors happen on those marginal plays where the fielder has to zing the throw).)

I’ve only been out to the golf course once this year, but had a good time, playing 27 holes in about 4 hours. 42-39-44 on the always difficult Stow Acres North. I had a 10 hole stretch where I was only one over par. Many of my recent rounds have featured a stretch of 6-10 holes where I was almost even, so I’m optimistic about my chances of extending that stretch one day soon to a full 18 holes. I got a new 3 wood this winter, replacing a club which I hardly ever used because of a lack of confidence in it, and I am quite pleased. I hit seven fairways in a row with it, and also nailed two strong shots from the fairway over a pond onto the green, shots I knew were stupid but decided to go for anyway. Shot-by-shot available upon request. Unofficial Handicap Index stands at 9.7.

The Frisbee schedule is surprisingly full. I wouldn’t be surprised if I actually played more ultimate this year than in previous years, both in the number of tournaments and points played per tournament. Played Fools already, scheduled for WMO, Masters Easterns, and Boston Invite this spring, probably summer league tournament and Hingham, maybe another summer or fall tournament, then Sectionals (if Masters teams are still allowed to play Open), Regionals and Nationals. That’d be 10, and I’ve played 9, 12, 9, 5, and 10 the last five years.

Red Sox are doing well, Yankees less so. I don’t really get into the “Yankees Suck!” cheer (even though they do), since cheers that focus on the other team are for losers, plus the Red Sox have been the Evil Empire Lite with their big budget and gamesmanship and nearly-unmatched string of championships this century (only five other teams, none of them from NY, has as many titles as the Sox so far). I haven’t seen or even listened to more than a token amount this year, though.

No ski days this winter so far. No long cross-country runs, except for that one nice day this winter where I jogged for about 20 minutes and had to stop once for twice for sore feet.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Fools, again

Wow, I just finished reading last year's Fools report, and I realized I hardly need to type anything in for this year, even down to the comments. In fact, I'll comment on that article first:
1. It appears that this is the first use of the phrase "huck and hope" (although it wasn't capitalized or TMed yet).
2. "This is our year"
3. "I wouldn't want to win any tournament that this team could win."
4. Funny stories on the sideline and in the beer tent still abound.

I suppose I can add some comments about this year, too.

Day 1 was about the same as the previous years, with one notable exception being that I was mentally prepared for it and so did not get depressed at not being able to run.

We were really bad throwing deep all weekend, such that once again the Indefensible would have been a terrific defensive strategy.

No warmup again this year other than before the quarters.

I was excited when I got to the fields Sunday and saw that games were to 9 with a 50 minute cap. I was going to have to leave no later than 4, which would have been sometime during the final, so I probably would have had to tank us in the semis so as not to have to miss a game, but this enabled me to be around for everything. Plus, games to 9 are short and might favor an old team. I got moving around, actually ran some lengths before the game, and broke more of a sweat then than I had all day Friday. Alas, we made a few too many turnovers and let the game drift away.

Got screwed over by the airline on the trip back, getting bumped from our flight despite being frequent flyer members and checking in nearly two hours before our flight. They couldn't put us on the next flight either and we had to wait until 2 pm the next day. Also had a two hour delay on the outbound flight, and they left our carseat at the Dulles Airport and so had to give us a loaner in Boston. I remarked to my wife that the Man really took it to us this weekend, and the only thing we got to stick to the Man was sneaking into the hotel pool after they declared it closed from 10-3 because state law required a lifeguard in their 4' deep pool. But then I managed to make a slightly longer list of sticking it to the man: 18 year old got to drink beer, we sped, I took a banana from the hotel buffet, I fed the boy a couple of pieces of fruit from the buffet. But I think the Man beat us overall.

I can't believe that the pick rule is as it was being played. If a pick happens, 12 players stop playing, but the thrower and a cutter don't, the thrower can huck it to the cutter for a goal, and it stands because it doesn't "affect the play". I can see that if the call is nearly coincidental with the throw, then the pass should stand, but there ought to be a limit of something like 2 seconds after which it goes back. There is nothing in the rules that says that the thrower has to (or even ought to) acknowledge the call, so he should examine whether something is wide open prior to acknowledging it, per the rules, some will probably say. Since the pick is intended to reduce the risk of injury, writing the rules to demand that players play on after a pick call is made seems counterproductive.

I didn't break anything, although there was a point I wanted to take something made of wood and beat it against the ground repeatedly. Unfortunately, none of the Canadians' mallets were available. Oh, yeah, I beat the Canadians in a bocce-off for the flip one game. I warned them that I was Italian, but they didn't listen.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

change in Boston ultimate

Well, I guess the word is out, so there is no sense in keeping it a secret anymore. Many people asked me about the impending change to Boston ultimate, and yes, it's true.

I sent my retirement letter to DoG a couple weeks ago.

It was remarkably short and dry, I must admit. I tried to muster up some mush, but I got all of my teary-eyed feelings about retirement out of the way back in 2004, my first "final" season. That year, I went through the fall knowing that it would be my last, so I was able to deal with all the baggage of experiencing my last practice, last trip to Sarasota, last time leaving the fields, last free beer at the tent, etc. (at least as an Open player; at this point, I still don’t think that Masters counts, even as I plan to play this year). I still really wanted to play and felt that I could play, but it just seemed like too much to handle anymore, especially having a small child.

But then I got a couple months away from the season, and I had already begun to miss it, and to forget the bad parts. I decided that I didn't really have to retire, and you know we gave Furious a helluva game in the quarters, so who knows what another year would bring? So I plunged ahead. (Cynics say I came back just to sell more copies of the book.)

The next year wasn't nearly as hard to continue. I had a strong performance at Nationals, and the team made semis for the first time in three years.
But now, well, I'm perfectly fine with not playing, although of course Mr. Big Ego thinks he can still cut it at the highest level. It's not that I'm retiring to spend more time with my family (in his wonderful book "The Game", Ken Dryden talked about how he and his wife would laugh at any athlete who claimed that when retiring; I highly recommend the book, especially to anyone at the end of his athletic career). And it's not that I'm ready to move on with my life. It's just that all things considered, getting the band back together is a much more intriguing proposition. Yes, we're going to dust off the old DoG guys and relive the glory days, minus the glory.

We're still in the process of figuring out how to structure the team and what sort of goals to set. (One opponent this weekend asked if we planned to win six in a row in Masters. I replied that it's more likely that one of us would die on the field first. He replied, "That's morbid. Probably true, but morbid.") I tried at Fools to convince other old-timers to get their bands back together so we could all go at each other, but I'm not sure whether that will work out. Would anyone pay to attend a DoG vs NYNY match, maybe with an Earth vs Graffiti undercard (maybe as a fundraiser for some worthy cause)? Would we resort to breaking out the canes to hit each other for old times' sake?

I had a very satisfying and fun career, and while I feel that I earned what I accomplished, I know also that I was lucky, both genetically and environmentally. Even as I made fun of those who were perpetually injured, I probably didn't do much to escape being in that group other than avoiding collisions and knowing when not to push a tweaking muscle. And sure, though I did "bust my ass doing wind sprints in the cold and rain", so did a lot of other people.

I will miss being a nanocelebrity, and being able to make preposterous remarks about how infallible and worthy I am and draw laughs instead of strange stares. I don't think I'll miss people stopping me to ask about rules interpretations, even if the new pick rule is indeed stupid. I'll miss the camaraderie, although that should still be there in Masters, if not moreso (though not the sense of a shared struggle through the year). Most of all I'll miss the occasional game that is so consuming that you forget there is anything else in the world. I can mention "the Ring game" to an old teammate and not need to clarify which one, or "that one huck", or "Bim's catch", and I'll get teary-eyed and we'll both say, "yeah."

Aging of course was a factor in the decision. As recently as age 37 in 2002, the year we were a couple plays away from winning Worlds and Nationals (although we won neither), I felt as dominant as ever on offense, up there with 1995 and 1998 as my peak years. My overall awesomeness wasn’t as great in 2002, though, as I stopped being put in on defense in about 2000, our second year with a roster of 25. (I played about a dozen points of D in 1999, many of them important ones, as I was surprised to remember while watching the Above & Beyond DVD recently.) But now the peak isn't as high, but probably more importantly, I can't play at near-peak nearly as often. The warmup period is too long and the cooling down too quick such that the ebbs and flows of the game just make it really hard to be at that peak all the time.

Thus, big ego ultimate is dead, long live Big Ego Ultimate. All you other old guys, block off June 2-3 for Masters Easterns and the end of October for the UPA Championships, and I'll see you out there, if not on the field, then in the beer tent.