Monday, October 26, 2009

The Year in Jim: The Ironside Experience

The most lasting impression I have is that the tryout season is a lot different as a tryout than as someone on the team. When deciding between players at the end of the roster, the team should consider factors beyond who is "better" (not that there is a single answer to that). Other things being equal, you might prefer a 22 year old who will probably be better the next year than a 44 year old. On the other hand, experience should count for something, too.

So I left Nationals last year not knowing what to do. I was disappointed for the Ironside guys, some of whom I had played with on DoG and others I knew from goaltimate and Boston's Ultimate Showcase Series. I also felt happy for my Worlds teammates who won with Jam. I also missed the excitement of being in games like that. In Masters, win or lose, you're still going to drink beer after, and while you might feel disappointment or excitement, it's on a much lower scale than in Open. I had some misgivings about abandoning the Masters team, and it would have just felt weird to play on a team without Alex. But I felt I owed it to myself more to give it a shot.

So I started preparing myself for the idea of a comeback without officially committing to it. My son was taking swim classes, so I would do a Tabata at the gym during the class, and I played my weekly basketball game as if it were a training session. I committed to attending Kaimana with the intention of playing intense on a big, talented squad. We had a few guys who were invited to the World Games tryouts plus other big names from the Open scene, so I figured this would be a good test for me. I was pretty happy with the results, though it also came with a realization that while I could still hang, I wouldn't be able to do it on every point.

But this fit in with the role I had envisioned for myself, something equivalent to a sixth man in basketball, a starter's role with a substitute's playing time. On a team hoping to win Nationals, I couldn't be THE primary option, but with the opponent's third or fourth best cutter defender covering me (especially if that player was athletic but inexperienced), I thought I could do some damage. I also figured that I could handle a limited amount of playing time and still go all-out, maybe something like 6 O points a game on average. The last couple years, I got used to playing every O point and being in a primary role, but it was against either Masters players or against Open teams that didn't have a prayer at making Nationals, so I could usually afford to get a little lazy with setting up cuts. And if zone offense was required, I am extremely effective at popping.

My next stop was Paganello (hey!). It was a similar experience to Kaimana on the field, playing with a bunch of guys who made semis last year and fitting in just fine, at times standing out, though once again fatigue became a factor from occasional overuse.

Meanwhile, back in Massachusetts, I had alerted some of the powers that be on Ironside that I was interested in trying out, and stated what I thought I could contribute. They invited me to come out, though warning me that several starter-level players were moving to the area and were expected to play. I went to the practices (missed at least one, though), even having to skip out on DoG at the White Mountain Open, and played at one tournament.

It was such a different experience at the practices solely due to my station. I wasn't ever sure how much it was appropriate for me to speak. First off, I wasn't sure what had changed since I was left there, and found that I had answered at least one question incorrectly on what the team wanted to do in certain situations. Second, I didn't want to step on anyone's toes. I figured there would be time later to talk if asked about zone O or setting up cuts in vertical or whatever.

It was also a lot of work. I don't know if practices were any harder than they were a few years ago, but without having the luxury of being in charge of my fate, I had to play harder. At my first practice, I put so much effort into every single part of the active warmup that I was already fatigued by the end of it. In one of the early practices, an unfortunately hot day (it hit 90), I was cramping about halfway through, but others appeared to be in worse shape, so I had to keep on playing. Injury felt much closer than it ever had before. In years past, I could monitor my schedule and play time so I could be ready for Nationals. No such luck this time, but even given that, I felt further along in May than I had been in several years (and in fact commented that if I were already on the team, I would be very pleased with where I was in terms of conditioning and in game readiness), especially considering that at best I hoped to be used a point at a time, a few points a game. (There was still some question in my mind how much I would actually enjoy that role, or whether I could physically handle standing around for 20 minutes and then going in for a point. In later years, I found it harder on my body to stand on the sidelines than to play.)

My sole tournament was at Cazenovia, which we won pretty easily. We had about 22 for the tournament, so split into three lines. I was on the O line, had one turnover and one or two D's. I'm a big advocate of purposeful walking, but discovered that in order to try to fit in with the offense, I was doing a lot of purposeless running. I don't think I ever ran as much per second of field time in my life as I did that weekend. Some of this was due to unfamiliarity with what other people wanted to do or could throw, but I found myself having to think instead of reacting to what I saw on the field. I was able to occasionally display my ability to get open without running. One of my strengths is being able to set myself up so that I am open on my first step, provided that the thrower is ready to throw it, and I caught a few goals that way.

So, I was cautiously optimistic about the next few weeks of practices leading up to Boston Invite. I knew that there were a lot of quality players out there and it would be tough, but thought that the team could use an experienced versatile player more than another eager young guy. Even if the team was building for the future, you're never sure if a player will be around the next year. Plus, it was barely June, with almost five months of training and playing to go until Nationals. So that's why it was so shocking and heartbreaking to hear just a couple days after the tournament that my services wouldn't be needed any more. I knew that it was a longshot going in, and knew I hadn't played my way onto the team, but also didn't feel like I had played my way off it, and that a few more weeks of integrating might open the door. Sigh.

It took about a week before I let people know (other than those who knew already). It was a relief in some ways, knowing that I wouldn't have that time and effort commitment and that I wouldn't have to do 400s and that my body wouldn't be falling apart from abuse. But it was mostly a downer. Pretending I was a high school girl, I was wondering what I did wrong, why they liked HIM instead of me, not even caring whether the team was the right fit for me. I'd gotten laid off before, one time out of the blue and in a completely unprofessional way*, but hadn't been cut from a team since JV baseball, and had never had a painful breakup with a woman, and it hurts. In some ways, it's a fair payback for the wholly unprofessional way I had handled the initial cuts on DoG back in 1994, so I could see the irony, and like I said, I never really expected to make it (or at least didn't think it was the likely thing to happen). But it sucked.
* - there had been rumors, and there was a two-week shutdown planned at this 30 person company. One day, I see a co-worker printing off resumes in the library and thought it bold, only to see others come in and tell him how sorry they were he got laid off. I was sorry, too, but glad that I hadn't been told the night before by our boss that I was gone. But then again, I hadn't heard from my boss either, and he was out of town that day. No one says boo to me all day, until finally the CFO just happens to wander past my office and says, "Oh, uh, hi Jim, umm, did Peter talk to you last night?" "No, why do you ask?" "Uhhhh, no reason. Gotta go." Still no bossman, so eventually I corner one of the partners and ask him what's up. He looks at his shoes, the ceiling, out the window, and stammers, "umm, we had a meeting last night and decided we had to let some people go, and you're one of them." Silence. "Gee, Dave, I'm sorry you had to be the one to let me know." "Oh, hey, no problem, t's ok." Finally, about two hours later, I hear a page over the intercom, "Jim, line one, it's Peter." I say to another of the laid-off employees, "Gee, I hope it's not bad news." I pick up the phone and say, "Peter, what's new?!" "Oh, I guess you heard. Sorry." Ah, what laffs.)
So, back to DoG.


bocceplaya said...

For what its worth, I agree that you played well this spring.

Paul- Ironside

parinella said...

I meant to add that I wasn't intending this to be controversial, just insightful, and that I wasn't looking at anyone in particular on the team. It's a good team with a lot of good players. I feel like there would have been attributes at which I would have been one of the top seven on the team, and other attributes where I would have been one of the worst seven. I really don't know whether any of those "worst seven" attributes were so bad (or projected to be so bad by fall) that I would be rendered unusable (below the Mendoza Line, as it were), or if the "top seven" were good enough or came up often enough that it would be worthwhile.

AJ said...

Should have posted earlier...we have an open spot and the first retired (cut) ironside player we offered it to turned it down.


notaboomer said...

should re-title post to "ironysides."

Eric Zaslow said...

I was cut by DoG in '99 and that sucked. You had said that I had seemed "distracted" in '98 (this was not part of the cutting news, delivered by Cameros, I must add). I thought that comment odd, since I had pounded it out at the gym and the track on my own, quite hard-core like, and had contributed at nationals in my usual, unremarkable way. No regrets, disc-wise, actually, since my Chicago days were rewarding, but a major regret was not showing up at Johnbar's wedding in part due to my bitter feelings of rejection. Then, I was cut a few years ago by Machine. Fair enough, as I was in pretty awful shape for a few years after my children were born -- but they seemed to have delegated out the act of cutting me to someone else. That stung.

You told me you were informed by e-mail. What an abomination! One thing to treat you like everyone else when it comes to tryouts -- that's fair -- but to pretend that cutting Old Jim from Boston Ultimate was business as usual: that is heartless leadership.

parinella said...

I have no issue with how I got the news, because I know it's a difficult thing to do and because I've done even worse when it was me on the calling end. Ask Jeff Brown. And it's actually easier to respond and you're more likely to get a more complete response back if the time and distance of email are part of the process.

Josh Mullen said...


I second Paul's statement. I thought you played very well.