So, back to DoG and Masters. I had already missed two tournaments. I quietly put my name on the roster, and eventually word got around. I got sincere "Sorry, it would have been cool, but we're glad to have you back." Both were true. The idea of a 44 year old playing a cutter role on a Nationals contender would have been cool, but it was also nice being back in my comfort zone, both as a player and as a teammate. I was actually relishing the idea of being a bit player who could focus on going all out every point, but I also enjoy the challenges of being The Man.
I had been doing some training already. Besides the Ironside practices, I did the weekly team workout, and was doing a lot of microexercises. I did a set of 50 no-weight squats every day, would do various reps of other exercises when I had a minute to spare, would hold up my computer bag while walking to build up arm strength, little stuff like that. Those all stopped. Later, I would return to doing some workouts, but not right away.
I played in the championship of the Ultimate Showcase a couple weeks later. It was really odd being on the same field with some of the Ironside guys. Only one of them said anything at all to me at all related to my having been with them just before, but hey, what do you say to Jim Parinella after you just cut him? I played poorly, or at least caught poorly, though it was windy. I must have had three drops, maybe even four, in the first half-dozen points, plus a throwaway, a block, a goal thrown and a goal caught. I think I was turnover-free the rest of the way, adding two blocks and some goals, but didn't do anything of real note.
My first tournament back was Boston Invite. We lost a couple winnable games on Saturday and had to win a game to stay in the 9-16 bracket. I was a little down and played uninspired that day, happy and sad to be back. On Sunday I felt good, though, and helped beat Open Nationals qualifier Pike in our B quarters. That was definitely fun, and I felt like if I had played like that in tryouts maybe things would have been different. We then had Pony next, and started off in a similar vein with me getting open at will against the best defenders on a team that thought it could be at Nationals, but then age 44 kicked in and Pony played better and took control of the game. But it was a fun morning, with the team's best game in some time.
Next up was Grand Masters in Denver, which was like Masters, but without even that level of defensive pressure. It was hot and at altitude. We had two games in a row on Saturday where I felt every day of my age and then some, but otherwise I had another very good two days of running. I did get lazy at times with setting up cuts because I knew either that they were going to screw up the coverage or I could just outrun them if they didn't. This actually might be a key point in assessing my real ability to play at a Nationals Open level. It is often said how smart of a cutter I am. It has become more often the case that I punish defensive mistakes rather than just being able to shred regardless, so if a defender plays solid positioning on me and continues to adjust based on the changing flow, I might never make a real cut. But let him suddenly find himself on the wrong side of me because he didn't adjust, and I'll make a devastating cut and catch the goal flat-footed. So if you're young and fast AND you know what you're doing, I might have some real difficulties. That wasn't the case at GM. There were times I found myself thinking, "ok, I need to set this guy up, drive him out a little, act like I'm coming in and make him bite, and then go deep....nah, I'll just sprint deep." After all, those were old guys I was playing against. Some of them were even 44 years old!
So our O had a great time out there, not just me but Coop, Simon and Will all played well. It was basically our starting O line from the regular Masters team.
Next up were two coed tournaments, Hingham and Summer League. Most of Hingham was against bad teams. One team (hardly fair to call it a team, just some counselors from some camp) threw more Callahans than goals and gave up more points than points played (there was a two-point cross-gender huck rule). We had a decent game in the semis, and a good game in the finals against a mid-Regionals-level coed team. I felt very mobile again this game. I mused later that perhaps I am beginning cold-blooded in my old age, in that as long as the sun is out and it's warm, I am lively, but if it's only 60 or less, I am pretty lethargic. (The first day of Nationals disproved that, though.)
Summer League was pretty good, as far as I can remember now. We played in the semis against the Andover High recent grads. Jackie had coached the girls' team there last year and I met some of the parents (who are probably my age). One of them said to me, "It must feel good to be able to keep up with these young kids." Never one to take a compliment well, I responded, "Keep up with? I'm blowing by them." She looked at me strangely, as she should have, nodded, and walked away. But that's how I felt. None of those kids knew enough about how to play, even if they are serious players, so even though sometimes when I had to cover them I was often just trailing them, offense was still pretty easy.
These were all great training experiences for me, much better than an Open tournament with Ironside or 2000s DoG. The sheer number of points played and the increased role in each dwarfed any increased level of opposition. That's partly why I've recommended that aspiring players slum around some. (Probably the bigger reason is to get time playing a bigger role and expand their repertoire and to get more experience in points where they have to play well or the team will lose. I feel this outweighs the possible bad habits they might pick up.)
At Sectionals, the hard fields contributed to my lackluster performance. I had really wanted to play well against Ironside but it was the fourth game of the day and I just didn't have it. I beat one of them deep but I couldn't catch the crappy trailing throw. Breaking the tradition of bad Saturday/good Sunday, I didn't feel better on Sunday, and thus the team didn't do any better.
Clambake did manage to have a couple games in it. This was a harder to classify performance. Typically, I either have it or don't have it on a given day, but there were moments of both here. We had some real struggles moving the disc when I was out there trying hard but just not getting any separation, and times when things went well.
At Regionals, Saturday was one of those days again, another day when I was glad I wasn't out there embarrassing myself in Open. Sunday started off well. I burned one of their players early deep and threw a deep pass in the first few points and I felt good. But the team just fell apart. In the game to go, by the time I actually got to play, the game was essentially over, so it didn't matter.
Nationals, once again. I didn't get good sleep in the couple days prior to Nationals,and when I got up on Thursday, I felt run down. It didn't help that the temperature was going to exceed 90, but despite a good, early warmup, I just never had it in my legs all day. I'm not saying that I'm worth 4 points a game (Bill James once found that the value of a (baseball) superstar is far less than anyone thinks, and I would definitely be psyched if ultimate could one day have enough data to put a number on this), but I feel that if I had been moving well, we'd have beaten GLUM instead of losing to them.
Day 2 was much better. The quarters were the highlight of the tournament for us. Our O had only 2 turnovers and 1 break and we won 15-13. I didn't feel quite as good as at some of the other events this year but with strong performances all around, we did well.
The semis were pretty good but a half-step down for me. I had one full-field sprint for a goal but otherwise have nothing specific I can add about my play. It was certainly a game we could have won, something that no one would have thought possible after Thursday's play. We got broken twice to start the game, then there wasn't a break either way again until 13-11. Surly then scored on their only upwind point of the game, and then we got broken on our second upwind point of the game, and it was over. The 3/4 game was a throwaway, notable only for it being the only time we ever played the Condors and joked with them throughout the game.
Coop played great for us all weekend and deserves the team MVP. After being afraid of what he would be able to contribute, he did it all for us and was unstoppable throughout the tournament. Props also to Marshall Goff for solid and sometimes spectactular play handling. I'd go on, but after all, this is "The Year in Jim."
The team was one point away from not even making the quarters. After beating Ball and Chain Friday morning, we thought that guaranteed us a spot. Only during the last round did we realize that if we lost and Boneyard beat GLUM by exactly two, the three-way tie would go to the second tiebreaker, total point differential, and all we could think of was that we had suffered a blowout loss to Surly, and how lucky we were that we had gotten a break at the end to beat Boneyard by two (rather than trading out on serve to win by one). So we're watching that game while we're losing big to Troubled Past. In the TP game, we started out on serve, got a break, Al threw a hammer OB, we get the break back, Al throws another hammer OB to the other side, and they take half. After another break, things spiral and we start looking ahead to the quarters. Except that it's close on the next field. But GLUM is winning or at least has the wind advantage, until I look over at 13-13 to see Boneyard cheering in the upwind endzone celebrating their go-ahead goal. I next look over to see Boneyard cheering the ensuing turnover, and see them catch the goal that gives them the dreaded two point win. Meanwhile, we're down 13-8 and then 14-9, and we watch dreading that every turnover is going to be the one that keeps us out of the quarters by a point. But we manage to get 3 straight to make it 14-12 prior to losing 15-12, and then we hurry over to tournament central to figure out what's going on. Several teams are gathered around to see what's going on. I quickly add together our scores and get -2. A GLUM guys tells me that his team is also -2, and thus our team would finish behind theirs in a two-way tie, so if Boneyard was at -1 or better, we were out. But a quick add shows that Boneyard is -9, and I add GLUM's total to confirm that they are -2, and so I let everyone know what I found, and for about 15 minutes, this is the official word (GLUM, us, Boneyard, respectively, for 3-5), and we play Beyondors in the quarters for the live stream. I confirm with Will Deaver that overall point differential is indeed the second tiebreaker, so we start to mentally prepare for the big game. Eventually, though, when they do the official adding together, they announce that GLUM is really -6 and thus we are 3rd place and play OLDSAG in the quarters. I am torn at this point. I wanted to play the Condors, but I also wanted to improve my chances at making semis (and thus avoiding the consolation games), so do I tell them they added it wrong? Eventually, I decide not to, but go over to see the scores one more time. I then discover that when I got to the final game, I had GLUM at -4, then went and added 2 for the Boneyard game to get -2 instead of subtracting for -6. Geez, now THAT should embarrass me more than any slowness or codgerdom I show on the field. I try to track down Will to apologize for thinking him stupid but he is ignoring me while talking logistics to some other guy and I continue on.
I'm glad that we were on the live stream for the quarters, allowing my wife and my parents to watch it, up to the point that the feed went out at 13-12. Two interesting anecdotes from that game. After maybe the second O point, I hear my defender Paul Bonfanti asking someone in the next tent over how I had broken him that point. He is told that the throw went over his foot, so I shout over that I will throw the next pass at where his foot is supposed to be, knowing that he will be lifting his foot to the new place. Sure enough, I have the disc on the line and throw underneath him on the break side, and he gets a solid foot on the disc. Luckily for me, it pops up into the air behind me, I turn around and catch it, and continue playing. I let him know after the point that I am so used to getting footblocked that I instinctively know where it will go, while others get so flustered after it happening that they bury their heads and have no bid at the second chance.
Late in the game, at 13-12 I think, Alex has the disc about 10 yards out and on the backhand sideline, I am a couple yards outside the endzone, so we make eye contact, and I cut away for the blade for the goal. As he throws it, the two of us and at least one teammate on the sideline flash back to a hammer in the 2000 semis against Condors that some may remember from the second Above and Beyond video. This one, however, was not so high that it melted from being too close to the sun and not so far that I had to keep running after it and not in the air for so long that I had to think about it, and I caught it. (To this day, I'm still not sure the right way to catch that pass in 2000. It's possible that reaching out with one hand is the best way, though I can't imagine having the balls to do that at a late point in the semis.) My defender shakes his head in disgust and says, "Who throws that?" Here, I thought it was obvious.
Next in the Year in Jim: Epilogue. I promise that there is a cliffhanger.