Friday, April 28, 2006

The New Kids

In the summer of ‘90, The Boot was trying to find a way to break through into the upper crust of the West Coast elite ultimate scene. We had a few exceptionally talented players, we had picked up yet more promising college graduates, and we still had the best of the veteran vanguard. Yet we still weren’t quite where we wanted to be.

As we approached June, we had also suffered some losses from our roster. Apparently our surprise success from last season had helped us in recruiting, but it had also attracted the attention of the vultures. The top Bay Area teams had swung their greedy gaze towards our team and had identified some potential reinforcements for their own stalwart ranks. We lost Dave Lippy, John “Truth” Knuth, and Will Debello to the hated Tsunami. Russell had headed south and was playing with the disgusting LA Iguana. Dante had ... drifted off in other pursuits. On the plus side, we picked up Mikey G. from Santa Cruz, Kyle from Kansas, and Raymo from ... outer space. We also got a couple of tryouts from back east.

Practice that summer had been moved to Half Moon Bay high school as an acknowledgment to the fact that the geographic center of the team had been drifting slightly south. It also happened to be within five minutes of Barney’s new home. Very convenient. It was an hour drive for just about everyone except the lucky, local one.

I remember one practice in particular. We are warming up on a bright and surprisingly warm summer afternoon in the middle of the high school football field. An unfamiliar car pulls up in the adjacent parking lot and two obvious ultimate players emerge. They quickly gather their stuff and head confidently towards the sidelines. I’m looking around our team for someone to acknowledge them as familiar. No one does. All eyes are on the new pair.

One of them is short, not much taller than me. He’s got thick framed, geeky-type glasses, longish hair, and an easy smile. The other is about five foot ten, rather heavy in frame, and looks pretty serious. In fact, he reminds me a little of Fred Flintstone.

They drop their stuff and cleat up. As they are exchanging greetings with some of the crew, they lace up and pull some plastic out of a bag. They seem ready to start playing, only I don’t have any idea who they are or what they are doing at our practice.

“I’m Billy,” I say extending a hand. “I guess you are here to play?”

Fred Flintstone takes charge, “I’m Danny and this is Benny. This is the Boot practice, right?”

A little bewildered I respond, “Yeah. Uh ... how did you know where to find us?”

“We just moved out here from New York. Albany and Birmingham. We talked to Raymo and he said this was the team to play on.”

Raymo hadn’t made it to practice that day. In fact, he didn’t make it too many of the practices that season. Yet, he was still a very competent player, and a great guy to have at the party. While Bryan From Hell and Dante were like sharks with the women, methodical and efficient machines, Raymo was more of a wolf. He was a little hairier, a little friendlier, a little less efficient. He was often more successful picking up the scraps from other’s attempts than from taking down the prey by himself.

In any event, he had apparently convinced these new college grads that The Boot was the new-wave team in the Bay Area. Raymo had originally had come from the upper New York state area, so he must have had a line on these guys. Either way, that was some sales job. Now we just had to find out if they could play.

I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but I do know for sure that within the first half hour of that practice, a gauntlet was thrown down. I guess there might have been a couple of sly comments or open ended questions directed to the two newbies. Something must have triggered the pronouncement. Or maybe it was just the bravado boasting of the new kid trying to establish his turf. Either way, I remember Danny (the Fred Flintstone impersonator) announcing to the team in general that he could beat any of us in a full field sprint.

Now, you have to understand the circumstances. Here is this guy that is ... thick framed. Not heavy like average American heavy, but still, when compared to the typical top ultimate player’s build, he was large. Anyway, he is challenging all comers to a 70 yard sprint.

At the time, The Boot had a few players that would be some of the fastest players on most any teams in the west. Seth was just beginning to refine his combination of strength, speed, agility, and confidence into the presence that he would wield for a number of years at the top-most level of play. Mikey G. had just come out of UC Santa Cruz, but he was blazing fast and had some crazy defensive intensity that spoke to his internal competitiveness. And then there was me. I was not as young as Mikey G. and not as flashy or talented as Seth, but at 25 years old, I could still fly. It was really the one thing I had going for me. I could run fast - for a long time.

And here comes this blowhard, east coast college kid with a bit of a spare tire claiming he can beat any and all of us in a race.

The three Boot players looked around, nodded to each other, and gathered on the nearest endline. Danny, or rather “Dilly” as his preferred nickname, strode confidently out next to us. For a brief second, I considered the possibility that there might be more to this punk than met the eye. Maybe he could beat one or even all or us. Well, I was determined that it wasn’t going to be me. I think the rest of us must have been thinking the same thing.

With the sound of a, “Three, two, one ... GO!” we were off. Dilly finished fourth out of four. Maybe three steps separated him from the slowest of our trio. He seemed shocked and only slightly embarrassed. Benny heckled him from a full field away. We instantly knew we would like the Benny kid. We weren’t sure about Dilly. But he was certainly fast ... for a big guy.

By the end of practice, we had a better idea of what, exactly, had fallen into our team lap.

Benny was a pretty good player. OK disc skills. Good defensive intensity. Not as fast as maybe might be required at the top level, but he looked like he’d give his all. Besides, he was hilarious. His razor tongue and searchlight wit could hunt and destroy most anyone or anything without hesitation. His biggest target was himself - which always seems to sit well in a crowd - but given a little provocation, he could whittle down the biggest tree trunk of an ego to a shredded toothpick.

Dilly was big. Big all around. As stated before, he seemed to be too large to have the speed and hops that he evidently had. His throws were huge - and often. His ego was almost equally well developed. He was used to being the big fish in the little pond that was upper state New York college ultimate. He hadn’t had much exposure to the national level, but he was sure he could take on all comers there too. And he could laugh. While he maybe wasn’t as funny as his sidekick Benny, he was obviously smart. And he could take a good chap or two - or three.

After a few beers at the local burrito place in Half Moon Bay, I think both Worm and I figured they’d be perfect for The Boot.

By mid-June, we had started to put some of our pieces together. We had a core of intense, young defenders that could run forever. We had an offensive unit that relied on the speed of some of the youngsters to keep the disc moving, the big throws of the veterans and Dilly, and the receiving talents of “Big” Dave Smith, Kyle when he wasn’t injured, and Raymo when he could be enticed to show up, along with a few others.

We headed up to Eugene, Oregon for the Summer Solstice tournament. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we definitely aimed to break out of the cycle of “lose-close-pool-play-game-then-lose-tough-match-up-in-quarters” pattern that we seemed to be stuck in.

Saturday, I think we actually managed to win our pool. While the competition at Solstice wasn’t quite National caliber, there were some pretty good teams there. Combo teams and unusual mixes, but still most all the best players from the west, plus a few select others from around the country. It was a “fun” tourney, but you wouldn’t try telling that to the reigning, multi-repeating champs, the Long List of Whores (LLOW). Mostly a conglomeration of former and current Chicago studs, they were seriously talented and had an attitude to rival New York at their height. This was their once a year chance to gather their diaspora and reassert their male dominance.

Saturday night, I experienced my first Solstice party. Different from other tournament parties in many ways. First, it was located dozens of miles away from the fields, from Eugene, from ... well just about everything except trees and mountains. Second, it was a camping-only party. There were no hotels, motels, or even homes nearby. Everyone camped out within hearing range of the band and remote from everything else. Last, the isolation and the beautiful surroundings (a huge clearing in the middle of endless pine forests draped across rolling hills) was eminently conducive to both romance and “what-the-hell” excess.

That first year, I didn’t really avail myself of either the romantic or the bacchanalian opportunities. I was, maybe, a little too focused on ultimate. The Boot was finally looking like we could actually make some noise beyond the quarterfinals.

Sunday. Our first game was against a Las Positas /Chabot College reunion team. They had some serious club players (including Rojo and Kerry Karter) and some recently graduated and current college players that had won college nationals a few years before. This was the game we were always losing.

Not this tourney. A combination of too much intense defense, too many big throws, and too much Dave Smith finally smothered the LPC/Chabot team. One play though, at the end of the game, probably changed the face of the tournament. Towards the very end of the contest, Worm was breaking back towards the disc for a score in the near corner of the endzone. Covering him was Kerry Karter. A stalwart on the Tsunami teams of the late 80's, KK as he was known, was tall, athletic, and fiercely competitive. As these two “take-no-prisoners” players converged on an important moment in the game, we all held our breath.

Worm made the catch, but KK, in the aftermath of his huge, launching (and late) shot on defense, landed squarely on Worm’s back and drove him, shoulder-first, into the ground. After the dust had settled, The Boot had scored a crucial point, but had lost Worm for the rest of the tournament. A badly separated shoulder is an ugly thing. His shoulder was hanging down near mid-chest. It was one of the few times I actually heard Worm vocalize pain. After we carted him off the field, his spectating girlfriend drove him to the hospital.

We were without our defensive captain, but we had a three point cushion with two to play.

We barely won. But win we did. “Bye, Bye” quarterfinals loss. One monkey off our backs.

In the semifinals, we faced Roadside Trash. Mostly East Bay players with assorted friends and ringers thrown in. They were definitely talented and I am sure they were happy they weren’t on the other side of the draw - facing LLOW and their invincible army.

I only remember a few specific plays in this game. One, because it affected me directly, one because it was one of the most spectacular plays I have ever seen.

About mid-way or a little later in the game, I was playing defense on Jesse Cortez. He was a scary opponent, capable of beating you with quick squirrely cuts, big throws, or by bolting deep and skying you for the score. Somehow, I am matched up on him. And I am (barely) holding my own. As he cuts across the field for a give-and-go pass, I am trailing him, but the throw is a little too close. I lay out, full extension, hoping to get a single fingertip on the disc. Jesse senses the bid and dives back for the disc. He got the catch. I got a dislocated right shoulder.

This wasn’t the first time for me. It had started with a fateful play way back in 1988, but had gotten worse over the years. I was now at the point where it wasn’t a shock when I felt my arm and body separate from each other in an oddly unnatural way. But that did not diminish the pain. And this was a particularly painful one. I lay, writhing on the ground for a minute, then was helped off. Not knowing any better, and bowing to my competitive instincts, I was back in on defense a few points later.

The second memorable play of the game I was only witness to. I am sure that anyone that has played ultimate for a while at a competitive level has seen plays that they wish had been captured for posterity. “Why wasn’t someone filming this!” I have often asked myself, or others, immediately after one of these stupendous plays. The fact is, we have all seen brief moments of athletic transcendence that were shared with only a few other people out of the entire population of the world.

I used to think that this somehow diminished the importance or even the reality of what I had seen. A kind of, “If it didn’t show up on millions of re-run highlights on SportsCenter, then it couldn’t be important,” mentality. I am now well beyond that. I have been privileged to witness enough of these moments to know that a special part of the beauty is in knowing that you and only a select few others, of all the billions on the planet, were granted the memory of a particularly beautiful moment in space and time.

Towards the end of our semifinal game, I don’t know who was more surprised. Us at being so close to winning, or Roadside Trash at being so close to losing to us. Either way, it came down to the wire and we desperately needed a defensive stop and score. They were working their way toward a goal, abandoning their freewheeling, huck-happy offense of earlier, they had reigned it in and were struggling to advance the disc. The Boot defenders were young and fired up. We were giving no ground. We wanted the disc, and we wanted it now.

My mind frames the memory this way:

Roadside Trash is working the disc mainly with swings and throws to come-back cuts on the sidelines. Our defenders are all over them, but can’t seem to get the disc. Finally, they see an apparent mismatch with one of their taller deeps guarded by Mikey G. Mike is no taller than me, five foot six or seven at best. But he is scary fast and extremely intense. He is right on the tail of the tall receiver as he cuts back for a big 30 yard gainer. The throw is solid and fast, right to the receiver’s chest. Mikey sees this from his vantage two steps back and slightly inside. Instead of pulling up and getting ready to set a strong mark, he decides he can get the disc. No hesitation. He accelerates and launches simultaneously. As the receiver, who is at least six foot two, slows down to cushion the impact of the oncoming throw, he has no idea of what everyone on the nearest sideline is seeing. Mikey is vaulting over his inside shoulder, screaming past him horizontally in full layout, and reaching down for a disc that is five feet off the ground.

He makes the catch, not just the block. He catches the damn disc. He then lands six feet in front of the intended receiver in an explosion of grass and dirt. Disc in hand. Never came close to contacting his opponent.

No one immediately believes what they have just seen. Indeed, I still sometimes wonder if it was really physically possible. A moment's hesitation is followed by an immediate gasp, a few cheers, and multiple exclamations of “Holy Shit!” or something similar from the crowd.

I think that defense took the last of the wind out of their sails.

The Boot won the game. “Finals, here we come!”

I was a little nervous before the game. I had never played in the finals of a decent sized tournament, let alone managed to win one. In fact, I doubt that many of our players at that time had played in the finals of a Club tourney. And here we were, playing the Long List of Whores. Every one of their players was battle-hardened from years of contesting and winning big tourneys everywhere, including Nationals.

As we approach the field, the sidelines are slowly gathering spectators from other teams. It is going to be a nice night with the latest sunset of the year. The Whores are gathered on the far sideline, either lounging or carousing, not a butterfly to be found in any of their stomachs.

Meanwhile, as I am warming up my throws in mid-field, I hear this loud, brash voice yell, “Who’s the captain of this runner-up team?”

I catch the disc and start walking towards him, “That’s me.”

He looks incredulously at me, does a dramatic double-take, and says, “You can’t be the captain - you’re too short.”

He adds, looking all around, high above my head, “Where’s the real captain?”

I can take the chapping, and it is actually kind of funny. My introduction to Mike O’Dowd.

For those too young to know of him, Mike, also sometimes known as MOD, was one of the major characters in ultimate in the 80's and 90's. He captained Windy City the year they won Nationals - and subsequently spiked the Nationals trophy. He preached an in-your-face, testosterone laced brand of disc. And his teammates were more than willing acolytes.

The game starts and The Boot comes out on fire. Our offense has been clicking all weekend and the youthful defense, even with a drugged and drinking Worm on the sidelines, is hounding LLOW’s slower veterans. I think we manage to open a 3 or 4 point lead at one point near half-time. In particular, the combination of Barney hucking to Dave Smith is killing them.

Then, they start adjusting. They are actually buckling down and taking this game a little more seriously. They certainly don’t want their growing streak of Solstice wins to be interrupted by this team of upstarts and nobodies. And, eventually, a combination of inexperience and exhaustion started taking the wind out of our sails. Despite our best efforts (Mike G. had a few more highlight-reel blocks, I dislocated my shoulder at least twice more getting blocks, Seth was terrorizing their entire D squad), we couldn’t hold on. They beat us 19-17 or something close to that. We were disappointed to lose, but the crowd cheered us as worthy underdogs none the less.

Then the hard reality of the trip home set in. Worm was practically hallucinating from hospital prescribed pain-killers and team inspired beer. I was nearly delirious from the exhaustion of playing so much and the pain from multiple shoulder dislocations. Kristin (yes, the same Kristin from earlier in the blog - see here and here), couldn’t drive a stick shift. Worm’s girlfriend, Amy. had a broken right foot in a cast. And we had a hard 8 hour drive home.

Eventually, between Amy and me, we managed to get all the way back to the Bay Area on Monday morning ... just in time to hit morning rush hour. It took us an hour and a half to cover the final 30 miles to make a total of 9 and a half hours of driving straight from the fields. They dropped me off at my office and drove off in my car.

It was a long day at work.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

At That Point

The club season has always been slightly lagged in the spring. The college kids are all gung ho and excited. The younger club players are raring to get started by having some fun before the seriousness commences. The older, creaky club veterans are wondering if they have it in them to get it going yet again.

In 1990, The Boot sent a mixed team to Davis for the mid-March Davis Ultimate Invitational (DUI). (Mixed as in, a variety of new and returning players, there really was no “mixed” division back then.) We had some of the core of the team and a few new tryouts. We lost in ... I think ... the semifinals. To East Bay - the team that had ended our season in 1989. We seemed to be finding our level, and it was, frustratingly, just below the top teams.

April Fools West. Instead of joining a “Theme” team or a reunion team, I played with another conglomeration of core Boot players and some new faces. Local wannabes and college kids trying to get their first foot-hold in the competitive club scene. We were their best option because we weren’t so good that our roster was set, but we had shown that we could compete with the big boys - almost.

The tournament was held at Stanford’s Intramural fields. By this time, I had been appointed “captain” by Barney. His reasoning was probably something like this. Billy doesn’t mind doing the grunt work like phone lists, practice announcements, and sending in tournament entry fees. Also, while many of the opposing team captains had too much history and a little bad blood with him, they didn’t know me other than “that pesky little guy that runs around a lot.” Therefore, they tended not to argue with me when I brought something up at a captain’s meeting. Finally, I was inexperienced and malleable so he knew I would listen to his advice about “our” opinion regarding seedings, fields, and byes. He still had the authority. I was just a handy puppet.

Before our first game on Saturday of Fools, I went down the roster and the invite list. There were a few people missing. Teammates announced one’s last-minute work duties. A late Santa Cruz car accounted for a couple more. No one seemed to know where the new tryout, John, was. He was not really a big loss. Not exactly destined to set the ultimate world on fire, he had simply been to enough practices that he had deserved a look in a tournament environment. Even I knew that he was a long shot to make the team.

We played well enough to come in second in our pool. We would have another difficult quarterfinal the next day - as usual.

That Saturday night, Worm and I headed to the party. We may have definitely been the “Two Most Desperate Guys in the Western Region”, but it wasn’t strictly for a lack of trying. We crowded around the keg in the middle of the Stanford eucalyptus grove. We mingled with our teammates. We cracked jokes and teased our rivals. Somehow, this line of action didn’t seem to attract the babes. Yet again.

Either way, it got late and we decided that I needed to figure out how to get us to a place to sleep. Dan Harrington had earlier offered to let us sleep at his place in Palo Alto. It was a great opportunity - proximity to the fields and a bed or couch to crash on. Unfortunately, there were a couple things working against us at 1:00 in the morning. One, Dan had left the party hours ago. Two, I had very, very little idea of where he lived. I knew that it was somewhere just south and west of the Palo Alto town center. I knew it was on the north side of the street ... whatever the street name was. I knew it was a light colored house near a corner. Basically, the sum total of my knowledge of where Dan lived was encompassed by dropping him off after a practice one time maybe a year and a half ago.

And we were drunk.

Not exactly favorable conditions for a restful night.

We quickly made the calculation that neither of us was fit to drive back up to the City with the idea of sleeping in our own beds. Therefore, somehow, we decided that it would be best to drive around Palo Alto at one in the morning on the off chance that I might recognize Dan’s house and on the assumption that he might have left the door open for us.

Not exactly rational thinking.

Here was the result. After what seemed an eternity, and was most probably almost an hour, I found a very likely candidate for what might possibly be Dan’s apartment. We were so tired, we grabbed our sleeping bags and walked up the set of indoor-outdoor stairs. I tried the door to the unit that might have been his. Locked. Damn.

We may have been exhausted, hungry, drunk, dirty, and sweaty, but we did not have it in us to simply start knocking on random doors until, by process of elimination, we determined which apartment (if any) Dan lived in.

We both sighed, looked around the concrete walkway, bright security light overhead, noticed the multitude of moths flocking to their phantom paramour, and unrolled our bags.

We slept, fitfully in the middle of the stairwell landing.

In the morning, we were greeted by Dan’s smiling, bemused expression as he said, “Hey, did you guys sleep out here all night? You could have just rung the bell and we would have let you have the bed and couch.”

We groaned. He chuckled.

“We’re going for a nice leisurely breakfast. Wanna come?”

Dan and his girlfriend stepped over us on their way into town. We rolled over and tried to slip back into our sleep-misery. Two hours before we had to be at the fields.

Here seems a reasonable time to recount an event that occurred towards the end of the 1989 season. Or was it the end of the 1988 season? Either way, it was odd and slightly funny.

Dan Harrington approaches me at the beginning of one of the tournaments and says, “Billy, I want you to meet my girlfriend. I think you already know her.” At this point in my life on the west coast, I am just about 100 percent sure that I do not know Dan’s girlfriend, whomever she may be.

As he motions for her to come over he says, “She says she thinks she knew you in junior high school. In Marin.” He turns to her as she is approaching through a crowd, “Andrea! We’re over here.”

My mind is racing. Way back to Marin County days. My family had moved to Connecticut just after I had turned 13. Andrea? Andrea? The name is racing through my head. Just as I come to a realization who it is ... I see her walking towards me, big smile on her face. She is walking through twenty feet of space and twelve years of history. Here is Andrea Kelly. The beautiful blonde that I had a killer crush on in middle school. One of those girls that was so cute that you could barely look at her, let alone be any where near her.

A year or two later, when I was back home for the holidays, I pulled out a tattered and dusty middle school year book. Sure enough, Andrea Kelly. There she was. Cute as any girl in the school. And, as a bonus, she had even signed her picture with that ubiquitous curvy script that all girls had back then. It made me giddy to look at it.

“It is you!” She says shaking my hand. I am dumbstruck. We have all known the cute, button nosed high school honey that, ten years later, is auditioning for “before” pictures in weight loss advertisements. And, we have known those rare, few high school wall flowers that developed years later and came back to a reunion with a vengeance, mostly with the motive of showing every guy “what they could have had.”

Andrea was neither of these. She was the shy cutie, that blossomed into a beautiful, intelligent, and fun woman. She also happened to be a hell of an ultimate player. At least I can say I had good taste when I was 13 years old.

She was a mainstay on the Santa Barbara Lady Condors for years and ended up participating in some of our silly after-tournament games. She broke a thousand hearts along the way. But always smiling and laughing.

Back to 1990 Fools.

Sunday morning, Worm and I drag our aching, dirty, sleep-deprived, slightly hung-over, dehydrated and malnourished bodies to the fields. This was not exactly unfamiliar territory back then. Along with the rest of the team, we assemble on the fields and start seriously warming up for our quarterfinal. In between drills, already sweating and a little tired, I am talking to Worm and Barney about possible strategies. Glancing over Barney’s shoulder, I recognized John Smallberries strolling in from the parking lot. Smile on his face, bounce in his step, cleats in hand. No apparent care that he has missed the first day of his tryout tournament.

Now, Barney is already in a bitchy mood because, by all rights, we should have won our pool the day before and guaranteed ourselves an easier path. A few stupid mistakes and missed assignments at crucial moments will make a veteran captain quite frustrated. Especially when we are trying to impress possible recruits as much as our tryouts should be trying to impress us.

John walks into the spinning buzz saw - The Irritated Barney.

“Hey guys! Great day to play, huh?”

“Where the hell were you yesterday?!” Barney is practically spitting.

“Hey now,” he is holding up his hands and starting the backpedal step. “I couldn’t make it over the hill [from Santa Cruz]. My car broke down and I couldn’t get a ride.”

Barney’s not buying it, “Oh yeah? That's funny, I asked all the UC kids. They said they called your house but you didn’t answer. In fact, they were late because they drove by your place looking for you.” Barney is slowly advancing on him.

“Yeah, well ... actually... I wasn’t at home when my car broke down.” If this guy was back pedaling any faster, they’d have to test his blood for performance enhancers.

“Where exactly were you?”

John is getting a little red in the face now. The whole team has stopped warming up to watch the mid-field interrogation. “I was ... I was ... at my girlfriend’s place.”

Pressing relentlessly, Barney is now actually prodding John’s chest with his index finger, “And where is that?”

“Uh, actually, um ... Palo Alto.” He spills the ugly truth.

“Palo Alto! Jesus Christ! Where in Palo Alto?” Not happy.

John mumbles something half intelligble.

“What?!”

“College Avenue. All right! College Avenue! Satisfied?!” His admission lies there like vomit, stinking and slightly disgusting.

“Holy Shit!” Barney is in complete disbelief, “You mean you were here, yesterday morning, within 4 blocks of the fields, and you couldn’t manage to get your lazy ass to the fields for your only chance to make the team!?!”

The rest of us are slightly amused, slightly sickened by his apathy and weak attempt at concealment.

Then he drops a line that Worm and I have repeated, without exaggeration, at least 100 times since that day.

“Listen,” John decides to try to go on the offensive, “I feel like, at this point in my career, I’ve earned the right to take some time off if I feel like it.”

This coming from a third or fourth year player that has had a couple of undistinguished college seasons and a couple more scrubbing around with the local pick-up team.

“At That Point” in his CAREER. Did even the greatest of us, let alone this loser, really have a career in ultimate? Was he fucking joking? No. And that is why it was, and still is, so damn funny to me. Worm and I have used that line, or more simply the initials, A.T.P., for any manner of ridiculous excuses or outrageous claims for more than 15 years:

“Dude, how come you didn’t stretch with the rest of the team?”
“Hey, I’m ATP You know?”

or:

“What the? How come your cleats are off and you’re sitting down, we’ve got another 3 points in this meaningless pool play slaughter.”
Sliding Ray Bans on face, “Yo! ATP.”

It still brings a chuckle and a smile. You could still probably spring it on most any of those old Boot players and they would laugh at the reference.

As you might suspect, The Boot lost in the quarterfinals (again) and John Smallberries somehow did not make the final cut.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Yes, the real story about that night. Kristen(the cute/short woman) was throwing back the old grand dad whiskey like it was water. Billy was on fire. Funny, charming and nice. Kristen was loving him. I was trying to draft off of him. You know, just like lance armstrong in the Tour de France. Let Billy do all the work and take her at the end. When it was suggested we sleep in the same room, I felt good about my chances to hook with the young hotty. Billy was one step ahead of me. As we were walking to the hotel Kristen suggested that we have switch it up and have boy/girl sleep together in the beds. Before she could finish her sentence, Billy blurts out "SHORT PEOPLE SLEEP TOGETHER" I was stunned...........I needed a standing 8 count............wow, there was nothing I could say. Billy played it perfectly. I thought, O.k. at least I get to sleep with Jen. Well, I get into bed and Jen is all the way on the other side of the bed. She has 3 layers of clothes on. She wants no part of me. So, there I am, staring at the ceiling. Praying Billy is not getting anything. Then.........I hear some noises...................a little kissing...........maybe a little more. Oh no, the worst possible situation. I am in the same bed as a woman that may not like men(nothing wrong with that) And Billy is taking this young hotty 5 feet from me. Short people sleep together. What a perfect line. I had a new respect for Billy. I was bitter for about a year. But, Billy will have more stories about kristen.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Into The Rhythm

Back to 1990.


March rolled around and I had a brilliant idea. I decided that it might be a good idea to invite Tom to play with ShortFatGuys.

[Note: I seem to write with the same convention that I use in conversation when referring to Tom aka The Worm. Namely, I tend to call him Tom when I am talking about things outside of playing ultimate or ultimate parties. He is, after all, my friend, and despite his continuing denials over the past two decades, I believe that he would secretly rather be known as Tom or even Thomas. And I will let you all in on a tightly held secret - he is not exactly the same person when alone versus when in a large group of partying lunatics or blood-seeking adversaries. Then, of course, there is the necessity to call a spade a spade. Therefore, in situations where the stories are outside of personal connection or cogent empathetic reflection, he will be known as Worm ... or The Worm. You will have to ask him yourself if you want to understand the subtle, yet important distinction.]

Anyway ... 1990 Spring. ShortFatGuys. Frostbreaker. Gainesville, Florida ... again.

My side of the phone call to Gary went something like this:

“Gary! Hey ... what’s that? Yeah, of course I’m coming to Frostbreaker.

Yep, I am really looking forward to it. No, I don’t have a girlfriend! Do you? Listen, I’m just chillin’ for a bit. No, I’m not in a “slump.” I’m focusing on my career.

Hey, by the way ... I know that you usually extend all the invites, but ... well, that’s nice of you to say, but really, it is YOUR team.

Either way, there’s this guy out here that I think would be a good addition to the team.

Yeah, he’s a good player. Yeah, he is cool. Not a hot head. He can party and have fun [Boy, can he!]

What? Yeah, I think he would be a perfect fit.

There’s one little problem. Hey, relax. It’s just that he doesn’t really have enough money to be able to afford the flight, hotel and rental car.

Well, I was thinking ... that’s a little harsh ... I was thinking that maybe ... hear me out ... maybe the team could get together and pitch in. Just a little from each player. I swear I think everyone will be happy they contributed. That’s all I’m asking. Put it out there and ask around. I’m willing to make up the difference.

OK. Thanks, I appreciate it. If it works out, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”

And that was that. ShortFatGuys extended their first no-strings-attached “scholarship” for a worthy teammate, and Worm was on his way.

Gainesville in March. Worm and I arrived at the team motel to much fanfare and bravado. Mostly, I received the fanfare based on that one spectacular and anomalous sky from the year before. [In fact, I kind of rode the legend of that story for a few years before everyone realized that I was never going to duplicate that magnitude of a feat again. But it was a good ride while it lasted.] Worm came in with the bravado.

Understand, he had been through the hell-fires of Chico State ultimate. He had been subjected to the heights of derision and the lows of the worst underhanded machinations. He knew one of the most important aspects of group interaction - go in demanding the kind of status that you want. If you want to be the quiet, nice guy ... act a little like Billy. If you want to be “That Guy” - the guy that makes things happen, for better or worse - stand up straight and act like The Worm. He was so much The Worm that nobody even asked me whether he might have any other name until late on Sunday night. He was The Worm, and they simply nodded and accepted. It fit.

We didn’t party too much that firsst night. West-coasters on East coast time. You aren’t all that tired, but you know that you’re going to have hell to pay with the early wake up call in the morning.

That Saturday on the fields there were a few developments:

First, ShortFatGuys was a better team than we had ever been. Fewer Wash U players (only the hard core still remaining including: Melissa, Steve Votruba, Gary and me) and more up and coming Boston players.

Second, this year, we had Worm. He was throwing himself around the field with such typical reckless abandon, that he inspired (or shamed) the rest of us to try harder. It worked. We were playing better, winning more.

Third, Jen was back and her younger sister was tagging along for her spring break. By this time, most of the ShortFatGuys had figured out that Jen was great to hang out with, nice to look at, and undisputably brilliant, but was basically not interested in any of the Guys. Her sister K., all 20 years, five feet, and 100 pounds of her, was also very cute. And she seemed to like guys. More than just a little. She also seemed determined to enjoy her spring break even if it meant drinking a little alcohol to loosen things up.

The year before, I had imbibed enough beer on Friday night to lubricate my brain into a twisted sort of perversity. There were about six of us hanging out in one of the motel rooms. I got the idea that it might be interesting to pull out the Gideon’s Bible and read a few passages. I happened to open to Leviticus. The text struck me as so strangely absurd, that I started preaching out loud to anyone and everyone in the room.

If you are not familiar with your basic Bible, and I certainly was not, Leviticus is good Old Testament fire and brimstone, “Thou shall” and “Thou shall not” preachifying. Lines similar to, “The beast that has the cloven hoof but cheweth not its cud shall be an abomination and ye shall not eat it,” that is basically Leviticus - but there are hundreds of pronouncements like that. I gather that it is where most of the rules of Kosher are derived from. All I knew at the time was that it read like the script from some crazy segment of Monty Python. I was soon bouncing around from bed to bed, choosing passages at random, and casting my commandments about to the giggling few.

That’s generally as crazy as I ever get at an ultimate tournament.

Back to 1990, after the games, Saturday night found the ShortFatGuys partying at a local beer hall with a pool table. I vaguely recall large quantities of beer, lots of poorly played billiards, K. drinking lots of Old Grandad - straight out of the bottle, and some sweaty dancing. I was not in the mood to recite out of the Bible this year. Instead, I was thinking it might be a great chance to break my ever growing streak of ... well ... um ... not having sex. Not even close to having sex. Nothing in six months. Zip. Nada. Hardly a peck on the cheek goodnight.

As I watched K. literally crawl under the pool table after a puppy that had strayed into the bar, I had the proverbial angel and devil sitting on my opposing shoulders. She was really cute, she had been very affectionate, even flirtatious, with me all evening, and her inhibitions were ... ah ... swimming in a golden haze of alcohol. On the other side of the equation, her older sister was staring absolute daggers at me from across the room the entire night.

As we all made our way back to the motel, K. swayed along beside me and inquired as to my sleeping arrangements from the previous evening. As we neared the motel, I mentioned that Tom and I had been sleeping with Gary and couple other guys from the team. She allowed how it was stupid that she and her sister had two beds in their rooms to themselves and there were a bunch guys without enough beds. I think Tom had the guts to suggest that, maybe, we could share their room with them. K. seemed all for the arrangement, Jen was less than enthusiastic, to say the least.

As Tom and I scrambled to grab our bags and slide into their room before the offer was rescinded, I’m sure that the sisters had a word or two about the soundness of the sleeping accommodations. As we entered the room, Tom and I had generally accepted that we would be spending yet another night as bed partners. Then K. announced:

“Two girls. Two guys. Separate beds. I don’t want to sleep with my sister. That’s a waste!”

I calmly thought over the situation. I considered the dimensions of the beds, the size of the four people involved, the general disposition of like-sized anatomical parts such as arms, legs and torsos. I determined that it might be best if K. and I shared the smaller bed near the window and Jen and Tom could have the larger, more comfortable, sleeping platform. After listening to other, varying opinions, I quietly suggested as much to the group. It was generally agreed, by all involved, to be the best solution.

We all slept very well that night.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

ShortFatGuys didn’t win that year. I believe we lost in the semis. It was fun though. And Worm had been a big hit with the team. Between his sick defense and his scary partying, he was firmly entrenched on the roster from that day forth.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Sweet Flight

1990 ...

Tough year in a few ways.

First, my college girlfriend had set off for the Peace Corps in the fall of ‘89. Subsequently, most of 1990 can be qualified as the time when Billy became one of the two “Most Desperate Guys in The Western Region” (Worm, of course, being the other).

Second, the ultimate season didn’t end up quite the way I had hoped it would.

Then again, there were some funny times as well ...

January 1990, Dan Harrington rallies the Boot troops for a tournament in Arizona - New Year’s Fest. I am so completely consumed by ultimate at this point, that this actually sounds like a good idea to me.

We go. The fields are hard. Not hard as in, there are bare patches and it hasn’t rained in a week or so. I mean hard as in, there are patches of grass scattered among the gritty plains of dirt and stones. Hard as in, it hasn’t rained in ... oh ... four months. Anvil hard. And dry.

We cram the entire team into a single Super 8 hotel room. 14 guys, two beds, one toilet, one shower. I remember waking up in the night, stepping over random prone bodies, hoping to not wake anyone or break anything, just trying to forage my way to the bathroom. Will Debello, who had been sleeping nearest the window sporting the air conditioning unit, woke up in the morning completely drenched in the condensation that had built up and trickled down the panes. This was a typical hotel set up for much of those early years playing ultimate.

We ended up playing the LA Iguanas in the quarterfinals. Another loss. I was getting sick of losing to those guys. Jim Daddy with his perfect, imperturbable hair. “Big” who was so damn ... well ... big and lanky. Rich Gallagher who never seemed to make a mistake. Scott (Forgothisname) was a scary psychopath on the field. “Bullet” was a little Napoleon, badgering, bullying, cajoling, harassing. They did have “Goggles” on their team, and he was a nice guy both on and off the field. And Jeff Landesman played that role of "The One Fun, Cool Guy on a Team of Dicks", but I didn’t have much love for the rest of them.

The biggest highlight of that New Year’s Fest was not on the field, not on the sidelines, not at the party, and not at the team hotel room.

It was on the flight home.

As the majority of our team piled onto the Southwest Airlines flight bound for Oakland, we realized that a large number of the East Bay players were on the same flight. While we were disappointed with our (customary) loss in the quarters, East Bay had a worse tourney than us. They somehow managed to get stuck in a stacked pool on Saturday, losing multiple close games. Then, on Sunday morning, they lost to some up and coming college team. The result, before they had righted their sinking ship and began winning games, they had dropped to the “C” pool. Which they won.

Now, we would probably have lost 7 out of 10 games to East Bay at the time, but our path was easier and fortune smiled on us with a one point win where they had a one point loss. We lose in the A quarters. We’re not happy about it, but at least we are not them.

On the two and a half hour flight home, I am sitting next to Dan Harrington. He seems to slowly be developing an evil grin and mischievous twinkle in his eye. About half way through the flight, he gets up from his seat and wanders towards the back of the plane. The inter-aisle ribbing between teams has been subdued but persistent to this point.

After some time, Dan sits back down with a Cheshire Cat grin. A few minutes later, there is this announcement delivered by our cute, young stewardess over the intercom system:

“Ladies and gentlemen, it has been brought to our attention that there is an ultimate frisbee team representing the East Bay area on our flight this evening. We would like to congratulate them on their victory in the C Division of the annual Tempe New Year’s Tournament. Bravo and well done.”

There is an instant, collective groan of chagrin and embarrassment from East Bay, but it is overwhelmed by the spontaneous applause and calls for “Stand up!” and “Take a bow!” from The Boot players. We are giddy and wiggling with mirth. They are squirming and slouching in their seats. There is a short, quiet smattering of applause by a few underwhelmed passengers. Boot 1 - East Bay 0.

Great way to finish a lousy tournament.

Flying back from that Tempe tournament in 1990, I was missing skin from multiple areas of my body. I was dehydrated, sunstroked, scratched, bruised, and generally not happy. I vowed that I would never make the flight back down there.

If I recall correctly, I made that very same vow for the next seven years. Each time, it was definitely my last New Year’s Fest. Who needed to subject themselves to that kind of abuse and torment? Apparently, I did. Or at least, playing ultimate was important enough for me to annually forget my better intentions and re-enlist for the inevitable punishment.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Fools

I was a little bummed when we won our quarter final game. I realized it would be another 2 hours before we could drink any beer. I thought Bomb would crush us quickly and the beers would be flowing. When Paul Ferrari got the block at 12's I was really worried. We might not be drinking until late in the afternoon. Thank god we threw some swill and were able to excape the semi's with a loss.
Billy, cork, pablo and I were 3 beers deep about 1/2 hour after the game. We starting hitting on at 23 year girl who was hanging on the sidelines. She informed us that she recently broke up with her boyfriend because he played too many video games. After several lame lines, we decided to back off. For some reason, for 20 years Billy and I have never been very successful with women at ultimate tournaments. Swilling beers and telling the same jokes over and over has never really impressed women. huh? Still, hanging on the sidelines making fun of other people never gets old. I have a feeling Billy and I will be in our 70's heckling and telling the same jokes at some random tournament. I am hoping we can go to Ottawa to make a few more stories that we can laugh about in 20 year from now.
worm

Report From 2006 April Fools East

Breaking form by not writing about things that happened eons ago....

But I did want to mention the results of playing in April Fools East this past weekend.

[Yes, that is this weekend, as in April 2006, not April 1986]

Jim P. has already recapped the tourney from his perspective here.

Here is my quick take on the affair.

For me, ShortFatGuys encompasses some of the best things about playing ultimate.

There are old familiar faces. There are new young faces.

There are the same old (yet still hilariously funny) jokes. There are always new stories.

There is the joy of playing for playing's sake. There is the rush of adrenaline that comes with competitiveness and fighting for victory.

There are moments of acheivement and excitement. There are debacles on the sidelines and in the shotgun races.

I was pleased that I personally could still get around on the field without embarrassing myself against the youngsters. I was shocked at how effective some of the Old Guard still is (Jimmy P., Coop coming out of retirement, Cork, Bim, Simon, Gary, Pablo, Paul Ferrari with his sick layout block at the end, and of course Worm). The Goff brothers (Adam and Marshall) are still too young (read: under 40) to be surprising in their abilities. And of course, despite what else we say, we would have been crushed without the young studs: Hunt, Matt, Chris, Jay, Jorah (almost an old man).

I want to take a moment to thank all my teammates from this year. And, for that matter, for each of the previous 20 years of various amalgamations of ShortFatGuy squads. Thanks for always having a healthy mix of striving for glory tempered with a dose of perspective and desire to have fun.

We'll win it all next time!

And if not, then we will have the most FunFunFun.

(Since I can't seem to add a photo directly to the post, here is a link for this year's team photo.
Gary is holding the sign on the left, I am on the right. Only two original ShortFatGuys left. Worm is not shown.)