Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Am I the last of my kind?

After you get past the obvious response of 'God, I hope so', I've been following with semi-interest some of the recent conditioning posts by George and Gwen and I realize that I just don't have that kind of dedication to conditioning in me. I am well aware of the public perception of my athleticism, witness other posts such as this one by the Bravo guys, or (insert multiple links here, as Jim would say). THis is not to say that I don't work out. I just do the track workouts that the team assigns during the season, the sprints during practices, etc. I don't do offseason stuff nor do I work out on my own during the season. Bryan Doo, now the trainer for the Celtics, rejuvenated my career in '02 when he started doing agilities which catered to my requirements as opposed to the usual track workout.

Interestingly enough, I think it was 60 minutes this weekend that had an Andy Rooney piece on how sports were evolving towards an emphasis on the 'physical' almost to the exclusion of everything else, alluding to fireballing pitchers and Doug Flutie among others or how the newest quarterbacks are the size of what an offensive lineman use to be. Would a Greg Maddux really be able to actually make it to the major leagues anymore? But I digress.

I played ultimate a couple of times in high school, but it was 10 on 10 or 11 on 11, and I sat back and hucked it to the tall guy (surprise, surprise). All backhand of course. After going off to Princeton fall '84 and quickly realizing I wasn't even going to make the JV tennis team much less varsity, I saw a poster up during freshman week for Ultimate, went out to practice, and never missed a practice for the rest of my college career, even during the spring of my senior year when I was nursing a heel injury for much of the spring. I was fortunate to get to play with the French national team at Worlds in '86 and '88 and had my formative years greatly enhanced by playing in the Westchester and New York City Summer leagues with some of the greats during college. Yes, I even played on a team with John Gewirtz for a summer.

The summer league and worlds opportunities definitely cemented in me a desire to play high level ultimate, and I'll be the first to admit that I followed a charmed path from Wild Veal (NY fall 88) to Earth Atomizer (spring 89-Fall 91) to the 92/93 pre DoG merger teams, and then DoG. I hung out with the right people, didn't completely play myself off of a team, had a couple of fortuitous breaks (including getting cut from Z {the Boston version in 89, thanks to Ted Munter, my current coach}, but that's another story) and eventually wormed my way into the starting offensive linenup on the preDoG teams and then on DoG as a handler.

You could have a good debate on whether I filled a role the team was looking for, or whether I created that role and have 'molded' the team so that the role is still applicable (I would probably lean towards b). I watch other elite teams and don't really see too many people doing what I do, or at least the same way. And of course I always speculated in the later 90s that if I actually moved to another city, whether I would even make the top team in that city. Jim and I definitely had some amusing conversations over that.

I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, except to speculate that the opportunity for somebody with my combination of skills to get to this level of the game has probably disappeared. I think there was another post or rsd talking about how colleges should be much more willing to take great athletes and create the disc skills rather than take somebody with disc skills (which I didn't even really have back then, definitely no forehand when I started freshman year) and try to 'make' them into an athlete, which isn't really practical and that the people that had shown up with disc skills didn't end up nearly as useful as the athletes with nothing.

On the one hand, I think it is great that sport is evolving in such a way that players are getting a lot more athletic, or rather that the median athleticism is increasing. I think the top athletes back in the '80s/'90s are comparable to those ot today, just that there is a much deeper pool now. However, it makes me a little wistful also as I look back on the opportunities, friendship, teammates, and success that ultimate has provided for me and realize that if were 15-20 years younger, I probably wouldn't be able to reach this level. Interestingly enough, even at the tender age of 38 I played probably some of my best ultimate the last two seasons at Nationals. As what ended up being the primary handler at Nationals this year, I only had 3 turnovers while probably having more touches than anyone else. While having the most touches was no different than what I was doing during the run in the '90s, the paucity of turnovers was definitely not.

So, my question stands, am I the last of my kind? Are there any other players out there like me working there way up through the ranks? Or is it all athletes all the time now. I guess I'm thinking more of the elite college, elite open at this point. Who is the young buck out there that is a member of their own 'Tea Party', perhaps a little rotund, blah, blah, blah.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Kudos for UPA website - part II

So, when last we spoke, I was going to go to Tampa pickup based on what I got from the UPA website and a subsequent email to the listed contact. I got there around 6PM, had to hunt around for awhile to identify the area with discs flying. That alone is pretty cool, how frisbee is usually pretty simple to find, because discs flying around are pretty unique, and there are always a bunch, not just one guy throwing a football or a soccer ball, etc.

The lights were out at the time, but there was still some light in the sky (nice going west and still being in the same timezone, in Boston, still getting pitch dark by 5PM). So, put my stuff down and take off on a long jog to get warmed up and stretch. After a long lap and some stretching, go back to the central area only to hear the organizer saying that there may not be lights because it is the first week of term. After some more discussion, he goes off to try again. Instead of trying to find someone to warm throws up with (which I HATE, I would much rather get straight into playing. After all, after 21 years of throwing, how many throws does this arm really have left...), I make a pillow out of my stuff and I lie down and close my eyes. Definitely a bunch of young college guys here, doing the things that the current college generation is doing, with their respective in jokes, etc. Finally, hear the organizer guy come back and say they are going to turn on the lights in 5 minutes. Too bad for the other guy that showed up 5 minutes earlier, asked if there was pickup, heard that there were no lights, and took off.

So I start rousing myself, the lights turn on, and 30 seconds after the lights turn on, I hear someone call my name, and it is Nathan Stuart, who I played with from 1984-1987 at Princeton (yes, I'm old). Talk about serendipitous. He was a professor at the university and striving to get off the poundage, but this was about all he was doing at this level, no real competitive ultimate. We catch up, exchange email addresses, and then get the game going. Naturally, we are going to both play on the same team, white/skins. Another sidebar, I hate lollygagging when there is ultimate to be played. It takes some work, but we finally get the game going. It is a motley crew of young college kids. I had gotten the scoop from the one guy I had emailed with. USF had had an ultimate program 5 years ago that was pretty competitive, then it disappeared. The current squad was basically 1-2 years old, and was just starting to play together and get familiar. The skills and teamwork were definitely on the lower end, but the attitude was good, so it will be interesting to see what happens. Just to give you an idea, I told the organizer I was just in town from Boston, he asked if I played, I said yes, he asked with who, I said DoG, then had to say Death or Glory, and he finally thought he might have heard of the team, but basically knew nothing about it (I was wearing a Guinness shirt and subdued DoG shorts).

We started by playing unofficial coed, with women randomly playing in points, not always equal numbers. It started slowly. Nathan and I were the only people that had played any reasonably high level on our side, while the other side didn't have much to start, so we scored like the first 8 goals. Finally, one guy from Bulge showed up, played with dark, and that made all the difference. All of a sudden, they had somebody that could cut, catch, and throw long. Naturally, since I was there to get my first real exercise since Nationals (Goaltimate counts, but not really), I covered him as many points as possible. In any pickup situation where I'm the new guy, I usually go upfield because I don't want to intrude on whatever organized offense the other players have in terms of handlers etc, but that didn't last too long as it was quickly apparent they didn't have any. I never took the pull, but after about an hour, I started getting the first pass off the pull pretty consistently.

In the interim, another Bulge guy showed up and was playing with his teammate on Dark, and everything changed. Nathan had retired (reached his limit) so our experience level was not very high. The first Bulge guy was Steve and the 2nd guy was Ryan. I was now covering Steve every point, and on their pulls he was covering me. Mixed pickup like that is definitely hard, knowing when you have to cover your guy and when you don't (every time Ryan got the disc, I clamped down on Steve, knowing that the long random pass was going to come). Towards the end, Steve finally notices the DoG on my shorts and asks me if I played with them. I say yes, he asks what year, and I say now. A few points later, the game is over around 9PM. Hanging out at the fields after with Steve and Ryan, catching up on Tampa ultimate, how they 'choked' at Regionals (lost two out of their three main guys), how Florida ultimate is tough and how they want to make a superteam because all the teams have numbers but are thin on stars, and how a combined team would rock.

Finally walk to our cars, say goodbye, I change clothes, start the car, see they are still talking, drive up to them and ask if there are any cool places around, finally we go grab some wings at the Coppertop Pub and hang out for the next couple of hours and talk frisbee. All in all, much better than going out to dinner with a bunch of people from work, eating too much food, then bailing at 9PM.

* Ultimate is truly a wonderfully social sport. You really can go almost anywhere in the country and find a pickup game, people to hang out with, and if you aren't a total loser/asshole, a place to stay for the night. I remember when I was driving around the country for four months in '93, I timed a good chunk of it out west to hit various tournaments, and in each location was able to find lodging (and ultimately found somebody to travel with me for a few weeks). So appreciate the sport, and take advantage when you can.
* Random pickup is challenging and yet rewarding. It is sort of fun when people didn't know what I do, so you can sort of expand your horizons and not be pigeonholed. Granted the level wasn't the highest, but I got a hammer point block on Steve, who is a VERY good player, and we definitely had some fun matching up against each other. The challenging part is not knowing how people are going to cut. Even worse, at a medium-low level game like this, you really have to pick and choose your moments to cut (especially when you are being covered by a good defender like Steve), because you don't have faith in your throwers and you don't want to give up the easy D.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Kudos for UPA website

So, I know the UPA gets bashed a lot for whatever reasons, doesn't cater to the players, blah, blah, blah. However, I wanted to give them some props, or at least the website. I was in Tampa for business (I'm down there pretty often), and figured I would try and find some pickup. I remembered an rsd thread sometime ago where somebody was looking for pickup in Tampa. So I started with a google search, 'tampa pickup ultimate' and the 2nd link was for the upa webpage. Interested in what the site said, I clicked on over, and was impressed with the breadth and depth of the information they had for pickup. There were 3 different Tampa sites listed, complete with details, days and times, and email contacts. I found one right next to where I was staying/working, emailed the guy to verify it was still on (and what level of pickup it was, not wanting to get stuck in low level co-ed). He responded back that it was definitely on, two fields worth, one of cheesy coed, and another competitive field against the college guys (I think). So I'm off to the fields in a couple of hours. The next blog entry will talk about the results...

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Let the games begin

So, Kenny Dobyns is back online in full force with some rsd commentary on the Ultimate History Book and even creating his own blog. At least for now, I will defer to others in responding to his post in its entirety. I just wanted to comment on the one portion that specifically refers to me (although no names were used to not necessarily protect the innocent).

doing his best al gore imitation, paul greff is quoted as saying that
the best thing dog did was take bad calls out of ultimate. paul must
have misremembered himself. he did, after all, play for a team with
corky "if i didn't catch it i must have been fouled" corcoran, and that
won a world championship (2000) after a call that had every observer
not from boston alternately howling or looking away in embarrassment.

Just for the record, I am the person who made the call that Kenny is referring to. It is unfortunate that he feels a need pass judgement on something that he did not physically witness. The situation was as follows. At one point in the first half, the DoG offense went on a 12 point scoring run without a turnover, and Sweden had maybe 1 turn to let us get back the lead. At game point to 17, we finally turned it over, and then the swillfest began, with a number of turnovers between both teams and DoG doing its best to hand away the championship. Finally, double game point at 19-19 with DoG receiving. After a few passes, Jim Parinella is being trapped on the right sideline maybe 25 yards up. Anders Jerhamre is covering me as the dump. The count gets up, I cut to the backfield for the dump, Jim throws me a leading pass, Anders lunges for the disc, the disc hits the ground, and I call foul. Where the play occurred on the sideline has maybe 2 rows of stands with some spectactors, while the lions share of spectators are in the official stands at least another 20 yards upfield.

Back to the play itself. I have no idea if Anders made contact with the disc, and I don't really care. What I do know is that he slapped the back of my left hand as he was making his play so hard that it stung. I immediately called foul, and then the crowd blew up. But given how stupid and sheeplike crowds are (having played in and heckled numerous finals, y'all know what I'm talking about), Anders would have had to have broken my wrist for the crowd to acknowledge the foul on that important a point, so I don't care what the crowds reaction was. Having to make that call completely ruined the championship for me. I knew that even though I was fouled (and a foul which definitely affected the catch attempt), it was going to be a hotly contested call. What pissed me off even more was when Anders started playing to the crowd, trying to whip them up by raising his arms like they do in football games. That's when I lit into him, using various bad words.

He contested, we called timeout, and I completely removed myself from the play that followed to make sure that Anders did not have a chance to make a play. A few passes later, we scored, game over. Naturally, the postgame circle wasn't very pleasant, as Anders made a few desultory comments in English, then said a few words in Swedish which I'm sure were not nice (stupid fringe languages where we don't have a native speaker...). The best part was when #5, who was probably the biggest asshole on their team, came up to me as we were all leaving the field and gave me his jersey, with some more inappropriate comments.

A final coda to this. Over the years, I have had a few people come up to me, both American and otherwise, who were actually standing in that little portion of the sideline who agreed with me that it was a foul. I have NEVER had anyone say that had any sort of perspective that I made a bad call. And not that I need this kind of reinforcement because I know I made the right call, but it does help a little.

Flame away

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