Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The First Cut is the Deepest

I grew up generally interested in sports, although I never played on an organized team. My brother played baseball for several years, and a major portion of my inlaws' lives as they grew up revolved around organized sports (some of them still do). I collected baseball cards, played a little baseball in the backyard with my brother, played basketball fairly regularly at Scouts (but never enjoyed it that much), and went to a few Yankees games, even though I was a Mets fan. The Yankees fan in the family was a lot more vocal than I was. I still remember the day I became a Mets fan. It was pretty anticlimactic. Sitting in Mrs. Sullivan's fourth grade class, probably working on our latch hook pillows, Ralph Aiello asked me who my favorite team was. I told him the Mets and the Yankees, since living in North Jersey, those were the teams you heard most about. He told me I couldn't like both of them. So I picked the Mets. That was it.

Over the next few years, I didn't think much about playing organized sports until shop class at Eisenhower Middle School. We would be working on our pointless projects (no, really, even more pointless than most junior high shop classes; my brother at least got to make a grappling hook) and the guys would be talking about their football and baseball teams they played on. It kind of hit me. I thought, hey, I'd like to play something. I realized, though, by that point, I knew little enough about most of the sports that I'd probably make a fool of myself if I actually tried out for anything, since I hadn't been playing since I was 5 like they all had.

When I was 15, I worked a summer at the baseball fields. I was ahead of my time and unwittingly broke a gender barrier; apparently boys are supposed to work as umpires, and girls work in the snack bar. I got a job at the snack bar...with 11 girls. I'd figured out something all the umpires hadn't: girls, shade, and candy were better than angry parents, hot sun, and no candy.

In high school, my friends and I started playing volleyball regularly, slowly figuring out the rules and techniques (which was a lot harder in the pre-internet days). We played a lot, and once or twice we even challenged random people at the big volleyball pits in West Bountiful, but still nothing organized. My sisters got me into racquetball when I started college, and in my time at USU, I took classes in racquetball, volleyball, billiards, and golf. Over the next decade or so, I played each of those sports sporadically. I had a pretty regular volleyball schedule going a couple years ago, but it fizzled out. I've also been picking up the Triathlon bug as well, but that's another post.

So about a year and a half ago, I taught a couple guys that worked for me to play racquetball. We started playing a couple days a week when we needed to get away from the office for a little bit. In a completely unrelated move, I had joined Facebook a few months before, and was kind of figuring it out, not sure how much I liked it or not. (I'm still not sure.) Like a good Seinfeld episode, but less funny, the two stories came together when Tom Caswell, a fellow PhD student, posted something on Facebook about how the best part of his PhD program was playing racquetball. I followed up, started playing with him and a group of other guys, and over a year later, generally playing 2 or 3 mornings a week, here I am pretty decent at racquetball.

So a couple nights ago, the racquetball team, officially a campus club, held tryouts. I was pretty sure I didn't have the time to actually join the team, but curiosity got the best of me. Could I compete? Could I make the team?

I showed up 5 minutes early, and it was a pretty packed house. I was by far the oldest person there. I figured I'd get toasted and head home, coming away with a good story about how woefully inadequate I am, while maybe learning a move or two to show the guys the next morning.

We started late, and there were way too many guys there for the number of courts they had available, especially since for some reason the team president thought it was important to play singles, not doubles or cutthroat, which left a handful of us standing around talking about how nice it would be to get to play. Someone finally convinced el presidente to let us play cutthroat and/or doubles and we were all in. They watched from up above, occasionally asking questions like our names and how many years of school we had left. I did pretty well, serving quite a few aces and some very wicked kill shots from all the way in the back court. I was on fire and started thinking, hey, maybe I can do this. After about half an hour of playing (and half an hour of not playing), they called us all together to make the first cut. I didn't make it.

They called around 8 to 10 names and asked those guys to come outside to talk about what was next, since they would be having another round of cuts at some point. I biked home, shrugging off what might have been, knowing I probably wasn't going to have even joined the team had I made it.

Just as I got home, I got a phone call from the team president. Apparently he'd written my name down but accidentally called someone else's name instead of mine. He wanted me to come back. So I drove back to the gym to find out the details on when they would be having us come back for the final round of cuts.

Oh. They were doing it right then. I hadn't brought my stuff back, since I didn't think we were playing anymore that night. I didn't have my glove, racquet, goggles, or headband. I borrowed a racquet that I wasn't used to playing with, sweat running unimpeded down my face, and afraid of getting hit in the eye. Still, I played well. I destroyed a couple guys when I know they were watching from above. I also was destroyed by one guy that was pretty awesome. It was humbling to be in the same court as one so great. I was pretty evenly matched with a couple other guys. So you do the math: if they're going to take 5 or 6 guys, and there was only one guy who could really slaughter me, I had to be in. Maybe I will be on the team. Maybe I will get to go to all these cool tournaments. Maybe I'll go to nationals.

And I was cut. For the first time in my life I didn't make the team (except the other time about an hour before, when I was accidentally cut but then reinstated).

And just like that, I'm back in dissertation land.


Dave said...

Wow, I've got all sorts of call outs in there. Sorry about not making the team... twice.

robmba said...

The question is, do you still have that massive grappling hook?