The Old Ultra-Violence

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009, 12:31 pm

On Monday I went to the gym, did some time on the ‘ol exercise bike and the elliptical. I sprinted to the finish and gripped the metal handlebar slats that measure your heart rate. I scored a 171, right around what’s supposed to be the maximum for a guy my age. I throttled down, walked about a mile to bring my pulse back to normal, and went home.

Where I showered and changed into jeans and my Evgeni Malkin jersey. I went to a local pub with my friends and watched the Penguins and Capitals battle each other in a pulsating Game 6. Just after the overtime started (just after Scuderi hit the crossbar and just before the Caps scored) I pulled out my iPhone and used the stopwatch to check my pulse. Sitting on a barstool, a beer at my elbow, my heart was thumping around 130 beats per minute. Meaning that I was having a moderate aerobic workout just watching a goddam game.

This is insane, I know. But people have been enthralled by great sporting events since Ancient Greece so I’m just gonna go with it. One the one hand it’s nice to have something in your life you’re so passionate about that it makes you wish for the commission of gross violence upon those on the other side. I don’t know about you but I’m the laid-back, easygoing sort–its nice to know that just beneath my unassuming figure lies a shrieking homicidal maniac straining at the leash.

I never played an organized team sport that required physical contact with the other side. Well, I played soccer as a little kid but, come now, soccer doesn’t count. Usually there’s been a net between me and my foe–I played tennis in high school, volleyball beyond. I’ve never tried to submarine under the net in volleyball  (tho I’ve been tempted) and frankly I don’t have the hops to elevate and blast someone in the face. When I played tennis our team wasn’t skilled enough to compete with the best in our conference so we adapted by being hyperaggressive and headhunting whenever possible. I was a pretty good doubles player, which is a backhanded way of dismissing the fact that I didn’t have a backhand. No matter the situation I would get my ass to the net to try and end points as fast as possible. The guys on the other side had honed their groundstrokes since birth, spent weeks at tennis academies wearing crisp whites and being instructed by lean, tanned pros named “Tad”. I played all four years in high school (and years before that) and STILL no one would show me how the hell to hit a proper topspin backhand.

So we had to come up with tactics to combat this disparity in ability. One was by poaching, a lot. Poaching is when you’re serving and the guy at the net cuts across to pick off a cross-court return. You’re leaving the line wide open but since most returns go cross-court you have a chance for a quick, decisive volley. Not sure what doubles tactics are today but back then the other guy on the receiving side would stand astride his service box, both to check to see if the serve was in and so he’d be halfway to the net. This also left him in no-man’s land–to far up to hit a proper groundstroke, to far back to hit a volley. And right in the line of fire if a poacher picked off a weak return.

Man, we used to wear out the guys standing in that killing zone. Every doubles team poaches but we’d poach like 75% of the time and pepper the poor bastard standing on the service line. Getting hit with a tennis ball doesn’t hurt, unless it hits you in the nose, in the throat, or in the balls. And we were acquainted with all three because we used to run drills where we’d blast serves at a guy standing at the net and if you hit him, and especially if you hurt him, you were covered in glory. So while I didn’t try to hit guys on purpose, if their Adam’s apple got in the way of an incisive inside-out volley I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it. Well, there was one time I felt bad about plunking someone, but that just goes to show that chivalry ain’t dead.

Even returning serve we’d use guerrilla tactics. Like I said, most of the time when you return serve you hit the ball diagonally into the open court. We’d hit more returns down the line–and right at the guy at the net. Sometimes he’d volley a winner. Sometimes he’d scuff one and we’d take the initiative and charge the net. Sometimes we’d blast a shot that would otherwise hit the fence but the guy at net would reflexively stick out his racquet. Targeting the guy at net tended to keep the points short and hide our deficiencies. Blasting the ball down the line a lot tended to discourage the guy at net from poaching, and having balls fired at his thorax tended to make him more the stay-at-home type even when we floated a poor return cross-court.

So that was my attitude toward high-school tennis–if you can’t beat ’em, beat ’em. About the face, neck and groin. I wonder if I would’ve moderated my conduct had I played hockey instead, holding a stick instead of a racquet and where physical contact is strongly encouraged. My brother played hockey in high school and he’s even more of a dyspeptic bastard than myself. I don’t recall him ever braining someone with his stick, but one time they were playing Central Catholic in a game held at the Civic Arena and after a shot and a long rebound  this guy parked himself in front of the net to screen the goalie. Ryan skated over and blindsided him with a textbook cross-check. As his supine victim struggled to his skates Ryan skated to the box and the PA announcer broadcast for the whole arena to hear, “Ryan Bromberg, two minutes for cross-checking”.

“Better than scoring a goal,” he said.

So tonight I’ll have to content myself with watching other people hit each other with sticks. And feeling my heart race as the game goes on. It’s been a great year for Pittsburgh sports but I honestly don’t know how much more of this I can take. The Pens Cup run last year, Penn State beating Michigan and Ohio State, the Steelers Super Bowl run, the Pens playing in one of the greatest hockey series of the last 10 years. That’s a lot of emotional ups and downs–and even the ups leave you feeling drained afterwards. At least the Pirates provide some soothing summer relief from sporting hysteria.

Gonna go to the gym and prepare my heart ready for the ordeal that starts at 7pm. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to summon an acceptable amount of rage before the puck drop. Tired. Drained. I don’t even know if beer is the answer, and if that’s the case then God help us all. But I’ve got more than six hours to find the strength.

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One Response to “The Old Ultra-Violence”

  1. Pauly Says:

    I like the direction of the blog. More tennis posts please.

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