A few years back (probably more than a few, really) I hit upon the idea of having my own farewell tour to ultimate, something like what Kareem did but without the rocking chairs, cars, and thousands of adoring fans. My plan was to hand pick the tournaments and teams, and enjoy a leisurely, long goodbye to the sport to which I have given so much of my life. At the time I think I might have even scratched out a short list of events on the back of an envelope, a list which no doubt included such Northeast classics as Hingham and Clambake, the Mid-summer bash they call Potlach, and perhaps even mentioned Poultry Days. If memory serves, at some point I revealed the most important element of my farewell tour plan to former WSW'er Corey Sanford in an email. That most important element, an element that is critical to all retirements on the planet, is timing. How do you know when it's time to walk away? For me it was easy. I wouldn't leave on top, nor would I leave after dragging my aging carcass around at Open Nationals in one last, vain attempt at recapturing glory. No, I would leave after spending a year trotting around at a series of primarily coed and singularly entertaining events while wearing my age on my jersey. In other words, I would leave at the end of 2006.
Well, that was the plan, and at least a few elements of the plan worked out. First, and most importantly, I lived to see my forty-fourth year. Second, I remain healthy enough to at least play at playing in a somewhat reasonable facsimile of what accomplished players do. Finally, I have taken enough time off recently that I am not so sick of the game that the thought of going to a tournament makes me want to vomit. So what happened? How did my farewell tour of glory turn into my worst nightmare? Well, the truth is I'm still trying to piece together all the details, but I'm pretty sure it was my sister-in-law's fault, that she and my brother were co-conspirators, and that the whole thing was pretty much doomed from the get go.
For starters, the tour began at Winter League, when Bliss' half-baked plan to get me on her team instead landed me on the GeeWhizMan's roster. For a brief snippet of the special brand of misery that experience entailed look no further than the story of Sausage Boy and the Travel Callers. I suppose I should have known then that things would get worse before they got better, but what could I do? Cut and Run?
The next stop on the tour was Cape Fear Spring League (like I said, from bad to worse). Although things looked promising when I was picked by the legendary Tully Beatty, I soon realized that every other captain at the draft must have been on crack. Beatty managed to get a team that included me, Mike and Amy Gerics, Leah Rehill, Kevin Rhodes, and about 27 other people. Which meant that my two hour drive to games usually netted me about 8 points of a blowout victory over a bunch of guys who drink better than they play (and don't do either particularly well). I would call the whole thing a complete washout if it weren't for a blast from the past, Ben Baldwin.
I had the opportunity to coach Ben when he played for the SUNY Purchase Atomic Dogs in '89-90. Ben was a hard runner and very enthusiastic, but his forehand lacked touch. Still, he is most remembered for having to sit out a big spring break tourney in Wilmington because he had his flick finger smashed in a hotel room door by a teammate who took exception to Ben peeping in on him and his girlfriend. Sixteen years later, Ben's flick still lacks touch. I did not, however, ask about his hotel habits.
So there I was, two tourneys into the farewell tour of glory, and what did I have to show for it? GeeWhiz and Peeping Ben. How the mighty had fallen. Undaunted, I signed on to play next with a newly formed and as yet unnamed coed team in the Carolina Kudzu Classic (an event which employs a rather liberal definition of the term classic). We matched up in the semis with a combination Backhoe/Ring squad that was certain to pummel us, an outcome made all the more enticing by the delightful weather and the bottle of Maker's in my cooler. Just when it seemed the farewell tour was about to hit stride, one of my many turnovers was greeted by the overzealous heckling of one TJ Cawley. I say overzealous not because he was loud, obnoxious, or even funny. No, I say overzealous because he violated the prime directive of heckling; he was serious. Later, after the game, he confided that the reason he finds my turnovers so appalling is that he came into the game looking up to me but he can't abide the sheer volume of turnovers I produce. He earnestly explained that I could give so much back to the game if I would just play a more conservative game, the kind of game he plays. Did I mention his name is TJ? 'Nuff said.
Three events, three disasters, and with no money in the bank to sport a ticket to Potlach or the gas for Poultry Days, no reasonable expectation for things to get better. And with Bliss cajoling me to sign on for the fall, and that little voice inside my head saying, "You must be out of your effing mind," I made the fatal mistake. I signed on for the fall.
Which brings me to the second Friday in September at Midway Airport in Chicago where earnest, young ultimate athletes are tossing the bee at baggage claim and I am fighting a profound urge to launch my lunch. It's nearing midnight, we're waiting on bags, teammates, and a rental car. We have a room somewhere but no directions to it, and my sister-in-law, who is to blame for it all, has a bag the size of a small car packed to bursting with beads and jewelry making apparatus, the better to pass the time between games with. What am I doing here? I'm forty-four years old. More to the point, I'm old enough to know better. What the hell am I doing here?