Thursday, July 8

"...3[0] Years Old..."

What was it that happened here?

And how does it all dream away?

I signed my 7 year contract in 2003 when I was 22. A developmental project at the time, Pike would have to invest in me to pay off on the field. The team just came off their first nationals trip, and a large portion of the Pittsburgh players determined that the commute was worth making the show, but only for a limited engagement. There was a need for youth. Or there was no choice. I don't know. I wasn't on Pike at the time. Enter the first Pike rookie recruiting class:

Bailey Russel, Ryan Todd, Harrison Treegoob, Ian McClellan, Ben Kleaveland, Me, Chris Klitgord, Ken Taga and Matt Dufort.

Also new to the team that season were NY refugees Jude, J and Dave.

In 2002 when I graduated from college, I was convinced that I would never play ultimate again. I'm short, not that fast, don't jump that high and managed to get out of college ultimate without knowing anything about club ultimate. I had never considered it aside from late night fever dreams. I had two surgically repaired knees by the time I got to Pike. Why would they need a guy like that?

My fears were confirmed at the very first tryout. In Buccleuch Park in early March, I played my first scrimmage/tryout/practice with Pike. On approximately the first point I played, I was feeling pretty good. I felt like I was open, but timing poorly. Then I get the cut, a good 30 yard gainer. The pass comes. Nice. As I get ready to catch it, I realize that the disc is not the item with the most velocity in my vicinity. It is instead some nutfucker laying out over my shoulder at the disc. Of course, he got the block by about 2 feet. Feet, coincidentally, are the only parts of his body that I could have grabbed if I so chose during that point. He landed in a huge ice-covered pool of muddy water with the disc caught-blocked in one hand, already scrambling to his feet to throw a 5 yard pass to someone so that he could sprint to the endzone and catch the goal.

Bookended. By Dono.
The next time that would happen would be 6 years later at PADA Mosh when he caught a Callahan on me. At least that time I didn't have to endure the extra taunting passes.

I kept with it. Every week I was there working with the team. I needed a ride when my car stopped working. I got one. I went to the first club tourney of my career in Delaware. We won. Taga got hurt. Heckman was a cutter(!). Trey complimented me on my deep throws. Someone asked me if I liked playing O or D-- I didn't know there was a difference. I said D. I said it because I couldn't grasp the offense or run the plays. Funny. Since then I've realized that only the D team knows plays and runs an offense. The O is just the penthouse of ultimate. Make sure you're open somewhere on the field and eventually someone will throw you the disc. Then throw it to some open space on the field and one of your teammates will catch it.

Eventually the email came that I was more than welcome to a bottom-of-the-roster spot. I lept at it. I rode the pine all the way through Nationals. I mean, I played on every day of (Almost?) every tournament that season, but that's peanuts compared to what "The Fuck" gained in experience that season. On the other hand, each point was one more than I ever expected to play. Each point was a befuddling gift.

Each point in practice, however, was a torture fest. Each drill. Each skill. I never knew that people were this good at ultimate. I never knew there was so much to know. I never knew that those crazy throws I had seen were far from the craziest throws each player had. Like watching Iverson outside of a game versus inside of a game. Fortunately, I could at very least catch consistently and learn.

The the offseason. Such work to do with a Nationals jersey to wear and hate while doing it. That first jersey has all the hate in it. I wore that jersey from every workout from November to November. In the gym I could hear the spirally design mocking me. Telling me that I was nothing but an accessory to Pike, the shit-box team. I could see the skyblue arms pumping at the track.

In 2004, nothing but roster gains, really. The new players were limited to Eugene Yum, Dan Chirlin, Joel Wooten, Geoff Buhl, Nic Darling and Danny Clark. As I look at that roster now, I'm amazed that they let me practice with them, let alone be on the team. All my workouts, all my training and I actually moved *down* on the depth chart.

The only things I truly remember about 2004 are my memories from Nationals. Upset the Sock, win the single biggest point (difference btw 1st in the power pool and last in the bottom pool) on a Judeflick special, beat the Condors in quarters and then there was that whole epic semis battle with the redfish. Bailey and Danny fighting it out for the title of "Unanswerable Question". The beach and condos that night were... some of the best times of my life. Unashamed. I felt clean. The world opening up for me in some way.

The jersey from that year is all joy. That team was a blast to play with and on. We played for keeps, but were just weird. No one on that team did anything by the book, but there was a framework where all these players could express their connection of skills on the field. Right, there was CRABFED THUGS and the 12 plays that we could call from that, but the plays never worked. Except for "Fuck you" which was Zero.

2005 came. Some roster tweaks. Add Baldwin, Kieffer, EvelKeven. Another year, another trip through Midatlantic Regionals after months of just winning games and tournaments. Crazy shit always happens at MA Regionals. It just does.

Nationals was full of anticipation and disappointment. JT's catch is the most memorable thing from what will go down as the most talented team the majority of that team has ever been on. Jam killed us that year. Just killed us. And Danny Clark hurting himself trying for a Callahan in a tight game with Ring at Chesapeake. That was a spectacular freak injury.

The Pike diaspora started during the season. Our captains moved to the west coast. Some folks moved north to NYC and Boston. Mainstays retired. And so on. We knew it was over while it was happening. We were powerless to do anything to slow it.

The offseason brought all kinds of madness. A new offensive framework. An absorption of Philly Ultimate. A whole slew of new players. New captains. New... everything. Except the jerseys. They remained ugly. Evel went back south. Which was expected. I mean, he lived there. There was a need for youth. Or there was no choice...

A whole new group bound together by Pike. This time, it was the loss that bound us. That terrible loss in a 14-team format. That one turn I threw all weekend. That 2 point terrible loss. That moment against Purifico on the field. That inability to stand after the weekend. That drive back. My brother.

My first club season with a no-nationals offseason. Light that fire, burn it bright. Make your teammates see the light. That was the birth of ultimatejournal. I put everything I had into my team in 2007.

In every drill, in every workout, on every single step I took that year, I was focused on just that step. I couldn't see tomorrow because today was too important. There weren't enough hours to put into ultimate in a day. I could not get enough of thinking and doing and being about ultimate. (286 posts? Are you kidding me?)

I remember the slalom drills. I remember taunting my teammates in practice. I remember what I was thinking when I was running in the rain. I remember typing pages of emails per day. I remember training morning and evening. I remember eating with only winning in mind. I remember individual plays and points from the season. I remember debating strategy on and off and all over the place for the O and D teams and watching the D team develop a killer instinct step by step.

I remember being on the sideline during the game-to-go more than I remember being on the field. I remember looking one by one into my teammates eyes and making them believe. It was like Los wasn't on the field after 14-9. It was like they didn't exist any longer. Pike was just running around making plays.

I remember my leg seizing up against Wilmington in Game 2. I remember getting laid out into in Game 1.

At Nationals I found out the truth. My team sucked. We were weak physically and mentally. We were scared. We were small. I gave every bit of everything I had for the first 6 games. I played well, I played hard. I threw goals and gave nothing for free on defense. I got a block or two, but that wasn't why I was there. I did get stalled against Truckstop. That was funny. Sometimes Sean just confuses me. I would wager he'd say the same, and the reverse.

My teammates needed to have life breathed into them every game. They did not appreciate the air on their own. They had already figured out that we should lose these games. I mean, The Farmer wasn't afraid and played crazy good. A couple other folks did too, but the Nationals rookies? Boo.

I remember Nationals for the time well spent with Dan "Spike" Yi, Squigglio, Baby Sapp and Lamb Juice. That was simply an epic vacation.

I did a terrible thing by not playing in my last game at Nationals that year. I made my reputation that season by being someone who would play through any and everything. At that moment I couldn't (wouldn't?). But just because it was terrible doesn't make it representative of an inaccurate feeling. I felt that they had already quit on me, so fuck them. I didn't want to put my heart on the line again for them to have it broken.

My body I agreed to break for you. Not my heart.

The season ended. Everyone left again. Or there was a need for youth. The same teammates I had given myself to all season were out the door. Some retired for real. Some got lives in other places. Some stabbed Pike in the head to play for Truckstop and Boston.

That jersey means little to me, but eventually recalls regionals. Which is a good memory. It doesn't mean much because I was embarrassed to wear it for a long time. I felt we had done terribly at The Show and that there was no cause for celebration.

New recruiting class it is: Aman, Nicuatrongpauco, Leon, Ross, Glenn, Frenchy, Jake Rainwater, Nick "Ocho" Malinowski, Bo, Tom Quane, Snuggles, Will Reed, Kyle, Ryan Thompson, Ariel, Tom Quane. The return of Ellis. We weren't a team until Furniture City. I told them they all were required to spike the disc all weekend. We were in Carolina. Dem Southern Boys got perfectly riled up. Los stomped us. Snuggles repeated all of True Lies. Gutter vomited on himself in the Sunday warmups. Our loss to Forge at Regionals was the genesis of the next season. That and keeping the roster together.

This next time around in 2009, we ran tryouts like everyone was trying out, but no one wanted to play with us. By the time the first couple of tryouts were done, there weren't really any cuts to be made. A few new players stepped up: Shaun Krieger, Grin, Kunsa, Dave Baer, CJ, Kinsey. We perfected a way of ultimate. Very basic offensive structure which allows players to... play. Increase the number of touches per player per point by a little bit (specifically those players who do not necessarily naturally dominate the disc) and the team will work more as a unit. Never look off an open teammate who can see the field better than you. Take advantage of your advantage when you have it and expect your other teammates to do the same while you all expect to fill for each other within said simple offensive framework. Work to make the fundamental options all happen within 6 seconds, and then the thrower still has 2 seconds to break the field down. (4 if the opposing team counts slowly)

The field shifts, you see. You don't always want to attack the same part of the field. Where is the space? If there is no dump, do you need one? Or do you just want to recognize that the space behind you is the major cutting lane? If their are 4 dumps, is the cue that the offense is going to break down and that one should run through? Or that one of the 2 cutters is going to get open in all that beautiful wide open space in front of the disc? And then the first two dumps should cut up line into the space as the thrower starts to not throw it to the first two cuts. Don't wait for him, kick-start the offense with motion. Unless you think waiting will give you an advantage. Or if one of those other 4 dumps is a better option to cut upline simply in order to give the defense a choice: Do you want to stop the upline on this player or do you want to stop the bomb to this player? If your players play the full field (It isn't that big, we get subs, it can be more about resting appropriately and attacking when active than enduring to fight at the end of the day.)

"Heuristic not algorithmic"

This game is a game of a balance. Shift and break. Once you've fallen over, you can get up and regain it, but you're liable to get kicked in the teeth trying.

I remember thinking Heckman was weak at Sectionals in 07. In 09 I learned who he was. I'm not sure he knew then either, to be fair. We both know too much now.

Regionals was a classic Midatlantic weekend. Here's the inside scoop: Los fucked up and lost to XRATES at sectionals to pair us against each other early. Which made for a long weekend for XRATES of beating Forge in tight games and losing to Pike. And a long year of Los wondering about how they could be the only team to beat Pike at Regionals and not go to Nationals.

Well, the real inside scoop is that I knew the rule. I looked it up on Saturday. I told my team. I talked to people on other teams. When we played Los on Sunday morning, I told my team that we had to win this game or we were out. Los crushed us Sunday morning. We debated briefly losing to XRATES on purpose so that Los would have to play a game to qualify if they lost the game to Ring. Good thing we didn't. As JG said, "The Ultimate Gods would frown upon that." We watched the end of their game from near one of the endzones. When the game was over, I told my team to wait before they left the fields to find out if we had a game. Los then, as they were breaking their handshake line, said that they had one more game. I told my team to start warming up. The rest was covered ad nauseum.

Then after we built that chemistry, and bonded through near-failure and heaps of criticism and and all sorts of emotions, everyone on the team went back to college. Even the Rutgers kids were too far away to come to practice. We had under 14 at practice between regionals and nationals.

At least no fear was shown at Nationals 09. Revolver beat on us severely (our D-team outscored our O-Team in that game, and we lost by ~10), but all of the other games were reasonably strong performances by Pike. We went big and went home. But we didn't go small. Leadership (aka me) should have subbed more aggressively. Some guys tried to play too too big on offense too often.

Pike Polo Shirts are perfect attire for the Sarasota heat&beach.

The offseason started two weeks later at PADA Fall League Finals. After a great weekend at PADA Mosh, of course. Johnny Pivotfoot and the Ten Stallcounts love MOSH.

The offseason was going to be a long process non-off-season of getting everyone together to form one team in Philly. After many months of too much caring, we arrived at a decision, tryouts started the weekend after Fools Fest in April and finished with Philadelphia Southpaw coached by Jeff Snader. The second Philly Ultimate consolidation is complete. New faces. New Team. New Lessons to learn. Except they're the same old lessons we learned last time.

I want Southpaw to do well. I played a part in creating it, so I wish it well while moving on. My job was to make it happen. I'm disappointed I don't get to play in the series with those guys, but so it goes.

"Windows 3.11 vs iPad."

Those Southpaw tryouts killed me for the week. I couldn't do workouts. I couldn't lift. At some point, I cried when I knelt to tie my shoe. My muscles weren't sore. My mind was fresh. My knees and my feet...

My heart I agreed to break for you, but not my body. Not my body.

I was dull every weekend at tryouts worried about how the team was going. I was dull from not having touched a disc all week or sprinted or jumped or played or anything. I was dull from being unable to do what my body needed to compete, skill-wise, speed-wise.

It got to me. I started to believe I was terrible at the game. I had this need to prove myself. I don't play to prove myself anymore. That was 2007. I proved it. I'm better today than I was then. But I play for completely different reasons these seasons.

I got cut.

I believe it was the right decision for everyone involved. But I do not believe everyone knew that then, nor does everyone know that now. In fact, I heard a rumor on my thirtieh birthday that I quit. Or that I was trying to start a new team. Naw. I just got cut. I didn't play well in tryouts. With that came the opportunity to try out for PoNY. Which has been great. Travel is all mass-transit-possible and reasonably simple. Practices are high-level, high-intensity, high-throwing reps. All in the Shadow of The Power Broker out on Randall's Island. Complexity will come as the season develops.

I played at Cazenovia with them. Went through a couple weekends of practice/tryouts and played at Boston with them. It was all mentally a great trip. Boston was physically an... impossible trip. Over 10 hours at the fields spread out over 4 games. My knees can't keep up. My feet can't not hurt. My mind and my strength are there. The flesh is willing but the joints are weak.

Then a trip with the Younguns to Mars. I played more like 1.5-2 games per day spread over 5 hours. Every morning and every day? No pain.

My initial conclusions were correct. My body is saying no to competitive tournaments. Which is fine. Tourneys were always completely and utterly insane. Which was why I liked them so much.

I feel I still have a lot to offer on and off the field, irrespective of my participation in 3 tournaments per season. I told the PoNY Cabal/Junta/TryoutDecisionmakers/EC/Whatever. Fortunately, PoNY agreed to the tune of a 1-year non-series contract.

I'm excited to be a part of this team.


...with bad knees and no title."

-LeBron James, describing how he didn't want to end up.
I would have signed with the Heat too. That will be a fun team to play on.


Jim Biancolo said...

Great read, and good luck!

Dan Heckman said...

That was a helluva journey. Good post.

Tim said...

I don't pretend to have your eloquence with words but its been one hell of a journey and I'm glad I got to be a big part of the last 4 years of it. I'll always have your back.

Team First

b-lo said...

You have your years confused. The 2005-2006 jerseys were/are sweet!

Sean said...

I am highly confusing, and a tricky stall counter. Good luck this season Dusty, sorry to have missed the chance to play with you this Mars, perhaps next year.

Matt said...

Takin me back, dude. But "nothing but roster gains" in 2004? That hurts.

dusty.rhodes said...

Thanks for reading.
so manyy more things come to mind now that i've read this over one mo' 'gin.

"nothing but roster gains except for the teammate who lived across the street from me, drove to every practice with me, listened to me ramble on about ultimate, blah blah blah" didn't roll off the keyboard quite as readily. happy now, gwbc?

J said...

Go forth, youngun!

The highs were high and the lows were low, but damn, I'm proud of every moment. Good times, my friend. Good times.

kt said...

We're down some guys, Dusty. You sure you won't reconsider your non-series contract? It might be fun to have you around at Sarasota, bad knees, feet, and all...