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  Top » Catalog » The Bo Chronicles » FREAK BALLS! It Takes One to Know One
FREAK BALLS! It Takes One to Know One by Steve Keeley

                             FREAK BALLS!
                  It Takes One to Know One

There is no greater thrill in life than hitting the 'freak ball', the shot
that has no forerunner and defies repetition.  I've had four in as many
decades, and be on guard that these personal instants may lack words to be

The first was in a national paddleball tournament at Flint, Mi. against the
remarkable Paul Lawrence.  We were neck-and-neck in the second game when I
struck the ball and the wooden face flew off the handle and into the right
front corner.  Lawrence ducked, returned my shot, and I stood with an
eight-inch handle in my fist.  I choked down on it to make the hit, and the
astonished opponent banged it back.  I returned again, as did he.  My third
shot reflected awkwardly off the 2" thick handle for a skip, but it got me
a-thinking that nearly anything can happen on the court.

The second decade saw me in another paddleball nationals witnessed by Jim
Easterling (See 'Racquetball Marathon Record') and others.  An opponent's
shot reflected hard off my paddle en route to the front wall that set the
paddle into a helicopter spin of about 4' diameter, as I used a long
shoelace for a thong.  Hinders were not evident on the court in those days,
so play continued as the paddle whirled.  The ball came back, and I hit it
squarely on the whirligig.  Easterling stood in the gallery, 'I wiped my
eyes, and nudged guy next to me.  Confirm what just happened because my eyes
may be going.'  'It happened,' came the reply, as the rally proceeded.

I played a racquetball pro nationals at the Las Vegas Tropicana Casino with
nice indoor courts and a different click in the gallery.  In the prior
weeks, I'd been camping in the low, Southern Sierras while hiking and
catching tarantulas for a burgeoning 'Tarantula Hotel' of pets.  With a #2
pro rank, I figured to coast to the finals if I was fit all around.  I drove
directly to the tournament site, brown and bearded, and parked the Chevy van
full of tarantulas, ready to play.  There was enough confidence to enter
also the Open division left-handed.  That turned out to be the year that
dark horse Davey Bledsoe raked the field to take his only national title.  I
recall sitting with him in the locker room after our match and passing what
Charlie Brumfield had told me a few years early in beating him out of a
national title, 'Nobody remembers second place'.  I got to the semi's in
Open lefty, and returned to the mountains.  Before that however, in the
Bledsoe match, there was an instant when the ball flew out of the court and
into the gallery seated behind the back glass wall.  The audience was
interactive then, and returned the game ball over the back wall into the
court, sometimes spitting on it first depending on if their favorite was
serving.  In Las Vegas, I was walking obliquely within the service box as
the ball arched high over the back wall.  I glimpsed not it but it's
reflection in the dark glass, and without glancing up thrust my hand behind
my back and blindly caught the ball neatly as a catcher.  No one blinked,
except Bledsoe.  The gallery was as if an oil painting, and I wonder if it
would be more appreciated today.

The fourth decade saw the best lob crack ace ever that was a fluke; whereas
the previous three freak balls had an element of skill.  It was at a state
tournament finals in a time when the basic game strategy was to lob serve to
initiate a ceiling rally and end it with a kill.  I tapped a lob that arced
high and deep, just missing the chandelier.  Those Ann Arbor, Michigan
ancient courts had hanging lights that resembled castle chandeliers which,
when hit by a lob, not only was the serve a fault but it knocked a rain of
previous lobs that had stuck atop the chandelier and set the lights to
blinking.  However, this serve cleared the chandelier and dropped swiftly
toward the left rear corner.  A savvy rival would have volleyed the ball as
prescribed against any soft serve, and avoided a great complexity.  The ball
fell into the crack between the floor and left sidewall, two feet from the
back wall.  'Ace!' yelled the referee, and I ran over to the crack serve
where my rival had hands on knees and gaped at the wedge.  I screamed, 'It
hasn't bounced twice, play it!' despite the close score, and the startled
foe chased the ball as soon as I kicked it out of the crack.  He didn't make
the get, and I went on to win the game.

There is no way to practice a freak ball in a million years.  Don't be an
oxymoron.  However, there is way to call yourself lucky.  Practice being
alert on the court always, not giving up on shots, and putting in long
hours.  Every few years you too will know a rare freak when someone shouts,
'Lucky shot!'  After four of these, you will learn to amble away proposing,
'It happens all the time, which it does.'

This article was published on Sunday 07 October, 2007.
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