>>> Balls to the Wall
By staff writer Dan Opp
October 19, 2005

There comes a time in nearly every man’s life when he realizes that he isn’t going to make it to the pros. For some, it sets in when they find out competitive teams aren’t looking for pigeon-toed asthmatics with poorer court vision than Stevie Wonder. For others, the realization hits after a horrible accident, but they have no one to blame but themselves for accepting motorcycle lessons from Kellen Winslow. A third breed of man plummets into a deep state of denial and begins writing internet sports columns, all the while hoping that a big league team will see the vast potential within and offer him a general manager position. Personally (the last sentence wasn’t about me so just let it go already), I arrived at this disheartening realization as a senior in high school, when all the college mail I was getting contained the standard self-whoring brochure and not the athletic scholarship offer and naked photos of cheerleaders that I was patiently awaiting. No matter the setting, the moment a man realizes he’s not going pro is the most hopeless and depressing time in his life that doesn’t involve a prostate exam.

I presume my ill-fated sports journey began when I was but a toddler and my dad, who was begrudgingly plodding through life as a disappointed failure of an athlete, began to mold me into the disappointed failure of an athlete I am today. He lovingly schooled me in the ways of running, jumping, throwing, catching, and not crying like Nancy Kerrigan every time he beat me in checkers or clubbed me in the knee.

“As a kid, my dad placed special emphasis on being able to master all the basic skills both left- and right-handed. This ambidexterity continues to pay off in today’s lonelier moments.”

My first endeavor into organized athletics came in the form of small fry soccer, where I was noted for a strong right foot and an insistence on sucking the juice out of the halftime orange slices rather than eating the fleshy center. At the tender age of nine, I was prematurely thrust onto an under-12 team, which brought the switch to the big field and the assignment of covering an area roughly the size of Delaware. Two years later, my team moved up to under-14, at which point I was introduced to the size 5 soccer ball. My analogies need some tweaking, but I liken kicking a size 5 ball for the first time to kicking either a bowling ball or the Sun, whichever’s smaller.

My soccer career continued through my senior year of high school and abruptly ended with a heart-wrenching double overtime loss in the district semifinals. As I watched the ball ripple through the back of the net, I collapsed into a heap on the cold, dew-blotted field and lay motionless for what seemed like hours. After the groundskeeper woke me up in the morning, I walked off the field, face streaked with dew, and boarded the team bus. The doors on the bus slid shut behind me, and my tenure as a serious soccer player was likewise closed. Suffice it to say, after twelve years of competitive soccer, I was noticeably taller.

A disappointing end to soccer season was no valid excuse to sit around trying to convince my dad that the tears on my face really were dew drops, as he hovered over my fragile knees. No, I had more pressing issues, like how I was going to explain to my teachers that I fell down the stairs knees-first for the ninth time that year. It was also only three short weeks to basketball season. Basketball was, and still is, my favorite sport. My dad actually knew a thing or two about basketball and he instilled the fundamentals in me from the very beginning. He placed special emphasis on being able to master all the basic skills both left- and right-handed. The ambidexterity I honed as a youth continues to pay off in today’s lonelier moments.

With a ball in either hand, I worked my way up through the basketball ranks until I made varsity my junior year of high school, eventually earning the dual roles of sixth man and skinniest kid on the court. I entered senior year with high hopes. Surely the college scouts would be clamoring for a player of undaunting height with reasonable ball-handling skills and a decent jump shot. For some reason, word never got out about my dime a dozen talents and I flew under the recruiting radar. After playing a year of D3 JV and failing to make varsity the following season, I decided to call it quits on my meaningful basketball career.

Having had a few years to reminisce, I’ve fully come to grips with the fact that the only way I’ll ever set foot on a World Cup pitch or NBA court will come with a legion of security guards in hot pursuit. However, I refuse to let the dream die. With 28 years to prepare, I begin training for the Senior PGA Tour this week. In case you’re wondering, I refuse to call it the Champions Tour, as no champion of mine wears magnetic bracelets and a diaper. Disregard the previous sentence if Hugh Hefner ever develops chronic arthritis and incontinence, for his champion status is etched in stone. A kidney stone.