Feb

21

Freak Balls, from Bo Keely

February 21, 2011 |

There is no greater thrill than hitting a freak ball, the shot that has no precedent, and defies repetition. I've struck four in as many decades.

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 hit the ball, and was surprised when the wooden face flew off the handle into the right front corner for a rollout. Lawrence ducked, returned my shot, and I stood waiting with an eight-inch handle in my fist. I choked down, and the astonished opponent banged back my return. I struck again, as did he. My third shot reflected awkwardly off the 6" handle for a skipball, but it got me thinking after the national title that anything can happen on the court.

The second decade was at another paddleball nationals witnessed by Jim Easterling among the gallery. An opponent's shot reflected hard off my paddle that set the paddle into a helicopter spin on a 4-foot shoelace for a thong. Hinders were nonexistent those days, so play continued as the paddle whirled. The ball came back, and I hit it squarely with the whirligig. 'I wiped my eyes,' says Esterling, 'And nudged the guy next to me,' as the rally advanced.

Still later, I played in a pro racquetball nationals at the Las Vegas Tropicana with a glass exhibition court and gallery of sports gamblers. I arrived from desert camping with a Chevy van full of tarantulas, ready to play. That was the year dark horse Davey Bledsoe raked the field to take his sole national title, and I was one of the clods.

In that Bledsoe match, the ball flew over the court into the gallery behind the glass back wall. The ball struck someone on the head of the hungover audience, who bounced it into the court as I walked obliquely within the service box. It arched high over the back wall where I glimpsed it's reflection in the dark glass… without glancing thrust my hand behind my back and caught it as neatly as a catcher. No one blinked, except Bledsoe.

The fourth decade saw the best crack ace in history. Whereas the previous three freak balls spawned from skill, this was luck. It was a Michigan finals in 40's Ann Arbor courts with hanging chandelier lights and barnwood walls. I tapped a lob serve that arced high into a chandelier to upset a rain of earlier lobs stuck atop onto the court, giving the receiver a choice of which to return. 'Court hinder!'; yelled the ref, so I served another lob just below the blinking chandelier that dropped swiftly to the left rear corner. The ball split the crack between the floor and sidewall… and stuck.

'Ace!' yelled the referee, as I ran to the crack serve where my rival on hands on knees was trying to wedge it out with his handle. A fair player, I screamed, 'It hasn't bounced twice, play it!' and kicked the ball out that my startled foe chased lest it bounce again He failed, and I went on to win the tournament.

 There's no way to practice a freak ball in a trillion years; don't be an oxymoron. However, there is way to call yourself lucky. Practice being alert on the court always, don't give up on shots, and put in long hours. Every few years you too will know a rare freak when someone shouts, 'Lucky shot!' After four of these, you'll amble off asserting, 'It happens all the time,' which it does.


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