Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I love the Wednesday before Club Nationals. Most the team arrives Tuesday, but we arrive to our beach houses late and tired and do little other than mill around the rooms and establish pecking order for the best sleep spots in the house.

But we get all Wednesday, and it's all about business. The day is electric, I walk around the whole day with the hair on my neck on end, the feeling I'll static shock anything I touch. Most of that whole day is committed to visualization, trying to control the emotion of the upcoming days, and it's under this lens that I go grocery shopping. The trip to the neighborhood Publix is my favorite part of the day.

Unless you've never been to Club Nationals, you know that the "cool" place to stay while there is Siesta Key. I went with Madison one year, stayed at the tourney hotel inland, and finished in 16th place. Horrible time. But Siesta Key's where it's at—you even play better if you stay there. A few years ago if you were extra-cool, you stayed at the Surf & Racquet Club on the Key. But a hilarious story involving an uncontrollable but illustrious Hodag alum put an end to any chance of ultimate players staying there again.

Anyway, Siesta Key is mostly just residential development with a few bars and breakfast places (The Daiquiri Deck, the it-place to celebrate the victory Sunday or mourn the defeat, but both leading to the same dark pile of vomit you wake up in). As such, it has no major grocery store of its own, forcing Siesta Keyers to drive up the road and stop at the nearest Publix. And on Wednesday, preparation day, that funnels representatives from nearly every team at Nationals to the same spot.

A curious game of people-watching develops. If you're a young rookie on a happy-to-be-here team, sent to do bitch work, you may be awestruck to share the crackers aisle with the best cutter in the game. By the time you're getting eggs you're tweaking about all the players you recognize by picture alone. But if it ain't your first time around the block, you know the game. You know you gotta strut, cuz the other team is watching you and they're sizing you up. Now, I'm not saying you break out the pimpwalk, but your posture is as erect as it's ever been and you look like a motivational speaker about to start his speech. No part of you is sagging; you betray no doubt or weakness.

You can't help but glance into the carts of your competitors. That cart contains everything that will be fueling them for the next four days. Where have they placed their trust? Red Bulls in Sockeye's cart, imitation Rockstar in Boston's. Who's buying up the Slim Fasts, who went with the megaprotein shakes? What are the best using to power their bodies? Who's scooping up vaseline? A deeper level of competitor analysis.

Running into all these people is strangely awkward for everyone because you're running into tomorrow's competition and already chomping at the bit. You're probably great friends with them in the off-season and early season, but fraternizing with them this close to game-time would ruin some of the mental exercises you've been running all day. The anxiety over the next day tweaks some out: they're overly nice, others go silent. A friend I know stares everybody down. Positioning in the mental game at Nationals begins between the dairy and produce sections.

You check out, and the clerk asks you what team you're from and do you think you'll win. They end with a "good luck" and "hope you win," but it sounds hollow. They know the drill: this time every year a mass of hoodlums descends on their piece of picturesque and buys up everything. They nod, feed you the line, smile, and send you on your way. As you leave, others from another team are entering. Their tour is just beginning.