Monday, October 20, 2008

The Call

Yesterday after No Wisconsequences the captains and officers of the Hodags had the unenviable task of helping close down the tournament after a long weekend of playing and evaluating, then hopping into a car for the hour's drive back home, where they reconvened and began selecting the final roster for Wisconsin '09.

Of the 40ish people left after two rounds of preliminary cuts, 16 had to be whittled down. At the end, with only 1-2 spots left for 2-4 players, things get real. It's hard to make a judgment call about who will benefit more from a season scrubbing with the Hodags and who will benefit from a year getting lots of touches on the Pimpdags. But the decisions are made, and in the end, the captains call those who made the team to thank them for their efforts and offer them a spot on the Hodags.

Anxious to see the new team practicing for the first time, I rushed from school to the practice fields with a heavy pack bouncing across my back and thoughts of the coming year flooding my head. But when I arrived at Ubay, aside from a game of pick-up soccer clear across the other side of the field, the fields were empty.

That wasn't entirely true. As I scanned the green I saw, alone and looking chilly, a kid with a disc. He was holding it with his elbow tucked squarely at his hip, and even from our distance the grip looked awkward, and he flung it at the back of a soccer goal, whipping the net upon impact. I watched him as he walked the 15 yards he'd thrown it, picked up the disc, walked back to his spot, and flung it again. And again, and again, each time cocking the disc in his hand like an ancient archebus and firing with a distracted accuracy.

I stood 200 yards away and watched this kid practice his gestational forehand for about 10 minutes and he, oblivious to my eyes, proceeded about his meticulous training. He closed the distance from the net to 3 yards and started practicing form, trying harder and harder to whip the disc. Learning. I approached him then. I recognized him as I began to yell "wanna toss" in his direction.

His name is Min Hu, and he knows nothing about Ultimate. But the kid is fast, Jesus is he fast. In practice he ran past everyone. No one could keep up with his legs or desire. Barely speaking any English, he nevertheless tried to absorb all the information the veterans threw at him, and you could see him working over bits of strategy as best he could and trying to apply them on the field. The captains and officers were salivating to have him on the team until they talked to him and found out he was here only for the fall semester, taking classes in English. He'd return to Korea in December, and not be back to Madison until he'd finished his undergraduate and began his PhD. The captains were devastated to cut him, someone so raw but with a thirst for improvement that made even the hardest working returners feel a bit complacent. And there he was, less than 12 hours after having been cut from the team, a player alone on 10 acres of grass, throwing a shitty disc against a soccer backstop simply because he wants to be better at it.

We didn't throw. We talked for 15 minutes. I told him how much the leadership had appreciated his spirit and effort and how we wish he wasn't leaving. When it was time for me to go, he thanked me and we shook hands, but fuck - I was the one that was grateful. I remembered the jitters I'd get an hour before tryouts my freshman year. I remembered laying out for a goal in finals of Frostbreaker against a young Rhett Russ and UNCW in the spring of 1999, one of 6 points I played all game. I remembered wanting more points, and more confidence, and more speed.

The words of an email I still have, today, taped to the door of my room at my parents' house echo, an email sent by Opie O'Connell on July 10, 1999 asking us to work toward improvement:

Don't ask yourself if you want to be on the team, ask yourself what you are willing to do for the team. Do you want to have a bigger role than last season, or is someone else going to move in on your role?...What will make the Hodags a good team is improvement, TOP TO BOTTOM. If you were the best thrower, be the best cutter. If you were the fastest, be the best cutter. Offensive players, work on defense. Defensive players, work on offense...If you were the best sub, be a starter. If you were the best rookie on the team, be the best player. If you were the best player on the team, be the best in the region...How badly do each of us want this? -ope
And those words resonated with me sure enough. I took them to heart. But today, more than those words of inspiration from my captain when I was just a kid, what I feel are the words scrawled in my poor hand at the bottom of the page, giant letters that were then a message from a kid to himself, but are now a gauntlet thrown down from my youth to my adulthood, a call that only my actions can answer:
Yes, Min Hu. I do.


Kirchner said...

I really enjoyed this post. Nice work, H.

Andy Pohl said... an ancient archebus... that was me once too. I love it

Brusssucks said...

I remember two things about this. 1. At Frostbreaker there was a definite point where everyone thoroughly agreed you looked like you were running in quicksand.
2. You took the next off season for real and returned as twice the player.