Saturday, July 26, 2014 5 AM. I roll to Chinatown after driving all night to find a cozy little parking space across from the park to catch a few hours of sleep. Left with a bike and a bag, my ride disappears as I begin to wander. Luckily I stumble into a Chinese bakery and grab what I think to be a donut and mosey on down to the pit to watch people practice sword fighting and feeding pigeons. Before I am fully awake the first player rolls in. Now I almost don’t recognize him with a derailleur, two independent breaks, and backpack of brooms. I introduce myself and we talk for a while as there is very little cleanup or preparation to do. Soon after they are arriving in packs and the first game is underway very quickly.
A small history
There have been 6 previous ESBI (East Side Bench Invitational) with none occurring last year. The teams attending are Boston, DC, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and 2 New York’s (Alpha and Bravo). The Previous champs, Richmond, were unable to attend. Clubs may bring any number of players, but may utilize a bench of 9 maximum each game. Scoops are allowed.
Interviews with the team captains go well and provide me a good insight to the plans of the captains and their clubs. I learn Pittsburgh and Boston have very thin rosters consisting of as little as 5 or 6. For Pittsburgh this is attributed to their club size while Boston was bad timing. Having visited Boston a few weekends ago I found this strange that of the dozen players I met there is only one I can recognize here. The low rosters are seen by their captain’s optimistically as an advantage as there are less changes, lineups, and management to do. There are also several ringers (who all turn out to be wicked awesome) from Canada and Lancaster. I am also invited to play but decline to avoid bias and embarrassing everyone with my world class skill (ok maybe to avoid embarrassing myself). Instead I take administrative roles of sometimes timekeeper, statistics keeper, and referee. Statistics keeping I am very pleased about as it is both new and superb in learning every single person’s name.
Most games Saturday are decided by no more than five points which was quite surprising to me. Most cities are surprisingly well matched. The flow of the teams is smooth for the most part with unfavorable lineups are quickly worked out by the captains. I also notice the connections between certain players (example: Nate and Zac of NY Alpha) are insane. The true strength of the 3v3 game is in these connections. In bench it is having those connections with a manager that knows when and how to implement them. But laughs are had on and off the court and I get a good vibe from all the players. This seems like a more serious series of city vs city pickup games.
A few small issues occur Saturday as well. Mostly players forgetting helmets, some tardiness, lack of whistles, and magical dicks kept reappearing on the scoreboard. Only one major issue is a disagreement between referee and player. This was caused by the rotation of referees and the differences in enforcement. Having dedicated referees is a must have for every competitive tournament. Also Chombos slide whistle (http://youtu.be/Qa7uLxu0XAc) while hilarious did not make the players stop.
The most interesting match of Saturday is New York Alpha vs Philadelphia. This game remained within one point the entire first half. Second half begins and there are no point for 10 solid minutes. The atmosphere of the game adopts a much more serious tone quickly.
NY Alpha Philly pulls off the win but it’s clear if a rematch happens Sunday it will be the hot ticket and there is no clear favorite.
As the games wrap I still have not met contact Otto and it turns out he has left before the last game (which I am keeping stats for). I rescued from traversing Brooklyn alone by Alias whom along with his DC crew are as hungry as myself. We choose Lynn’s dumplings for the cheapest, most delicious feast ever. I am invited back to their place and after a hot shower, the dumplings expanded in our stomachs and Keegan offering me a beer I am (for the first time all day) relaxed. Well not just relaxed but melt in your chair relaxed. It is decided that the bar is overrated and staying up to chat is much preferable. I makes apology to Otto and head to sleep.
Sunday morning I awoke with the rest of the house at a reasonable hour. I should not feel this good is my first thought. Why am I not hungover and mourning my balance after all those rounds at the bar I don’t remember like every other tournament. I am handed a coffee and immediately forget my previous thought. Besides, you know the drill: The bar was cheap, polo people can’t dance, and karaoke is silly fun.
The seeding for Sunday was decided by points with NY Alpha and Philadelphia getting a by. The bracket will be single elimination. For the first game of the day Boston has only 4 players present against a full DC. The first half is rough with DC at a large advantage but the Boston players rally after receiving their late players and manage to squeak out a win. New York Bravo is then defeated by Pittsburgh. While they fought hard, the New York’s Bravo were beaten up all weekend. Pittsburgh faced Philadelphia and Boston faced New York Alpha. Both games played out similarly to Saturdays close games but Pittsburgh and Boston were eliminated along with anyone’s open beer cans by a roaming bicycle cop. The final game has the whole pit surrounded by spectators, some polo and many random. It is absolutely nail-biting, keeping both a close and very low score until late in the second half. The level of play rises up and we now see wall checks for the first time today. This is a scary exercise with the pitt’s stone walls. NY Alpha rallies with the amazing combo of Zac and Nate nailing nearly all the late goals to pull out a 11-9 win over Philadelphia.
The ceremony is done well with the lower placing teams getting first dibs at the pile o’ prizes. New York ends up with some very pretty trophies for each of their members made my Jackie and a belt that Chris Roberts falls in love with. Kiki and Russo win MVP (ratking / ratqueen) and the ugliest trophies ever. Interesting note, both of these players are on platform/rear brake. We quickly disburse with small pickup games forming. I am invited to a picnic by my host Otto and enjoy a pleasant evening drinking beer and searching for authentic New York Pizza.
Important things I learned and saw.
-Chris Roberts straight up dropped his mallet to swat scoop shots with his hand. While this got him a warning it blocks 3 shots and was more effective than the wheelie block (which I attempted during practice and fell on my ass)
-Every tournament needs a slide whistle and for that matter, a Chombo
-Dedicated refs always
-The “drug deal” is a small behind the rear wheel cross pass
-The North East now knows the front butt (space between the front wheel and goal post)
-NY dumplings are the best thing ever
-The Met admission of 25 is only a suggestion
-Zac Boston sucks at selling shirts
This report filed by my Foreign correspondent, available to me only due to a holiday within his country. Outside of telling you that he’s an impeccable dresser and has a beard, I’m afraid (due to diplomatic immunity and a certain number of international incidents) that I cannot tell you anymore. No, NO, don’t even try to ask!