The news this weekend was Alvaro Beltran, the International Racquetball Tour's #3 ranked player winning his first Tier 1 pro stop after playing on the tour for 15 years. I'm pretty positive he's feeling some weight off his shoulders, as he removes himself from the "greatest player never to win" discussions.
It was an interesting draw with interesting outcomes throughout. Cliff Swain making his first semifinal since 2006 and young Daniel De La Rosa (20) making his first IRT final by playing convincingly through a tough draw. After watching some of the matches on the IRT Network and following the info this weekend, I'm left with a few thoughts. As a fan, I like to indulge.
First the all Mexico final. Having just got back from Mexico for my first experience with racquetball played in that country, I'm fresh off feelings that they are seriously contentious for top spots throughout the sport over there. Alvaro being Mexico's best player and Daniel being a rising star makes this old plays new match worth noting for me. De La Rosa was playing steady and aggressive through the draw, getting by both Ben Croft and Rocky Carson with confidence. Yet, meeting Beltran in the final, I didn't see as much of the command De La Rosa had in the previous rounds. These two know each other, and Daniel undoubtedly has looked up to Beltran over the years. I sort of get the feeling that this dynamic was in play, for sure, taking nothing away from Alvaro. If you saw Alvaro's game against Cliff, you saw a seasoned pro, playing his best and setting things as they should be in the draw. And he carried that to his first tour win, the first All-Mexican IRT final ever. That both got through the draws the way that they did, speaks a ton about international racquetball.
Now Cliff and the 209 guys. Now, I get into this understanding full well that this sport is filled with incredible talent and just getting a "W" on the tour is tough. Cliff is one of the all time greats and an "intense" competitor. He met Jose and Markie Rojas in the rounds of 16's and the Quarters respectively. Both have looked up to Swain over the years and I'm sure, as respectful as they both are, have tons for Cliff. I'm sure they both know in their minds they can beat Cliff now. But do they think they can beat Cliff back then? Some will get this question quickly... I know it's a crazy question and I ask it only to stop and think about how the Rojases are thinking. They ran into a Cliff who was at home, in the best shape he's been in some years, re-thinking and re-dedicated. (At our age, that doesn't come easy.) For Jose, who is currently ranked # 4 on the IRT, you would think he would have been in the same mind-set as Beltran when it came to Swain. I take nothing away from Cliff. He Cliff Swained his way past these two.
John Ellis of the 209 posted some insight about it, and I share the sentiment. Ellis stated (eloquently, as usual), "Why am I getting so many texts about Cliff Swain's wins yesterday over a couple of bros from Stockton? How can so many people be surprised that Cliffy is still phenomenal at RB? He's in the short argument for greatest ever and at 48 or whatever he is, do you think he really just lost his ability to serve blasting drive serves and then rally with the best of them. Cliff can be a top 10 player again, and that's no knock on the current top 10, it's recognizing what I've known since I first saw him play in 1982 in Fishkill, NY when he was a 16 year old baller and I was 10 years old and learning, Cliff Swain is a racquetball machine!!. The Rojas Bros will be fine and will continue to work hard at their games and will win plenty of matches in the future. I'm sure they're pissed, but they know where RB falls in line with the big picture of life. Rooting for my buddy Clifford!!......".
I can understand why he received so many texts. That camp get a lot of looks from the racquetball world. Both Rojases have grown up encamped in the 209 and it has brought them to much success so far. And as innovative as that group can be, nothing can replace personal experience in growth. They may already know something I am starting to feel, which is that these guys need to get out on their own somehow. Sometimes in sports, you need a change in training mindset, as well as environment, feel, energy, etc. (Think MMA.) I have watched Jose closely, (as close as someone who follows the sport intently as a fan and tied to it in various ways can,) and he is right there, on the edge of a great career. How broadly is he looking at it? As I ask that question, I do so, not just looking at this past weekend, but also with what I have in my mind about the work those guys put in at the 209, their dedication and how they roll. Racquetball is a lifestyle over there.
I want to ask... but, isn't it everywhere?