- Freddy Ramirez
The Last Of A Kind
Things change in professional racquetball. Paradigm shifting change can happen pretty quickly or there could be an extended amount of time for transitions to take place. But things do change. First case in point, this past weekend saw the IRT put on an event without John Scott's involvement. It's the first time Scott hasn't been actively involved in an IRT stop since the tour first started streaming events. (Unless, I'm not remembering something.) These past two seasons, much had been made about Scott's acquisition of the tour. It was filled with speculations, intentions, investor mentions, friction with players and all kinds of talk going around. That said, things seemed to be going pretty positively until the tour suddenly lost first, its commissioner and then, its notable owner. (One pretty quietly and one announced.) Though with a fully-invested board, the tour didn't seem to skip a beat between stops. The tour engaged the owner of the WRT to step in to fill in the streaming need, which went smoothly though noticeably different. Whether or not this will mean anything down the road between the two competing tours, it may be way too early to tell. I've often speculated in the past about these two entities, and honestly, though there could be an infinite number of scenarios, I think the IRT will have to work out several internal questions before anything like that happens. An example of that would be where the streaming will land permanently, e.g. Youtube or the website, (because Facebook doesn't allow for high-quality replays). (Note: At the time of posting, live-matches weren't loaded directly to Youtube. Select matches have since been uploaded and more may be added down the road.) Another example would be the question if there is even a need at this point. Aside from maybe one weekend, there haven't been many conflicts in schedules this season. So, yes, things change and they change pretty quickly sometimes.
What hasn't changed quickly is the transition from the old-school guard of top players, to the inevitable dominance of Mexican and South American players on the tour. From here, Kane and Rocky are the last of a kind. Cut from the cut-throat, "I own the top" attitudes made famous by the likes of Swain, Monchik, Huczek and all the serious players (not mentioned) that fall within the timeline shared by Waselenchuk and Carson. The majority of these players were from the US and absorbed that attitude from the legendary players before them and added their own flavor. The US dominated the sport for a really long time. It fostered a "type" of player. Though Waselenchuk isn't from the US, he is the culmination of what these players inspired. He made his own game no doubt, but when I look at some old footage of him playing the likes of Cliff Swain, I can't help but think Kane has evolved into all these players folded into one package, pretty much untouchable by anyone on any racquetball court anywhere. The way things look on the IRT, it's up to Kane and Rocky as to knowing how long they can put off change.
When I look at what is coming out of Mexican and South American racquetball, I see a generation of highly skilled players. There is almost a "camp" feel to how these players are coming out. There definitely is attitude, but it's a quiet, polite type of attitude for the most part. Now, I'm looking strictly at the pro tours from here. I, in no way, have any expertise when it comes to IRF type play. I simply can see what I see on the tours and make my judgements from what I know of the tours. I hear the "¡Vamos!". I see the swaggered walks. But it's non-confrontational and far removed from the stair you down - call you out - don't give an inch type of player mentioned earlier. But make no mistake, they are serious and will take over the IRT if the IRT holds on to its relevance as the most elite men's tour in racquetball. Racquetball is made more serious for these players by the growth of the game in their respective countries. National support and a growing popularity fostered by Paola Longoria and others and a recent surge of resources for big events in Mexico and South America means there is way more incentive and the sport seems to have more in the way of "promise" for these players. So the talent is coming out, guns blazing.
Quite the opposite for American players generationally. I don't want there to be any misunderstanding as I comment further. I do think there are some talented players right now in the US, generationally speaking. But what is sorely needed is a sense of urgency. Top US players are not nationally supported (professionally) and, at least when I look at the men's side, there are players with some of the attitude and entitlement of the generation before them. Yet, without the hate of losing and significant draw results. (Plenty of proof, e.g., losses to younger, hungrier international players and semifinal appearances.) US players of promise, now playing on the IRT are operating in a bubble of mediocrity. There may have raw talent, but it's in stagnate waters. No pushing out of their comfort zones. No creative thinking regarding growing as players. I'm not talking about physical training. I am talking about evidence of creative thinking in approach. There is a sense of "I'll do it my way" that permeates this group and feels unoriginal and prohibitive from the realization that there is a need for desperation if they truly want to step into and exist in the top 5. Urgency. Desperation. These words are not typed lightly. There is a need to find wholly new approaches to form and thought processes that can break old patterns that limit potential.
Man. I just reread that last paragraph. I sound crazy harsh. But I'm not changing a word. Maybe I'm a little tired of seeing certain US players wallow in mediocre play and self-disappointment that always gives way to "whatever" attitudes. So, I'm asking, where is the sustained environment of high-level, peer-pushing desire? Things are changing. They can either change really fast or they can change in a way that you may not even notice that they changed without you.