amateur sports

More Crazy Curling

It’s time for the update nobody was asking for.

Seriously, I’ve seen the stats. I could tag “wiping my ass” and have five likes by the morning. But curling sends all the boys to the (other) yard.

But I don’t care, because someone (most likely me), somewhere (most likely here) wants to know how my curling has gone since my last post. Did I play more bonspiels in the second half of 2018? Have I played anything other than lead? Did I ever make it past the 2-2 bugaboo that seems to plague me at every turn?

Well, I’m glad I asked myself!

I might have some new readers since my last update, so here’s the skinny: I started curling (yes, the one with the sweeping and the grunting and the yelling) back in the 2014 Olympics. Or rather, while the 2014 Olympics were going on. Not IN the Olympics, mind you. Now I’m approaching the five-year mark, which technically means I should be getting much better. And there are some games where I totally am better. And then there are games where I seem to have forgotten which direction the stone is supposed to go or how to hold a broom or, really, what the fuck this “ice” thing is that we’re standing on. I’ve never been much of a golfer, but I hear that is response of most golfers: I hit that shot yesterday, why am I in the bushes today? And for the next three months?

In my last post, I wrote about the dream team of new-ish curlers that we put together to take the crown at the vaunted “Five Years of Experience or Less” tournament and how we failed miserably in that regard. We won our first two games and lost our next two games, which has more or less been the hill I tend to die on in most bonspiels. Two wins, two losses, and almost always in that precise order.

Well since then, I’ve curled in two more bonspiels. And the good news is that in one of them I didn’t go 2-2! Huzzah!

I went 0-4!

Just kidding. We actually won four games that weekend! Huzzah! And then I went to another bonspiel and went 2-2 again. In the same fucking order I always do. Except I was kinda, sorta proud of that record this time around. Was it against better competition? No. Not at all. The competition was atrocious. So why was I so tickled at this particular 2-2?

Before I get to that, let’s focus on the 4-1 record. Because that one came first chronologically and I’m a history teacher.

Most bonspiels are run in a standard “bracket” system a la March Madness. Some start with pool play. Others do not. Regardless of whether you played in a pool or bracket, though, you reach a point where the loser goes home. And ideally, that loser-go-home game comes after the teams have been sorted into the haves and the have-nots. Sometimes that can be a little brutal, as you win your first two games and are rewarded with a do-or-die game against some behemoth team with Olympians. Meanwhile those numbnuts who you beat 15-2 in Game One are now playing on Sunday morning, twenty hours after you were eliminated, in the semifinal of the bracket where all the teams started out 0-2.

My home club starts with pool play which then goes into three brackets. We send the top sixteen teams, which ends up being all the first-place teams and most of the-second place teams, into the A Bracket. This seeding has often been the undoing of my team. As I mentioned, we often win our first two games and then lose our third. That usually puts us in second place and then we enter the A Bracket as something like the 15 or 16 seed. And if you follow March Madness, you know what usually happens to the 15 and 16 seeds. Even if you don’t follow March Madness, I bet you can probably figure out what happens when the 16th-best team plays the best team. It’s time to drink!

So when we won our first two games at last September’s bonspiel, we got nervous. The third team we were playing was 1-1, but if they beat us, we’d both be 2-1 and they’d get first place based on head-to-head record. Most of the tiebreakers were established before the third game started, so going into it, we knew that we were either going to be the fifth seed with a win, or the fourteenth seed with a loss. The pressure was on.

We won the third game. Don’t ask me how. And by “don’t ask me how,” I don’t mean that we had no fucking business beating that team. I just don’t remember how we beat them. It was back in September and I’ve played a lot of games since then. Nothing really sticks out about that game. The games we lose? Yeah, I remember every fucking mistake and the number of centimeters each shot missed by. But wins don’t stick in my craw very long.

Wins are forgettable and the losses stick with you forever. Why the fuck do I play this game?

But I do know that, since we finally got past the double-digit seed shenanigans, we also finally won our first game in the A Bracket. Again, though, it was a win, so I got nothing to tell you about that game. All I know is we were 4-0, we had survived until Sunday, and we were in the quarterfinals of the A Bracket. The Elite Eight! And who cares if our potential Final Four match-up happened to have a guy who came in second place at the Canadian Men’s Championships last year and was prominently featured in this John Oliver clip. The one in the hat. Super nice, has come to our club a number of times. Would totally destroy my team. But that doesn’t matter, because the Final Four is the Final Four, baby.

Except you have to make it past the Elite Eight first, and astute readers will note that I already said we went 4-1. So maybe I should stop looking ahead at a match that would never happen.

What happened in our fifth match? Well, since it was a loss, I can tell you in excruciating detail. Again, why the hell do I subject myself to this mental torture?

In Game Five, we made two key mistakes. Our strategy was solid. We hit our shots. We curled well. We swept well. We took advantage of the other team’s mistakes. From a curling standpoint, we did pretty much everything you would need to do to win the game.

So where was our problem? Walking.

The first faux pas came when we had a two-point lead. They had one point in the house, and we were taking the final shot. There was a little bit of a port between guards where we could get to their rock, so we decided to go for it. Worst case scenario, we figured we’d give up one and still have the final shot in the next end. Well, our shot didn’t make it through the port. It clipped the guard. No biggie, the shooter and the guard should have rolled out and everything in the house stays where it is.

Except it didn’t roll out. The other sweeper on my team happened to have his foot there, so the rock cushioned up against his inseam. And since his foot was in the process of walking forward, the rock shifted its momentum, too. It spilled into the house.

The rules say that the opposing team gets to decide what happens to a stone that is “burned” (ie touched). Usually this means putting the stone back or removing it from play. But you can let it stay where it ended up after the other team touched it. The unwritten rule is that you do your best to determine what the rock would have done if it wasn’t touched.

I can say, without equivocation, that there is absolutely no way this particular rock was going to end up in the house. It was leaving the guard area on a route that was parallel to the house. The other team said it would’ve hit one of the other guard rocks, which is true. There were two rocks just past my teammate’s foot, which is why his foot was in the evacuation path in the first place. But there were two stones there that the stone in question would have transferred its momentum to, and the front one would’ve trapped it there. There’s no way it would have taken the right turn that it took unless it came up against an object already moving in that direction. Such as a foot.

Think of marbles. Or billiard balls. When a ball strikes another ball, it stops. It might roll a little bit one way, but it’s lost most of its momentum by then. Especially if there’s another ball there after it rolls a bit.

Anyone who knows anything about how curling rocks behave knew that the stone would not have ended up in the house. Hell, had the opposing skip actually been watching, he would have admitted that, but I don’t think he saw what happened. I think he all of a sudden looked up and saw two of his rocks in the house and just said he’d take the two points.

And the rules say it’s up to the other team and, shocker, they take the second point. I can’t be certain I wouldn’t do the same thing in his position.

But no biggie. It’s a tie game and we’ve been outplaying them the whole game. As long as we don’t make any other stupid walking mistakes.

The next snafu was mine. The good news is that my feet didn’t kick any stones into play. The bad news is that gravity can be a bitch.

I’ve fallen plenty of times while curling. Most curlers do at some point or another. When one of the primary actions of the sport requires walking on ice, it’s bound to happen. But most of the falls are harmless. It’s only bad if you fall over backwards and hit your head. That’s why we encourage people to always lean forward. That way the worst you can do is fall on your knees.

But oh man, I never realized how gnarly falling forward could be. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. I was too far behind the rock. I knew I was too far behind the rock. I could see the trajectory of the rock, which is something I really shouldn’t have been able to see if I had been in the proper position. That’s why there’s so much screaming in curling, because the people who are sweeping can’t tell where the rock is going. But because I was out of position, I knew it was starting to curl earlier than it was supposed to, and I knew that my skip was going to start yelling soon. So when the shouting came, I was already overextended, my front foot far away from my back foot. When I lifted my broom, I looked like Superman shouting “Up, up, and away.”

Hey, did you know Superman leaves the ground when he goes horizontal?

I flailed out like a motherfucker. But I didn’t burn the rock! Huzzah for five years of curling instinct, telling me to sacrifice my body instead of touching the rock. I did some Matrix shit in mid-air to ensure that neither my broom nor my hand nor my arm would make contact with the rock.

Unfortunately, that meant that I was going to hit hard on my shoulder and my hip.

Hey, did you know you can get a concussion from hitting your shoulder too hard? It turns out you can. And I can’t guarantee I had a concussion after that, but I’m pretty sure the NFL wouldn’t have let me back out on the field. Luckily there are no field sobriety tests on the curling ice.

That’s how they check for concussions, right? Follow my finger, touch your nose, say the alphabet backward. They’re just trying to catch you saying, “Dude, I couldn’t even do that with a horizontal brain.”

Anyway, the important part of my fall turned out to be neither my ability to avoid the rock nor the state of my brain inside my skull. No, the reason I remember this fall so much is what I saw the rock do from wonderful new vantage point on the floor.

You see, the usual purpose of sweeping a curling rock is to keep it straight. The rock wants to curl. And sometimes we want it to curl. But there are other times we want to keep it straight. And the important sweeper for this endeavor is the sweeper on the inside of the curve. If the rock is curling from right to left, then it’s the sweeper on the left that matters. He needs to seep across the rock, trying to convince the rock to follow the path of the broom, not the path it’s currently on.

The rock I fell on (not fell ON, mind you, but fell DURING) was traveling from right to left. I was on the left. Then I was no longer on the left. The other sweeper, the one whose foot had fucked up a half-hour earlier, was on the right. When he realized that his teammate and friend had crashed down in a concussive force and was sprawled out on the ice behind him, he did what any decent human being would do. He completely ignored me and concentrated on getting into position to sweep the rock.

Oh sorry, did I say decent human being? I meant good curler. He did what any good curler would do. If I sacrificed my health for the greater good, he better not waste my effort.

Unfortunately, to get into the best position to sweep, he had to stop his own momentum, step over the rock, then step forward again to get into the position I had failed to obtain, so that he could sweep from left to right. By the time my teammate was in position to sweep, our rock’s trajectory had gone from hitting the target stone at the 11 o’clock position to hitting it at the 1 o’clock position. By the time my teammate got a proper sweep in, a point in time where I should have already had ten sweeps in had I been able to stay on my feet, it was desperately hanging on to the three o’clock position. And before I knew it, there was no way it was making contact with the target. It was going to crash a meaningless stone sitting two feet to the left. I mean, yay, we held the other team to scoring one instead of the two they might have gotten. But had I swept it the whole way, they weren’t scoring any.

Want to know the final score? We lost by two. How many walking mistakes did we have? Two. So even assuming nothing else changes, the two points they got off those mistakes were the two points they won by. But in reality, it wouldn’t have been that close. Had we been up by three after my friend’s foot incident, we would’ve played the game differently. Had I swept the second rock the whole way, then we have the lead going into the final end instead of down by one.

Two walking mistakes. Two points. Ugh.

To be fair, we would’ve gotten destroyed by the professional Canadian in the semifinal. The team that beat us got destroyed. But then they went on to win the third-place game pretty handily. I’m pretty sure we could have, too. And third place sounds a hell of a lot better than “lost in the quarterfinals.”

But don’t mind me, I’ll just be sitting here watching all the 0-3 teams playing in the “C Bracket Semifinal” after my 4-1 team was eliminated.

Dammit. At the end of it all, I can’t say that 4-1 feels all that much different from 2-2. Or even from 1-4. Because I’ve had one of those bonspiels, too. We always say that the first goal is to stay alive until Sunday. But when you’re eliminated in your first Sunday game, you say, “Dammit, why did I have to drag my ass here an extra day for this?”

Oh well, maybe my next time would go better.

Which leads me, a month later, to the beautiful resort town of McCall, Idaho for a 16-team bonspiel on the shores of a mountain lake. I mean, we technically weren’t curling on the lake. We were in an ice rink right across from the lake.

1007181023They do have an outdoor bonspiel on a frozen lake in Idaho, but that’s in January, not October. The outdoor bosnpiel, called the Sawtooth Outdoor Bonspiel because it’s in the Sawtooth Mountains and because it seems like it would be a real SOB, continually runs on and off my bucket list. It usually sounds like a good idea in the middle of summer, but when my California-born-and-raised ass bundles up at fifty-five degrees, I’m not sure if athletic activity outdoors at 7:00 in the morning of a day that will top out at ten degrees sounds like a great idea.

Don’t worry, if I ever do it, I will live blog it. Assuming my fingers don’t fall off. But in the meantime, you have to muddle through my indoor Idaho curling.

McCall marked the furthest I’ve ever traveled to curl. Every other place I’ve curled has been in the Pacific Time Zone. I really need to get to one of those Wisconsin bonspiels someday. I’ve heard many of them have all-you-can-drink beer included. How the hell have I not set up permanent residency there yet?

Speaking of time zones, not only is McCall far away in miles, but I’m pretty sure it’s still 1983 there. They have a video rental store.

And an arcade.

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And deer might randomly walk through your front yard.

1006181740bAnd you can smoke in bars???

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But the town itself was a beautifully quaint mountain town. Check it out:

And the curling itself… well, I’ve already spoiled my record. Two wins, followed by two losses. But in my spoiling, I also teased that I am much prouder of this 2-2 record than most. Because this time I was skipping.

What is skipping? The skip is the person who holds the broom, does all the screaming, and then takes the final two shots when it’s all on the line. If you watch “Curling Night in America” on NBC, you might be fooled into thinking the skips are the only people on the team who take shots, because that program is pre-recorded and edited for content. As a result, the poor leads and seconds, the roles I usually fill, are rarely shown delivering a stone. Boo. Hiss.

The team I cobbled together for this trip were based primarily on who could take a day off work. The full team didn’t come together until the weekend prior. And without one of the usual skips in our club on the team, I seized the role from the members’ cold, dead hands.

Okay, maybe they weren’t dead, just cold. And really, that was only before they put their gloves on. My point is that I said I was fine with skipping and they all said they were fine with me skipping, so I skipped.

Skipping’s a different animal. I’ve done it before. Sometimes our skip is gone for a league game and the rest of us rock-paper-scissors for it. Other times I’ve been hurt and couldn’t sweep. Of course, on those times, I usually take the first two shots, then just do the holdy-broomy, shouty thing, which is only one part of skipping.

The thing that really separates most skips, and the reason we continually see John Shuster or Nina Roth when we’re watching the American teams at the Olympics, is because they’re taking the last shots. Oftentimes, these are the toughest shots. But even if they aren’t tough, they are the shots that matter. If I’m a little bit short when I take a shot as the second or vice, I shrug my shoulders and say, “it wasn’t horrible, and I’ve put it in a good position for the people after me to do something with.” But when I’m skip, there’s nobody after me. And if I’m supposed to get it to the button (the middle of the “target”), but I end up on the outer ring, then the other team just scored some points.

Mike McEwen made one of the best shots I’ve ever seen, but if he had been a vice skip, then the skip on the other team would’ve just put another rock into the middle of the house, negating most of his good work. When a vice makes a good shot, it’s like that defensive lineman who celebrates tackling the running back for a loss on second down, only to see the QB convert the third down thirty seconds later.

So while Matt Hamilton has a much better porn ‘stache, John Shuster’s the guy who hit the double takeout to score five in the gold medal game. And in most bonspiels, I’m like Matt Hamilton, but with less cool facial hair. In McCall, I was John Shuster.

Which doesn’t mean I won. Trust me, if you followed curling before last February, John Shuster’s name was hardly equated with winner.

So how’d I do?

I mean, how’d we do?

(But really, how’d I do?)

We dominated the first game. Wasn’t even close. The other team had at least one new curler, and the others had never played with their skip before. I mean, we had a new curler and most of my team hadn’t played with me as skip before. But the other team had been onsite, and drinking, since morning and were really sloshed, whereas we had just flown to Boise then driven for two hours to get there. So I guess that’s all it takes.

Game two was a little bit closer, but it still didn’t raise much of a sweat. I think after three ends, we were up 3-2. They had scored one twice, we had scored three points in the second end. Then I don’t think they scored again till the final end. If I were to guess at the final score, I’d assume 7-3 or 8-3. Pretty comfortable, and we were feeling good about ourselves. With only 16 teams in the tournament, we were already into the semifinals of A Bracket. And if we lost the next game, we’d drop down to B Bracket. So either way, we’re through to Sunday. Goal #1: Accomplished.

I’m not sure what Goal #2 might have been, but it wouldn’t end up mattering.

Game three was bad. They had a Canadian. I think we were down 5-0 before we even scored. Then we got it back to 5-4, as in the words of Robin Williams’s golf bit, “just ta give ya hope.” Then they scored in the next two ends, and we managed to put up a respectful 7-5 loss. Afterward, the Canadian complemented us, said he told his team not to rest easy when they went up big, because we were really close on a lot of our shots. If only we had an experienced skip who knew what the hell he was doing.

The Canadian didn’t say that last part. Canadians are way too polite. And, to his credit, maybe he wasn’t even thinking it. But I was.

That whole game, I felt like we were chasing. We could never get to playing the game I wanted us to play, the style of play from the first few games. I knew at the time that this was happening, but I couldn’t figure out how to stop playing from behind. Even on the ends that we scored, we were still scoring on their terms.

Oh well. On to B Bracket. Still two wins away from taking home a trophy. Or maybe just getting our picture taken with a trophy. Wait a second. Did they have trophies? Well, I’ll never know.

That night was the banquet, which took place in one of the smoking bars. Then there was a pub crawl, which is not easy to do in a town with one major road and only two or three bars. The team we were playing the next morning kept trying to get us drunk. We kept trying to get them drunk.

Hey wait, I finally figured out why I still play this infernal game!

Our final game was a back and forth affair. I still felt like I was playing the other team’s game a lot, but we were at least able to keep the score close. I figured out early on that this team didn’t like hits and takeouts. They always wanted to draw. They could put the rock the proper distance into the house almost every time, although not always on the right line. My team? Exact opposite. We could throw the correct line each time, but our weights were nothing to be relied upon. And I was the worst of all. My weight was off all weekend. But man, give me something to hit, and I’m in my happy spot.

So if I can always hit their stone, I just need to make sure there’s nothing behind their stone, right? So dammit, why was I faced with their stone on the button, right in front of two of my stones every damn time I’m heading down to take the final shot?

But we persevered. We entered the final end tied, and we had the hammer (final shot), which is totally the position you want to be in.

At least we thought it was the final end.

You see, at most bonspiels, and in most leagues I’ve experienced, they usually ring a bell to signify you’re getting close to the end of the game. It’s usually about 20-30 minutes before the time limit, and the rule is (usually) that you can finish the end you’re on and play one more. At McCall, there was no bell, just instructions to not start any new end after the one hour, fifty minute mark, so that we could be off the ice by two hours. Most ends take between 15-20 minutes, so I felt like ten minutes was cutting it a bit close, but whatever.

And in my defense, I was saying that before we lost our last game.

We started the “final” end with about 25 minutes to go until we had to be off ice, meaning about 15 minutes until we couldn’t start another end. So I played the whole thing as if this was it. We put a stone near the button with one of our first shots. They missed it and then it became a series of guard, guard, guard. The other team kept pouring stones into the house, but they couldn’t get to the one we had buried. All I needed to do was score one, and that one wasn’t going anywhere. The opposing skip went down and delivered his first stone, and then it was my turn. As I’m walking down the sheet, I glanced up at the clock. It was 10:45 AM.

Wait, what the fuck? How have we delivered the first thirteen stones in only ten minutes? And how can I waste five minutes for the final three stones? If this was an NFL game, I could fake a hamstring injury or something. Can I throw the flag for an instant replay?

Okay, don’t freak out.

“This is the final end, right?” I asked my sweepers when I got into the hack.

They looked back at me like the metaphorical deer in the headlights. They had just been having a similar conversation. And none of us really liked the answer we were coming up with.

I delivered the stone, and their skip practically runs down to deliver his next stone. He isn’t even trying to go after my rock. He’s… he’s guarding me from putting another one in there? What the fuck kind of wicked sorcery is this?

So I stall. I discuss my shot with my vice, not only to waste time, but because all of a sudden, for the first time this end, I’m like “Shit, how do we score two here?” Because I’ve spent the last four rocks trying to close that shit off.

But I can’t just run out the clock. There are unwritten rules, and if I was going to break one of these unwritten rules, I needed to be less obvious. I needed all of my teammates to take an extra thirty seconds for each of their shots instead of me taking an extra five.

At 10:47 AM, I let go of my final rock. Twenty-something seconds later, it came to a rest. I take off my glove in order to shake some hands, but the other team’s hearing nothing of it. Their lead is in the hack and ready to deliver.

Could I have still won? Or tied? Sure. But we were shellshocked. Just like after AJ Piersynski cheated to get on base in the 2005 ALCS. Could the Angels have gotten the next guy out? Sure. But it’s pretty fucking hard to get your head back in the fucking game when you realize that Doug Eddings is a fucking dipshit umpire that doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, much less the difference between a catch and a drop.

Sorry. Angels fan here. Not still bitter thirteen years later or anything.

But we were in a similar situation. We thought the game was won.Each person on my team felt they had thrown their last stone. We were focused on playing in the finals. Preparing our acceptance speech. And now all of a sudden we had to play one more end, without the hammer, against a team that could out-draw us. The good news is they still had to make their final shot. The bad news is they did.

So there you have it. My last six months or so of “competitive” curling. And even though I haven’t won any big ones, I’m still pretty happy with how things have gone. My competitive team went farther than it’s ever gone, and then I skipped a team to a respectable finish. Two bonspiels in a row where my team ended up in fourth-or-fifth place range, whether I’m calling the shots or sweeping the shots. Not too shabby. Maybe I’ve finally figured this shit out.

Check back in three months, when I can’t hit the broadside of a barn.

Curling, Parts 1 through %$@*&$

Since my last effort at real-time blogging seemed to work, I’m trying it again. Only this time, instead of Hawaii, I’m off to lovely Seattle. And I ain’t going for no fun-fun time vacation, neither. This time, my game face is on. It’s curling bonspiel time, motherfucker!

No, I won’t be live-tweeting every shot. I won’t be attaching a GoPro to my broom. I probably won’t even post the thing until after the weekend is over. What I will write down my thoughts and reflections after each game, as my team works our way through the weekend tournament. The highs and the lows that inevitably come from these tourneys. The “I curl better than John Schuster”, followed by the “Why the fuck do I do this stupid sport?”.

One of the reasons I’ve chosen this particular bonspiel to live-blog is that we’re here to fucking win it!

Don’t I always want to win? Sure. But this time, there’ll be no Olympians in my way. This bonspiel is called a Five-and-Under. It’s not for toddlers, although that would be friggin’ awesome on a whole nother (hilarious) level. In this 5&U, everyone in this tournament must have less than five years of experience. This is my fourth year, as with two others on my team, and our skip is aging out this year. So if we’re ever going to win it, this is the time.

This is my third time at this particular event. Two years ago, it was a mish-mash of different players thrown together at the last minute. We won our first two games, but lost our third, which is the first elimination game. The team we lost to went on to win the entire tournament, so as far as I’m concerned, we might have been the second-best team there. We would have lost to that team whenever we faced them, but so did everyone else. Second-place may be first loser, but who’s the one that lost first, hmm?

Last year, my team was a bit more purposeful. We combined two players from our team with two players from a team that went all the way to the final game. They lost that game against the same team we lost to. So combine the first loser and the last loser, and what do you get? We lost our second game, which is actually better than losing your third game. It isn’t an elimination game. Instead, it drops you into the “B Bracket,” and we went on to win that bracket. Not bad, but there were some personality conflicts. Shaq and Kobe all over again.

This year, it’s finally the team I’ve always wanted to bring. A team of people I like playing with that also has a chance to win. Me and the guy I’ve played with all three years (he’s the skip that is aging out) finally convinced two of the guys we curl with locally to venture out of California. Well, it wasn’t the two guys that needed the convincing as it was convincing their wives. But we finally did that, and now we’re ready to go 5-0 and take the crown.

Let’s do this.

Game One. 

Game one only counts in the standings. But it still counts in the standings.

Three of the four curlers on our opponent team have been curling less than a year. Oh, and one of those three hadn’t shown up yet, so add some fatigue to their inexperience. Yes, you can get fatigued while curling, especially if you’re taking extra shots and are the only sweeper.

Their skip, the only person with more than one year of curling, could hit some draws. Unfortunately for him, we made him draw every end, and he could only hit “some draws.”  A draw is where you’re just trying to slowly go around a guard and have your rock sit in the house. You’d think that would be easy. It’s not. Give me a guard or a takeout any day over a draw to the button. The difference between a draw and a rock that sails through, hitting nothing, is two-tenths of a second on your delivery.

In our first end, we scored two, and thought we were going to cruise to victory. We played the second end a little loose, and all of a sudden, they had two points in the house. We took out one with our final shot, but they had one more shot and a wide-open draw to score a second point and tie the game. He came up short, so they only scored one. Whew!

That scared us enough to bear down. We scored two in the third end and four in the fourth and cruised to victory.

These are the types of games that can be dangerous. We didn’t hit all of our shots. Far from it. Yet we won 12-2, and we were being generous to keep it that close. We could have scored fifteen or more. There were two ends where we had all eight of our stones in play. We would put two in the house, then set up six guards. If we wanted to, we could’ve put more of them into the house. At least I think we could have, but I was light on a lot of my throws. A better team could’ve taken advantage of that.

Like the team we’re playing tomorrow. They beat some of my friends at the same time we were playing. Every time we looked over, we assumed we’d be playing our friends next. They were up 4-0. Then they were up 5-3. After we were off the ice (a 12-2 game tends to go faster than a close game), they gave up three and lost 6-5. Ouch. They made the mortal sin of continually scoring one point per end, which is a very precarious way to play. In the final tally, they won five of the seven ends that were played, and the other team only scored in two of the ends, but that’s not what matters in the end.

Our friends said we should have no problem beating this next team. We’ll see. It’s hard to judge which part of their game was the fluke. Were they a lucky team in those two ends, or were they good enough to keep limiting their opponent to one point at a time? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

The only other item of note in game number one was the double balloon. At a number of bonspiels, they have a cowbell stuck to the end of a balloon. If anyone on your team hits a double-takeout (Removing two opponent stones from the house with one shot), you ring the bell and move the balloon to your sheet. It sits there until another game steals it with a double-takeout of their own. Whoever ends the game in possession of the balloon gets a free pitcher of beer.

I’ll repeat that: A free pitcher of beer!

The goddamned balloon had been in our goddamned possession for damn-near a half-hour. When our skip got in the hack to take his final shot, he turned around to look at the balloon. “Okay, we still have the balloon, so I’ll just throw a guard.” When his fucking shot was halfway down the fucking lane, some other fucking team rang the fucking bell.

I’m a little bitter. Can you tell? Nothing is so demoralizing as, in the midst of sweeping our final shot, knowing that I’m now going to have to pay a whopping thirteen dollars for my next pitcher of beer. That bell was worse than the bell that starts the final day of school. Something so close, and yet just out of reach.

We had time to play one more end. We discussed with the other team the possibility of playing one more end just to set up doubles. We tried to convince them that they could use another end as practice. Heck, that was the only reason we had played the final end, already up 10-2. But this time, they just shrugged. The spirit of curling says that the winner buys the loser beer, so they were getting free beer regardless of if it came via us or a balloon. Besides,the way they were playing, we couldn’t guarantee their ability to put stones in the house for us to take out.

So pitcher on me! Worst. Thirteen Dollars. Ever.

Interlude.

The curling club that’s nice enough to give us their ice for this shindig has their own league that runs on Friday nights, so the organizers of our event usually find an activity in Seattle for us to comradarize at that night. Last year, it was a Mariners game. This year, they’re out of town, so we went to a grown-up mini golf and duffleboard place, instead.

What’s duffleboard, you ask? Good question. It was a question most of us had, and oddly, it was not defined on their website. I guess they just want you to come on down and check it out.

Duffleboard is part shuffleboard, part mini golf. They set up a “green” on a table. You use a stick with a flat end, like the letter T, and push the golf ball across the board. You get points based on where the ball ends up. On a soccer table, you push the ball from corner kick territory and are supposed to bank it off of a defender into the goal for the equivalent of a hole-in-one. If you missed the goal long, it was two strokes, three if it was on the near side of the goal, up to five or six for missing the defender and leaving the ball out in the middle of nowhere. Another table was set up like SafeCo Field (hole in one for hitting it through small holes in the home run fence, two for a slightly large hole without a defender, six if you couldn’t push it out of the infield). There was also a Seahawks #12 table. I’m sensing a Seattle theme. Then we came upon a basketball one, which I found odd because Seattle hasn’t had basketball in twenty years. The table had a picture of Key Arena. I don’t think that’s even standing anymore.

The duffleboard was fun. More fun than the actual mini golf. The mini-golf course was seven holes making the word “Seattle.” However, to make it grown-up, the letters are all chopped up with boards and kegs and awkward lanes. To wit:

I get it. I’ve played mini golf with the daughter, and one would assume adults need something with a little more nuance, a bit more adversity. But this place also had beer, and one would think that drunk adults might not need too many wrinkles. Just think of the joys of stimulus-response time if they were to put in a windmill

In the end, the duffleboard was much more fun, cheaper, and we didn’t have to wait a half hour for a tee time. They might want to pump that up a little on their website.

One more thing from Friday night. The bar didn’t take cash. Card only. I really wanted to go all economics teacher on them and mention that fiat currency is “good for all debts, public an private,” but decided against it. Because they had beer and I really, really wanted to incur a private debt.

Game Two. 

Curling is a team game. And thank God for that. Because I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn in game two, but we still managed to take the W.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on myself. My first two shots were beautiful. Pristine. We had one beautiful stone fully covered underneath a proper guard. In fact, maybe I should wax a bit more eloquent about that first end. We only scored one. It wasn’t even the one that I had put in the house, because that got jostled out by the best player on the opposing team – a twenty-year old girl who could pretty much hit anything out of the house whenever she wanted. I can’t throw upweight half as well as her.

So the end itself wasn’t all that spectacular, but did I mention I hit both of my first two shots? Because in case you hadn’t heard, I did.

The next twelve shots I took? Yeah, best not to talk about them. Maybe my hangover was starting to fade too much.

There were at least two ends where neither of my rocks ended up in play. That’s bad. It doesn’t give the rest of my team much to work with. Unless I want to claim that I was keeping it wide open for my teammates to take out the other team’s stones. Yeah, yeah, that was my plan all along. Like when Kobe bragged about giving his teammates so many rebound opportunities when he missed.

Mind you, not all of my shots were horrible. Many were, but some were not. Unfortunately, the non-horrible ones still weren’t very good. The best I could call them was “something my teammates might have a chance to do something with.”

But hey, we won, right? I’d rather play shitty and win than to be on top of my game in a loss. After we scored one point in the first end (did I mention my shots in the first end? No? They were magnificent!), the other team came back and scored two in the second. In the third end, we couldn’t get anything going and, starting with their wee-lass doubling out two of our stones (what’s the point? She wasn’t even old enough to drink her free pitcher, so she might as well have kept our rocks in play), neither team let any stone stick around. The result was a blank end, meaning nobody scored. That was intentional on our part when it came to the final shot, because it’s better to hold onto the hammer (final rock) than to score one and give the hammer back to the other team. Especially if we’re already down one.

At that point in the game, I was nervous. If they could take out our stones and were already up by one, then it would be difficult to score more than one, and we had already seen what this team will do if you keep scoring one against them. Or zero, as we had just done.

But in the third end, we scored three. We didn’t deserve it. In fact, I thought we only had two, but there was a stone, way in the back of the house, still in play by maybe only an inch, that counted. It had been sitting there for five minutes, just minding its own business, laa, laa, laa, don’t mind me, and what do you know, we score three.

That’s when the wheels came off the other team. Their second was still shooting lasers, but everyone else on the team was missing. Did I mention I’d rather play shitty in a win than play well in a loss? Annie fucking Oakley over there was the Reverse Wombat in this particular game.

So we made it through to the  quarterfinals. Because we’re 2-0, we are still alive whether we win or lose the next game. If we lose, we head to the B Bracket. If we win, we’re into the Championship Round. Goal number one of any bonspiel is to still be playing on Sunday. Mission Accomplished!

Good thing, too, because the team we’re playing next looks solid. They played right after us, so we stuck around to do a little scouting. The team they played came from our sister club, so we’ve played them pretty regularly. Our sister club team, who we’re comparable to, fell behind 4-0, but made a game out of it, coming back to 4-3 before giving up one in the final end.

So there’s a chance there, if only our fucking lead can get his fucking stones in play.

Oh, and there will be karaoke off ice while we’re playing. Expect a second interlude.

Game Three.

Fuck.

A.

Duck.

I swear, those of you reading this as one full post after the fact will believe that I, like the masterful storyteller I am, went back and changed my Game Two write-up for juxtapositional purposes. I promise that is not the case. The reason I decided to track my progress through this weekend was because this ain’t my first go around, and most bonspiels come with highs and lows in rapid succession. And we just experienced the fuck out of those highs and lows.

Remember when I said I’d rather play shitty and win the game than play wonderfully and lose? Well, I played great in game three.

Seriously, let me take a moment to explain some of my wonderful shots. Draw to the button? Yeah, I hit three of those. Guards? No fucking problem. There was this one shot – there were two guards, one ours, one the other team’s, that were about two feet apart from each other. Behind the gap, sitting right on the T-Line (that’s the horizontal line that goes through the middle of the house, making a T, or maybe a t, depending on your angle). I threw a take-out that went right through the port, knocked their rock out of play, and then rolled just a little to the right, under the cover of one of those guards I had just passed through. If I were to pull a John Elway and walk away at the height of my curling career, it might’ve been after that shot.

My vice (that’s the guy who shoots third – vice skip, right before the skip) also had a double takeout that end. Ring the cowbell, motherfucker! We scored four points in that end, to go up 5-3.

Then we lost the game.

At least we held onto the double-balloon for the free pitcher of beer this time. Trust me, we needed it.

Prior to that four-ender, the other team made an odd decision. They were up 2-1 in the third end, and with their final shot, the house was wide open. According to Hoyle, you should blank the end – throw through, intentionally score zero, hold onto the final shot. Instead, they drew for one point and gave us the hammer back. The following end was the one we scored four. That’s why Hoyle says what Hoyle says.

After that four-ender, we stole one, which means we scored one despite the other team having the final shot. We were feeling good. This game was following the same pattern as game two. Take a few ends to feel out the competition, then exploit their weaknesses and keep stealing points. We were up three with three ends left to play. Ninety percent of the time, the team who’s up by three with three ends left will win. All we have to do is play conservative and not give up big ends.

Oops.

They scored two in the next end. Had we been a tad more conservative, we might have held them to one. Feeling all Big Johnson, we went for a knockout and forgot about the counter-punch.

No problem. Only two ends left, and we’re up one with the hammer. If we score two, they’ll have to score three. Early in the end, we got one near the button that they couldn’t do anything with, and we guarded it. There were a couple times we could have tried to get a second rock in, but instead we just guarded the fuck out of that one rock. Once it was secure, we tried to get a second rock in, but the guards work two ways. We probably waited too long to try to get that second point, but whatever, we go to the final end up by two.

They score two. Fuck a duck.

Our skip was heavy on two draws in a row that would have cut them to one. If we cut them to one, we win the game. In the grand scheme of things, if one person is going to hit their shots and the other is going to miss, you want the lead missing and the skip hitting. Not vice versa. As games two and three demonstrate.

So what do you do when a curling game ends in a tie? The skip on each team draws to the button. The closest one wins.

I hate this practice, but it’s a necessary evil, especially in knock-out bracket play. I coordinate the league at our home club, and I give the loser of a draw to the button the equivalent of the NHL’s overtime loss. It’s worth one point instead of two. A team that is 3-3 with a DTB loss is better than a legitimate 3-3 team, worse than a 4-2 team. Because, especially at our level, a draw-to-the-button a brutal crapshoot.

I had no faith in my skip making the draw to the button, having been heavy and outside on his last two shots. But, DAMN, he got it within five inches of the button (Thanks to my phenomenal sweeping). Five inches is nothing. I’ve scored many of these competitions, and twenty or thirty inches is usually good enough to win. Hack, I’ve seen seventy-two inches win (seventy-three is the maximum, meaning you missed the house entirely). So five inches, we’re punching our ticket to A Bracket.

The other team got within three inches.

Fuck a duck.

Welcome to B Bracket.

We played well, even excellently at times, for one hundred minutes. For fifteen minutes at the end, we fell apart. Such is a bonspiel.

Hey, guess who we’re playing in the morning? The two people that the skip and I played with last year, that we separated from to go our own way. Grudge-match extraordinaire. At least we’ll finally figure out which two people on last year’s team deserved the accolades.

Again, I promise I did not add this shit in to the top to add suspense.

Interlude Two.

I wasn’t in much of a karaoke mood after that last game. The guy that runs it even came up to me, said I killed it last year, and wondered what my first song would be. I told him we had just suffered a gut-wrencher and to give me a little time.

Fortunately, the spirit of curling brought one pitcher our way via the loss, the double-takeout balloon gave us another one, and then I was finally ready to sing.

I started with “As Good as I Once Was,” by Toby Keith, at the request of my skip, who was not feeling as good once as he ever was after that last game.

I followed it up with “Baby Got Back” and “Chocolate Salty Balls.” Then it was home to (write this up and) get ready for tomorrow morning. Did I mention our first game is at 8:00 AM?

Game Four.

Boy, am I glad I didn’t punctuate last night’s come-from-ahead, two-inch loss with some form of “I’d rather get blown out in a game than lose such a close one.”

I was definitely thinking it, but I wasn’t stupid enough to write it. Maybe even thinking it was a bad idea.

Game four started off bad, then got worse. In the second end, we gave up three points even though we had the hammer. The two flashes (when the stone hits nothing and sails right on through, waving like the beer bottle in the Laverne & Shirley credits) that our vice had were bad enough, but the two flashes that our skip had right after definitely didn’t help. Four misses in a row tend to be problematic.  When a quarterback throws four interceptions in a game, that hurts the team’s chances of winning. Our opponents only had one rock in play when we missed the first shot. By the fourth, they had three.

But the fun wasn’t over, as we gave up one more point the following end, and before our bodies had acclimated to the ice, we were down 5-0. In our defense, we battled back to 5-3, but down two without hammer in the final end doesn’t give you a lot of options. But hey, at least we were hitting some of our shots. And our skip’s final shot, going through a port smaller than the one I had hit in game two, in order to almost knock out three opponent stones, was a helluva shot and almost brought us back from the dead!

New team motto: Playing best when it matters least!

I remember reading, a long, long time ago, before the Cubs and Red Sox ended their respective curses, about the different types of painful sports losses. There’s misery and agony. Agony is acute, misery is more pervasive. The Cubs have tended to have more misery. Usually in last place, losing ninety games a year with no big prospects or future or hope. The fans don’t expect to win and wear their “lovable losers” badge with a sense of pride. The Red Sox, on the other hand, were usually a good team, fighting for division crowns, often making the playoff. Yet every time they thought this was the year, Bucky Dent happens, Billy Buckner happens. Agony.

After this weekend, I can speak from experience. Neither is great. The misery route sucks more while you’re on the ice. Slumped body language, looking at the clock to see how much longer you have to endure, trying to be a good sport when really you want to scream expletives at the top of your lungs through sobs in the corner.

But the good news about sucking is that, by the end of the game, you’re already resigned to the fact. Even though that last game was against people we know, with every ounce of pride on the line, and even though I will be reminded of that loss umpteen times whenever I curl against them, or even see them, in the future, this shitty showing ain’t going to be the one that I remember when I look back on this tournament.

Giving up three, then losing by two inches? That one’ll stick with me for a long, long while.

Billy Buckner was a career .289 hitter with over 1200 RBI. Ask him what he’s remembered for.

Conclusion

Two and two. 2-2. W, W, L, L.

Doesn’t matter how I write it, it doesn’t look any better.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended a bonspiel with that exact same record. And in that order. If I did it in the opposite order, two losses followed by two wins, I’d be called the C-Bracket or D-Bracket champion. But win, win, loss, loss usually equates to some bullshit title. In this case, we were called the sixth place team. The seventh-place team got a pin for winning the B Bracket. Kinda like College Football, it’s all a matter of getting those losses out of the way first.

At least they made this bracket so the 2-0 teams weren’t eliminated if they lost their third game. Been there, done that. Nothing’s worse than watching the teams that played horribly still alive on Sunday while you’re eliminated because you had the audacity to win early.

Not sure why my teams tend to start strong then finish weak. In theory it’s because the competition gets harder as the weekend goes along, but in practice, that’s not always the case. Hell, the final was between a team from our sister club (who we’ve beaten more times than we’ve lost to) and the team that beat us by two inches. And the way they both played that final game, I think we would’ve had a damn good shot.

Then again, it’s always easy to make your hypothetical shots when you’re sitting in the warm room with a beer in your hand.

Maybe it’s a fatigue thing. We are well into our thirties and forties, after all. Maybe it’s that other teams adjust better. Not sure. If we lost the same way each time, that would be one thing. Sometimes the front end (aka me) falls apart. But this weekend, the best player on our team lost his touch and didn’t get it back.

I guess that’s why sports exist, though. If we played the two-inch team ten times, we’d beat them seven or eight. The Patriots would probably have a similar record against an Eagles team with a back-up quarterback, but who is the Super Bowl champ?

And all things considered, going 2-2 in a curling tournament ain’t such a bad thing. Hang out with friends, drink lots of beer, get more than my money’s worth. At least that’s what I’ll keep reminding myself over the next few days when I’m hobbling around like I’ve been doing lunges all weekend long. Oh wait, I HAVE been doing lunges all weekend.

Obviously, I didn’t post this multiple times over the weekend. Something about getting back to the airbnb at midnight after a few pitchers might be conducive to stream-of-consciousness drivel, but not for editing and publishing. I’ll go back and clean it up a little, but I promise, all of the entries (before this one) were written in real time. I wanted to capture the ups and downs of a bonspiel, because my bonspiels typically go through these highs and lows. The good shots linger for a short time, while the misses get scorched in your brain for longer.

It’s like ol’ Blue Eyes said, you’re “flying high in (3:00 PM on Saturday), shot down in (seven hours later).”

But the real bonspiel experience was the plane ride home. My club sent 23 people from Sacramento to Seattle this weekend. Eighteen of us were on the same flight home. First at the bars and restaurants, then sitting at the gate, then walking down the aisle, there were familiar faces everywhere. Here are the husband and wife who beat me and lost in the B Final. Over there are members of a team that went 0 and 3 in their very first bonspiel away from home. Right behind me is a family of three who shifted their lineup at the last minute because their fourteen year-old son wanted to play on an all-teenager team. The teenager’s team went 2-2, winning the middle two games, while his parents went through a grueling 1-3 weekend, their only win coming in the E Bracket against the team I had played first – the ones with three years of experience combined. Who even knew they made an E Bracket?

Maybe I shouldn’t complain too much about my 2-2 weekend after all.