Archive for the ‘You Play What?’ Category

You Play What?
June 2, 2007

There was a time in San Diego when it seemed like everybody was playing it. I guess it was just a craze, but who could know that at the time? All over the county there were racquetball courts. It was a rite of passage for upwardly mobile 20-or-30-somethings. Deals were discussed and contracts agreed to somewhere between the second and third games.
I don’t know why racquetball fell out of popular favor. So much of its root structure was established right here in San Diego. Dr. Bud Muehleisen of La Mesa is even yet considered “The Most Influential Man in Racquetball”. Bob McInerny, a tennis pro from San Diego is the man credited with giving the sport its name. Times were, in the 1970s, you could play at the “Courthouse” on University Avenue not far from Texas Street. There was another racquetball club on India Street. Across the United States, in the 1980s, more then 10-million people played the sport. It is an incredibly easy-to-play workout that affords even ham-fisted klutzes like me a measure of satisfaction.
I was introduced to the sport by a friend named Mike Meagher, a former football player at San Diego State, who owned his own communications company downtown. When he talked about it, I pictured something like a cross between squash and jai alai. It turned out to be a lightning-fast series of volleys and roll-out slams that had me completely seduced from the start.
I loved the game, and the whole San Diego connection to it. It seemed easy enough to master, and healthy enough to be proud of having done so. If you wore eye protection, the worst that could happen was the odd black and blue mark, and I considered that a badge of honor.
But something happened. Racquetball declined in favor of “extreme sports”, a kind of euphemism for things you really should know better than to do. I don’t know what happened to “The Courthouse”. The club on India street became an indoor pistol range.
Today, according to the United States Racquetball Association, 5.6 million people play. But I’ll be hanged if I can find many of them. Mike Meagher passed away a couple of years ago. My friend Tara from work plays with (and often beats) me on odd weekends. Consumer Bob Hansen has a mean backspin in his similar victories. But for the most part, racquetball is a harder sell in San Diego than in the heady days of 20 years ago.
Meantime, I watch television sports coverage of poker games, for crying out loud! The only thing more boring and sedentary than playing poker is watching somebody else do it. The other day ESPN was actually featuring a program where two hulks were trying to see who could throw a tire the greatest distance. It was in a stadium, devoid of people, but when the cameraman inserted a star filter, and audio threw in some heroic music, you could believe, however briefly, that this lame contest somehow mattered.
Seems to me that racquetball has a lot more going for it than a Pirelli-toss, but these days, the courts at my gym remain mostly dark and strangely quiet.