An Athlete’s Rituals

I walked into the Tampa Bay Lightning locker room and saw Marty St. Louis put a blowtorch to his carbon stick blade, step on it a little bit, and then dunk the blade into a bucket of icy water.

When I was a kid we would do this same type of thing with our wood sticks by putting them over a gas flame from my mom’s stove, and stepping on them to curve the blade as much as humanly possible. My mom came home one day just as the blade I was holding over the flame caught fire. I ran into the bathroom and dunked the thing in the toilet.

“Hey Marty, the new curve must not have been what you were looking for?” “Some are good, some are slightly off,” he replied. He didn’t seem to mind the work he was doing with the blowtorch. Sometimes these little things became rituals; part of a player’s routine. But for me, it would look better if he didn’t have to do this to half the Easton sticks he received.

Once again, we were dealing with the slightest difference that was frankly within our factory’s plus-minus for passing QC. And this was our pro factory in Mexico, where attention to detail was paramount to success. We’d already made a couple different molds for him, and these molds weren’t cheap or easy to make.

Each custom blade pattern, like Marty’s, required a steel or aluminum mold. Each mold was worth a couple thousand dollars in materials alone. With the instability of the Mexican society and economy, there were some instances of workers throwing these molds over the factory fence on their lunch break to sell for their material worth.

When I visited our Mexican factory, I went to lunch with the factory boss. He told me about the family that owned the restaurant we were eating at and how they’d been taken for ransom. “Anyone with money out here has to watch their back,” he said, “people disappear all the time.”

So it wasn’t a surprise when Marty St. Louis turned down our offer to come visit the factory to see how we made his sticks. We figured it would give him a better appreciation of the process. “I’m not going to Mexico,” he said, “I do not want to get killed.”

He had a point. What’s a little stick ritual, as opposed to getting killed?

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Lost in Translation

I lived in France for a year and speak and read the language pretty well, but it doesn’t do me much good here in America. Sure, I can order the heck off of a French menu, or translate the tasting notes off the back of a Bordeaux (which by-the-way is unnecessary, since I have yet to find a Bordeaux I haven’t liked) but I really can’t put it to proper use here.

Spanish, on the other hand, could have saved me loads of time and money and embarrassment over the years: time trying to explain things to a multitude of gardeners, pool guys and construction workers; money trying to negotiate with said workers; and embarrassment, well…

Here in Georgia, I walk out while my lawn is being done to tell them to be more careful around the bushes, or not cut the grass so low, and it’s a real crapshoot as to whether or not the guy I’m talking to gets me. Part of the problem is, it’s almost always a different guy. I guess I could start with “habla ingles?” but is that rude? So I just start by speaking English and try to read them by their nods and responses. I’m out there making giant hand gestures, while my neighbors must think I’m practicing to be a mime.

Back in LA, it was almost a given that my revolving lawn guys didn’t speak English. They also didn’t seem to know the difference between a weed and an herb. My wife was getting more and more angry with them with each herb they destroyed. “Can you talk to them again? I really don’t want to lose my rosemary too,” Alex said to me after her precious thyme had been obliterated by a weed-eater. “I have told them in plain English not to wack our herbs,” I said, realizing how stupid it sounded as it came out.

Alex is not one to just give up, however. The next time the gardeners were due to arrive, she had written out a missive in Spanish. “Can you put this out for them please?” she asked me. “Sure, but what does it say?” I prodded. “I found a Spanish translation site and they say it reads: ‘Please do not cut down our herbs with your weed-wacker.’” I shrugged and taped it to a tree right next to our herbs.

We came home later and found the gardeners having lunch under the tree. When they saw us they elbowed each other and snickered. Later I retrieved the note and read it again. Now, as stated, my Spanish is pretty much nil, but French is a romance language and somewhat similar. I went back in the house. “What were they laughing about?” Alex inquired. “I’m not certain, but I think we just told the gardeners not wack off on our herbs.”

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