Monday, May 23, 2011

A Letter from the "Commissioner".

I follow the Professional Squash Tour (PST) closely because it is perhaps the best thing to happen to squash since wooden rackets were replaced by graphite rackets. And then there is the "commisioner" of the newly formed league: Joe McManus. This guy is great for squash, I've at one point called him the Bill Veeck of squash -- I have to confess I am very much a traditionalist when it comes to certain things. Squash for one, I prefer the English players to the Egyptians, Nick Mathews game to Ramy Ashour's, PSA, attrition squash, softball, Dunlop Ball and rackets, and so on. But I also love innovation in this game when it doesn't tread on tradition. I don't believe this great game of ours will ever reach a mass audience, but then again I'm sure 30 years ago no one ever thought golf would be where it is today. Television makes a certain sport rich, squash just hasn't hit TV big time, will it every, I don't believe so? It's too fast, too complex, and unless you really appreciate the subtle nuances of the game, pretty boring to watch. But then again, people by the millions can sit through a basebal game where there is only 15-20 minutes of real action and 2-3 hours of boring stuff. How much action does a centerfielder experience in a game, probably barely 3 minutes. And squash, especially glass court squash where the ball is always difficult to hit the nick or kill shot and put the point away, not many spectacular nicks, or the equivalent of a home run in baseball, slam dunk in basketball or bomb in football. I cannot sit through an entire baseball game anymore, even a Red Sox and Yankee matchup without turning to something else after a couple of innings.
Anyways, squash in the Olympics? I'm not sure about that either, if you can't sell it to TV or a mass audience can you sell it to the Olympics? If it were to make the Olympics would it receive prime time?...but you can market anything . So squash for TV a, a mass audience, the Olympics, squash professional leagues...If anyone can make it happen the "commissioner" can. He reminds me of Pete Rozelle (football), Don King (Boxing), David Stern (Basketball) -- visionaries that took their respective sports to a new level of recognition...these men brought their sport into mainstream America via TV. But before they garnered the big TV dollars, they started somewhere and worked their way up, and the feeling might have been no fan of their sport was ever insignificant. And they were marketing geniuses.
A couple of weeks back on the PST Web site there was a question about whom the PST should sign next followed by a list of names of some great players. I for one am such a fan of David Palmer, who was first on the list and who can still compete in the top ten/twenty, but there were others. I saw Allistair Walker, wow, he's such an exciting player (from England!) and sorry Mr. Palmer, while it is great to see stars in any sport even past their prime, it's probably more exciting to watch a younger up and coming squash superstar like Walker -- so I voted for him. I made some of my usual comments in the comments box praising the PST and admonishing it on holding to tradition, I keep harping on this, but hey, those were free comments. I sent them off.
About a week later I receive an email from the "commissioner" thanking me for my comments. I was a bit surprised, but then I realized he reads every comment, every article, every word about his PST. I was impressed. Then I receive an email today announcing the PST league play and a draft of its constitution...and I thought, he really makes things happen, whether he is an idea man or is smart of enough to know a good idea when he sees it and executes it, whether a visionary or businessman or maybe a combination of both, I hope he succeeds at all of this, I want him to make playing squash something that anyone would want to play, sort of like, why wouldn't anyone want to play. I want him to reach the young athlete somewhere, anywhere from any walk of life so that young athlete walks into my club and wants to know how to play this game, barefooted or not. I want to see all those players that are overseas that we never see because they are outside the top 20, I want to see them play on the PST.
My son played his first PST event a few weeks back, I've written so much about his squash career. He was so excited, and I was so proud of him because this young man, in the past often hampered by severe asthma, has worked so hard in the past 3 years to drop 40 lbs and really train; he is tireless and while sometimes discouraged manages to get on the court for hours with me or by himself. For him, as gifted as he was as a junior -- he would be brilliant for a game or two sometimes only a few points-- and no one really looked twice at him because of his weight and poor stamina-- it has been a deserted island. But my son knows how I can be brutally honest and I never ever misled him in what I believed to be so much potential in him; I told him over and over it's a great privilege to play this game at a high level. I saw something in him, intangibles, what he sees, what he thinks, and knew intuitively his squash mind is pure genius. I've read every squash book, have seen so many players, have talked to them...can tell you the most gifted player I ever saw was Tristan Nancarrow, can tell you that Martin Heath has a great squash mind, that Hisham Ashour is more talented than Ramy, his brother, and that there will never ever be the likes of Jansher Khan...and my son, I always told him, there's no recipe for success, there's no blueprint, if you work hard and want it badly enough and you have the talent and you really learn this game any is possible.
So he played his first PST event, I didn't watch, and he was smoked. I asked over the phone him what happened, he said " he lost, it's just one match". He said he was nervous, he didn't play well. How was his opponent, I asked?, "He was good, hit hard," was all he said. I was impressed he sounded like a professional athlete!
As for the "commissioner", in true fashion, he came up to my son after his match and told him about a player who came out and was smoked too in his opening professional match and who is now a really good and consitent player on the tour. My son appreciated that gesture and encouragement. What will he remember most about his first professional match?, most likely his conversation aftwerwards with Commissoner McManus.