Back in the day, I was a decent ping pong player.
Oops, forgive me – table tennis player. I did not mean to denigrate the game, so popular throughout the world.
I even had a table tennis table – kind of redundant, I know – in my basement during one particularly lonely stretch of my life. On the rare occasions when there was somebody in the house who would play against me, I fared pretty well.
I even played some intra-mural table tennis at Wichita State.
Why am I talking table tennis? Because I just returned from the media center at the Omni Mandalay Hotel in Irving, Texas, where I’m staying while awaiting Friday night’s Cotton Bowl, and there are tables there. Before our meal, I went one-on-one with the Topeka Capital-Journal’s Kevin Haskin, known for his killer slam.
It was a battle, folks. I trailed once, 14-11, before rallying to win, 24-22. How did I do it? I attacked Haskin’s backhand, which I discovered about midway through the match wasn’t anywhere near as powerful as his forehand. You give that guy a chance with the forehand and you’re chasing the ball to the back of the room, so powerful is his slam.
I also used an assortment of spins, especially with my backhand, that confounded him early in the match. He ultimately caught on and slammed some shots so hard that my aging eyes couldn’t pick up the ball.
We agreed when it was over that the two of us could play 20 matches and each win 10. Honestly, I think I could probably win 11, but I’d prefer that not getting back to Kevin, who has been one of my best media friends for a long time. There aren’t many of the old guard left. Mark Janssen, formerly of the Manhattan Mercury, is here, but he’s in a different capacity now and isn’t staying at the media hotel.
There is a new, younger guard of media and I can’t keep up with those guys. So I play table tennis and next we’re looking to get a spades game going, but we’ve only been able to find three guys who know how to play.
Why aren’t I working more, you ask? Hey, I’m working plenty. (Honest, boss, I am.) But when the day is done, would you rather I have a little fun playing table tennis or hit the town and run up a huge tab?
I hadn’t played table tennis in more than 10 years, I’m guessing. Probably closer to 20. But it really is like riding a bike. Once you’ve got it – and forgive me for my bravado here, but I’ve still got it – you don’t lose it. Am I the player I was in college, when all the girls went ga-ga over my serves? Probably not. Admittedly, I’ve lost some of my hand-eye coordination, mainly because I have very little eyesight at this stage of my life.
But I was proud of my showing against a quality opponent, who told me earlier in the day that he was 5-0 before I arrived. I think I surprised Haskin with my overall quickness and my ability to pounce on one of his few weaknesses. It was a heck of a game; even some of the people nearby started paying attention.
I’m 1-0 on the trip. The paddle felt so good in my hands.