Every year at the start of the season I repost the first blog entry I ever wrote for MatchPointOhio. We’re going back almost a decade now, but my feelings about the sport, and the ball, haven’t changed at all, save to intensify.
Hey—see you at the Athens Community Center on Saturday at three. It was a great scrimmage last year, and promises to be at least as good this year. We have six new players, for a full roster of sixteen. The players are working hard: Cricket and I went to Monday’s practice, and I couldn’t believe how many crunches they were doing in between passes, sets and hits. If Coach Webb sent me over to the sidelines to get me in shape like that, they’d be using me as a mop to clean the floor.
And now the time-honored post: The Feel of the Ball:
The way it fits between your hands, the texture of it, the faint give under pressure, the perfect balance with which it rises into the air after you set it. For pure sensuous pleasure—at least the kind of pleasure we’re going to be talking about on this blog—there is nothing like the feel of a volleyball.
This is what drew me to the sport years ago: how right the ball felt. And that first one was a mangy old street ball in New York’s Washington Square Park. Later, in a gym in Yellow Springs, Ohio, I got hold of my first Tachikara SV5W. Now there’s a ball. When I die, that’s the one you can lace my fingers around as you slip me into the earth. The OU team, I have to admit, plays mainly with Moltens these days, which along with Badens have been horning in on the market once dominated by Tachikara. No matter, when it comes to my ultimate rest, make it the SV5W.
Other sports offer utilitarian, sometimes curious balls:
–The Little League baseball I played with when I was ten. I admit that it’s a handsome little nugget of a ball, with its infinite stitching pattern—but it’s nothing to cozy up with. Designed for violent contact with oak or hickory, it’s best handled with a glove.
–The big pebbled basketball I played with for hours at a time when I was a kid, shooting on a hoop my father nailed to the back of our house. The surface is foreign, the texture reminiscent of the factory it was made in.
–The soccer ball, rugged and impervious, and clearly designed not to be touched. Penalty if you do.
–That jive pellet the lacrosse ball, heavy and smooth. It feels like some kind of ammo.
–I admit to the football’s aerodynamic superiority. But it’s another of those industrial balls, faintly pebbled.
–The ping pong ball, tiny, smooth and brittle—and its dense second cousin, the golf ball. We buy them by the dozen, then squash them underfoot or lose them in the rough.
–The racquetball, similar to the pink spaldeen kids used to play with on the streets of New York, perhaps still do. Bouncy and utilitarian.
–The squash ball, with its two-inch bounce before you warm it up.
–The tennis ball. I love the sport so I’m fond of the ball—but after a couple of sets bring out some new ones, the first are already worn out.
Only a volleyball fits the hand so well, and has a perfect, smooth, animal texture. Of course, this is written by a setter, someone who thinks the key moment in each point is the tenth of a second when the ball enters the setter’s hands and flies out redirected. It’s all in service to the hitter, and we’d be nowhere without the vital pass and the crushing spike. But to me it’s still the ball, and the feel of the ball, that defines the game.
I admit, here at the start, to a river of bias on every topic. But that’s what makes this a blog post instead of a news report.