Bay Tribune by Joe Follick
area residents seem to have it good when it comes
to displays of sports. World-class athletes in baseball,
football and hockey display skills that are unimaginable
to more than 99.9 percent of the world.
But the disconnect
at major-league sporting events between the observed
and the observers is huge. Average folks can barely
afford to attend the events. Once there, the artifice
overpowers the athletic as ceaseless promotions and
gimmicks drown the actual sport. And, needless to
say, the orbits of multimillionaire superstar athletes
rarely intersect - in or out of the sporting arenas
- with those of the fans who support them. Who we
see at Tropicana Field or the Ice Palace aren't real
``men.'' They're composites of media imagery and promotion.
So maybe major-league
bereft cities like Austin, Texas, have it better.
Jason Cohen's ``Zamboni Rodeo'' makes a compelling
case. The freelance author followed the minor-league
Austin Ice Bats for one hockey season in the anti-Canada
environs of Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico.
watch players making as little as $300 per week playing
strictly for the love of the game. That sounds trite,
but how else to explain men with Ivy League degrees
living in Texas to play third-line defense - if they're
true love can explain a player leaving a well-paying
job in Saskatchewan for six months on a flooded bus
bouncing between Shreveport and Albuquerque.
enduring lesson is that sometimes pursuing a craft
is its own reward. The players in the Western Professional
Hockey League, as it was known, had no illusions of
bright lights in the Ice Palace or Olympic gold medals.
They played hockey because that's what they've done
since before they could remember. Trainer Gunner Garrett
spits out R- rated criticism like a cranky Burgess
Meredith. Young stars Ryan Pawluk and Tim Findlay
have played with each other on the same line since
they were in junior hockey in Ontario. Bruce Shoebottom
is a grizzled goon who dishes out beatings on the
ice while wincing with his arthritic knees.
The book, if
anything, is packed with too many characters. By telling
us about every player who plays with the Ice Bats
before being traded to Waco or Shreveport, Cohen slows
down the flow. And Cohen seems unaware of the, dare
I say, lovely metaphors the book holds. The Ice Bats
and the dozens of other minor-league hockey teams
on the continent are made of men who are just working
stiffs of the most admirable type. ``Zamboni Rodeo''
is a reminder of what sports at all levels should
aspire to be. More important, it's a tale of how rich
a spotlight-free life can be for diehard dreamers.