Dave Blatt Paddleball Profile By Jimmy Kandylas
“I’ll play with the kid”, I said, sentencing the kid’s mom to play with my dad. The kid and his mom played together a lot; they were a pretty tough team, but they were usually willing to split up for a “children vs. parents” game. We had played that same game a few times a week, every week, for most of the summer. We mostly played on the front courts at Bay 8th, in the late evening as the sun was coming down over the golf course across the street. It was always a fun game to close out the day. No matter how many games you’ve played, you can always gather up the energy to beat up on your parents. The kid was five foot nothing at that point. He was barely 12 years old. But, at twilight, with the sun at his back, he cast an impressive shadow, foretelling the man he would grow into.
“What side do you want, Dave?” Silly question. “OK, I’ll take the right; do you want to box?” Even at 12, he wouldn’t really dignify that with an answer, just a little shake of the head. No, he did not want to box. I would try to encourage him during the game. “Great try! You were right there! It’s OK Dave, that’s the shot, you keep going for it and it will fall. We’ll get them next time.” It didn’t seem to matter. Even at 12, he expected to hit every shot, make every get – win every game. As we got further into the summer, there was a lot less encouragement and a lot more praise. “Nice! Great shot! Amazing get! You make the last two.” The speed at which he improved was nothing short of astonishing. Before long, we were winning every game. His mom took it better than my dad. I’m sure that winning a mixed double tournament with her son a few years later further softened the blow.
I can’t claim all the credit, but I did give him some advice that summer. “This isn’t Tennis. Try switching to your left on the shots taking you off the court. If you want to get good, you need to give up that backhand.” Shows what I know. He never gave up that backhand, but wow did he get good.
Dave Blatt started playing 21 years ago at Silver Gull Beach Club, but Bay 8th is his home. For years the Bay 8th faithful knew him as “the kid.” Not a kid. Not some kid. The kid. Even when he was very young, you could see the athleticism in him, built up from years of sports ranging from gymnastics to tennis and other athletic activities, like ballet and tap dancing, which he practiced for 18 years, but has since given up.
But even more, you could see the drive – the competitive fire that few people have. As he got older and he started playing in tougher games, while still stubbornly refusing to give up that backhand, he morphed into “Federer” (although I’m sure he would have preferred “Nadal”, as Rafa is his sports hero) as he glided across the court, picking up shots that seemed un-retrievable and using his cannon of a right arm to blast balls by his opponents, sometimes in and sometimes not.
Now, as an undisputed top player in one wall paddle, big and small, as well as one wall racquet, the entire one wall community knows him as the “Hulkster.” And, thanks to Dave saying his prayers and eating his vitamins, like a good little Hulkamaniac, that cannon has become a much more reliable weapon and has been supplemented by a top notch serve and a deadly inside out forehand kill shot to the right corner. You can see the influence of a number of top players in his game; none more than Richie Miller, who Dave calls the best offensive player he’s seen in his life. But, it’s fair to say that Dave has a style all his own.
Although he only plays once or twice a week now, he has been able to continue to hone his game. He has had his ups and downs in his paddleball career, but he’s at a point where he has confidence in his shots and knows how not to beat himself, which was one of his biggest struggles when he first encountered top level competition. Dave’s advice, which he put into practice early on, is to play against better players, even players that will beat you badly, so that you challenge your body and mind to reach a higher level.
Unfortunately for Dave, that doesn’t work anymore because there just aren’t players that consistently beat him badly. For years, Dave has played regular games against the best of the best, including Rob Sostre, Freddy Ramirez, Richie Miller, Nelson Deida, Keith Jackson, Glen Winokur. Troy Varsik, as well as other top players and has been able to give as good as he gets. His success hasn’t come easy. He has had some injuries. He isn’t quite the same guy that was able to show up at Zerega at 8 am after a night of partying (which followed, of course, a day of playing at Carmine street) and was still able to crush his first game against top competition. But, as his recent tournament results, which include open wins in the 2017 AF Pro Series tournament in Rockaway and the small ball open tournament held in Marine Park in July, show, he isn’t that far off either.
Dave is disappointed by the fact that Paddleball isn’t as popular as it was in its golden years, when a good tournament would generate 128 entries, but he hopes that having events that showcase top talent will be able to attract sponsors and grow the sport back into the force it was in 70s and 80s. To that end, the High Heat events that he has thrown over the years have been a great platform for top paddleball players to display their talent. And, for anyone looking to watch some of the best games of the last few years, search “Davetallica” on YouTube, where Dave posts his videos of the events he attends. Dave hopes to one day have a unified governing body for paddleball, which is in line with the mission of the Paddleball Family Alliance; and if that happens, I have no doubt that he’ll be a big part of getting it off the ground.
Lest anyone think that Dave is a single-minded, one-wall machine, the “kid” has also grown up to be a devoted husband and father; he can set people up on a chess board as well as he sets them up on the court; he can play piano, and if you get a few drinks in him, he can even show off some of the ballet and tap moves that he developed over his years of training. Any man that can crush a spike to the corner and pull off a “petit jete” is truly a force to be reckoned with. Now, if he would only give up that backhand . . .