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Dave Blatt – PFA Player Profile for Week 10/16/17

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 . . .


Susan Stephen – PFA Player Profile of the Week for 10/10/17

Susan Stephen Paddleball Profile By David Siegel

Meet Susan Stephen, the winner of the last two major women’s paddleball events. In September, she, along with her partner, Kathy Guinan, won the 2017 Las Vegas Paddleball Tournament and this past Oct. 7, again with Kathy, she emerged victorious in the Columbus Day Weekend “On the Beach” Big Ball Paddleball Tournament, held in Hollywood, Florida.

Susan may be new to recent championships, but she is not new on the paddleball scene. She has been playing continuously for over 40 years, ever since coming to the United States from England, where she spent the first 11 years of her life. In the early days, she played both handball and small ball paddleball at Brooklyn’s Wingate Park and Lefferts High School. She started playing in paddleball tournaments in 1979, including several Budweisers, and back then was considered one of the top woman players. Eventually Susan turned to big ball paddleball and now calls the 40th St. Padegat courts her home park, where she has again emerged as one of the best woman players in the game. Back in the day, she played forever, but now Susan plays 2 to 3 times a week in the summer and less in the winter.

On the court, she a fierce, never-say-die competitor, and very steady. Her strategy is basic: get in front of her opponent, hit the ball to the opposite side and drop the ball in front of her when she has the opportunity. Her role model for her positioning skills is Anita Maldonado.

Susan has great love and respect for the game. Her sports hero was the late Steve Smith, who she says was “respectful, had great talent, and was, at the same time, mild mannered.” She too is subdued off the court, a trait she believes is not well known to her competitors. She sincerely hopes the sport can grow and greatly admires the accomplishments of our Mike Melendez, with the innovative mentorship program and the Pow-Pows that bring the paddleball community together. Susan feels improving overall player conduct is also essential for continued growth.

What about the non-paddleball life of Susan Stephen? In her younger days, she played basketball, which was her first love, until her bothersome knees made it difficult. But she claims she can still beat anyone in a shootout! She loves to cook, having learned from her grandmother, and her favorite dish is salmon and vegetables. And how about this: During the trip to Las Vegas for the tournament, she also got married! Immediately after winning the tournament, she hustled to get ready for her 8:00 PM wedding with Carl. For those of you wondering if this is a new paddleball mixed doubles team? No, sadly, Carl is a basketball player, and doesn’t play paddleball. Nevertheless, the best of health and happiness to Susan and Carl!

Robert Sostre – PFA Player Profile of the Week for 10/02/17

Robert Sostre Paddleball Profile By Dave Siegel & Mike Melendez

Photo courtesy by Alfredo Benjamin Ramirez @ the PFA 2015 Mixed Doubles Tournament

Who is the Greatest of All Time? There have been many great paddleball champions in its history, but the person who ascends to the top of most lists is the Iceman, Robert Sostre. His championships are too numerous to mention, but perhaps most impressive is his longevity at the
top of the game, starting in the mid-1980s through to today. That encompasses 4 decades, going on 5!

He started playing 35 years ago at a very young age in the Bronx at the Yankee Stadium and Van Cortlandt Park courts, inspired and tutored by his older sister, Lily. After playing with her friends, she spent hours and hours hitting with her little brother, soon realizing that he was a natural at the sport, and the creation of a champion had begun. He continued his development by playing park pick-up games every day and practicing tirelessly by himself to develop the large array of shots that are now integral to his game.

Robert is an offensive machine, always attacking the wall and spreading killers and passing shots from anywhere in the court. His favorite shot is the short-hop, which he usually rolls out. He is also an exceptional defensive player, with the uncanny ability to anticipate his opponent’s next shot. His opposite hand (left) is so strong, it is almost as good as his right. He attributes his left hand prowess to the fact that he actually throws with his left (he was a southpaw pitcher), plus long, hard practice time.

Robert is not only a great small and big ball paddleball player, but is a champion in 1-wall handball and one and 3-wall racquetball, having won multiple national titles in these sports. He also excels in three and 4-wall handball, 4-wall racquetball and paddleball, paddle tennis and has played baseball, softball, basketball, pool and table tennis. He was inducted into the outdoor racquetball (WOR) Hall Fame, and the honor that perhaps he is most proud of, the Dewitt Clinton High School Hall of Notable Alumni. Does anyone think he won’t make it to the PFA Paddleball Hall of Fame?

In 2007-8, Robert met a new challenge, tearing both his Achilles tendons within 8 months of each other. Not many athletes come back strong from this injury in one foot, much less, both. But through intense physical therapy and hard work, the Iceman came back after 2 years, playing just like he did prior to the injuries. Robert now says that the recovery was like learning how to walk again and these were the worst two years of his life.

What about Robert’s family? His sister Lily has been his mentor all his life, spurring him and guiding him to success. His late father Jimmy was an outstanding baseball player who almost made it to the pros. His Mom, Delia, get this, has never seen him play live, because she is afraid he will get hurt, but she is the keeper of all his trophies!

Robert’s advice to aspiring tournament players is to play against better players, practice by yourself, hitting as many different shots as possible and compete in as many tournaments as you can, because it’s much different than playing regular pick-up games. Sounds like good advice, Iceman.

Robert Sostre, the Iceman, is one of the true stars of paddleball. A very humble individual and a GENTLEMAN on & off the courts. You can find lots of information on his career, as well as many videos of him playing, all on the Internet. And, if you’ve never seen him play in person, don’t miss out!