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Ray Sanchez – PFA PB Player Profile #30

Ray Sanchez Paddleball Profile by Dave Siegel

What does ADS stand for? I tried Googling it and found American Daffodil Society, All Day Sickness, After Dinner Speech, All Directional Shower and Automatic Dice Server. Actually there are over 100 listed, but nowhere to be found is “Ace Drop Shot.” Ray Sanchez claims this as his shot and coined the ADS acronym as a tribute to the shot’s greatness, and he even uses ADS as his moniker. I haven’t had the opportunity to see Ray play much, but Mike Melendez told me he’s never actually seen him successfully execute a drop shot (LOL)! How could that be, Mike? It’s his name! Well, Ray and Mike will have to settle this. Anyway, this is all part of Ray’s persona as the life of the paddleball party. He keeps everyone loose with his joking and clowning, while being a great friend to the paddleball community.

But Ray is more than a comedian at the courts, he is also very good player. He rates himself as a B to B plus player. He is a solid, tough competing lefty with power, quickness, a very effective serve and outstanding anticipation and positioning. His favorite shot is to the corner on either side. He plays both small and big ball and works hard at improving his game as he strives to advance in the ratings.

He learned the game hanging out at Zerega Indoor and watching some of the top players of the 80s, among them, Robert Sostre, Sammy Cesario, Frank Savino and Anthony Fiorino. He watched them in awe and when he was finally able to get on the court with them, “Wow! the rest is history!” In recent years, Nelson Deida, Andre Hopkins and Mike Melendez have been major influences. The Hop taught him to have a plan on every serve and Ray’s exposure to Mike’s overall “awesome game” has helped him advance as a player.

Ray has been playing for thirty years with a few gaps in between. He started in Van Cortlandt Park and still considers it his paddleball home. He also plays regularly at Zerega, Juniper Park and at the HES in Brooklyn. Ray is dedicated to the game and presently plays two to three times per week. He says, “I love the intensity and competitiveness of the game.”

Ray’s big contribution to paddleball goes well beyond his playing and the comedic relief he provides. He is a big supporter of the paddleball revival movement and in particular, the Paddleball Family Alliance and its mission of teaching the youth, upholding the rules of conduct, promoting respect among players and improving the refereeing through training. He continuously promotes tournaments and events, oftentimes with a touch of his brand of comedy. He has volunteered on many occasions at Mike’s kids clinics and has made several cash donations to support the cause. In his real life, he is involved in artwork and printing and helps Mike with the design of the promotional material, including the tee shirts, posters, etc.

Ray gave us a scare last summer at a tournament in Juniper Park. He became dehydrated and needed emergency medical treatment. Ray says he is fully recovered and is confident that the changes he has made to his fluid intake will prevent recurrences. He cautions the paddleball community to stay hydrated, especially in the hot weather.

What about Ray’s non-paddleball life? Ray has two sons, a daughter and two grandchildren. His livelihood focuses on print coordination, specializing in creative software and he is a master printer. He is a hard worker, always willing to try new things. Ray reveals that he has a secret talent: he does a mean imitation of Yoda from Star Wars (voice only!). His sports hero is Joe Montana and his favorite type of food is Mexican. Not surprisingly, he is very conscious of the needy, and has recently developed a soft spot in his heart for helping the homeless, as he is now getting involved in this great cause.

Ray’s message to the paddleball community: “I love playing paddleball. It is an excellent pastime of fun, a good workout and I am fond of the friends I have made along the way.” Ray, there is no doubt you have fun in the game! Now we just need to get the internet up to speed and recognize ADS!

Carlito Espinal – PFA PB Player Profile #29

Carlito Espinal Paddleball Profile by Mike Melendez

Carlito’s Way

He is quiet and most of the time he wears a friendly smile on his face, but don’t let that fool you. On the court, he has the killer instinct of a lion. Carlito has proven himself to be one of the top players in the game today, with a vast arsenal of shots at his disposal. He can play a mean game of both small and big blue paddleball, as well as racquetball. When his game is “on,” he is a BEAST, hitting winners from any angle within the playing area of the court – “Carlito’s Way!”

Carlos Espinal was born in Brooklyn and has been playing paddleball since the age of eight. He started at the “6’s” park (also known as Bush Park) in Queens. His brother Ralph was his biggest influence and is the reason he started playing. Early on, Carlito frequently went to the park to watch his brother play and he quickly developed a love for paddleball. He watched many great players from whom he learned the game, including Gary Evans, Milton Pérez, José Guadalupe and Richie Miller. Later on, he gained much knowledge from Anthony Fiorino, Sammy Cesario, Robert Sostre, Donnie Ciaffone, Ramon “Papo” Padilla and lefty Ralph Badillo. But his brother, Ralph, who was a solid player himself, was always his paddleball role model. Eventually paddleball at the 6’s park ended and he and his friends moved on to Flushing Meadows, which became his home park. By the time he was fourteen, his game was strong enough to compete with the top players at Flushing, including Farley Figueroa, Miguel Mateo, Kevin Rolon and Godfrey Brown. At approximately age eighteen, another passion took over his sports life. He had become involved in playing baseball and softball, which conflicted with his weekend paddleball time, and his interest in paddleball waned.

After a 10 year hiatus from the sport, he returned to paddleball because he missed it and he wasn’t playing as much baseball/softball. During the summer, he split his playing time between Orchard beach in the Bronx and Juniper Park in Queens. In the winter season, he played at McFadden’s, Astoria Indoor and, of course, Zerega, the mecca of indoor paddleball, which eventually became his home court. There, he battles with some of the top players in the game.

Carlito’s game is power and he is one of the hardest hitters in the game today. He keeps his opponents on defense and overwhelms them with his drives. Carlito loves powering the serve low or high and then attacking the wall off his opponent’s return. His favorite shot is the spike or “Yonker.” He also has excellent control, is very physically fit and has one of the best cut/slices of the present day players. He said he learned this shot from Freddy “The Animal” Diaz, who was also his favorite player growing up and had “every shot in the book.”

Carlito loves the sport because of its competitiveness, power and speed. He has won his share of tournaments, but presently he is not enthusiastic about playing in tournaments because of all the bickering that goes on. He is pleased that the PFA and other tournament directors are working to fix this condition, but for now he’d rather get a group of players and “go beat each other up for a few hours.” He likes to play both small and big ball equally, as both games have their own challenges, which he very much enjoys. He also loves the great family atmosphere. He said, “Everyone in the paddleball community has been around for years and it is like family.”

On the personal side, his sport hero is Michael Jordan, “He had that killer instinct and knew how to execute.” His favorite food is a nice medium-rare rib-eye steak. He loves sports in general and has played handball, tennis, football, basketball, softball, baseball and table tennis.

What about the future of the paddleball game? He believes that for the game to grow, more exposure, sportsmanship and sponsorship is needed. “We need people with passion to push for those sponsors. People like Kathy Guinan, Mike Melendez and the others involved in the PFA.” Thank you Carlito! As far as changes in the sport, he would like to see independent, non-playing referees in tournament competition. “That would eliminate some of what, in my opinion, is the favoritism that exists to some degree.” His advice to his peers is “to play, compete, but also have fun doing it.” He said that for many years he played to win and didn’t always enjoy the game as much as he could have. “When you only play to win you forget how to have fun.” Carlito’s Way!


Miriam Silva – PFA PB Player Profile #28

Miriam Silva Paddleball Player Profile by Mike Melendez

Although she has been playing big blue paddleball for only a year and a half, Miriam Silva has quickly climbed to the top of the women’s division and is a force to be reckoned with in the coming years! It’s remarkable that in this short amount of time she has already won six tournaments!

Miriam is an aggressive right handed player with that never-give-up determination. Her game is structured around taking immediate control of rallies with her powerful and consistent serve, her return of serve, as well as her forceful forehand and backhand strokes. In fact, Miriam’s forehand is considered to be one of the most powerful in the women’s game. She has all the shots in her arsenal – she can spike it, drop it, but by far, her power drive is her money shot. She can jam most of her opponents as very few women are capable of. Miriam is also deceptively quick on the court and has very good anticipation.

Like many paddleball players, Miriam started out playing handball and plays at a very high level – she is a certified ‘A’ player. She also is an excellent one-wall racquetball player. Miriam fell in love with paddleball after watching her dear friend Jewel Pacheco engaging in an intense doubles paddleball match at Central Park. It was with Jewel’s encouragement that she tried paddleball. From the outset, she realized that her aggressive style enabled her to make a perfect transition from racquetball and handball to paddleball. She said, “At present, I am passionate towards paddleball, as it strongly resembles handball, my original sport of choice.” During the winter months, she plays mostly weekends and in the summer, she plays as much as possible traveling to different parks looking for tough competition. Her paddleball home is Central Park.

On the personal side Miriam is a loving mother and grandmother. She LOVES to spend time with her sixteen year old son Jacob, who was diagnosed with autism. It is because of him that her passion shines through in her game. She is a talented lady, who can also crochet, is a great cook, and takes pride in being a wonderful mother and grandmother. Her favorite food is her daughter Jessica’s pasta and meat sauce.

Back to paddleball, she strongly feels that for the sport to grow, players must display good sportsmanship on the court. I asked her what she would like to change about the sport. She thinks increasing exposure is key for it to rise to the next level. Though she does not favor a specific paddleball player, she tries to emulate the style of the great superstar tennis player, Rafael Nadal, who is also her sports hero. She does have a peeve concerning paddleball: “Though there are paddles featured with the names of male competitors, there are no featured paddles with any FEMALE players on any of the signature brands. This, despite the fact that there are so many female players in the game today.” I could not agree more with you, Miriam! Paddleball manufacturers, the time has come to give the women players the recognition they have surely earned! They are one of the reasons the sport is on the rise! #MiriamAndTheLadiesGotNext!


Anita Maldonado – PFA Player Profile #27

Anita Maldonado Paddleball Player Profile by Dave Siegel

The magnificent award-winning profile photo says it all. We see the acrobatic athletic ability, her skill, and most importantly, the never-give-up determination. And yes, Anita Maldonado made the shot! And it was a killer!

The 1980s was the golden age of paddleball, with an estimated 440,000 men, women and children of all ages playing this urban New York City game. There were many excellent players, but far and away, the most accomplished woman player was Anita Maldonado and she might very well go down in history as the best woman paddleball player ever. Anita won an incredible eight out of nine Budweiser women’s singles titles from 1981-89. In 1992 she played in her last singles tournament, again winning the Bud Classic and it was in the finals that Anita made the fantastic, historic, diving shot.

Like many paddleball players, Anita started out playing handball. For her it was at the local courts at 108th St. and Park Ave. in Spanish Harlem, where she grew up. She says that the instant she first picked up a paddle, she was attracted to the sport and soon was playing every day. Eventually Anita moved to Central Park, followed by the Yankee Stadium courts and finally she settled in at Carmine Street, where she played for many years as her home park.

Anita did not become great by just playing the game and having fun. She put in long hard hours practicing, training, and working on her endurance. With her intelligence and mental toughness, combined with hard work, she knew that she could rise to the top in paddleball, and indeed she did. One person who played a very significant role in Anita’s paddleball career was Aubrey Nelson. Aubrey, who Anita described as a “paddleball intellectual,” and “like a father to me,” was her coach and mentor throughout her tournament days. He imparted great wisdom and helped transform her into a complete player, featuring stamina, quickness and power. Another person who had a tremendous inspirational effect on her life was her late mother, who was her number one fan and attended all of her tournaments.

Anita’s game was highlighted by power, combined with smarts. She could spike it and could jam her opponent as very few women were capable of. Why did Anita gravitate to singles? She now says that striving to excel in singles truly drives a player to become dedicated to working out, staying in shape, learning the game and playing it correctly. Anita says this commitment made her feel grounded. She feels doubles is a much easier game, not requiring the same level of preparation or physical fitness. She would like to see the present paddleball revival movement add singles to the tournament schedule, and indeed, the PFA is on the mark by hosting a successful tournament last September and planning to do others in 2018.

With Anita, it was not all about her. As she became more accomplished, she gave back to paddleball, becoming an inspiration and mentor to many players. During her championship years, Anita and Mike Melendez teamed up with Budweiser and the NYC Parks Department, conducting numerous, very successful clinics across the tri-state area that helped get even more people involved in the flourishing game of paddleball.

In the late 80s Anita sought to conquer a new sport, taking up racquetball. But this extraordinary athlete did not just dabble in the sport. As with paddleball, she gave it her all, and rose to the highest echelon. Anita competed in the Pan American Games and won medals in the Central American Games, including the gold in 1998, for which she is honored in a museum in Puerto Rico. She became a racquetball professional and was ranked in the women’s division as high as the number four player in the world!

Presently, Anita plays (and excels in) racquetball in all its forms: four, three and one wall. In the past year she has resumed playing paddleball and returned to tournament competition. She plans to continue in 2018. She notes a big shift to the big ball game, especially over the past year or two. Her mindset now is that she sees all these racquet/paddle sports melding together, and she will train for, and compete in any of them.

When Anita is not playing sports, she loves to watch tennis and basketball. Nadal and LeBron are her favorite players. She also cooks a mean yuca and eggplant with cod fish!