Bay Lui Paddleball Player Profile No-39 By Jimmy Kandylas
“You have to get rid of that paddle,” I said to Bay, for what must have been the 100th time that summer, and it was only June. At the time he was still using the Marcraft M1 white, which was probably the best paddle that you could buy through the mid to late 90s. But Bay’s paddle was a mess. The rim was wrecked. The face was worn. There was even a hole, not quite big enough for a ball to get through, but close, which had opened toward the top by the edge.
“I just don’t hit the ball there,” Bay responded, when I asked how he manages to play with a hole in his paddle. Anyone else would have been hard pressed to get through a volley with that thing. But not Bay. He was, as he is prone to do, destroying people with it every day. But I knew better. “Graphite, Bay, it’s the future. You’ll hit harder, you’ll have more control. You’ll be unstoppable!” Blank stare from Bay.
He wasn’t convinced. But I had the clincher in my back pocket. “And you know, they just came out with one called the Dragon,” which had (and has) been Bay’s nickname for years. “It’s a sign,” I said. Bay’s head turns back toward me and I see a slight smile. “How much are they?” I got him! In my mind, I had just solidified Bay’s place among the elites. “I should get a reward,” I thought to myself.
So Bay orders the Dragon, and in a show of commitment, proceeds to break his M1 white in half. No. Going. Back. And then, with his new graphite weapon at the ready, Bay Lui, one of the greatest players to ever step foot on a paddleball court, goes on one of the worst losing streaks of his career. For the next two months, the poor guy couldn’t buy a win.
Worst of all, he blamed me. He didn’t speak to me for most of that summer. Which, truth be told, wasn’t that much of a change. Because anyone that knows Bay, knows that he does a lot of his talking through action, not conversation. And although he can be quiet at times, for most of the players that, like Bay, call Bay 8th home, he has been the shining example of effort, of sportsmanship and of excellence.
Watching Bay dive all over the court to make amazing gets, we learned to never give up on a volley. Seeing him contort himself to get a shot back when most other people would have called a block and make calls against himself on close shots, even at critical times, we learned to play fairly and honestly. Hearing him agree to take-two on points when he was clearly right, we learned that arguing isn’t worth the time. If someone wants to cheat, that’s their problem. Win anyway. That’s just Bay’s way.
And his way has yielded tremendous results. Unfortunately for most of the players that have the bad fortune to run across him in a bracket, Bay eventually got comfortable with the “new” paddles and has been dominant since. You would be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t put Bay in the top big ball players right now and amongst the top players ever. He and his long time partner Bobby Fiorentino, who is a giant of the game in his own right, are widely regarded as one of the top four or five teams that have ever played big blue. And as their run to the finals in last year’s AF Tournament in Rockaway shows, they aren’t slowing down.
Unlike a lot of people that are introduced to paddleball by someone in their family or through some sort of connection to the game, Bay started playing at 16 in Sethlow Park just because it seemed like an interesting sport. He has now been playing for over 35 years and I think he would agree that the game has been great for him. In addition to the friends, the fun days in the sun and the competition, paddleball has been a common bond with his wife, Kim Avena, who herself is one of the top female players of all time.
Bay has said that Kim is the most important person in his life, and his biggest fan. He is not shy about how proud he is of her for all of her efforts to grow paddleball. As many of us know, Kim has been a driving force for the big blue movement. As someone that has known both of them for a long time, it warms my heart to see how much they love and support each other. And since Kim knows the strengths and weaknesses of Bay’s game better than anyone, he’s probably smart to keep being supportive . . .
When asked to describe his game, Bay, characteristically, was a bit reserved. He allowed that he has great anticipation and retrieval abilities, but otherwise just credited himself with a strong defensive game, offensive shots “when the opportunity arises” and good chop shots to the left and right side, with a driving shot down the middle (his favorite, and in my humble opinion, most infuriating, shot) as well as a left hand killer to the right side. Although all of that is accurate, I would venture that anyone that has watched him play or that has played against him would be more effusive with their praise.
The fact is that Bay’s retrieval abilities and anticipation are as good, or better, than anyone else playing the game. Getting a shot by him is next to impossible. If the ball doesn’t roll, it’s coming back at you. Usually, hard. I have seen him do things on the court that are unexplainable. Just as an example, I once saw him hit a corner spike for a point on a shot going over his head, while three or four feet from the wall, after making an amazing get . . . with his back to the wall the entire time. The kicker is that it looked like he did it on purpose. That was over 15 years ago and we still talk about it at Bay 8th today.
Bay is also one of the best students of the game that you will ever find. You can often find Bay studying players from the sidelines and filing away shots, positions, tells and tendencies. He can not only figure out your weakness and attack it, but he can recognize your strength and defend against it magnificently. He is as complete a player as you are going to find.
But what is perhaps most impressive about him is that he just doesn’t get rattled. It is appropriate that when asked which players he admires, one that he mentioned is Rob Sostre. And not just because of Rob’s talent, but because of his calm demeanor, which is a quality that Bay also possesses. I think that they have a lot in common. Rob and Bay are both gentlemen on and off the court. They are both smart players with very few weaknesses. They both give tremendous effort. They are both fun to watch. And they both have been winning for decades.
In fact, one of Bay’s favorite paddleball memories was from a Budweiser tournament back in 1981 in Manhattan Beach. Bay and his friend Stephen Tagliaferri (or Stevie Nice-Guy as the Bay 8th faithful know him), went out to the tournament because Bay wanted a tournament t-shirt. He asked for one, but the tournament director said “who are you? I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you one if you win.” So Bay and Steve entered. And . . . they won. I guess he really wanted that t-shirt.
That story is a great example of one of the things that many people don’t know about Bay, which is that he was a very good small ball player before he picked up big blue. He would have loved to be more involved in small ball earlier in his career, but he was a rookie police officer in the NYPD (now retired) in the early 90s, so it was very difficult for him to take days off for tournaments. If not for his work commitments, I’m sure there would be even less space in his trophy room right now.
While he doesn’t play any other sports, Bay does have interests outside of paddleball, which include muscle cars and Italian food. He also tries to learn something new every day. That’s nice, but with all due respect, we don’t want that stuff to keep him too busy. Bay is a great ambassador for paddleball so the more plugged in that we can keep him, the better off we all are.
Looking to the future, Bay thinks it important to have uniformity in rules and rankings. And he sees integrating handball players into paddleball as one of the main avenues for growth. He has noted the increase in popularity of the sport amongst the handball players over the last few years and thinks that along with the efforts of Mike Melendez and the group at the Paddleball Family Alliance, his wife Kim and her W.E.P.A. organization, and the other tournament directors, new blood is the key to helping paddleball thrive.
For my part, I think Bay is mostly right about getting more people involved. But that won’t be enough. What we really need to make this sport explode is not just more people. We need more people like Bay. People that will give everything they have on every point. People that are honest and fair and that show respect for themselves, the referees and their opponents. People that can do things on the court that spectators will remember and talk about forever. People that will show as much grace losing as they do winning. And even though it would be great to have more people like him, I think we all know that there will only ever be one Dragon. And we are lucky to have him.
Liz Colon Paddleball Profile No-38 By Mike Melendez & Dave Siegel
In just two short years, Liz Colon has made an amazing impact on the sport of paddleball. Not only is she one of the top women players, but more importantly, she has shown a true passion for promoting the game and has big hope for its future growth. Her most visible impact is her live streaming of one-wall games on her Facebook “Liz Live” page. But her biggest contribution is as a loving, caring, helping friend to everyone she touches in the paddleball community, and the paddleball world loves Liz! Her close friend, Maritza Alicea tells us, “She is a genuine loving person with an easy smile who will help anyone who really needs it…… as long as you ask her by text, she hates talking on the phone!” So, you heard it here, text her, do not call!
Liz was born and raised in the Fordham Road/Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. She is the youngest of four children, with two brothers and a sister. As with many paddleball players, she started in handball, playing at Aqueduct Park under the tutelage of her long time mentor, Master Web. Through her hard work and passion for handball, Liz developed a strong game and became one of the best women players at Aqueduct. As we now know, Liz is driven to be the best she can be at whatever she puts her mind to. She knew that in order to move to the next level, she needed to play with stiffer competition. So she packed her bag and went out looking for better games. Her first stop was St. James Park, not far from Aqueduct, and later on to West 4th Street. Liz became an excellent player and though she didn’t compete in handball tournaments, she dished out plenty of #PowPows!
Many paddleball players transitioned from handball, but in Liz’s case, at the age of thirty, she switched from handball to racquetball. Then one day at Van Cortlandt Park, paddleball legend Robert Sostre introduced her to Big Blue paddleball, which Liz took an immediate liking to. But Big Blue games were hard to find, so she tried small-ball for a year, playing in a regular indoor game with a great group of ladies. Then the racquetball boom came along and her small-ball paddleball ceased as she joined the racquetball wave.
Liz’s paddleball story really started two years ago when she started playing it consistently at Zerega Indoor and Marathon Park and it didn’t take long for her to become one of the top women players in the game. Undoubtedly, her experience in handball and racquetball, as well as her dedication and natural athletic ability, were all important factors in her rapid ascension. She is a dynamic right-handed competitor with one of the most powerful forehands in the ladies division. Liz is like a lioness stalking her prey, patiently waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack and put her opponent on the defense. When she gets a set-up, her eyes look like they’re about to pop out of their sockets and she goes into BEAST mode on the poor ball! Her favorite shot? But of course, “Drive shot to the body. I like hitting the ball hard, it feels good! I love the sound of the ball slamming against the wall.” And like every successful athlete with the drive to rise to the top, she works hard, playing 2 to 3 times a week to improve her game. She says it’s a great workout and a great way to let off steam! How does she describe her game? “A work in progress. LOL. I’m still learning. Every time I play, I learn something new and I try to focus on improving that one thing!” Ladies of paddleball, are you listening?
Liz is not only an excellent player and a helpful, popular friend to the paddleball community, but also a very thoughtful person who has many insights about the game and how it can flourish. What does she think the sport needs for it to grow? “I have so much hope for this game and I only wish to see it continue to grow. We need more people who give of themselves selflessly to make great events and promote the game. Charlene Gilio is a great example, constantly organizing games throughout the year and coming up with fresh new ideas for events that keep people interested and wanting to come back. People like Kathy Guinan, Mike Waters and Cindy Figueroa, who always offer themselves in any capacity just for the love of the game, GENUINELY! It’s heartwarming. And of course people such as you, Mike, who dedicate their time to introducing and teaching the sport to our youth and keeping up with it.”
What advice does Liz have for her peers? “Appreciate the time that others dedicate to putting tournaments together. RESPECT the time they are taking away from their lives/families to put on these events, while looking at the bigger picture. Also players should think about not just what the event can do for you, but what your contribution and participation can do for the event. I know lots of players choose not to participate because they feel they have no chance at winning. Imagine if everyone thought that way, we’d never have tournaments! I enjoy playing and participating in whichever events I can, just to add to the pot! I’d like to see some of the Pro/A players go out of their comfort zone and pick a player whose skill level is a little less than theirs for an open tournament, just to make things interesting and give more people the opportunity to win.
Is there something she would like to change about the sport? “I’d like to make it more difficult for people who behave poorly during the events. Like with any other sport, there are immediate consequences (technical fouls accompanied by fines, suspensions, etc.), make these punishments on-the-spot and stay consistent with it so players are not so quick to argue with a ref, lines-person, spectator or each other. That type of behavior is not tolerated anywhere else and should not be tolerated here either.” This writer agrees with Liz 100% and this is something the PFA has organized with the help of other tournament directors and put in place during the past year.
Liz says the sport of paddleball is very dynamic, no two players play the same way. She loves watching and playing against all the different styles of play. But when we asked her who is her favorite player, we got more than we asked for. “OMG there’s so many. Of course Robert Sostre and his ability to pick and place almost any shot he wants. Maira Rosario-Ramos as well, she’s aggressive and can kill the ball from anywhere on the court and has excellent court awareness. My mixed partner Dave Blatt and his aggressiveness and quick hands. Carlos Espinal and his shot arsenal is ridiculous, spiking, powering the ball from anywhere on the court, it’s just insane. But my new favorite is newcomer Suly Ruiz. She’s very smart with her shot placement and has carried over her handball skills right to the paddleball side. It’s amazing how quickly she’s advanced. I’ve learned so much from each of these players and so many more.” You would think with all these paddleball greats that she marvels, one of them would be her sports hero, but no, it’s Michael Jordan. “Whenever he played I felt like I was witnessing greatness. He’s a true example of a “GIFTED” person.”
If you would like Liz to expound on these insights, or for her to help out in any way, just ask her, but don’t call her, TEXT! SHE HATES TALKING ON THE PHONE!
Jazz Jimmy Paddleball Profile No 37 by Mike Melendez
He has a low-key quiet demeanor, but don’t let that fool you! He is a music promoter, a paddleball promoter, loves to travel and can be found shopping in many of the high-end clothing stores around the city. He loves to eat out, as reflected by the tons of photos on his Facebook page of gourmet meals at restaurants around the city. I think the guy is working on his Gourmet Chef degree! But, like many of us, John Cherry, Jazz Jimmy as he likes to be called, feels most comfortable on the paddleball courts.
Jimmy’s paddleball story started thirty-five years ago at Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn NY, where he was born and raised. The famous Carmine Street paddleball courts in the Village is where Jimmy fell in love with the sport back in the 80s. Jimmy recalls, “I used to go down to Carmine’s and watch the players from the gate and it was just the excitement that got me interested in the sport.” At Fort Greene there weren’t any top players, just regular locals playing, hanging out and having a good time. One winter Jimmy decided to take his game to George McFadden’s Paddle Sports indoor courts, looking to upgrade his skill by playing stiffer competition. At this facility he played with the likes of Jimmy Gibson, Godfrey Brown, Pineapple Eddie, Jimmy Hoey and Pete Pilarte. The next summer Jimmy came back to Carmine, this time not to watch from the gate, but to compete with the top players such as the late Clarence Davis, Andr’e Hopkins, Freddy Diaz and many others. Jimmy had arrived to the big league of paddleball!
He has always been a fan of most of the seasoned players, but the one player he looked up to was Robert Chielli. He said, “In my opinion Robert was the best right-side player and that’s why I love playing that side so much.” Jimmy is a very good player with pop in his right and a very good left hand. But the essence of his game is based on placement and smart shot selection. His favorite shot is down the right side and a deadly right to left cross-court. Not surprisingly, these are two of the shots Chielli was known for.
In the late 90s, like most players, he transitioned from paddleball to racquetball. The switch was primarily due to the lighter racquets and the lack of tournaments in paddleball. But, like the majority of players that made this transition, he has returned to the exciting game which he fell in love with back in the days of Carmine. Presently Jimmy plays paddleball twice a week. During the summer season, his home park is Colucci Park in the Bronx, where mainly big ball is played, and in the winter, it’s Zerega Indoor.
On the personal side, he is obviously a food lover and his favorite is West Indian cuisine. When it comes to sports role models, he has no favorite individual but he loves his football Giants. His other sport is basketball, which he also loves to play.
Back to paddleball, Jazz Jimmy is one of the paddleball players today actively promoting our beloved sport and is very well liked by the paddleball community. I asked Jimmy if he feels paddleball has a future. “I think the sport still has room for growth, we just need to promote it more. I think if we can get more organizations involved and pitch a group story about the game and keep getting the youth involved, it would grow.” I asked him how do we get there? “More players must volunteer and go out and work with the younger generation and teach them about this amazing sport.” I hear you Jimmy! He also said that “It would be great if we can continue to work together to support each other and recruit new players.” This writer agrees with you 100%, Jimmy! His advice to his paddleball peers is, “Continue to play paddle and enjoy what you know best and that’s Having Fun!” About the PFA, he said, “I think the PFA is doing an excellent job promoting the game, it is well organized and lots of information about the sport can be found in its paddleballfamily.com website.” Our sport needs more individuals like Jazz Jimmy!