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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.