OFF TOPIC--THE OLD WARHORSE OF PALA Posted on February 10, 2019 at 01:34:59 AM by jsolo
Of course, Jai Alai is the best Basque Pelota sport, but a very interesting one is called Pala (Bat). Professional players, who work for the Innpala company, play with a Pala Larga (big bat). The bat weighs about 32 ounces and is about 18 inches long. It has a flat hitting surface that is very small compared to any of the paddles you might have seen. Players actually use a type of glue to help adhere the bat to their hand. Pala is mostly played on the small court (38 meters (about 110 feet)) at Bilbao, but it is also still played traditionally on large (54 meter) courts. Recently, one of the players, Dan Necol, began to provide live and on demand feeds of his Tournament matches on his Facebook page. No narration, just the sounds of the game and crowd reaction. You can see the scoreboard but best to watch on a big screen if you can. Since EITB televises maybe 10 matches a year and Necol has provided video of 6 in the last 3 weeks (plus many from last year), this is a treasure for the Pala fan.
Pala is not an easy game. Throwing a good two wall in Jai Alai takes a lot of skill. Hitting a good two wall with a 32 ounce bat also takes a lot of skill. Rebotes in Pala might be the most difficult rebotes there are, as you have to hit the pelota off the back wall as it is going past (sort of like baseball in reverse). Controlling where you hit the pelota at any time is extremely difficult.
Pala has had its ups and downs over the years, and the roster at InnPala has only 10 players. They might be the best batsmen on the planet (IMHO). The sport has deep roots in the Basque Country, with a separate evolution from the hand or cesta sports. Francisco de Goya painted "El Juego de Pelota a Pala" in 1779. It depicts a Pala Larga the has not changed much in last 240 years.
Cut and paste. I'm using my 1 interactive URL for something more fun--see below.
Today, Necol provided video for the Semi-Finals of the Mundial Individual (World Singles championship). Necol is on a role, having won his last 5 matches and two Tournaments in the last 3 months. Last week he beat the legendary Pablo Fusto (who from 2012-16 won this tournament 5 years in a row without losing a set (15 sets to 0, defeating 3 different opponents by a combined score of 150-85)). Necol is the hottest player on the circuit. At 29, he is in his prime. Strong, quick, he has it all.
His opponent was grizzled old (41) Esteban Gaubeka. Gaubeka has been on the circuit since 2002 and won his share of Tournaments. He is in the sunset of a great career but certainly no match for Necol. Right? Well, not exactly. Today Gaubeka played about as good a match as a Pala player can. He made mistakes, but only 5 by my count (microscopic for a Pala match). He doesn't use his left hand very much, it's too difficult to switch hands with that big bat. He backhands regularly. No one in Pala backhands, they switch hands. Gaubeka used every shot in the book, particularly two walls and left passes. He jumped all over Necol 10-4 in the first set before he could settle. No matter. It's a long match (best 3 of 5). The second set had 8 lead changes and finally Necol took the 7th one 9-8. Then he made a bad error and Gaubeka's eyes opened wide. He closed Necol out with a brilliant two wall winner (10-9). Surely, Necol was now dead, but Gaubeka had used a lot of energy. It showed in the next set when the youngster got on top and pasted him 10-5. Gaubeka looked gassed and it isn't unusual for a player to come back from 2 sets down. Surely Necol could take the old man down. Surely.
Necol made a great 2 wall shot to take the score to 4-3 Gaubeka in the 4th set. The old man was ready to crumble. Only he didn't. He ran out the set with 6 consecutive winners, including two aces and a very nice 2 wall winner to put the cherry on the sundae. It was some of the best Pala I've seen, and the poor youngster was so flummoxed that he did something to his camera after the match. (I hope he didn't break it).
So there it is. We've seen it before. Goiko is 38. Egi is 41. Felix was a grizzled old man still whipping the forehand from the back. Age over youth. Experience over athleticism. It was beautiful to watch.