Not Much Rugby Left
Posted by craigbaltz on December 15, 2008
I’ve been playing and coaching rugby for 23 years now. It’s been a big part of my life for a very long time. Rugby has outlasted two wives, a few cars, numerous dogs and cats, living in six different states (some more than once), and God only knows how many jobs, apartments and houses. Through rugby I have a spider web of friends all over the United States – nay – all over the world. There are very few places that I can think of where I could go without being able to find an old rugby acquaintance within a short distance (except Dutch Harbor, nothing is a short distance from there). Those friendships are permanent. But my playing days are definitely nearing an end. I’ve retired more times than Evander Holyfield. Every time for one reason or another I get roped back into playing. Last year I returned to Fresno after a couple of years in Alaska and within a couple weeks of returning I was starting A-side at Second Row and that held up for almost the entire season. I didn’t even want to play A-side, I just wanted to run with the boys, but we all know how that goes. I even got to play in Cardiff, Wales last season and got to watch Wales play France in front of 75,000 fans. Even when I wasn’t playing actively there was always the occasional Old Boys tournament which gives us an excuse to hit each other and drink. I’m going to be 45 in March. My knees and back are not happy with me. I’ve abused them for a very long time.
I spent a few years in my prime coaching the Air Force Academy Women’s Rugby team. We won the Collegiate National Championship in 1994, and finished 2nd and 3rd a couple of other times. Those were some of the best and most rewarding times of my life. I was a decent player…better than decent…good. I’m Kurt Rambis (old power forward for the Lakers during the Kareem/Magic years if you are under 40 or not an NBA fan). Don’t make many mistakes, good at all the fundamentals, and I was always a good team player. I wasn’t going to make any 90 meter runs, but I might make the pass that sets somebody else off. But I was a very good coach. Some people aren’t good at putting their knowledge or thoughts into words – I was. I was good at evaluating and spotting talent, and even better at preparing them to succeed. That’s pretty much what coaching is – preparing the team mentally and physically so that when they are in a match they have the skills and decision making ability to succeed. Anyway…I’m rambling…
I went out to the Fresno Rugby Club match this weekend and something strange happened. I took my bag, my boots, all my gear. They wanted me to play. It was the first time I really didn’t want to play. That isn’t to say I’ll never want to again – it was just a strange feeling. Even as I was getting older and slowing down, I always wanted to play. I guess maybe now I’m really old. Hopefully I have a few old boy matches left in me. There is something wonderful about playing rugby – it’s men being men in their basic form. Howling at the moon, kicking the crap out of each other and drinking a beer after the match. It has components not found in any other sport. I’m kinda done playing though and it’s a little sad, but I have a million fond memories. Maybe someday I’ll find a team to coach. The Air Force girls spoiled me for most other teams. I would have a hard time coaching a team without their level of commitment, and I have always said I can’t coach men – too much ego involved. The thought of life without rugby is not a happy one.