On the day before our home opener, I'm ready to assume the fetal position. Our professional mascot-costume wearer just tried on the Bump the Moose outfit, and decided there's no way he can perform to his standards because the suit's too tight.
So on a day's notice I chase down another, svelter potential costume wearer, who served as Skip the Woodchuck for the Vermont Mountaineers collegiate league baseball team over a stretch of summers. He agrees to do the duties, even though his return to mascot-dom will mean he'll "spend a few nights on the futon."
To lure this central Vermonter to also perform at our Burlington home opener on Saturday, I sweeten the pot, so he'll make the drive over from the hunting camp up in Orleans County to which he's headed with some buddies for the weekend. (Hmmmm. There could be any number of reasons he's in his wife's doghouse.)
Just hope he doesn't bring the moose suit to that hunting camp. It might come back stuffed and mounted.
MONDAY, NOV. 13:
What's going on here? Is our guy in blue, the Frost Heaves' Markus Austin, auditioning for Barbarella? Or is he about to be flung from Montreal's Pierre Charbonneau Centre, where we beat the Montreal Matrix last night for our first win, into the Grey Cup semifinal in adjacent Olympic Stadium?
Matrix center Pascal Fleury is out of the frame, but seems to have things well, uh, in hand. Maybe he's trying to prove that a guy named Pascal Fleury can be taken seriously (as if being 7-foot-2 with a Georgetown pedigree weren't street cred enough).
Pascal Fleury uses both hands to grab Markus Austin's jersey.
Markus is the most mellow fellow on our team. To hear him tell it -- as an owner, it's HIS side of the story I'm passing along, O.K? -- he was innocently going after an offensive rebound. "He threw an elbow. I threw one back. Next thing I know, he's got my jersey."
So, moments after this shot was taken, Markus grabbed Fleury's jersey. "Coaches always say the worst thing is to get that label of being soft," Markus says. "I've always been taught, be aggressive and don't take nothing, or you get that label."
Fleury got tossed, but Markus did too. He holed up in the locker room by himself, fitting himself with teammate Antonio Burks' iPod buds while we finished up the 94-83 victory to move to 1-1. We're all relieved to learn that Markus won't miss our home opener at the historic Aud in Barre on Thursday night. The ABA office, preoccupied with a case of a coach allegedly punching a player during the Brooklyn vs. Newark game over the weekend, feels the refs on the scene have said their peace. Meantime, we've got a seamstress bill to pay. While Markus may not want a label, Fleury got one -- plus a fistful of fabric and piping.
Now it's three days of fevered prep for our home opener. If I go down the rabbit hole for a stretch, hope you'll understand.
SATURDAY, NOV. 13: "It's the ABA" has become a fatalistic refrain among us, invoked for anything surprising or daunting to cross our path over the 11 months we've spent working to bring a pro basketball team in this sprawling, untidy league to reality. But until tonight -- when we opened our inaugural season, at Quebec City -- that phrase has always pertained to things organizational. Tonight, the Frost Heaves ran red-white-and-blue into legislated chaos on the basketball court in the form of the ABA's 3-D Rule.
We played a first half of almost perfect basketball against the Kebekwa. Went up 17-4. Locked down their guards, and fronted their bigs into irrelevancy. Then turned our fortunes over to the golden left wrist of Antonio Burks, who dropped 17 points in the second quarter, 15 of them on five gorgeous, parabolic 3s. Went up 25 before repairing to the locker room with a 56-33 lead.
Intellectually, we knew it was coming. Other ABA coaches have shared their tales of the tidal-force effect of 3-D, which grants a team that forces a turnover in the backcourt a chance to score an extra point on that possession. At halftime, Coach Voigt talked about it: How "Les Kebs" would press; force a turnover or two; get the crowd into things; and lead the refs into getting less and less inclined to intervene, our NBA-worthy first half be damned.
And still, even knowing it was coming, we could do almost nothing to stop what Quebec City brought to us: Forced turnover upon turnover. Steal, layup, foul. Three and, sometimes, four points per trip. We repulsed one third-quarter run, which had brought Quebec to within three, and worked ourselves back out to a nine-point lead. But then, with two minutes to play in regulation, our hosts edged ahead 91-89, with the sellout crowd of 900 sending waves of sound back and forth across the floor of the little gym in Ste.-Foy. Our Melvin Creddle knocked down two free-throws to force the three-minute overtime, but Jamal Ward daggered a 3-pointer with 1:15 left in the extra time, and after a parade of free throws, "les soulevements du sol du au gel" (that's Frost Heaves en francais) were done, 108-100.
Coach V calls it the worst loss he has ever suffered as a head coach. He didn't call timeout while the lead bled away for a reason: Our guys' failure to communicate with one another on the floor has been his biggest disappointment, and he wanted them to riddle out the Quebec press on their own. It's the ABA, guys. After careers spent playing the game in two dimensions, there's now a third we've got to tend to.
As spent as we all are right now -- it's 7 on Saturday a.m., and the players are sleeping -- I'm sure they're universally relieved that they won't have to wait more than 24 hours before getting another shot, tomorrow afternoon at Montreal.