Cape Cod–Your humble West Coast Reporter has been summering on the Cape, shucking clams and jiving the candlepin bowling they have up here, taking an occasional scant glance at the world of sports through this muggy New England glass. I basically only learned that Tom Brady is a martyr, Boston didn’t want your stupid Olympics anyway, and Pedro Martinez going into the Hall of Fame will be the only highlight of the Red Sox’s season this year.
Mostly my attention was cast locally for sports, including taking in some Cape Cod League baseball. It’s a true gem where there’s only suggested donations for admission, $2.50 hot dogs (and extra 75 cents for the “award winning” chili), and each foul ball in the stands is followed by the announcer enthusiastically informing that you can keep it tonight courtesy of Spanky’s Clam Shack. It’s full of talented but raw college kids and wizened old leathery coaches, catchers who hustle down the line to back up first, and pitchers who throw very hard. I wrote about it once before, back in 2009 (man I’ve been doing this a long time), and if I may quote myself here: “Perhaps what you’re reading right now will be the first you hear of Chris Sale and Chad Bell, the opposing pitchers in the first game of the anticipated Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox — Cotuit Kettleers (playoff series).” (You know Sale, and Bell was quickly ascending the Rangers’ system until Tommy John surgery knocked him off track in 2013). I think I just pulled something in my back while patting myself on it! This year I took in a Hyannis Harbor Hawks (nee Mets…wherein lies a story of MLB greedy scumbaggery) game, the playoff bound home team taking on the Falmouth Commodores, and the name I give you now is Ben Ancheff, a 300-pound reliever who may make Bartolo Colon look svelte, but with a nasty sinker that was tough on the hitters as well as his own catcher. Believe me, if he makes it to the bigs, you won’t miss him.
Now, while I love the wholesomeness of idyllic summer baseball, there’s a new sport in town that won my attention hands down: The Cape Cod Roller Derby! Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but women are kicking a lot of ass this summer. The Women’s World Cup dominated; Serena Williams is going for a Grand Slam; Ronda Rousey is potentially the most exciting athlete of her generation and the biggest draw in UFC (having dispatched her last four opponents in less than a minute combined!); and that’s not even mentioning that the summer’s roughest and toughest (and best) action movie, Mad Max, was actually a woman’s movie, or the new Ghostbusters, or that the best comedians right now are women (if you haven’t watched Another Period yet, set your DVR), or the fact that a woman is the overwhelming favorite to win the Presidency. If this still isn’t empowering enough for you ladies, then please try a little Roller Derby, you may just wake up a year from now completely obsessed to the point where your family doesn’t even know you anymore. That’s what happened to my awesome host and sister-in-law, who skates by the name “Emma Getcha.”
Invented in the 1940s as a kind of pro-rassling schtick, but revived as a serious grass roots sport around 2003, its rapid spread has reached all corners of the country and the globe, there’s even been two World Cups and it’s being considered for the 2020 Olympics. There are some big leagues with travel teams and wooden banked tracks, but many are like the fledgling Cape Cod Roller Derby, who skate on the slick flat concrete of a rented warehouse. The floor is taped out in an oval track, and tape held the pool noodles that served as padding around the steel support beams. Liability issues forced all the accompanying kids to hang out in a small section by the door, but the track was lined on one side with camp chairs holding friends, family, and even a few general fans. The night I went there was a reggae band rehearsing in the space next door, the beats jamming behind the unpainted dry-wall, but you couldn’t hear it once the skating started, with the drone and squeaks of the skates, the calls of the “Pivot” lining up their teammates for a strategic block to free their “Jammer,” and the shrill whistle and shouted foul calls by the refs, who seem to outnumber the skaters. There are names on the backs of the tank tops like “Jacqui O No,” “Gravy Digger,” “Mae Day,” “My Hammy Vice,” “Darthritis,” and “Nan Sucket.” They range widely in ages (from the young 20s into the mid-40s) and sizes (from quick and lithe to big and brassy). It’s like hockey and rugby and rollerball all rolled into one, and there are more rules than a driving manual. It’s virtually impossible to follow if you’re a newbie like me…but none of that matters when you see these women, all friends, slam into each other with all the abandon of people who’ve been dealing with whiny kids, asshole bosses, idiot boyfriends, and the man’s world in general all day.
It’s not for everybody. “A lot of women see the shorts and fishnets, and that whole attitude really appeals to them,” Emma says. “Then they realize, Oh, I’ve actually got to work out and get in shape.” And hit people. And get hit. And hit the cement floor repeatedly (there are helmets, elbow and knee-pads, but nothing protecting the hips or the butt. The night I was there one of the skaters hit the deck so hard she got a hip pointer. She got to her knees and dragged herself off the track before the pack came back around). It quickly weeds out the girls who aren’t serious…and the ones who remain, become super serious. Their road rash and bruises are badges of pride, their gait takes on that fluid swagger, and they know many of life’s problems can be dealt with, at least for a few hours a week, by lacing up the skates and kicking somebody’s ass.