Column #616 Almost 25 years ago… at Blueberry Hill
Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Almost 25 years ago… at Blueberry Hill
As the St. Louis Blueberry Hill tournament just celebrated its 50th anniversary, the occasion seems appropriate to share the following ditty from almost 25 years ago. This year’s winner, Gavin Nicoll, wasn’t even born…
It was in Sports Illustrated. I swear it was. In part (and I paraphrase), it read: “While the quirks and cliche’s… are undeniable, it is also undoubtedly a sport, no more eccentric than (others). It places a premium on endurance and precision and calls for (the) application of athleticism and esthetics to the art of making the near impossible look easy. It exacts a kind of pain. It’s as tough a thing, albeit as odd a one, as a human can choose to do. There’s even a traveling team called the “Corkettes”.
Darts perhaps? Fat chance. No, this story by Jeff MacGregor was about that ROUGH AND TUMBLE sport among sports: synchronized swimming. And that’s no exaggeration. I know for a fact that the hard-drinking ladies of the U.S. Olympic Synchronized Team once kicked the butts of the ladies of the U.S. Olympic Ballroom Dancing Team in a best three-out-of-five mud-wrestling extravaganza at Bud’s Country Lounge in Peoria, Illinois. I suppose I could have been mistaken — they may have been local girls. They were, after all, quite covered in mud.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally read Sports Illustrated. Oh, I’ve been known to pick up the swimsuit issue occasionally (okay, religiously, but that’s because I used to swim competitively, and I like to stay current on things. But for the past several months, I have headed to the news stand weekly to purchase the latest issue. And each time I have been disappointed. When exactly does the swimsuit issue come out anyway? Seriously, the lady at the Revco checkout and I are now on a first name basis. Her name is Tuesday and I think she may be on the U.S. Olympic Synchronized Swimming Team.
Anyway, this odyssey all began months ago at the Blueberry Hill Tournament in St. Louis. I flew out on the same plane as Doreen Berry, and she punched out the pilot. Okay, that’s a lie.
If you haven’t been to Blueberry Hill, the popular Chuck Berry hangout in the University Loop, you simply gotta get there. Millionaire hippie owner, Joe Edwards — who seems committed to everything that actually mattered in the 1960’s — has created a pop-culture Mecca that puts the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood to shame. From the Duck Room to the Elvis Room to the Dart Room, it’s a cavernous affair punctuated with an extraordinary collection of memorabilia and probably the most extensive jukebox collection in the world. Virtually every other item on the menu has been rated one of the best in St. Louis at one time or another. Even the little mementos available for purchase are one of a kind. For $1.50 you can buy a condom that reads: “‘I Found My Thrill… the safe way!” No doubt about it, Joe Edwards has created quite a joint. He’s also created one heck of a darts tournament.
It was Joe who was kind enough to introduce me — and Dave Marienthal, Brad Wethington and Lori Verrier — to the photographer from Sports Illustrated. Joe knows everybody — from the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix to Mick Jagger. The walls of the club are plastered with photographs of Joe and all sorts of celebrities who overdosed on heroin. I think I even saw a picture of Joe with his arm around Tweety Bird, Bugs Bunny and Betty Boop. Anyway, I am only speculating when I say that Joe was “kind enough” to set us all up with the Sports Illustrated guy. It may have been he just wanted to distract Dave from blowing up the condoms and letting them zip around the bar like balloons. Okay, that’s a lie too. He put them in his wallet.
So down in the Duck Room this photographer was all set up. He was shooting a spread of some kind for the magazine that was to appear sometime soon. If you’ve picked up a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, you’ll be familiar with the dramatic, often very blurred, full-motion photographs which are carried on the opening few pages. The comet-like tail of a baseball zipping across home plate at high velocity. The launch of a golf ball off the face of a club. This guy’s objective was to capture a dart in flight. Just like real sport stuff. For a real sports magazine!
So, very seriously, each of us took a trip to the line. And we threw. And we threw. And we threw. We had to change our flights to ones that were especially bright, not white or black or metallic, so the camera wouldn’t lose them against the flash. To accommodate the position of the equipment we had to toe the line from a distance of something like ten feet. We were instructed to setup as we normally would but to adjust our throw so the darts would hit low. For Dave, Brad and Lori this proved to be extremely difficult. For me this was the easy part.
All combined, we must have sweated under the lights for a good three hours. We then supplied little biographical ditties for the photographer. Dave, Brad and Lori wrote for pages about all the tournaments they have won. I’ve never won anything, so I scratched out the old limerick about the girl from Nantucket. We parted ways… and although I don’t know this for certain, I suspect we each then adopted a similar routine, heading week after week to the store to flip through the current issue of Sports Illustrated.
It’s now been some five months since our brush with fame. Of course, the photograph has not appeared and probably never will. After all, we’re not synchronized swimmers or ballroom dancers. We don’t chug sixpacks and then leap from airplanes to surf the clouds on skateboards. Therefore, by Sports Illustrated standards, we don’t qualify as real athletes.
I spoke with Dave not long ago and he was disappointed. But that’s probably because he’s run out of condoms.
I haven’t seen Brad. He seems to disappear between tournaments into the complex fabric that is the metropolis of Dayton, Ohio. But I’m sure he’s disappointed too. I mean really — the poor guy lives in Dayton!
I haven’t seen Lori either. But I do know this. She may not have made Sports Illustrated but, if she had — or if the photograph eventually does appear — proof positive will exist that, while the editors of the rag can’t recognize sport for sport, they at least — among a sample of four — have the ability to recognize the one with which the others would most like to mud-wrestle.
From the Field,
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