Monday, July 27, 2009
USPL wrap up and Nicky Cuba story
So what a great few days. Registration day and walking the field with the pros on Thursday. Tournament play starting on Friday and pitting for the Chicago Legend team. Meeting all our favorite professional players and making some new friends. Staying late and digging around for lots of left over gear after the games each day. Playing on the pro field Saturday night. Sawyer and Dad getting to spend so many days together just being buds. But hands down what you are about to read is what made this trip so amazing and special for both of us. Nicky Cuba is a professional player for the Ironmen but in this tournament series he plays for the DC Arsenal squad. We first met Nicky a while back (HB?) and then again at the Clone Wars (There is a Nicky Cuba tab to the side of this blog page with pics and etc of him). We saw him again at this tourney on Thursday at registration (Look for pic a few days down on the blog) and as usual he was great to Sawyer and signed a couple of autographs on a jersey, hat, poster, shirt (Sawyer has LOTS of Ironmen gear). Friday is when Nicky really started to separate himself from the rest of the players at the event in regards to putting fans first. Now what you need to understand is Nicky is just not a pro, but a top tier pro. If you were to equate paintball to basketball most would say his teammate Oliver Lang is like the Kobe Bryant of the league. However, Nicky is right there with Ollie, like the LeBron James of paintball. So Friday morning starts with Sawyer getting grabbed from behind and scooped up by this beast of man (6'1, 190 lbs, ALL muscle) to say good morning and are you ready for some paintball - all while not only remembering his name but also the paintball handshake Sawyer had shown him months before. And from most pros, that one bit of extra attention would have been great and enough to make Sawyer's weekend, but in this case that one act could become hardly memorable to some (but not us) after a weekend full of attention from Nicky. Lots of handshakes and high fives and some free paint made up the rest of our Nicky memories on Friday and Saturday. Sunday went beyond anything Sawyer could have ever imagined. Nicky's games didn't start until the afternoon that day and when we first ran into him in the late morning it was after watching the team Oliver was playing for lose a game by blowing a 3-1 player advantage. Nicky asked Sawyer why they lost and then took the time to explain to him what went wrong and he even drew a diagram in the sand to show him. Imagine LeBron pulling you aside at halftime - in a game he's playing in - and taking the time to draw out for you what should be done if you ever encounter that specific kind of play. We are talking Sawyer on Cloud 9 at this point. Later in the afternoon in a break before the FINALS that Nicky would be playing in - he came up to the spot where we were sitting and watching the games to watch himself and hang out with Sawyer. Sawyer got about an hour of questions, stories and great conversation with Nicky RIGHT BEFORE HIS TOURNAMENT FINALS MATCH. In the Finals, game 1 went to the other team, Dynasty. During the tournament Sawyer had learned to stay clear of the team's tents when they had lost a game (very bad moods usually) and so he did after this loss. As game 2 of 3 was about to get going and all the players were on the field (THIS IS WHERE IT REALLY BEGINS TO JUST GET UNREAL), Nicky starts to run off the field up the hill towards us waving for Sawyer to come down to him (On the other side of the safety net of course). Any guesses as to why? "Sawyer," says Nicky. "I know why we lost that first game. I didn't get a lucky high five from you." And he then gets/gives Sawyer a high five and runs back to the field. The second game went to Dynasty as well and suddenly Nicky's tourney had ended with a second place finish. Great for a lot of players, but not where Nicky ever wants to be. He plays to win - and does win - ALOT. Again, Sawyer knew this was even a bigger game than most so to REALLY stay out of the players tent. After Nicky walks into the tent he walks back out only 15 seconds later waving for Sawyer to come down and when he does fills up 2 boxes of pods full of paint with another player from DC for Sawyer to have. You can see the look on Sawyer's face at this point like its raining hundred dollar bills. Until.......Nicky........pulls his jersey off and lays it on Sawyer's shoulders. After a few more minutes we waves Sawyer back down again and has rounded up some other gear from DC players, including a DC Arsenal logo harness full of 12 pods of paint, to give to Sawyer. The pictures above are of Sawyer in the jersey. So, here is a player who just lost what he spends all his time training to win, and he puts a little kid like Sawyer first. Make no mistake - Nicky was very, very upset about losing (private conversation with dad) and probably had to work out some aggression on a punching bag later that night - but at that moment he still thought about making the weekend as good as he could for Sawyer - and - Sawyer learned that with a true professional he didn't have to be "afraid" to go into the player's tent. Nicky Cuba is the professional athlete we all want our kids to idolize. He's the role model we hope they choose when the time comes for them to form opionions about who they want to be like. He puts the fans first. He plays hard and practices even harder. He has a great work ethic. He gives back. He is strong mentally. He plays paintball because he loves it and is doing everything he can to help the sport grow and build the fan base. He has fans for life now. If you would like to read more about Nicky, please go to his website www.nicky-cuba.com and if you would like to support such a fine and generous athlete and role model and ambassador to the sport of paintball please consider buying some of his Nuskool paintball gear from the website. Thanks Nicky.