I was on board a cruise ship several years ago when they announced that a ping pong tournament would be held. On the day of the event I showed up to sign up, supremely confident (maybe a trifle cocky) that I might have a shot at winning because in my youth I had been the Long Pong Day Camp ping pong champion several years running (‘55-’57). But, to my utter dismay, I noticed that a large group of players who were also entering the tournament had brought their own rackets with them. Jeez, who would do that except very serious, dedicated, committed, passionate … nuts. They frightened me, the whole bunch of them. They had to be good. These were mostly Asians, made the more fearsome by their countries’ ping pong reputations and, in this case, by the look of some fancy ping pong manufacturer logos on their shirts and equipment bags. And by their fat, alarming sponge paddles.

I knew it was a waste of time for me to play against these equipment junkies, these ringers with their sophisticated paraphernalia, but I signed up anyway – only because I’d already bragged to my girl friend at the time that I was the great Long Pond champion (she wanted to know from what century?). And then I couldn’t believe what happened. The cruise director, this imperious guy in charge of the ping pong table (lot of responsibility there) declared that everyone had to use the cruise ship paddles – these cheap molded plastic things that probably cost the Princess Line about 30 cents each – maybe less. And that turned out to be my ticket to success, because these so-called rackets played somewhat like the sandpaper rackets of my youth – they didn’t grab the ball. I ended up beating all the professionals and semi-professionals who could not adjust to the schlocky equipment. (I think they were also using one star balls on this 5 star ship.)

As a result of winning this revered and prestigious tournament, I fully expected to be seated next to the captain that night for dinner– or maybe they would rename the ship in my honor – something like that. But it never happened. They gave me a credit for a glass of wine (which I don’t drink). One glass!

Now, you see! Right there, that’s the trouble with ping pong in a nutshell – no respect. Ping pong will never pay the big bucks. Why? (Hint: the paddles.) Stay tuned for Part II. Same bat station. Lao Du