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March 7, 2012

Steamballers of Rego Park

As if

Long story by Sarah Maslin Nir in Monday's New York Times short: When the weather gets cold, devoted handball players with no indoor courts to play on choose to play on outside regardless of the temperature.

Handballs do not do well in the cold.

So players cook them.

Above and below, handballs being cooked for play. 


Excerpts from the Times piece follow.

A steady ribbon of steam rose from a stainless steel pot at a park in Queens, a small flame licking at its underside. Every so often, Washington Giovanni Cardenas lifted the lid to pluck a round morsel from the roiling water.

Timing was important: undercooked, the objects would be flat; overcooked, the casing could melt. Two minutes was the magic number.

Mr. Cardenas was not tending stove at a cookout on that Wednesday in late February: inside his pot were bright-blue rubber balls [top].

Mr. Cardenas, 39, is a self-described religious devotee of the sport of handball, and like many of his peers, he is committed to playing the game year-round. But the cold weather is not hospitable to players, and even less so to the handballs.

"On a winter day the ball is cold, which makes the rubber harder, the air in the ball denser, so the ball doesn't really expand and contract off the bounce," said Ruben Acosta, 32, a hotel concierge who is known on the court as Superstar. Boiling the balls, he said, gives them back their zing.

"When you play with the steam ball, it makes everything a lot more interesting," Mr. Acosta said. "Your reflexes have to be faster, your instinct has to be faster. It changes the game."

That is why in the trunks of their cars, next to the usual gear of water bottles, gym shorts, gloves and plastic tubs of balls, the handball players tuck in some unconventional equipment: a canister of propane, a lighter and a pot. ("My mom doesn’t know this is missing," Mr. Cardenas said.)


March 7, 2012 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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