One of the things every American hurling and camogie player hates is losing a ball.
No, I’m not talking about losing control of the sliotar in the middle of a match, because that certainly sucks, but something much worse. What I’m talking about is actually hitting the ball and seeing it disappear into a patch of weeds, behind some shrubs or launching it into some horrifically inaccessible area.
Just like Charlie Brown, every hurler has his or her own version of the kite-eating tree, except we now know American plant life likes the taste of apple-sized Irish sports equipment.
It’s just a ball, I can hear you say. Just get another one.
Well, therein is the problem. For hurlers in America, it’s actually quite difficult to maintain a steady supply of equipment. You can’t go down to Dick’s Sporting Goods and buy a 12-pack of hurling balls.
In most cases you need to have them shipped from Ireland, at about $10 a ball. (Granted, you can get them stateside from specialty dealers, but even their supplies are limited.)
And so every hurler in America knows the great angst we suffer when we bash a sliotar into the weeds. We know we’ll be spending 10-15 minutes at minimum to track it down because if we don’t have enough sliotars, there’s no way to play the game.
And that brings me to a story of this ball-eating section of my backyard:
This friendly looking patch of vegetation is actually a sliotar-eating monster in disguise.
In a rare opportunity a few weeks ago, a friend came to town who, at the very least, had heard of hurling. While we chatted, I said “Hey, you want to go knock the hurling ball around?”
He agreed, and outside we went to bat the sliotar around. After a few volleys we were getting warmed up and I decided to fire a “line drive” to him. He went for the catch, missed and the ball zipped into what could only be called a “semi-gardened” patch of vegetation surrounding the fence on my property.
I saw it fly into the plants, and they swallowed it up.
“No biggie,” I thought as a seed of angst planted itself in my mind, “I have a few spare balls,” and we switched to one of them as we finished up our game of catch.
Afterwords, I used my hurley to dig around through the patch, which included some daylilies, decorative ivy and morning glories all of which were intertwined with a fence.
But the ball was gone. It had disappeared completely.
Just to make sure, I checked the front of the fence, the back of the fence, and as far in as the hurley would allow me to blindly probe.
Nothing. No ball.
I searched for 10 minutes and could not find it. These sliotars, I have learned, they have a nasty habit of playing hide-and-go-seek.
With my friend waiting to go to dinner, I gave up and promised to return another day and find the missing ball.
A day or so later, I was back. This time I had a shovel, and I poked around. I shoved aside the vines, mashed down the daylilies.
HERE’S AN IDEA: Perhaps hurlers should just offer a sliotar-based sacrifice to the plant kingdom in advance of every practice.
While there was no hurling ball to be found, I did spot a few ropes of poison ivy. “Crap,” I thought, “I’ll have to pull that out to find it.”
The next day I had geared up for the worst: Gloves, long sleeve shirt and a hat.
With my armor donned, I led an assault against the poison ivy. I tore it up, threw it in the trash and went back for more. And when it was all gone, guess what? Still no ball.
Part of the problem that day was a strict timeline — if you get a tiny bit of poison ivy resin on you, the clock starts: 30 minutes or you risk it attaching to your skin. Playing it safe, I searched for about five minutes and then ran back into the house, stripped naked and carefully washed myself down with cold water.
And 24 hours later? You guessed it — I had poison ivy rashes all over my arm.
A week and four or five thunderstorms later, the rashes now just a faint pink afterglow and I was ready to renew my search. This time I was using one of those clawed garden tools. The rain, I figured, soaked the ball, made it squishy. That meant the claw could helpfully skewer it for easy retrieval. I raked across the now poison-free ivy. I dug through tangled base of daylilies.
No ball. Nothing. Not even a piece of litter blown in from the alley.
And so I gave up.
The ball clearly sprouted legs and walked to someone else’s yard after its layover in my monster-filled patch of weeds.
(Such obviously sentient activity reminded me about another time I lost a ball. I hit it over the bank of my parents’ yard and into a rock-strewn drainage ditch. The ball, apparently satisfied with its new company, camouflaged itself and went native, never to be found again.)
But this ball decided to come back. Perhaps the other lawn wasn’t Irish enough for it.
About two weeks after the claw-based search, I was out mowing the lawn, and — you guessed it — my lawnmower used its blood-hound like senses to uncover its hiding spot.
As I was working close to the ominously dangerous patch of vegetation, I rolled close to the daylilies, there was a loud bang and the mower choked itself to a stop.
I grimaced, knowing exactly what I hit.
Yep, my long-lost sliotar. Worth a measly $10, and it cost me a case of poison ivy, hours worth of angst and now a new mower blade to boot.
But I got my ball back.