Everyone was ready to see the magic happen again. From the players to the coaches to the spectators to the umpires—they were all hoping to see the lightning bolt of an arm that had just produced a perfect game deliver a repeat performance.
Lightning didn’t strike twice for Nolan Becker, the senior lefty from Stuyvesant High School. During this game, played earlier this spring in Central Park, he was facing a top squad in Norman Thomas, one that sported few weak hitters and went on to win the city championships a couple of weeks ago. But if anyone doubted the kid’s talent after he allowed an unearned run in the first inning, they stood corrected a little later. Becker got nine strikeouts combined in the second, third and fourth innings. He wasn’t flawless, giving up a few walks, but he rose to the occasion whenever the situation was toughest.
“I try to attack hitters and not worry about the runners,” the 17-year-old said after the game. “I try to block it out and just have confidence. That makes it easier to focus on the batter. If you strike them out, they can’t score. I like the pressure.”
By the fifth inning, the opposing coach was screaming at his batters. The strikeout streak didn’t last forever, though, and Norman Thomas eventually broke through to earn a 3-0 victory. But Becker once again exhibited plenty of glimpses of his tantalizing talent.
“Nolan got into a real groove. He was fantastic,” Stuyvesant head coach John Carlesi said. “Freshman or sophomore year, he might have let up a couple of runs. But now he just bears down and worries about the next pitch. He’s matured a lot over the last four years. He’s a big guy who means a lot to the team. It’s going to be a big loss when he graduates, but he’s moving on to better things.”
Better things, in this case, means Yale University, where Becker will pitch next year and perhaps have a professional career after that. It’s been quite a journey for a kid who started hitting off a tee when he was 5 and then honed his game in the Greenwich Village Little League.
One goal he hopes to pursue in college is replicating that perfect performance, over nine innings this time. Becker’s first perfect game took place on April 8 and ended early after six innings with a mercy rule 10-0 win over Manhattan Bridges. But even among the rarest of all pitching feats, this effort was exceptional. Becker recorded all 18 outs with strikeouts.
“It was the best game I’ve ever pitched,” he said. “It was pretty cool, a nice accomplishment.”
As good as he is on the mound, Becker may have been even more dominant this winter on the basketball court. Standing 6-foot-6, he averaged 25 points and 17.1 rebounds while leading Stuyvesant to a 13-4 record. This spring, he finished with a 2-2 record and a 1.09 ERA in 32 innings. Like that other great pitcher Nolan, he was a strikeout artist, recording 68 punch-outs. Athletic success wasn’t always so easy, though. As a freshman and sophomore, he struggled for the most part while pitching. But a turnaround began as Becker grew older and stronger.
“He shot up sizewise and strengthwise,” Carlesi said. “He matured and worked a lot on strengthening his weaknesses. He’s worked very hard, and I see a good future for him in this game.”
An Urban Country Club—Bill Mack’s business card features a picture of him on the front, shirtless with dreadlocks covering most of his face and a paddle in hand. The reverse side provides the explanation, describing him as a “ping pong evangelist.”
It’s an apt moniker, at least figuratively. Mack believes so fervently in his sport that he is helping bring a table tennis social club to Manhattan. He and three business partners opened SPiN New York on May 23 at 304 Park Avenue South, near East 23rd Street.
“It’s like an urban country club,” Mack said. “It was created in reaction to the lack of good facilities to play table tennis in Manhattan. We’ve combined the best elements of a private membership club with the best facilities for table tennis and come up with something pretty original. By day, it operates just like a table tennis club. But from happy hour on, it’s just like a nightclub.”
The facility, which offers lessons and plenty of tournaments and events, covers 13,000 square feet and holds between 12 and 16 tables. There’s also a bar and lounge, bleachers, locker rooms and a menu featuring comfort food. More than 250 enthusiasts have already signed up for membership, which offers discounted rates and various other benefits. The first few months will feature a slow opening to iron out any problems before a grand opening in September.
Mack and two friends first came up with the idea several years ago, when they were working together doing film production in a studio in Tribeca. The first piece of furniture they bought was a ping-pong table, and games were held every day, sometimes for hours.
“It’s exactly what New York is missing,” Mack said. “There are three bowling alleys in Manhattan, several billiards clubs. Ping-pong is a lot more fun than both of those. It’s more interactive, more social. It’s great for friends and dates.”
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