The IRT Shooting Out the Door to Vegas
Men’s professional international Racquetball Tour players have been participating in World Outdoor Racquetball (WOR) events now for a few years. WOR’s biggest events have been attracting some of the top IRT players for both competition and fun. Just one week into the 2011-2012 IRT season, some of it’s top players take on the Vegas strip and 3 Wall Ball.
For some, it may seem odd for players to risk injury and play an Outdoor event just as the season is getting started. But more and more, we are seeing that pros are viewing outdoor as a more integrated part of their overall career. Aside from the cross-training, it also provides an opportunity for exposure and cash. With the IRT and WOR partnership, points are also on the line.
For Rocky Carson, the tour’s #2 ranked player, this is part of his job. Carson has for the last 6 or so years, dominated Outdoor Pro Singles in the biggest WOR events. Being from Southern California, Rocky gets to play outdoor racquetball regularly as part of his personal recreation. So being a fixture in SoCal’s Outdoor scene, seeing him at these events is a given.
What is different about the past couple of years is the regular appearance of other highly-ranked IRT players. Alvaro Beltran has had major Singles success Outdoors. He has played finalist for 3 consecutive years at 3 Wall Ball. Beltran even found himself the #1 seed in this year’s Pro Singles draw. So, as he finds himself collecting a check at the end of the day, he also collects IRT points, as did Mexico’s Daniel De La Rosa and anyone else anyone else playing in a WOR Pro Singles division in it’s major events.
But Outdoor is a different animal. Where the IRT is all about singles, Outdoor reacquetball, with a backdrop that is more social in appeal, finds its Doubles divisions provide major draw in interest. That Rocky and Alvaro team up at this event only works to solidify their outdoor presence. Yet, there are other IRT Pros that draw spectator interest. Jose Rojas and Ben Croft, the IRT’s current #3 and #5 ranked players, have been playing Outdoor events for a few years now. Ben Croft brings with him his highly intense play. Whether spectators cheer for him or against him, Croft is a major draw. He has regular partners for both Pro Men’s Doubles and Pro Mixed Doubles. (He plays with the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour’s #2 player Rhonda Rajsich in the Mixed.) Rojas only plays Pro Men’s Doubles and what’s been interesting is that he teams up with Robert Sostre, who is a sporting legend and better known as the Iceman. It’s a team of a legend and a young strong highly-ranked player, with Rojas soaking up the knowledge as they find success.
Even the International Racquetball Tour’s president, Jason Mannino got into the act. His matches had major crowds cheering and he also finished in the money. (We hear his partner turned out to be a pretty good one too.)
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Charlie Pratt’s presence at 3 Wall Ball. Pratt, the IRT’s current #10 player and official referee, usually plays in major WOR events. This time he chose to commentate the key matches on the IRT Network (which broadcasted the event for free, courtesy of Ektelon Outdoor). Charlie peppered each match with his personal insights of IRT players, tour facts, and knowledge of outdoor play. It was good for the sport of racquetball.
That 4 out of the top 5 IRT players played an Outdoor event one week after the start of the IRT season and 2 weeks before the US Open in Minneapolis is worth taking note. The IRT Tour is still the premiere platform for the world’s best play. How the indoor pros will coopt professional outdoor play remains to be seen. But we can say that IRT players seriously competing in WOR events only serve to grow racquetball in a major way.
For more complimentary photos visit http://restrungmag.com/irt-plays-3-wall-ball
Freddy Ramirez, Editor, Restrungmag.com