Mr. Anony­mous get­ting bet­ter with age

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY

He laid out the mas­ter plan way back in 2010, just days af­ter adding to his grow­ing list of na­tional cham­pi­onships.

He was go­ing to hang in un­til the Pan Am Games in Toronto five years hence, so he could play where fam­ily and friends could watch him. Then he’d re­tire from the court. Mean­ing, he should be long done by now.

Mike Green pauses when he’s re­minded of this. “That was stupid,” he laughs. What he didn’t re­al­ize back then is that he is Ben­jamin But­ton with a rac­quet. Not only is he ap­par­ently im­per­vi­ous to ag­ing, but time in his world seems to be go­ing back­ward.

The most suc­cess­ful lo­cal ath­lete you’ve never heard of — ac­tu­ally, you have, you just don’t re­mem­ber be­cause it’s rac­quet­ball and, hon­estly, who around here pays at­ten­tion to rac­quet­ball? — may be 43, now which is an­cient in a young man’s game. Yet some­how, as the salt in­creases and the pep­per de­creases, he might be get­ting bet­ter.

On the week­end, he won a tour­na­ment in Cal­gary that earned him a spot on Team Canada and a ticket to April’s Pan Am Cham­pi­onships (dif­fer­ent from the Pan Am Games) in Costa Rica.

De­spite be­ing rusty af­ter a four­month lay­off, he didn’t drop a sin­gle set against the best play­ers in the land. In the fi­nal, he swept an op­po­nent who wasn’t even born in 1993 when Green made his first na­tional team.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the topic of when he’s fi­nally go­ing to quit comes up now and again among the other play­ers.

“They’re ask­ing me all the time,” he says. His new an­swer: some day. He truly thought it would’ve been be­fore now. Shortly be­fore those Pan Am Games he rup­tured his menis­cus, which re­quired surgery. He rushed back caus­ing his knee to swell grotesquely af­ter each time on the court, which made him be­lieve he was done. He kept play­ing through the dis­com­fort — and win­ning — but for a year-and-a-half, he was a phys­i­cal mess.

Even­tu­ally, he took four months off, be­cause there re­ally wasn’t an­other op­tion, re­turn­ing to ac­tion shortly be­fore this tour­na­ment. And now that he’s back? “I feel great. I feel like I’m 25.” That’s bad news for ev­ery­one else in the game who was prob­a­bly hop­ing he’d re­cover nicely, but find an­other hobby dur­ing his time away so they’d have a chance to win once in a while.

Ex­cept that was al­ways un­likely. With 10 na­tional sin­gles ti­tles and nine dou­bles crowns on his man­tle, he’s on the cusp of be­com­ing the great­est of all time.

His 11th sin­gles cham­pi­onship — which he could claim in May — would break the record he shares right now with Cana­dian rac­quet­ball leg­end Sher­man Green­feld. A ti­tle of any kind would match the record 20 held by Jen Saun­ders who has nine sin­gles and 11 dou­bles wins.

“I won’t be­come an al­co­holic if I don’t get it,” Green quips. “But, I wouldn’t mind it.”

This gaudy re­sume puts him up there with any ath­lete from Hamil­ton.

Ex­cept, again, he’s done it in rac­quet­ball.

The only way he could have guar­an­teed him­self more anonymity is if he’d been a per­pet­ual win­ner of the Wit­ness Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram’s an­nual hide-and-go-seek tour­na­ment.

He’s never been a fi­nal­ist for the Golden Horse­shoe Ath­lete of the Year Award, as this area’s top ath­lete. Heck, af­ter win­ning that record-ty­ing 10th na­tional sin­gles ti­tle last year, he wasn’t even nom­i­nated.

So, he just re­mains in the back­ground think­ing less about re­tire­ment than ever be­fore. In­stead, he’s now look­ing even fur­ther down the road. He men­tions the next Pan Am Games that are in Lima, Peru in 2019.

“It sounds like a fun place to go play rac­quet­ball for 10 days,” he says. Would that be it then? Be­fore the ques­tion hangs there too long, he points out that Los An­ge­les is bid­ding for the 2024 Olympics. The host coun­try — which will be an­nounced in Septem­ber — gets to hand-pick a num­ber of sports to be in­cluded. The Amer­i­cans are very, very good at rac­quet­ball. There have been rum­blings it could be in­cluded. Yes, but he’d be 50 then. Could he re­ally still be do­ing it at that age?

“If it was ever an­nounced,” he sim­ply says, “I’d start gun­ning for it.”

Hear­ing that an­swer, a whole bunch of Cana­dian rac­quet­ball play­ers just groaned.

ERIC RIEHL, METROLAND ME­DIA GROUP

At 43, Hamil­ton’s Mike Green seems im­per­vi­ous to ag­ing, as he con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate rac­quet­ball in Canada.

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