831: Sharp-Tipped Action
Fierce but friendly competition in the dart league.
Thursday, July 1, 2004
Frankie Three Tons wears a blue bowler pulled down on his head like a helmet. Besides Three Tons, he also calls himself the King of Sting, but his real name is Franklin Lucido. He’s one of those guys who swings wide when he talks, usually wheeling around to something funny. But now it’s Wednesday night in mid-June at the American Legion hall in Seaside, and Three Tons looks like a guy who’s just survived a death-defying stunt, rocketing over a desert canyon or something.
So great is the relief it’s visible on his face. Even though he’s on a laid-back dart team that calls itself “Who Cares,” Three Tons and his teammates like to win, and he just won.
“It was hell,” he says. “I played their best player and whupped him because I’m FL—the Master of Disaster. I’m all about psych-out.”
With a close game on the line, the pressure can surge high enough to drive a man to down double bourbons, to push him outside for a smoke, to drench him in sweat or unfurl silent epithets. Fists have flown.
There are ways to cope, like pretending not to care. Some dart teams take on badass names like the Sharpshooters or the Bandits. Others use reverse psychology. Who Cares is a top contender in the Bronze North division of the 185-member Monterey Bay Dart League.
The league was started in 1987 by a couple guys in Seaside who would just shoot around in bars like the Shadow Box or the now-vanished Hunt Club. Back then, the deal was that the winner had to buy the beer. One of them was the indomitable Wiley Hatchett.
Now retired from league officialdom, Hatchett has held every position in the organization. He plays religiously and he likes to win.
After only a month of the casual games-for-beer, the players decided to start a steel-tip dart league. They wrote up by-laws, rounded up sponsors, elected officers, joined the American Darters Association and mandated a summer season-ending barbecue every August. Hatchett went around to local bars and tacked up recruitment posters.
“It all happened in a year and pretty soon we had 300 players,” he says. “The hardest thing is finding three people who can play together, who are compatible.”
Back then, a lot of the players were soldiers. Membership surged to 375 players on 48 teams with 16 sponsors in 1995. It’s dropped some since then, but many of the players—who come from all walks of life—have stayed with the league through the years.
Darts can be addictive and many players are diehard. In fact, Hatchett and his wife, Annette Lombardo, take their darts seriously enough that one year they drove across America for four months playing darts at every stop.
“It was our vacation time,” Hatchett says. “We retired and we wanted to see what America looked like.”
Now every Wednesday night for 14 weeks through the summer, Hatchett and the other members of the Monterey Bay Dart League—185 players out of 19 million around the United States—gather in sponsoring legion halls and taverns from Marina to Carmel to vie for the top spots in the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum divisions.
“It’s an adventure,” Hatchett says. “It’s like bowling, to be honest with you.”
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The players on the Who Cares team claim they just like to have fun, that they’re not serious dart players, that they really don’t care who wins or loses. Not true.
The captain, Paul Plachy, looks like a sun-bleached California surfer, but he moved to the US when he was 16 from Pilsen in the Czech Republic. He and Three Tons met on a job site where Three Tons was a painter and Plachy was a stonemason. John Knox, who’s ranked third in the division, is Lucido’s neighbor in Seaside. He’s a calm and steady player who favors a camouflaged turkey-hunter ballcap. Joe Gallaro has lived in Monterey his whole life. He keeps his black Giants lid pulled down low over his eyes.
They’re pretty good and they want to move up to the Silver division. Their ambition means each Wednesday night match, each game of cricket or 301 or 501, puts them closer to or farther from their goal. Close games are exercises in stress management.
When a player stumbles during a game he hangs his head in shame, but Who Cares will prop him with encouragement and verbal darts for the opposing player. Good performances get the fist-to-fist high five or the old-style slap high five.
Last week, Who Cares was up against the B.S. Bandits, also in the top of the Bronze North division. Halfway through the match, all Who Cares had to do was win one more game to take the match. They were really rolling, winning, and even getting a little cocky. Then the wheels fell off the wagon and they lost every remaining game.
“We choked. It was disgusting,” says Three Tons, who got his new handle from hitting three hundred-point (or “ton”) shots in that match.
Three Tons was pissed about losing, but they were short-handed. The team just lost two really good players and now they were scrambling for a replacement. The new guy, an unknown, only shot 50 percent on his debut and Three Tons threatened to boycott him.
When they played their next match, on June 23, someone in the corner of the Legion Hall was tinkling away on the piano, playing songs like the theme from “The Godfather.” The music didn’t help.
Who Cares was up against the Casanova Rovers, a team with three women, including Candy Murphree, the league secretary, and Hatchett’s wife, Annette.
When it got tight, the team turned some of its psychological warfare on itself. Gallaro was missing shots and Plachy whispered in his ear. It worked.
“I told him if he loses this game he’s the worst player I’ve ever seen,” says Plachy in his Czech accent afterwards. “Then he goes ‘Boom!’ and won.”
By the end of the night, Who Cares walked away with the match, winning nine games to tally up against their division rivals, the B.S. Bandits. Still a bit stung from losing to the Bandits the week before, but confident at the victory over the Rovers, Three Tons knows they’re headed into to a season-ending showdown for the vault into the Silver division.
“It’s going to come down to them and us,” he says with resolve. “It will be a shoot-out.”