Fire fight

Pub date May 21, 2013
WriterL.E. Leone

IN THE GAME In a pink dress, with a pink hair tie and those little pink sneakers that light up every time you take a step, she dominated the Alameda High School hardwood. I’m going to guess she was three. How else to explain the dogged determination with which, time after time after time, she took aim at the far-away hoop, and with all her cute-little-cutey-pie might heaved the basketball to a point about a foot-and-a-half in front of her feet. Bounce, plop, and roll …

All around her, Alameda police and fire fighters were shooting jumpers, warming up for the second half of their game, entirely unfazed by li’l Pinkie, or any of the other children who had swarmed the court during the halftime raffle — and weren’t in any hurry to give it back to the grownups.

Pinkie took her shots from the top of the key. From the lane. From the foul line. She shot for two, and she shot for three, and though she never really managed to propel the ball more than a couple feet away from her self, she was on fire.

One jumper went about six inches in the air before coming back down and landing on her nose. But not even this could dampen her spirits. With a huge smile, and the forever blinking shoes, she went right back to work.

I want this! Not the child — although I’d take one — but the attitude. Yeah: there’s a thing I can’t possibly do but it sure is fun to try! . . . Maybe I’ll start a novel. Learn a new instrument, or language. Or, for that matter, basketball! A sport which has always eluded me. Because I am small, I have always said. But Pinkie changes everything.

I wonder if she’s had ACL surgery. Probably not. She’s three. But I’ll bet she would . . .

In one week I’ll be 50. My second-half goal is to do like her.

It took more than the ref’s whistle to clear the floor for the second half. Moms and dads had to come scoop up their kids. And I missed them, because the third quarter was sluggish.

Carl Rolleri, police officer, who had hit five of five three-pointers in the first half, came down to Earth and missed a shot. Jill Ottaviano, the game’s only female player, who had scored the first two points for the police, was on the bench. The fire department seemed a little burnt out. I speak from experience: half time will do that to you.

The score, 31-20 after two quarters, was only 37-26 at the end of the third. Not that it mattered who was winning — this was Alameda’s police and fire departments raising money for a whole slew of children’s programs — but the police were winning. Soundly, and from the get-go.

They had a mascot, an adorable pet pig named Charlie in a police hat and a fake mustache, who had been walked out onto the court before tip-off, and spent the rest of the game in a baby stroller, tormented by children.

They had a chant: “Let’s go pigs! Let’s go pigs!” . . .

They had a guy in a wig and one with hearts on his socks, and they had the game’s only woman.

But I was rooting for the fire fighters, because they had a boy cheerleader. And, for my money, that’s even braver than the many awesome picks I saw Ottaviano set against guys twice her weight.

The Alameda High Hornets cheerleaders cheered on the fire department, and the Jets from Encinal High cheered on the police. The Encinal squad had a couple of acrobats who went flipping across the court once or twice during breaks. Which seemed even more impressive later, when I overheard one of them tell the woman sitting next to me, “We have bad stomachaches from the sushi.”

Anyway, the game got interesting again in the fourth quarter. The fire department pulled to within two. (They might have tied it, but I think the scoreboard operator was just confused.)

It was 42-39, police, with two minutes left. What a comeback!

But, like the Celtics facing elimination against the Knicks earlier that Saturday afternoon, the Alameda Fire Department came on strong and came up short: 44-40 was the final.

We went and talked to Charlie the pig a little bit, but it wasn’t a post-game interview per se. Her owner, a friend of a police, was trying to redirect would-be petters away from the poor pig’s face.

“Pet him back here, sweetie,” she said to one of these children, explaining to me that the smell of cotton candy and such all over all the kids’ hands was “starting to confuse him.”

Who I really wanted to talk to was the little girl, Pinkie — but it was way past her bed time.