Bull’s-eye

I have a complicated relationship with the game of darts. I really enjoy playing, but I am just not very good at it. I’m a fan of any “sport” you can play while drinking beer (e.g. bowling, billiards, etc.), so I have a natural affinity for darts. However, I haven’t really figured out how to get good at it. I can kind of, sort of aim the darts in the general direction of where I want them to go, but I lack any real precision. I occasionally miss the dart board completely, but that is usually because I try to make up for my accuracy with velocity and tend to throw the darts harder than I need to. I am not one for finesse; my strategy mostly consists of hurling the darts in the vicinity of what I am trying to hit and to continue drinking beers until I reach the very narrow sweet spot of buzz where I’ve had just enough to drink to actually be relaxed enough to be fairly proficient. It’s a delicate balancing act because if I consume too much, I become erratic and sloppy and no one should be standing anywhere in the neighborhood of the dart board when it is my turn.

Part of my problem with darts is that I just don’t play frequently enough. I used to play every Sunday before football and I definitely got better the more that I played. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened the last few seasons so my opportunities to play darts are now few and far between. However, even when I played regularly I can’t say that I was ever excellent. I’m usually at least somewhat competitive, but I win about as often as the Washington Generals defeat the Harlem Globetrotters. I think I only won once when I used to play on Sundays and I ran around the bar like I had just won the Super Bowl. For someone who is as cutthroat as I am, enjoying something that you just aren’t all that great at is a tough spot to be in. Maybe I need to hire myself a dart coach.

Last night, my friend Mike invited me out to watch him play in his dart league playoffs with some of our other friends. I had expressed interest in going to one of their matches, but I have to admit that was more for the social aspect of hanging out and a willingness to be supportive than any burning desire to be a spectator. As much fun as playing darts is for me, I had my doubts about the excitement level of watching darts be played by others. I’d been forced to watch a former boyfriend play darts on many an occasion and it just wasn’t much fun. He and his guy friends would play darts all night at the bar, never inviting any of the girls to play. Of course, me being me, I had to get all Norma Rae on that situation and push for the women to have a chance to participate rather than being left to amuse ourselves for the night (I may or may not have dropped a “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” reference while stating my case). I was victorious and we occasionally got to play, which made the evenings a lot more enjoyable. I am a trailblazer.

However, I did want to hang out with my friends last night and after a rough day of work I was willing to risk the possibility that I would be a little bored. My friends are always fun, so I knew it wouldn’t be a completely wasted evening. Since I knew this was a league game and that I wouldn’t be playing, I didn’t have to worry about feeling excluded. I figured that I could keep an eye on the Yankee game while they were playing if the match wasn’t holding my attention. I’d get to have a beer and fraternize while having a contingency plan for my amusement if necessary.

Much to my surprise, my backup plan wasn’t needed. The match was actually pretty exciting and provided far more entertainment than the pitiful baseball game. Who knew that there could be so much tension in darts?

It helps that my friends are pretty good and that they put a lot more thought and strategy into their game play than I thought was possible. They were playing a team of people that I didn’t know, so I had a clear rooting interest; it was “us” vs. “them.” I’d never really watched team darts before, so I wasn’t 100% sure of what was going on all the time. Different members of the team played at different times and the type of dart game was constantly changing as well. One round they would play Cricket (where each team has to close out certain numbers on the dart board – usually 15 through bull’s-eye – and you earn points by hitting numbers that your opponents haven’t closed yet) and the next they would play 501 (where each team starts with 501 points and each darts subtracts from that total until they get to zero).  My friend Shaun patiently tried to answer my questions, but I still don’t think I totally got all of the subtleties and rules for team play. I never quite understood what it meant to “freeze” the opposing team, no matter how many times he went over it.

Despite my lack of total comprehension, I found myself getting more and more drawn into each progressive round. The first team to win 7 rounds would progress to the next round of the league play offs and the loser would be eliminated and their season would be over, so there were some stakes involved. Perhaps it is my own lack of skill in darts, but I was impressed with both team’s ability to come up in big spots and hit the number that they needed for their team to win. I’m no slouch in the math department, but they were all so quick in figuring out exactly what number combinations were the best for them to hit strategically. Admittedly the Yankee game was terrible (unless you were rooting for the Red Sox), but I really did find myself fascinated with watching other people play darts. It was legitimately competitive and exciting; I wasn’t feigning my enthusiasm when they did well or my disappointment when they didn’t. I was straight up invested in the outcome of the match. Both teams were evenly matched and though my friends weren’t victorious, it was still a very fun evening.

Now, I don’t know that I will be seeking out dart coverage on ESPN (though stranger things have happened), but I’ve now been introduced to a whole new world of semi-competitive darts. I would definitely consider going to another match in the future and it has encouraged me to make more of an effort to play and try to improve my lackluster skills. I have an electronic dart board somewhere floating around my place and after last night it might be time to hang it up and start practicing. Maybe someday I’ll be able to do this:

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