People have to try new things. It’s always been beyond my comprehension, for example, why people will not try a new food. The worst-case scenario is having an unpleasant taste in your mouth for two to four seconds. Although, I still will never try cottage cheese because it looks like it’s curdled and been regurgitated by a bird of prey.
But the try-new-things rule doesn’t just apply to food, it applies to watching new sports as well. My skepticism of Ultimate Disc Frisbee quickly vanished when I got to see the American Ultimate Disc League’s Pittsburgh Thunderbirds last season.
Watching guys throw a Frisbee around makes you think of un-athletic, dirty hippies who aren’t coordinated enough to play hacky sack. That preconception turns out to be ridiculous. Ultimate Disc is a thoroughly enjoyable sport played by athletes with an impressive set of skills. It’s almost like football with just long passes and without 400-pound men who are dosed up on painkillers. Every player is a quarterback, receiver and safety. The precision of the passes and the skill of the catches in a crowd of defenders becomes mesmerizing when you see it live.
Last year was the inaugural season for the Thunderbirds in the AUDL. It’s a league that is hot right now. Founded in 2012 with eight teams, the league begins 2016 with 26 teams across the country and even four teams in Canada. The game is played on an 80-yard field with two 20-yard end zones. There are four 12-minute quarters, and players have seven seconds to get rid of the disc. You can’t run with the disc or interfere with receivers. Last July, Tad Wissel of the Thunderbirds invited me to throw out the first pull — which as you may have guessed is akin to throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game. That’s just one of the perks of being a D-list local personality. My girlfriend and I watched the game and became hooked like Floridians on bath salts. We watched the home team stomp the stupid Detroit Mechanix who were woefully unprepared for the Thunderbirds’ aerial assault.
Just like the Pirates, Steelers, Penguins and Passion, the Thunderbirds represent the 412 by winning. They finished that first season with a 12-2 record and won a playoff game before being ousted by the Madison Radicals in the second round. The Radicals only lost one game last year, and that was courtesy of your Pittsburgh Thunderbirds. Now the T-Birds are back and ready for the new season. They play in the AUDL’s Midwest division along with the Chicago Wildfire, Cincinnati Revolution, Indy Alley Cats, Minnesota Wind Chill and the aforementioned Radicals and Mechanix. No team from Cleveland, but if there was, they no doubt would be awful.
The Thunderbirds’ octane-fueled offense returns two of the top five goal-scorers in the league. Ethan Beardsley and David Vatz, who were first and fourth, respectively team up with Tyler DeGirolamo, who is the AUDL’s all-time record-holder for assists in a season.
“We have the firepower to be scary good this year,” Wissel says. “It’s no secret that Pittsburgh is an awesome sports town; the fans are dedicated, and last year really underscored that.”
The team drew around 600 fans a game last year. Now they play at Founder’s Field, in Cheswick, which is the only field in the division with natural grass, and all the seats have a courtside feel. Last season the Thunderbirds didn’t lose at home once all season.
“We set records in our first year. When you do that, there’s a target on your back every time you put your cleats on,” Wissel says.
The Thunderbirds start the home season at 7 p.m. Sat., April 23, against the Detroit Mechanix (I hate them so much) and play through early July. The seats are cheap, the way I like it. Go support the Thunderbirds in 2016 — I will. But I’m still not eating cottage cheese.