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Copyright 2014 Albuquerque Journal
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Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)

 

 

 

Handball has long been a gritty, blue-collar sport: One small, rock-hard ball, no racket, no net, no frills. It's you and an opponent, bare walls and sometimes bare hands. The game can be found in numerous public parks, many of those in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"That's where I started playing, Brooklyn," says Bob Torch, his accent formidable 40-plus years removed from its source.

Now 70, Torch still plays handball, but focuses now on bringing younger people into the sport. That effort has consumed him for the last decade.

Torch is standing this June morning in front of his labors: four outdoor, three-wall courts in the final phases of construction at North Domingo Baca Park on Wyoming NE.

After much badgering of city officials by Torch and his handball pals, courts are expected to open in September. Play will be free of charge. Torch grins at the bank of the 20-foot-high gray walls. "It's all pretty amazing," he says.

Torch moved to New Mexico from New York in 1972 to take a job as an electronics technician. When that ended, he serviced hospital equipment. From 1993 to 2004, he drove a cab. Security work followed, and in 2007 he started his own cab company.

Soon after he arrived in Albuquerque, he joined a private health club - to play handball. Through the years, he has played at different clubs with the same group of guys. They call him "Taxi Bob" or just "Taxi."

About 2004, Taxi Bob realized he and his handball buddies were now seniors.

"We needed something to attract kids," Torch says.

He met with Albuquerque's Parks and Recreation director to talk about building handball courts. A petition circulated and funding appeared, then nothing. Many phone calls later Torch learned the Parks and Rec director had retired. The bond issue? Diverted to other projects.

Handball meant too much for Torch to quit. "If it wasn't for handball and the guys I played with, I wouldn't survived," he said referring to his divorce.

In 2009, Barbara Baca became Parks & Rec director. Torch called her once a month and, finally, a bond issue passed. A sum of $150,000 was available.

But the city wanted to renovate the one-wall courts at Barelas Community Center. Taxi Bob and Co. voiced disfavor.

A meeting was held and the city proposed North Domingo Baca Park or Ventana Ranch Park on the far West Side. A Torch-led contingent pushed for Domingo Baca, then still in the planning stages.

"Bob was flexible to deal with," Baca says. "He just wanted to get those courts built before he died."

Progress was slow, however.

"I would call once a month and I always heard, 'We're working on it, we're working on it,'" Torch says. "The city didn't call me a pest, but I guess I was."

When bulldozers arrived in mid-March, Taxi Bob decided he could stopped calling.

Handball anyone?

The Albuquerque handball community will supply balls and gloves to anyone interested in learning the game. Call 505-350-8009 or email: giantcab222@msn. com.

    

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