Let me tell you, jai alai is one manly game, and I should know!

I decided to take up a sport. I’m 55 years old, and it’s time I did something good for my body, other than occasionally burp it.

But which sport? A lot of men my age play golf, but as far as I can tell, this “sport” consists mainly of guys describing to each other, in great detail, how they shanked their bogeys. Call me a wet blanket, but I don’t want to know how another guy shanks his bogey.

I thought about taking up competitive eating. This is an actual sport, which I found out about from a TV show called “Man Versus Beast”. This is one of those “reality” shows, which depict real situations that real people like you and me are always really finding ourselves in. For example, just the other night I was hanging out with some celebrity millionaire bachelorette class-reunion survivors, and one of them turned out to be a mole! Don’t you HATE it when that happens?

Anyway, on “Man Versus Beast” they had real humans competing against real animals in various contests, one of which was eating hot dogs. This event pitted a guy named Takeru Kobayashi, billed as “the world-record holder in hot-dog-eating,” against a Kodiak bear, whose name was not given, probably because when he realized what kind of show this was, he demanded anonymity to protect his career.

You will never guess who won, unless you have three or more brain cells, in which case you will immediately say: The bear. I mean, duh, it’s a BEAR. The announcers tried to make the contest look exciting by showing replays, but basically what you had was a bear and a guy eating hot dogs, which, even in slow motion, is not riveting entertainment.

A better concept would have been to have the bear eat the network executives responsible for “reality” television. Of course then there would be complaints from PETA.

But my point is that competitive eating is a real sport, and I considered taking it up. But when I thought about what this would mean – sitting around for hours, stuffing my face with unhealthy food – I realized it was basically the same thing as journalism.

So I decided to take up jai alai. Really. I took a lesson at a place in Miami called American Amateur Jai Alai, operated by the American Jai Alai Foundation, a group dedicated to keeping this ancient sport alive, which is not easy because the object is to kill your opponent.

OK, that’s a slight exaggeration. But jai alai (which gets its name from the word “jai” and the word “alai”) IS the world’s fastest ball game, and it can be dangerous. It was invented centuries ago by the Basques, a fascinating people whose unique language apparently has no words for “You’re going to put somebody’s eye out!”

The Basques played with a rock, but in modern jai alai the players use a “pelota,” which is Spanish for “a ball that is even harder than a rock.” Players use a “cesta,” or curved basket, to throw the pelota against a “wall,” or wall, at speeds that can exceed 180 m.p.h., and when the ball comes whizzing back, the opposing player must try, using anticipation, skill and timing, to maintain control of his sphincter. At least that was my goal.

My teacher was Victor Valcarce, who majored in political science but played professional jai alai for a couple of years under the name “Mago,” which is Spanish for “Magician.” All jai alai players have nicknames, so my first task was to pick one out. I was going to call myself “La Cesta Poderosa Grande Que Late De Trueno,” which means “The Big Mighty Throbbing Basket of Thunder,” but Victor told me the nickname has to be one word, so I went with “Moco” (“Booger”).

Nickname-choosing turned out to be the strongest aspect of my jai alai game. My main weaknesses were (1) catching the ball; (2) throwing the ball; and (3) having a clue where the ball was. Fortunately, we used a softer ball than the professionals use, and Victor, graciously, did not throw it in a fatal manner. So I got a good workout, running around for about an hour, waving my cesta, looking like a deranged man trying to catch an imaginary bat.

So now jai alai is my sport. The great thing is, nobody I know plays it. When I’m with a group of guys, I can brandish my cesta (I have my own cesta) and say “Anybody up for jai alai?” fully confident that nobody will be. Ha ha! Those bogey-shankers do not want to mess with the one who is called “Moco.”

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.

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