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MLL All-Stars are making the situation work

By Robert Mays
Globe Correspondent / July 8, 2010

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On scattered Fridays throughout the summer, Chris Eck joins the afternoon commuters scurrying through New York City’s Penn Station.

In some ways, he looks like a 25-year-old fresh off work. He’s got an over-the-shoulder briefcase. He’s wearing a suit. But he’s also got an oversize duffel bag full of pads, a helmet, and two 3 1/2-foot lacrosse sticks.

Eck’s not just getting off work. He’s headed there, too.

During the week, Eck is a manager of sales and product development for NBC. On the weekend, he’s an All-Star faceoff specialist for the Boston Cannons who spends four hours on a train ride to South Station that gets him into town just in time for the Cannons’ Friday night practice at 8:30.

The Major League Lacrosse season lasts from early May until late August, and with salaries that barely reach five figures, most of the players have careers outside of lacrosse.

Tonight at Harvard Stadium, the MLL All-Star Game will feature not only some of the best lacrosse players in the world, but teachers, salesmen, coaches, broadcasters, and more.

With their professional lives, players often are forced to go to great lengths to continue their lacrosse careers. And to Long Island Lizards All-Star attackman Matt Danowski, it just shows how much players are willing to sacrifice to keep playing the game they love.

“There’s no other sport that the people have to do what we do,’’ Danowski said. “I bet if you asked most of the guys, if you barely got paid at all, and they just paid for your hotel and air travel, would you still play? I bet most of the league would say yes.’’

Danowski started his professional lacrosse career with the Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League, the indoor league in which many play during the offseason.

At the beginning of last season for the Mammoth, Danowski was still finishing work at Duke on his master’s degree and had to commute from Durham to Denver for practices and games.

Danowski would catch a flight from North Carolina at around 4 p.m. on Friday, land in Denver at around 6 p.m. local time, practice with the team from 10 p.m. to midnight, play the game on Saturday, and then catch the 7 o’clock flight back on Sunday morning.

“We owe a lot to this game,’’ Danowski said. “It’s gotten us to college and gotten us college degrees. There’s really not a bad school that plays college lacrosse. We feel very indebted to it.’’

Danowski now works as a marketing representative for the lacrosse company Warrior, and this past season, after being traded to the NLL’s Rochester Nighthawks, his work schedule forced him to step away from the indoor league.

Like Danowski, Cannons All-Star attackman and MLL goals leader Matt Poskay stays close to the game in the MLL offseason. Along with working lacrosse camps and clinics, the 26–year-old is an assistant coach at Drew University, a Division 3 school near his home in Clark, N.J.

Poskay sees a parallel between the state of the MLL and early stages of other professional leagues, like the NFL. From its inception in the early 1920s, it took almost 60 years for the NFL to become a financially viable life for its players. The MLL has been around for only nine years, and Poskay says that with the sport’s growing exposure on television at the college and professional levels, his generation has the chance to be the one whose sacrifices lead to future successes.

“The league has taken big steps forward,’’ Poskay said. “In 20 years, we can be like the old NFL guys that said they were the pioneers and made nothing compared to what the guys are making now.’’

For now, most players have a lifestyle that requires sacrifice on their part and support on the part of their employers. Eck uses most of his vacation days to travel for lacrosse.

“There’s an understanding [at NBC] that there’s a passion of mine that I want to do, that I love do to,’’ Eck said. “It makes me tick. It keeps me sane.’’

Along with his work at NBC and his time with the Cannons, Eck runs a lacrosse company called Ecks Factor Lacrosse, which organizes camps and clinics dedicated to teaching players the intricacies of taking faceoffs.

The position is perfect for Eck, who says he’s always been fascinated by how the parts make up the whole. He built his first computer at age 21, and he strings the sticks of several Cannons teammates.

“I really like to fully understand how things work,’’ Eck said. “The way that I do that is being hands on — building it, touching it, feeling it.’’

Eck also gets that chance at NBC, where his job involves working with digital media and bringing it to customers. His jobs have allowed him to simultaneously pursue his passions.

“I couldn’t really ask for a better situation,’’ Eck said. “I get to do what I love professionally on multiple levels. Whether it’s lacrosse or working at NBC or running my own lacrosse company, I get to be intrigued and involved on a lot of levels.’’

MLL All-Star Game
What:
All-Stars vs US national team
When: Tonight, 7
Where: Harvard Stadium
TV: ESPN2

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