Dull. Low-key. Gentle. Mild.
None of these are terms used to describe Ben Croft on the racquetball court. When you think of Croft, terms like intense, passionate, extreme and even excessive come to mind. But that’s his personality and he’s sticking to it. It got him to where he’s at —as one of the sport’s best.
Croft has used that same passion and intensity as the business manager of Racquetball Warehouse. While dealing with a shoulder and arm injury over the past year has hindered him on the court, it hasn’t halted his enthusiasm for promoting the sport through his business endeavors.
“I actually came to Racquetball Warehouse for a photo shoot for Head in 2010 for their marketing material,” Croft said. “I obviously had heard about Racquetball Warehouse, but I had no idea what this place was like. When I walked in, I was blown away on how massive the building was, how many employees there were and how energetic the atmosphere was. Ben LoBue, a racquetball player and business manager mentioned they were looking to hire another business manager. So a few months later, I applied, interviewed twice and the rest is history.”
What are Croft’s responsibilities at Racquetball Warehouse? “Everything,” he said. Croft is involved in buying the products, creating new exclusive products, marketing content, promotional material, generating content for broadcast spots and playtest videos to name a few.
“It’s something new everyday, and it’s a lot of fun finding new ways to grow the business,” he said. “When that business is racquetball, it makes it that much more fun and exciting.”
Croft said he never imagined himself in the business manager role when he was younger and starting to play the pro tour. “Unfortunately, one of the downsides to our sport is there isn’t much opportunity outside of playing to make a career out of the sport, which is such a shame,” Croft said. “In so many other sports, when a professional is done playing, there are so many opportunities in different ways to continue building your career in the sport you’ve dedicated so much of your life to. Whether that be coaching a team, training camps, an ‘office job’ or a club pro, the opportunities are there. In racquetball, they are few and far between. To be honest, I’m a tad biased, but I think I landed the best one.”
One of the many facets of his job is becoming the face of Racquetball Warehouse in commercials. As simple as some of them may appear, Croft said a lot of time and effort goes into them, as well as the number of people it takes to make them work.
“The commercials are a lot of fun to create and I hope the racquetball community enjoys them,” he said. “As much credit as I’d like to take for them, we have a world class video crew that films, edits and produces all of our videos. They do a great job of producing content that the racquetball community has never seen before.”
“Believe it or not, they take a long time. When we shot with Kane Waselenchuk, it was about nine hours of filming for two 30-second spots. The setup, lights, location changes, takes and everything else that goes into the commercials is a long process. On top of that, the back end takes a lot of work as well. Splicing all the cuts together with the right music, feel, energy is tough, and those guys do it so well.”
Anyone who has played against or watched Croft on the court, knows he takes his racquetball seriously. As he’s transitioned from full-time racquetball player to business manager, he applies that same mindset in setting up business relationships with other companies and customers of Racquetball Warehouse.
“We do a ton for the sport and we love every relationship we have,” Croft said. “We are the official retailer of USA Racquetball, the IRT (men’s professional International Racquetball) and the IRT Network. Beyond that, we sponsor countless tournaments, we sponsor pro players, create fun contests for our customers on social media, produce professional commercials that are seen worldwide and on national television, and so
much more. I’ve come to really appreciate our customers — I take it personally when someone has or doesn’t have a positive experience with Racquetball Warehouse, so we try to do everything we can in every way so racquetball players enjoy coming to our website.”
As for his playing career, Croft is in a wait-and-see mode. “I wish I knew what my plans for next season and beyond were. To be honest, I haven’t hit a racquetball since the US Open. I’m a little timid and I don’t want to do anymore damage before I know I’m 100 percent. If I decide to come back, I will make the decision in June or July when the status of my shoulder is more clear. I really appreciate the comments I’ve seen of people wishing me well and hoping I come back. That means a lot to me.”
His recovery has been slowly progressing since his fall return during the 2015-2016 IRT season. “I probably can hit lightly, but like I mentioned before, I’m a little weary after the US Open,” he said. “I tore the long head of my bicep playing my singles match at the US Open. After that, it was tough to play through — after what I’ve gone through the past 10 months, I want to make sure I never have to go through it again.”
Despite his painful injury at the 2016 UnitedHealthcare US Open, Croft and Waselenchuk managed to defend their doubles title. It was a situation Croft had never been faced with and he remains amazed at how his partner, the top ranked player in the world, managed to carry the team to victory under dire circumstances.
“It was awesome and one of the best racquetball memories of my life,” he said. “I felt a lot of pressure to win with Kane because, well, he’s Kane. What he did that weekend should go down as the greatest single performance that has ever happened on a racquetball court. I’m happy it was recorded for people to see, because it really was something special. I hope if nothing else he can say I was a motivating, uplifting teammate, because physically I wasn’t able to help the team nearly as much as I would’ve like to.”
Although he’s been away from the court since October, Croft has managed some quality time at home with his wife, Sarah, and son, Hudson. “I miss competing, but being at home with my almost 2-year-old son has been the most important thing in my life,” he said. “I would’ve missed a lot of experiences if I was out at tournaments, so for me to say I haven’t loved every second of being at home, would be a lie. That said, if I do decide to come back, the two through eighth-ranked guys better hope they don’t draw me first round.”
So what does Croft see in his near future? “I try not to look too far ahead since I don’t want to miss what’s right in front of me,” he said. “Right now, I’m enjoying running Racquetball Warehouse, staying at home with my family and getting the ball rolling on a new company we recently started that I’m heading up, totalpickleball.com. Pickleball has been a blessing these past four months. I’ve been playing a lot since I’ve been sidelined from racquetball, and it has been so much fun. If you guys haven’t gotten out there and tried it yet, you have to, you’ll be addicted.”
By Dale Gosser
Dale Gosser is the Ektelon Regional Advisor for North Texas and racquetball coordinator for Life Time Fitness in Mansfield, Texas. He is the managing editor for the Cleburne Times-Review and Johnson County News newspapers as well as Community Life Magazine.