When the three men walk through the door of Palates, they aren’t quite what I had imagined. My previous association with paintball was scrawny high school kids with a knack for destruction, but these members of the Bushwick-borne, internationally known paintball team called the Reservoir Dogs are burly and, of course, adult.
Grown-up men who like to play
They introduce themselves as their paintball pseudonyms – Postman (Tito Pereira, 32), Breaker (Tony Cruz, 43) and Prettylou (Steve Ruiz, the team’s 40-year-old captain and about the last guy you’d expect to be nicknamed “Prettylou”). Steve, who works at a hospital, and Tony, a security engineer, live in New Jersey and Queens, respectively, but both grew up in Bushwick and still have family here. By day Tito is a – you guessed it – postal worker and he moved to Bushwick from Ridgewood, Queens three years ago. But the question that’s on everyone’s mind is: How did a freaking competitive paintball team get started in Bushwick?
From auto club to paintball? Sure.
The Reservoir Dogs originally formed out of an auto club based on Wyckoff Ave and Troutman St. “Guys would get together, fix up cars, go to auto shows, competitions… Our club was a car club but it was more like a social club…We didn’t specialize in any specific type of car,” Steve tells me. “You didn’t even have to have a car!” Tony adds, laughing. In 2004, some of the auto club guys started making trips to a paintball field in Pennsylvania, but it didn’t catch on with the group right away. “So that’s when a few of us all got together, like five of us, and we started playing at Highland Park,” Tony explains. They stocked up on fatigues from army surplus stores and on Sundays from 2005 through 2006, they dragged all their equipment to an unregulated, secluded, dried-up reservoir in Highland Park in Brooklyn.
Paintball is illegal in NY
Since there are no paintball fields to play in, it’s illegal to use paintball guns in New York City. But that didn’t stop groups of paintballers from congregating in Highland Park’s reservoir. Steve vividly remembers one particular brush with law enforcement: ‘There was actually a time when we were playing in there and a police helicopter landed in the reservoir…We thought we were getting in trouble and everyone started hiding and throwing their guns but it was that they just wanted to watch us play.” Much to the Reservoir Dogs’ surprise, the helicopter hung around for 20 minutes to observe the game and then was on its way.
Don’t get caught carrying one of these in public…
After a game, let’s have a potluck
The paintball team is now made up of 26 people of all ages (their youngest member is just 12 years old) and backgrounds, and it’s clear that their community is at the roots of their team, inside and out. After each game, the Reservoir Dogs and their families hang out in the field’s parking lot and feast potluck-style. “I think we’re one of the few teams that have that kind of environment off the field. We’ll go there and bring food – tacos, make [Steve’s famous] lemon chicken, and empanadas. It’s unheard of,” Tony says. Fostering a sense of community is what the team is all about. “It’s a lot about the camaraderie, you meet a lot of different people from so many different places…I looked on [our Facebook page] and we’ve got followers from everywhere – from Africa, all over Europe – and you just meet all those people.”
So it makes sense that extending boundaries is a huge draw of the game. Thus far, the team has competed in places like Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida, Chicago, and Canada. They were even invited to play a huge Speedball tournament (think fast-paced, with inflatable obstacles) against pro and semi-pro teams with a $50K prize. They were the only Scenario Woodsball team (think tactical, military-like games out in the woods) asked to play. Though they didn’t win – they came in 14th out of 20 teams – they were honored to have been invited. “If it wasn’t for paintball, I don’t think we would have ever gone over there,” Tony points out. The men grin as they mention what they hope will be their next big stop – a tournament in France in May.
When it comes to adding new members, the team’s motto is “We don’t recruit players, we recruit friends,” Steve says.
If it wasn’t for Steve…
Tito gushes as he describes Steve’s leadership, “If it wasn’t for him, this team wouldn’t be the way it is now…the way he cares about you.” He’s at a loss for words and Tony picks up where he left off, “It’s his attitude about life itself. He’s very good hearted and it’s just about having fun with it. He’s out there in the moment, enjoying it.”
Steve and his crew have extended the attitude to beyond their own team by mentoring younger paintball teams in the area. Steve explains, “[These kids] were always just here in the neighborhood, they never traveled outside. But they they started traveling with us and seeing the other side of it and they saw that when you’re here, you’re here. But when you’re over there, you have to carry yourself a different way. You can still represent who you are, but…it’s a whole different world outside.”
Paintballing to charity
The Reservoir Dogs are also heavily involved in charity work. After Hurricane Sandy, they requested donations from their sponsors and used the money to buy supplies in bulk.* They loaded everything into their team trailer and drove out to Staten Island, where they distributed food and water all day. They were moved by all the support from strangers; people from the neighborhood kept dropping hot food for them to hand out to people in need. “That was off the charts. That was an experience,” Steve remembers.
Later that year, they got in touch with a family whose house was wiped out and on Christmas Eve, five members of the Reservoir Dogs visited the family with plenty of gifts for the children and supplies for the family in tow. Another year, they printed up shirts and donated the profits to a local dog shelter, Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue. This year, they’re raising money for diabetes. One of the team’s original members passed away from diabetes right after it was formed. Tony explained, “He envisioned it way before we did. he knew where we were going with the team.”
The Reservoir Dogs’ logo may be a pack of snarling canines, but these guys are anything but. So next time you see one of these guys on the street, say hi. I have a feeling they’d love it.
*In addition to providing donations, the team’s long list of sponsors also help to make all their road-trips to tournaments possible: Virtue Paintball, FogDoc, GOG Paintball, DLX Technologies, DeadlyWind, Valken, Anthrax Customs, and QuickShot Paintball Field. And no, this is not a sponsored post.