PITTSFIELD >> People often ask about the hole in the roster of Pocket Aces, the newly crowned regional American Poolplayers Association championship team from Pittsfield: Don't they know it's a disadvantage?
Team members give a nuanced answer.
It's a "big disadvantage," yes, but, no, the gap — seven men out of a possible roster of eight — doesn't actually exist.
"It is filled," team captain Billy Middlebrook said. "Everybody we played said, 'Your roster's missing a player,' and every time I said, 'No, it's not.' We have our [eighth] player. He's with us."
The purposeful hole remains in memory of former team member Mike Levey, who died in 2009.
In 2005, Levey — along with his brother, Andy Levey — helped the original Pocket Aces win the APA's amateur State Cup, then go on to place 36th in the World Cup in Las Vegas, an effort that netted $16,000 in prize money.
With jobs and families to attend to, the members then retired — for 11 years.
Zen's Pub continues to sponsor Pocket Aces, as it did in the past. Indeed, the 303 Tyler St. bar and eatery is where many of the members of the team go to hone their skills.
Four original members have pulled the team back together on short notice intending to once again make a run in honor of their lost teammate.
The odds were not in their favor.
Local amateur champs initially mocked the pretension. These teams were hitting the tables every night and recoiled at the idea of being taken down by an out-of-practice squad, short one player to boot.
Some exceptional play by Pocket Aces' core members brought these teams' fears to life.
After vanquishing the Berkshire County competition, Pocket Aces then proceeded to win the regional competition in West Springfield. Then came the big challenge.
In their absence, the State Cup had become a Tri-State Cup, in order to narrow the field for the World Cup in Vegas.
To once again reach their goal on the world amateur pool stage, Pocket Aces would have to be better than before, to defeat regional champions not only from Massachusetts but Connecticut and New Hampshire as well.
Over the weekend of June 3-5, Pocket Aces won all 10 games they played at the tournament-style Tri-State cup against a field of 48 teams, a decisive victory.
"We dominated the state tournament; we didn't just win," team member James Hanna III said.
All the members attested to feeling Michael Levey's presence during the improbable events.
"There was a million times where an eight ball was looking like it was going to stop, and instead it just kept going and fell in," Middlebrook said. "I know it sounds weird and sappy but it really felt like he was there with us."
Hanna added, "He was in the room with us. That's guaranteed."
Andy Levey said. "It was real big. I was crying when we won."
"We felt like former heavyweight champions coming out of retirement to reclaim the title again," said Middlebrook.
Members attributed the success to excellent "team chemistry."
The victory earned Pocket Aces an expenses-paid trip to the American Poolplayers Association World Pool Championships in Las Vegas, scheduled to run from Aug. 14-21. A million dollars in cash prizes are up for grabs at the tournament.
No matter what happens there, Pocket Aces already set a steep goal and made it.
What would Mike Levey say if he were around?
Said Middlebrook: "I knew you guys could do it."
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.