On the pitch, Jose Gallardo’s nickname is “The Samurai”.
He won the title playing handball – not the version played by elementary school children, but the competitive sport played with a ball less than an inch in diameter and on a court with three 20-foot high walls.
If you look at 55-year-old Gallardo, you’ll understand why friends gave him that name. He doesn’t wear sports clothes and doesn’t have a particularly athletic build – he wears jeans and a t-shirt that has seen better days. But when he hits the pitch, he’s quick and coordinated and quickly racks up points against whoever he plays. Gallardo said he and many of his friends are workers, and sports are a fun way to relax and stay fit for work.
“I’ve been coming here almost every day for 25 years,” Gallardo said on the sidelines of a game at El Camino Real Park in Orange. “It’s a very important sport for Hispanics. Hundreds of people come here on weekends.
The park at 400 N. Main St. opened in 1978 and is the only park in Orange with handball courts. Thus, it has become the hottest place for sports in the city.
The handball courts had a family atmosphere on a recent Tuesday afternoon during the holidays. An older man offered bottles of water to his friends and danced to Norteno music blaring from the speakers. People lined up their folding camping chairs and took turns watching, cheering, teasing and playing the game.
“My friends and I just met here,” said 19-year-old Jose Leal. “We used to play in middle school and high school.
“Every day after class me and like 10 kids walked here together and played.”