How a Frog He Would a-Winning Go

Yo, kid. Pull up a rock. Fresh pond water in the jug. Help yourself to a crawdad.

So you're fit and rarin'. Today the regional jumps at Del Mar, next month the world championship at Angels Camp. One small hop for you, one giant leap for our kind, and Kermit becomes history, right?

And I bet you're on top of the world. You got Rosie the Ribeter beat already. You see yourself at the victory hop wearing the buckle that says it all: Champion, Calaveras County Jumping Frog Jubilee.

But let me tell ya, kid. The circuit ain't all it's croaked up to be. I'll give it to you straight. You might take Del Mar. Mebbe you're up for, say, 16 feet, tops, in three bounces if the wind's right. But to hit at Calaveras? You got as much chance as a frog in a French restaurant.

I know. You're young and your mom was kissed by Dwight Stones. Frogs Illustrated says you're the best thing to hop off a lily pad since Weird Harold went 21 feet in '84. Yeah, I heard what Cosell called you. The great green hope.

But you're still a little frog in the wrong puddle, man. You're from Escondido. Lake Wohlford hasn't ever, listen up, ever sent a guy to Calaveras. Lookit. Stats through '86 show that every winning frog was from the San Joaquin Valley. Lookit the distances. Twenty feet in 1985. Twenty-one in 1986.

And even that ain't the best there is. Got it right here: "The record for three consecutive leaps is 33 feet, 5 1/2 inches by a female South African sharpnosed frog named Santjie at Paulpietersburg, South Africa, May 21, 1977."

Lookit you--your skin is drying out because some trainer has been feeding you hamburger. You been handled so many times I can smell the guy's Brut. You been away from a lake so long you could apply for a Social Security number.

And what about your trainer? If it ain't a Giudici, Matasci or a Guzules, you ain't got a trainer. That's Bill and Kaye Guzules of Santa Clara, Denny Matasci of Mountain View and Lee and Henrietta Giudici of Los Altos. As a syndicate, they been winning Calaveras for 22 years.

Dynamic Denny in 1974 was theirs. So was E. Davey Croakett in 1976. Then Golden Girl and Melo Hopper and Rosie. We're talking legends here. They've won, placed and shown more times than Man o' War and Secretariat.

You think it's done by steroids? No way. Fatten a bullfrog and it won't jump out of its own way. Alcohol spray? Nah. Judges at Calaveras spot check by wiping the dew off your back and sniffing their fingers.

There's no trick to it, kid. It's all in the selection and the launch. Guzules, Matasci and Giudici never go frogging till two, three days before Calaveras. The frogs are kept in Giudici's wine cellar. Then they're carried to the games in cool boxes with river weeds and rocks.

"Maintaining the natural environment," Giudici calls it. I say: Show me a travel-sick frog and I'll show you a great paperweight.

These guys even have their secret spots--private canals feeding from the San Joaquin. That's Great Leaper country, man. That's where winners are turned loose to rebuild the breed.

Matasci only picks 8-ounce frogs. Less drag, more speed, better pressure jumpers. No light greens--too young, wrong mind-set. No blues--too old and their hips are shot.

But here's the kicker. Matasci, Giudici and Guzules only go after males and females who have an obvious thing for each other. For two or three days before the contest they keep them close, but apart, if you know what I mean.

Comes the day. Romeo squats in the launching circle. Somebody holds Juliet on the other side of the jump area. Romeo sees Juliet. She gurgles, he jumps. Sproing. Boing. Doing. A world record.

Trust me, kid. It's a tough racket. I've been there. I was jumping 16 feet at Calaveras in the '60s. Then they outlawed fiberglass poles. After that, a lotta small towns and cheap motels and tank jumps.

Charlie was my manager. But he didn't have the dream, man.

I used to tell him, "You didn't handle me right, Charlie. I coulda been a contender. . . . "

San Dieguito Jaycees Frog Jamboree, 9 a.m . -4 p.m. today , Seagrove Park, Del Mar. Rent-a-Frogs and free admission. (619) 755-4844.

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