It is December 13, 2012 and York Hall, in the East End of London, is electric. The Mosconi Cup, one of the most prestigious events in pool, is coming to a dramatic close.
Team USA, after trailing early in the four-day tourney, has staged a remarkable comeback against Team Europe. And if Mike "The Fireball" Dechaine, of Providence, can beat Holland's Nick Van Den Berg, he'll tie the score at 10 matches a piece and force a one-match playoff.
That's a big "if," though.
Dechaine, 25, entered the tournament unprepared for team play, unprepared for the pressure, and unprepared for the drunken, boisterous crowd that's taken to calling the short American with the round face "Hobbit."
He's already lost a singles match by a wide margin and dropped one of his two doubles matches. And tonight, after a particularly poor shot in the early going — the eight ball rattling out of the corner pocket — the camera fixes on a dazed player, shaking his head and exhaling nervously.
This, says Jim Wych, commentator for Sky Sports, "is a picture of a man suffering."
The defeat — the match ends with Van Den Berg leaping on the table and pumping his fist – is a tough one for American pool. But it inspires a bit of schadenfraude among some of the nation's top players and officials.
If the Dechaine of this moment is a shaken, even sympathetic character, he's regarded by many on the tour as a cocky, condescending egotist — perhaps the most hated man in the game.
It's an animosity that gets to Dechaine from time to time. But for the most part, he is dismissive of what he calls the "haters" – they only talk that way about him, he says, because "I'm superior in the game to them."
Indeed, if the Mosconi Cup meltdown might have inspired humility for another player in his position, it has done nothing of the sort for Dechaine.
Yes, he talks of getting serious about pool this year, practicing more, reading more about a sport that has come so naturally to him. For Dechaine, though, it's not about redemption. It's about taking what is rightfully his.
Currently ranked #2 in the nation, he says it's just a matter of time before he becomes #1. And he may be right.
But first, the Fireball has to tame his flame.
PART WAY THERE
FIRED UP Dechaine is a powerful player, with strong — and often unbridled — emotions.
Dechaine grew up in Waterville, Maine, a small city in the south-central section of the state.
Once a humming industrial center, it lost most of its factories at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one. The old Scott Paper plant closed in 1997. And five years later, the city's most prominent firm — Hathaway shirts, which once employed Dechaine's mother — closed up shop.
Dechaine's father Fred, a long-time supervisor in the city's public works department, was a talented pool player in his own right. And he began taking Mike, whose asthma limited his athletic exploits, to TJ's Classic Billiards at age 11.