Adventures of Andrew Lenz and a Yellow Ball

Month: March 2017 (Page 1 of 4)

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Thursday, March 30, 2017 (Court Day #10)

I left work right at closing time (that means about 45 minutes early for me), raced home, changed, and headed to Scotts Valley. I was about 15-20 minutes late (6 p.m. was starting time) and there were plenty of people already there with a few people on the bench waiting to play or warm up on one of the four courts set up. Tennis was being played where two additional courts were set up the last time I was there.

Maree and her husband Mark were there. (Maree and Mark are both generous with their time and experience with beginners. And diehards. Almost always at the courts when I go!) Eric and a few other familiar faces from Derby Park were also at the courts. Jerry Louis brought a couple of people new to pickleball—his neighbors, from what I overheard.

I played a game partnered with a lefty named Melody against Marie and Mark. We lost 11-4 or something like that. Melody made a point to tell me afterward to make a stronger effort to get to the kitchen line. Maybe so. Sometimes I was hesitant when Mark was about to smash it at me! Melody also mentioned that Marie and Mark were hitting more shots to me than her. I didn’t notice, but being that I’ve been playing only two months, that would make good strategic sense for them, hitting to the less experienced player. It’s not as fun for the more experienced player, but strategically logical.

On a low note, I still have more work to do controlling the height of the ball. Occasional hits into the net. Or hits high enough to be smashed back.

On the bright side, I amazed myself a couple times during some rallies. I managed to return a few smashes in one rally. And I was able to win some intense volley rallies at the net. Instances where the other players on the court give you verbal kudos afterward. And my dinking is going pretty well. Those I can generally control the height and direction well—I won some points in the soft game—it is th hits from the baseline or midcourt that are more problematic.

It’s funny, it seems to regularly take me 2 hours of playing to get warmed up to the point where I play better. Go figure. I hope that time will shorten! Also, I’m starting to notice the effect of opponents’ skill on the game. There are games where my random partner and I get taken to the cleaners and others where my random partner and I take our opponents to the cleaners. Maybe they return a shot that was going out. Or whiff on a high lob. Or dink into the net. Mistakes I make myself—but hopefully with less frequency!

A weird thing that crept into my game was two or three serves when my backhand return went wide left tor wide right of the court. Embarrassing and odd. My backhand is typically reliable.

Oh, and I served my first let in a pickleball game. Just a another unimportant milestone passed.

I really need to get time to analyze the videos from yesterday morning’s matches. I need to objective advice on court positioning, hitting technique, and whatever else I can figure out from them.

Another piece of good news is my back isn’t as sore as it has been. That is particularly good considering I played yesterday morning for three hours.

i was on the last active court partnered with another Mark (not Maree’s husband) against Craig and Leah. Eric called them both out by name when they arrived, so they must be somewhat regulars though I don’t recall seeing them before. We wrapped our last match—Mark and I won both matches—at about 8:45 p.m. and broke down the net. Mark stowed the net and ball rack into the locker and that was a night.

Next playing? Maybe Sunday morning. There may be some Saturday morning someday when I’ll play, but not this busy weekend.

A Bit Gruff

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 (Court Day #9)

Before I talk about today, I want to mention something good from Sunday. I remembered one point that went perfectly. I had hit a shallow crosscourt shot from left to right and forced Alan a bit off the court. He managed to return it, but Paule successfully hit the ball right into the gap I’d created between Alan and Robin. It was my first successful strategic point like that. It felt good.

Onto today…

It was a beautiful morning. Sunny. Warm. I got to the court at almost exactly 9 a.m. I beat John to the court. Eric was there and we helped Stuart set up one of the nets.

Early. John setting up, Terry Long (in white) talking to a woman, and some dude’s butt (sorry). 

I put my GoPro into my shorts pocket and was able to record a few games. It’ll be good to analyze when I get a chunk of time to sit down and go over them.

Today, the club tried something different, designating a couple courts as the intermediate and the advanced challenge courts. Players would place their paddle in a holder next to the court and rotate in. Winning teams would stay on the court but be split up. The losing team would be removed. A player could only win twice before he/she would have to rotate out.

I figured it’d be good experience to try the intermediate challenge court. I played one game in the court against Marie and my friend John. I was partnered with a fellow named Mike. About my height, curly gray hair, and a mustache. Mike was a bit gruff. He had reason to be, he had me as a partner! I was hitting ball either too low (into the net) or too high (slammed back). Not good. One comment from him was, “Where were you aiming?” which I took as “Why the hell did you just hit it right into the net?” It was probably even more frustrating to me than for him. Almost all the pickleball players do a good job hiding any frustration and are encouraging and welcoming. For example, 4.5 player Karen Long (wife of Terry), while she was sitting waiting, provided some encouraging words when I made a winning hit, “Andrew! Nice shot!” For good or bad, Mike is apparently one of those blunt people who tells you exactly what is on his mind. I don’t know what to make of him quite yet. But he certainly plays better than I do.

The—kind of—Ace

A fellow named Richard whom I’d never seen showed up later in the day. Pleasant man. He and I played against Maree and Gary. Maree (married to Mark) is no slouch and is a solid player. I did manage to serve one ball low, shallow, and outside that she could only barely return into the net. I have to get those once in a while, but the thing is that when a serve like that fails, the returner is right up at the net instead of being kept back a the line—or the serve just lands out. Richard and I pulled away leading 9-3, but they clawed back into the game 11-11. Richard and I ended up winning by the skin of our teeth. I was expecting us to lose handily.

The crowd got thin and Richard and I ended up doing dinking practice against each other, while one other remaining court had a game going. Alan (not the English accent Alan I played with on Sunday) kicked us off since it was time and he wanted to head out.


Play wrapped up almost exactly at noon and Eric invited me to lunch with he and his friend Ted. I had my first hamburger in a Mexican food restaurant today. Sacrilegious, but I couldn’t pass up trying it. And, yes, they did a fine job with it!

Eric asked Ted if he was playing tomorrow night. Tomorrow night? Eric said Scotts Valley has an ongoing unofficial gathering on Thursday evenings. I thought it was a one-off thing, but apparently not. Maybe I’ll get to play again tomorrow! I need a lot of work on my “goldilocks hits”—not to high, not too low!

Back to the Courts

Sunday, March 26, 2017 (Court Day #8)

I got a text last night from my friend John: “Derby Sunday?”
Me: “Recovering still from a pulled butt muscle, but you bet! 9AM!”
John: “You wild man!”

Oh, the indignities. Right glute. But injuries are expected.

I arrived at Derby Park about 9:05 a.m. after a forced 10-day layoff to cloudy skies and cool temperatures in the 50s and a one court already in play with two additional guys getting ready. One of which was John, bright and early. (No sailing events today.) Janet, a teacher who is the wife of Bruce—the fellow I know through work—arrived shortly after and we started the day warming up against each other.

As far as a day at Derby, it was pretty routine. I rotated through various games. I played a game with John. For a guy a little closer to 60 than 50, he moves very fast! After our game, me moved on to play with Dave (my former neighbor) since the two of them would be playing as partners at the Senior Games in about six weeks and need to get time playing together. Bruce (wife of teacher Janet) and I played against John and Dave. Bruce and I initially led the game, but John and Dave came back and beat us by a comfortable margin.

I went into the day with a mental directive of picking a target for every shot. I failed. I did it more than I do normally, but some volleys were so quick, I didn’t pick a target.

Later in the day, I played with and against a player I’d never met, Alan, who sports what resembles an English accent. He is a better player than I am. Low and fast serves, low drives over the net,  solid dinking, good shot selection, driving shots off the court to the left and the right. It’s good to play with those who are better than you, it’s how you improve. It shows me how much more I need to learn. Playing with Alan, we beat the other team 11-0.

On one court, Alan, a woman named Robin, and a woman named Paule (“Paul”) and I swapped players. I had Paule as a partner once, Robin once. Paule is a solid player, though I didn’t see her crack a smile in either game. But congenial, just serious. Me? I smile all the time. I love playing pickleball! With Robin as my partner—admittedly, she was tired—we lost 11-4. That’s not to say it was her fault we lost. I was probably 60% my fault, and 40% hers.

There were at least half a dozen or more shots during the day that ended up in the net. Mostly bad dinks. That’s my weakest area not enough pop on some dinks and some drop shots. There were also a few long return of serves and a couple slams that also went long. I also let myself get out of doubles position once, failing to track properly. (Sometimes, there are just great shots by your opponent. There isn’t much you can do about those. They will happen.)

I brought our old GoPro camera today with the idea of videoing some of my games for analysis. What should have done is keep it in my pocket ready to hang on the fence. As it was, I had it in my backpack and with passing through other courts (an interruption) it would have been inconsiderate to hold up the waiting players while I stopped and retrieved the camera. Maybe next time.

The session wrapped up at about 12:20. Of the two last games, mine wrapped up first. In the last game I started applying topspin to my serves and trying to hit them a bit harder. I got them all in. Oh, I did miss on serve on the day. Overcompensating for the wind, about a foot out from the centerline. Oops. But at least it was only one.

Dave Allenbaugh, the apparent head of the SCPC, greeted me by name today. He also told me, “Andrew, you aren’t a newbie anymore.” That was in reference to my email to him two days ago signed “Andrew (the newbie)”. I guess that after almost two months, I’ve been promoted!

I asked Dave who was the person who brought pickleball to Santa Cruz. He said it was Jerry Louis (not the actor/comedian Jerry Lewis) who set up a court down at the Louden Nelson Community Center and it grew in popularity from there.

So, take aways from today. Continue to develop topspin serve. Continue work on—as John says—”pushing” the dinks over the net. Work on keeping slams in the court 100% of the time. Keeping the ball low instead of allowing easy smashes for the other team.

Wish list. A side spin serve. Spin shots, including backspin like I did back in tennis. 100% reliable shot placement.

John suggested that we get our wives together for a pickleball night. He has enough paddles (I’m still using one of his) and a net. His wife Diane played at least once. My wife Kristen used to play tennis but gave it up because of her knees didn’t like the pivots and turns. Pickleball may be a similar problem, but she said she’d be willing to try it once.

Next pickleball day will be Wednesday morning. I hope I can go.

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