Adventures of Andrew Lenz and a Yellow Ball

Month: April 2017 (Page 1 of 6)

Return of the Lost Tom

Sunday, April 30, 2017 (Court Day #22)

I got to Derby Park at 9 sharp. It was sunny and in the high 50s, destined to give way to a very warm day. The Nets were mostly up. I warmed up with John P. and found myself in a game a few minutes later when Maree and her husband arrived.

Mark and I moved on and played with Jerry Louis (my partner) and Paule (Mark’s). Paule is a solid player—better than me—though it’s hard to get her to smile. I’d never dream of asking to play with Jerry, so kudos to Mark for making that happen. Playing with Jerry is watching advanced skill. His ball placement is exceptional. I played a second game against him and when he finally made an error (a shot into the net), I told him, “Jerry! You are human! This ball must contain Kryptonite!” He’s really good. I’m looking forward to his class in June. That will be fun and educational.

I played games with and against Bruce. Bruce is a natural athlete. Maybe it’s all the years of playing basketball. Regardless, he’s quick and can rocket the ball. He can also hit it out of bounds on occasion with those! But I f I were picking partners, I’d take Bruce over me. I still make too many errors.

A Game with Tom & Terri

Young Tom L., who I hadn’t seen for a about month, reappeared for the day, though his friend Ileana was nowhere to be seen. Tom and I took on Marie and a very tan tall thin woman named Terri whom I’d never met. Terri said she spends only half the year in Santa Cruz. There were three notable things from that game.

First, Terri is a very respectable player. I’d better than me. (That’s still a common thing.)

Second, I’ve outstripped Tom in terms of abilities. A few weeks into Pickleball, we were similar. In this game, however, t was blatant the difference in skill level. After the game, Tom said, “Wow! You’ve really improved!” I told him, “I’ve been playing a lot. Today was day 21 or 22 on the courts.  A week or so ago, I played five times in eight days!” He countered, “I’ve only been able to play once a week.” Unfortunately, he also shared that he’s moving to Fremont and likely won’t be back to play in Santa Cruz. I shook his hand as an acknowledgement.

Third, there was an amusing point. Marie was celebrating a winning passing shot off to my right down the sideline. One small problem. I managed to just get to it and returned it over the net! Shocked, the best she could do was get her paddle on it and return it into the net! Laughing, I chided her, “Don’t count your chickens!”

“Home, James!”

The session wrapped up just after noon. Stuart was hanging out waiting for Melody to get back so he couldt give her a lesson in singles. The Bay Area Senior Games are next weeeknd. Dave (former neighbor) and John were playing a lot together today in preparation for that event. And an ther first today. I drove away without my GoPro and had to turn back about halfway home. Fortunately, it’s only about a six minute drive to the courts! I think Stuart was amused!

After spending three full hours playing pickleball, I spent the following seven hours building a raised garden bed for my wife. Needless to say, I was beat by the end of the day! Nothing like lifting heavy boards, drilling, screwing, shoveling to wear you down!

gardenbox.jpgThe garden box. It’s ok, we didn’t have room for
a pickleball court in our backyard anyway!

Unfortunately, due to work travel and schedule, it’ll be at least until next Sunday before I can play again. I’m toying with bringing  my paddle just to bounce a ball on it. Probably not though. Oh, and I’m getting calluses on the inside edge of my right thumb knuckle and the inside edge of my right index finger. Yep. Pickleball paddle!

Oh, and a first today. Or an almost first. I successfully pulled off an “around the post” winner shot! Except, our opponent called her own shot out! (It was very close so I hit it back anyway.) So, it didn’t count. Rats. Next time!

Number of days on a court: 22
Number of total hours: 63.5

Advice on the Run

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 (Court Day #21)

I got to the Scotts Valley courts just before 6:30 and games were in full swing. I was person number 17, meaning I was sitting on the bench by myself watching four games of doubles going on. It’s interesting being a dedicated outside observer to games. After analyzing my own failings on video, it makes it easier to spot strategic errors by other players. Colleen was the closest player and, while she’s solid player, I noticed she had a tendency to break out of the soft game a bit early—before she had a clear winner. (“Winner”—winning shot.) Though I wasn’t about to interrupt their game to offer my advice! I appreciate advice myself, but you have to be careful giving it, people can get annoyed!

It wasn’t too long before Alan arrived. I invited him to warm up with me and he accepted.

A man wandered over asking Alan randomly about tennis lessons for his child while also being curious about what the heck was being played. Alan explained pickleball and after I dinked a bit with this fellow, the man found himself suckered into a game by Maree, along with her husband Mark, and myself. When the man’s cell phone rang in his shorts pocket, our game was one point away from finishing, but the bell had tolled and off he went—saying he’d probably be back to play more.

I got three important pieces of advice tonight.

Colleen said that I’ll have better success on returning short hits over the net if I come to a complete stop before hitting the ball. Gee, you’d think that after I’d heard this 5000 times that I’d be able to implement this advice!

Alan said that when I hit a dink into the net—fortunately fairly rare—I had taken my eye off the ball at the last second to look where I intended to hit the ball to. I’ll have to investigate this further.

Dave (former neighbor) played as my partner and really brought to the fore my delay in running up to the kitchen. He was good at calling me out on that. We’re not talking a long time, but even a few seconds count.

Dave and I played Alan and Colleen twice and lost both games by a roughly 2:1 margin. Colleen commended my net play, which was a nice gesture. All the more reason to get to the kitchen line as soon as humanly possible.

Play wrapped up right about 9 p.m. Eric was there but we never played on the same court. I did play a game or two with Rick, however . . . we played a game against Alan and Eric’s friend Jeanine, the newbie. Jeanine is good at hitting the ball but is still coming to terms with the bounce characteristics of a pickleball (versus a tennis ball) and also where she needs to be on the court—she’d sometimes find herself trying to hit a ball from an awkward position.

Overall, it was a decent night in terms of my play. Some really great hits and fewer bad hits. Still not stellar, but not completely crappy. My play at the net is getting stronger—both volleys and dinking. That and I had at least two shots (not serves) where I intentionally imparted a lot of spin. It was satisfying to see a strong player like Alan trying to dink a shot like that back then have it due into the net. Maybe I’ll actually make it to 4.0 someday!

I have a trip out of town coming up next week where I’ll miss Wednesday and Thursday pickleball. I may get to play Sunday next week, but we’ll see if that works out. Hopefully, Sunday this weekend will work out.

Number of days on a court: 21
Number of total hours: 60.5

Back in Black

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 (Court Day #20)

There’s nothing black, but I couldn’t help the title! Ready to play again! I got up, looked out our kitchen window—gray skies. Then my wife’s fancy weather tracker in the kitchen shared the outside temperature: 57°. A bit nippy. And it was lightly drizzling.

weather.jpgThat 10% was enough!

After taking a few minutes to copy over a couple of videos for Eric onto a data stick, I got to the Derby Park courts at 9:10. Some courts were good to go and for others, the nets were still being set up. The courts were very plainly wet. This was a novelty for me; they’d always been fairly dry. (Except one time near the fence when I slipped.) Not too long after, my friend John ended up on his backside after slipping. No serious damage though, thank goodness. It was inevitable someone would lose their feet.

The courts very gradually dried out after the drizzle stopped after about 45 minutes. There was no waiting today—except for maybe a partner—only about 20 people showed up with the subpar weather.

I played a few games with Eric and recorded a few games. I played ok, but dropped a few balls into the net. I teamed up with Tom S. for a game and he asked to let him know if I saw anything in the video that he could improve on. Speaking of Tom, I haven’t seen young Tom and Ileana for a while. I’m sure players come and go. I’ll be missing some days in the next couple months due to travel, but missing pickleball is not by choice!

Playing on the Big Courts

The last two games of my day were with Kent, Jane, and Stuart. Jane, I’d seen around, but I’d never played with her. Jane circulates in the “big boy games”. I was surprised to learn later that she started playing shortly after me—but she came right from an active tennis life. She didn’t remember seeing me around before—there are generally a lot of people around—then after I told her I started at the end of January, she wondered why we’d never previously played a game together. “Because I stink.” I didn’t say that, but I’m not at the level she plays.

The first of the two games was Kent and me versus Jane and Stuart. All of them are solid players. They get to write their names in red on the court assignments dry-erase board. Jane and Stuart were leading something like 5-0 then Kent and I worked our way back. We still lost by 3—or maybe 5—points, but I held my own. I’d say it was my best played game of the day. Of course, I hit a couple shots just high enough to get smacked back at high speed, but I don’t think I hit more than one ball into the net.

In the second game, I was paired with Stuart. Stuart—like Kent—was helpful with advice. Stuart was a bit distracted during the game (walking over to talk to someone right in the middle before that person left, for example) and wasn’t playing focused. It’s also hard to play your best when your partner keeps messing up—like hitting three shots in a row into the net! Stuart emphasized getting up to the kitchen as quickly as possible . . . and fully up to kitchen. When I missed returning one shot down the middle after racing to the net, he said, “Look where your foot is.” My left foot was about a foot behind my right foot which was toeing the line. “That’s enough to keep you from reaching the ball. After each missed shot, it’s good to assess where your feet are and where they should have been.” (I get his point. In that instance, however, unless I was playing left handed, it would have been a slight disadvantage to have my left foot at the line since I’d have to twist my body a bit more on the backhand reach.)

Stuart also suggested essentially lobbing on the return of serve: “They have to let it bounce, you might as well give yourself plenty of time to get to the line.” I do have a tendency to smack it back low and fast. I’ve heard Stuart’s advice before elsewhere, I just don’t follow it. I should try that. He also said, “Don’t worry about keeping the same distance from the net as your partner—that’s for higher levels. What if you partner doesn’t move up to the net? Just move up anyway.”

The session wrapped up about noon and away I went. I’m ready to play again. My mojo is back! In black!

Number of days on a court: 20
Number of total hours: 58

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