Misadventures of Andrew Lenz and a yellow ball

Palo Alto

Sunday, September 24, 2017 (Court Day #73)

Mark and Maree invited me to tag along with them on a trip to play in Palo Alto at Mitchell Park. I was ready to get out and see how I match up against players outside of Santa Cruz County.

Being that this adventure was going to be out of town, I broke out my yet-unworn white Santa Cruz Pickleball Club shortsleeve shirt. I figured that I would represent SCPC well enough now that I was worthy of it. I also wore my recently acquired SCPC cap. There’d be no mistaking where I was from!

Arrival

I pulled up in front of their house at 8:10 a.m. and we were on the road in their Mini Cooper within 10 minutes for the approximate the 45 minute drive up to the South Bay . . . home of Stanford University, Hewlett-Packard, and the north end of the Silicon Valley.

We talked about my kids, their remodel project, Maree’s former year and a half as a site coordinator for three pickleball locales, among other things.

We arrived at 9:11 a.m. at Mitchell Park. My two hosts brought folding camping chairs, one of which served as a great holder for my backpack!

Mark took a jaunt to the restrooms. Wanting to know exactly where they were and to get lay of the land, I tagged along. On the way, Mark pointed out the paddle tennis courts where the more elite players gather sequestered from the masses. Maree had mentioned that those courts have an extra set of back lines that get ignored and that a pickleball kitchen line was painted onto those courts. As we headed back to the main area, Mark took me the back way where he pointed out the drinking fountain in the kids’ playground area. Mitchell Park is quite the large community complex. Impressive.

One of the first thing one notices about the main courts is the wire mesh used to keep balls from rolling between courts, especially since some courts are oriented 90° from the rest.

The homemade retaining divider between courts—4 on one side, 6 on the other.

Counting the two extra isolated courts for paddle tennis, there were 12 total courts.

First Games

We helped set up two nets. My first game was paired with Maree against Mark and Palo Alto local Victor, a shorter Filipino man probably in his late 60s. Maree and I won decisively. We switched sides and played again with the same result.

Maree and I moved to an empty court at the far end and invited a woman named Andrea and her mom Laurie to a match. Maree and I won that one too.

Getting Court Time

Now, Palo Alto has a different system for getting people onto courts. They don’t have a signup board. They have a challenge system. To move onto a court, you place your paddles to the side of the net on the post support. In a court next to the walkway was a team, Manny and Ray. What makes Ray unique is that he’s in his early 80s and is an effective player. The two of them staved off a number of challengers. Maree and I placed our paddles to stake out the next challenge.

Manny—about 60—is a lefty and has speedy tricky serves and occasional spin to complicate things. Ray doesn’t move quickly, but gets where he needs to be and returns the ball back over the net without a lot of unforced errors. Maree and I kept it pretty even at first, but ended up losing 11-7 or 11-6. Pretty amazing really. To be beaten by a man in his 80s! Cool, really. It’s one of the big advantages of pickleball—while providing many of the same strategic and control challenges as tennis, the court isn’t as expansive and therefore better for those with less mobility. Lack of mobility is still a liability, of course. Lobs when the receiver is at the net, drops when the receiver is at the baseline, passing shots, these can all be problematic if you can’t move quickly.

Maree and I challenged another court against Barry and a tall guy named Dave. Maree and I pulled out to a 8-0 lead. Yeah, we lost. Shocking. Barry has a strong forehand. I made some mistakes, Maree made some more and that was that. 9-11.

“Danger, Danger, Will Robinson!”

We challenged at another court and played against a couple of men. It was back and forth, and we lost that one too. Of note in that game, I dropped the ball over the net and the opponent ran up, just got barely got there, and popped the ball up. I slammed the ball between them for a winner. Unfortunately, he still had his head low and the ball passed within about a foot of him. The paddle noise scared him and I could tell he felt that I had just about killed him. I wasn’t aiming at him and I didn’t hit him and the ball had gone exactly where I had aimed. Still, I apologized. Maybe I should have lobbed over him, though given the trajectory that would have been a harder shot to execute. Pickleball is only a game and not worth slamming someone in the head with a ball. Oh, well. Kind of a dilemma.

Registration Table

This club has the nice touch of having a table with snacks. It was super helpful for someone like me who didn’t eat breakfast and forgot to grab food for later. The president of the Silicon Valley Pickleball Club is Monica Williams. I remembered Monica, she’s nice. She and I had played a game together down in Santa Cruz. I signed their waiver form and paid my $2 donation.

Familiar Faces

Dean, an advanced tournament player from Santa Cruz, appeared later in the morning and found some games to play in the main group of courts. Aside from Monica, the only other face I knew was the shorter man, Tom, who appears at Brommer now and then with his killer serve. Palo Alto is his home territory. He’s part of their club’s leadership committee.

Denied!

Maree suggested playing against a couple of women on a center court. I looked over and there was a net bag there along with someone’s pack with some paddle handles sticking out. I jogged over and placed our paddles on the exposed net support on the other side. After about 10 minutes of waiting, the game was complete, we headed over to play. We introduced ourselves  to the women, Bari and—I think it was Natalie. But then Andrea and her mom Laurie appeared. “We had our paddles down first!” So the blob of stuff next to the net wasn’t just storage. Another good reason to not keep a net bag in the playing area—and also put your paddles somewhere where they will be clearly seen. Disappointed, Maree and I left the court to wait again for another court.

A panoramic photo of one side of the courts. Maree talking with 80-something Ray over the snack and registration table.

Game of the Day

We placed our paddles on the court that had formerly held Ray and Manny. That game wrapped up and only one player wanted to stay, a woman named Terry. There were two young-looking guys wanting to play, a guy about my height named Dave—who Maree and Mark say they really like—and a fellow I’ll call Windup Bill. Bill is tall, thin and has this big looping windup for his deadly serves. He got me a few times with his serve. Mark later told me that Bill often plays off at the big boy courts. Anyway, Maree stepped away and let me get in the game.

Terry and I took on Bill and Dave. Dave and Bill were both good sports. I kidded with both of them. This was the game of the day. Challenging. Mistakes were less common for this group of players, including myself, though we all made mistakes here and there. It was back and forth, with no team getting more than 1-2 points ahead of the other. Back and forth. Dink, slam, stretch, dig. Back and forth. I remember serving the same exact score three times in a row. We’d broken each other’s serves repeatedly. In the end, Terry and I won. It was quite the long game. It wouldn’t shock me if someone said that it took over half an hour.

Maree later said Dave has kids in college. I was surprised. He must be one of those guys that doesn’t appear his age—as I’ve been told I don’t either. I would have put him about 30-something. Bill, I would put around 30, but I might be wrong with him too!

Big Boy Courts

I noticed that some nets were sitting idle. It was about 12:45. Maree asked if I was about ready to go. I said, “Whenever you want.” I was getting a bit worn from the play and the heat, though I’ll almost always play until I’m ready to drop. She suggested going over to the paddle tennis courts where Mark was and see what’s up. As I arrived, Dean was just leaving immediately after they’d finished their game. I greeted him by name as he passed and he said hi back. One fellow inside said, “Join us.” I walked in while they were drinking water. They weren’t ready to play again, but Mark’s game on the second court was just about done.

I ended up playing with a Asian fellow named Brian as my partner against Mark and Dave L., whom I’d never met. Brian and I won, but it was more Brian than me. At Brommer on Friday, while waiting to play outside the courts, someone had said, “See that guy there? He’s the best player on the courts.”
“Dean?”
“No, that guy. Brian. Just watch his ball control.”
“Oh, yeah. Oh, wait. Well, he did just hit it out.”
It was an anomaly. Brian is really good. When I asked, he said he’s been playing for two years. He’s smooth. His play at the net is particularly admirable. The ball just goes where he wants—even when stretching for the ball. It’s not a surprise that the team with Brian as a member won!

There was one point where we were all at the net. Dave and I were opposites with me to my right. We were dinking repeatedly across. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. I got impatient. Part of me was thinking, “We’re hogging the ball. The others want to play.” I forced a shot but it was not a winner and we lost the point. My fault. Lesson? Dink fifty times if you have to. Give lots of time for the other person to make a mistake. Patience. Patience.

After a somewhat long water break, we played a second game, this time Mark and me against Brian and Dave L. We got clobbered. 11-3, maybe? Still it was a good learning experience with a reasonable amount of service changes.

Lunch

We all packed back into their Mini Cooper at 1:40 and headed to a nearby market for sandwiches. Maree and Mark very thoughtfully treated me to my choice of sandwich. Brian and Dave L. joined us at the outdoor tables. The discussion was primarily various regional players. “Do you think so-and-so and so-and-so get married?” “So-and-so has been playing at this club.” There were a lot of names of people whom I don’t know. Once we were back in the car, we talked pickleball the entire way back home. I walked in my door at home just about 3:30 p.m. It was worthwhile trip.

Court System

So, what about this challenge (“we’re next”) paddle system? There is an advantage in that you typically play the winners of a match, so you are up against good competition. Also you also know where you are going to play and—aside from simply walking off the court for a break—the winners can’t turn you down. The disadvantage is that from any point in time you may wait anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to get onto the court where dropped your paddle, whereas with the schedule board, you are onto the next open court no matter where it is. With the challenge system, if you are unlucky, you might end up spending quite a bit of your morning simply waiting to play. The schedule system means everyone is going to be on the court in what may be the most possible fair system to reduce waiting. The problem with the schedule board is people may not sign up with you, if they are either intimidated or don’t want to stoop down to your level. If that’s the case, then sometimes you might end up waiting long periods of time anyway as those squares with four players signed up move onto the courts ahead of you with your incomplete square.

Monday, September 24, 2017 (No Play)

I got information Friday night from the SCPC about a tournament in Los Gatos hosted by “The Club”. I know nothing about The Club, but the tournament is free and there’s a free BBQ after. The tournament seems to be a little quirky, but it’s their first and the woman organizing it who emailed me back to answer my questions included that she’d never played! I emailed Eric right away to see if he’d be willing to be my partner. Dave Allenbaugh emailed later asking if I’d be his partner. I told him I’d have to wait to hear back from Eric first. Eric wrote me back today saying he would, so we’re on for our very first tournament! I broke the news to Dave.

Leslie, who’s on the steering committee, emailed me and a man named Bob Bates on Saturday thanking us for taking on the role as two new site coordinators. So, it appears that the steering committee approved me. I emailed back with a bunch of questions and told them I’d review how it’s going in 3-6 months.

Heath-wise, not too bad. So the groin muscle I’ve been complaining about isn’t a groin so much as the pelvis-area muscle or tendon that is involved when lunging sideways—maybe halfway between the top of the quad muscle and the groin muscle. It was definitely bothering me last night. I was a bit stiff. I spent a few hours watching the previously undefeated Oakland Raiders get completely walloped by the Washington Redskins. When I got up, that muscle was not happy and I almost collapsed back down. But it seems to heal quickly and allows me to get around and play without too much trouble. I count my blessings!

Number of days on a court: 73
Number of total hours: 210

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2 Comments

  1. moniwilliams

    Hi Andrew,
    I really enjoyed reading your pickleball journey, especially your trip to Mitchell park in Palo Alto. I was particularly interested in your take on our court system where we place 1 or 2 paddles next to the net and when the game is over winners stay on and you challenge them. You said that with this system you may have to wait a long time. On the contrary, you may put your paddle at any of the 11 courts so if you ask the players what their scores currently are, you can place your paddle next to a net of a game that is almost finished. Just a tip for the next time you join us! Looking forward to playing with you again.
    Monica Williams

    • Andrew Lenz

      Hi Monica! Thanks for reading. While it’s an effective and simple system up there, putting paddles down on a court that’s at 10-0 is no guarantee that a different court won’t open up first. A signup board means you always get the first available court, though you do have to wait your turn. “Paddles down” should eventually average out to the same wait, but it’s a bit more haphazard on the short term—sometimes you get on quickly to your selected court, other times it turns into an extended contest and you get stuck waiting. It’s just math/statistics. Again, it’s not a bad system by any means, just different. Yes, I’m looking forward to getting up there again, I really enjoyed the venue. Thanks!

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