Misadventures of Andrew Lenz and a yellow ball

Month: November 2017 (Page 1 of 3)

Coronado

Saturday, November 25, 2017 (Court Day #96)

While staying over Thanksgiving weekend in the San Diego area at my wife Kristen’s parents, she wanted to take our dog to the dog beach. Knowing that I get bored easily sitting while our corgi Oliver dashes around in and out of the waves, she said, “You can go to pickleball if you want.” I’d previously used the Places2Play app to locate the nearest Friday gathering. Coronado. The details were slim. Friendliness, 2 stars out of 5? Hmmm. I’d have to see for myself!

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I found their Facebook page and at 10:30 a.m., knowing there wasn’t much time, I messaged them anyway asking for a confirmation of the hours since the USAPA website/app shows a 1 p.m. start and their Facebook page instead shows 2 p.m. No one got back to me by noon, so I figured I’d just plan on the earlier start.

Coronado

I headed north from Bonita under cloudy skies for the 15-20 minute trip. It was painless. I pulled up right outside the courts and found a spot at 12:50. My research showed that there was only on-street parking, so being early was important if I wanted a short walk and no stress—stress such as having to drive around in an unfamiliar area to find a place for my car!

Through the fence mesh, I saw some people dinking on a court—a great sign! Right place, right time! I walked along the fence until I found the opening. There were a bunch of courts, as predicted by the app.

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Stan, a woman, and Tammy (r. to l.) early at the courts, soon to be my first game.

I introduced myself to the first people that I saw, just inside the gate. Soon I was talking to the very helpful Tammy.

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Informative notes and signage at the sign-in table.

I asked Tammy if there was a waiver to sign and she said there wasn’t. I asked how I paid the fee and she showed me the money box and I deposited a $5 and removed a $1. My next question was how they reserved courts: paddles or board? She took me over to an empty paddle rack cleverly constructed of PVC pipe. I let her know that I was a “3.5 player, give or take.” The eight courts were evenly split between intermediate and advanced, even with laminated signs temporarily posted indicating such. The intermediate courts would be my home for the next few hours.

I noticed on one court that the baseline flared slightly the last 6 inches or so. Ah! The orange lines were tape! This would be the first time for me playing on such courts. There wasn’t much difference—aside from the flaring I mentioned. No biggie, it wasn’t much. I forgot to ask how often they have have to take those up and/or put them down.

First Game

Tammy and a woman started warming up at a court with a man in his late 60s named Stan. I asked if I could join them and soon I was dinking with the group that quickly lead into a game.

Tammy was the site coordinator, so she had to run off in the middle of the game to take care of a woman there for the beginner class at 1:30. I told her, “I get it, I’m a site coordinator back in Santa Cruz!” As the afternoon progressed, we shared information about our two programs. At one point, she offered me a gift from one volunteer to another, a Coronado Pickleball shirt like she sported herself! I was honored to accept! Boy, these people sure aren’t friendly! *snort* (They got a 5 star review from me!)

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An embroidered “Coronado Pickleball Paradise” shirt. Nifty!

Ok, back to the first game. Tammy has a fast serve and strong ground strokes. Stan and I went on to take a solid lead and later win that game. It was “two off, two on” with the winners (us) staying.

SecondGame

Stan and I played a tall older man who said that Stan had nicknamed him “Doctor Spin”! He employed spin, but it wasn’t over the top or anything. Stan had a very reliable woman player as his partner. Stan and I lost. Off we went and put our paddles single file in the center of the holder.

Not long after, a man took the paddles and broke them up into two rows. “What’s up with that?”, I was thinking, slightly concerned. But there was a sign posted on the rack. Basically, when there are 8 or more paddles waiting, then the paddles go from a single row to a “Winners” row and a “Losers” row with a “four off, four on” court process. In other words, losers in a game will go up against other losers and winners go against other winners. Four paddles are taken from one row and the “Next” clip moves to the other row so it alternates as a court opens up. This system does guarantee at least some mixing of players on a court. (With a sign-up board like back in Santa Cruz, where you have to take the next box of your skill level players in it, you often end up with the same group of players unless you sit out for a bit to catch a later box/grouping.)

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As court came open, when Tammy was not on a court herself, she would call out the names on the next four paddles. If she wasn’t around, either a good Samaritan or one of the next group of four would try to find the rest of the players so they could take their court.

Next!

My next game was with a nice woman named Diane against a man named David and another woman. Diane is a lower intermediate player. She hasn’t yet developed a soft game, and her drives aren’t super strong. After playing pretty well in my first two games, I played less well in this one. We lost. Back to the “losers” row! (About 2 hours later, when talking to David, he said he hadn’t lost a game yet. Solid player!)

Wait times were getting long. I think there may have been a good 20 minutes between games at the height of attendance.

While waiting, I was chatting with a woman from Arizona who was out visiting her son. He was on the advanced courts. He was the 4.5 silver doubles medallist from the tournament in Oceanside yesterday. There was some very strong competition for the advanced players, but I’m not ready to be on those courts!

Game 4 & 5

In my next game, I was paired with a really nice guy from Temecula, Terry. Terry was my height, a touch older, but much more fit! (Yes, I still need to lose about 25 pounds!) Terry is a bit of banger with quick reactions. Kind of like Grita back home but not quite as strong of a player. But even without a fully-developed soft game, Terry was super fun to play with.

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Terry and I had a great time playing! (I’m wearing my Santa Cruz Pickleball Club shirt!)

Terry and I won our first match together handily. “Thanks for the lesson!”, came from Danny, the former New Yorker, after that game.

The facility had gotten more and more people. Between the beginner class, the intermediates and the advanced players, it maxed out at probably 70 people!

The next match was far more of a battle against a tall man and woman with wild dark hair. We pulled out ahead but they came back on us. Almost every point was earned. If I recall correctly, Terry and I won that one 12-10. Into the winners row we went. Or was it we lost 10-12 and into the loser row we went? Regardless, it was a close game.

Game 6

We decided to stay as partners. We were playing against a tall middle-aged woman named Karen and a taller man probably in his late 50s. They were both good all-around players. The man hit one shot right at me and I couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. (Gee? Can we say, “Keep your paddle up?”) I also tried a hard backhand drive to surprise the man while he was at the net—no dice, he handled it easily for a winner. Well, that didn’t work!

They went up 9-2. Ouch. At one point, Terry said, “I should probably make a better effort to get to the net.” I voiced my concurrence! As the second server, I went on a five point run with Terry and we brought it to a more respectable 9-7. The man attempted some additional body shots at me, but won no more points with that maneuver. Our opponents were really good at handling Terry’s hard drives, unfortunately, plus I had my occasional miscues and we ended up losing 11-7 or 11-8. That was a very fun and challenging game. There were smiles and thanks all around at the net after that one!

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Bleachers full of waiting players. You can’t even make out them all in this photo. Busy!

I was told by our former opponent Karen that this day was the most players they’d ever seen and that it was likely due to holiday visitors to the area. (Like me!)

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Game 7

As the afternoon wore on, while it was still far from sparse, the crowd thinned some and wait times shortened accordingly. The next game was Terry and me against Tammy and another woman. Terry and I took a 6-0 lead until I served into the net—a very uncommon occurrence for me! They slowly crawled back into the game to make it challenging, but Terry and I did take the match in the end. Tammy said, “You keep winning against me!” Well, only the two games we played against each other! And losing (or winning) a match is very much a function of your partner as well!

Last Game

Terry and I played one last game together. It was against a young couple. We got absolutely clobbered. 11-0. They were very good getting the ball back over and handling drives while at the net. I remember one dinking rally where it was going back and forth—until I dinked it a bit too long crosscourt and out it went. I had to shake my head at that one! At least service went back and forth half a dozen times or so.

I checked the time. 4:10. Time to boogie. The family was going to church at 5, followed by going out to dinner to celebrate my son’s and wife’s birthdays (both in a couple of weeks) and our 23rd wedding anniversary tomorrow. A lot of events!

I caught Tammy for a photo. Two hard-working site coordinators—from different parts of the state!

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I got great hospitality from Tammy, their site coordinator! She’s very organized, to boot!

Coronado turned out to be a worthwhile experience and I got to meet a number of nice people!

Learning Points

There were a few instances where my service routine was disrupted and my serve failed. A person walking behind the court, a score correction, something. I need to figure out my “zero point”. Where do I need to start in my routine to avoid messing up? Simply calling the score again and bouncing the ball again a couple times isn’t always doing it. I think part of it is just feeling rushed since I don’t want to delay the game further—imaginary pressure.

Another “head thing” was a service return. I was being served to from right to my left by Karen in that tough game I mentioned. A young girl was walking out the gate 3-4 feet from my left elbow. I know since I turned my head. I held up my paddle but Karen didn’t look up and served the ball. Instantaneously, I figured I could just take the serve anyway. I took my paddle down and returned the ball into the net. Point over. Learning experience! If it’s a distraction, it’s a distraction. Delay the game if that’s that it takes to make it fair.

Lobbing. I realized that I haven’t lobbed even one ball for a number of outings now. The three ‘D’s, I guess. Drive. Drop. Dink. A lob is a lower percentage shot, so I don’t miss it. If I had the perfect opportunity, a lob might naturally and automatically kick in, but that golden opportunity has not presented itself recently.

I’m closing in on 100 days on a pickleball court. And quickly approaching 10 months playing—which it’ll be as of November 29th. Yep. Still hooked on pickleball!


Later Analysis

I got asked by someone on the SCPC steering committee what I thought of the Coronado paddle rack system. Here’s what I came up with.
Advantages:
  • You are guaranteed to have two new players in your foursome for your next game.
  • If you consistently win, you will be paired with others who will be closer to your skill level (winners/winners, losers/losers). As for the losers category, there will still be a mix since after a winners/winners game, those losers will cycle back into the losers row.
  • It’s a great system to mix skill levels. For beginners, it’s good since it’s hard for people to avoid playing with them since it just depends on where the paddles “fall”.
  • Depending on how you partner up, you either can stick with the same partner (as I did for a number of games) or change partners and not play with them again (assuming the other two players don’t mind splitting). HOWEVER, if someone pulls their paddle and puts it back into the rack later, you may end up being split from your partner . . . unless you pull your paddle (and/or your partner’s paddle) at the last second and require/ask the next one up to play instead.
Disadvantages:
  • Without rifling through the paddles, it’s hard to tell where you are in the queue. (Unless you mark the top edge of your paddle . . . which I’d do if I were regularly in that system, but not many players—if any—there did!)
  •  It’s quite hard to set up a foursome with specific people.
  •  Losers may end up playing strong players in the losers bracket who just happened to go up against, say, the strongest team on the courts and lose.
  • You can’t easily avoid playing against someone who is mean to you or is an all-around jerk. (You could even be stuck playing with such a person.)
  • For very strong players, it can be bad since it’s hard to avoid playing with beginners since it’s just depends on where the paddles “fall”.
It’s just a different way of doing things.

Number of days on a court: 96
Number of total hours: 272

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La Mesa

Friday, November 24, 2017 (Court Day #95)

On Wednesday, I used the Places2Play iPhone app to locate some games nearest to Bonita, CA in south San Diego County. (Visiting the in-laws.) It looked like there were courts in La Mesa that were reserved on Friday mornings, 9-noon. I didn’t want to bug the contacts from the venue by calling them the evening before Thanksgiving, so I checked the USAPA website and found the contact form. I sent in a request confirming the gathering on Friday, given the holiday. Tim, the contact, got back to me quickly saying play at Collier Park was a go.

Friday

I put on sunscreen, put on my SCPC shirt and cap, filled a water bottle with ice then water and headed out shortly after 8:30. Using my GPS phone app, I navigated the 10-15 minutes of driving to La Mesa. Passing the courts about 10 to 9, I saw they were already in use. Early arrivers! I drove on to the opening to Collier Park and doubled back to the courts parking lot.

I parked, grabbed my backpack, and headed to the courts. There were a couple of women and a man standing and talking at the far end of the parking lot past the court entrances. I introduced myself and told them that I was visiting from Santa Cruz.

One said they would likely get 40 players today. That must be tough with only four courts. The lines were deep red on dark green. I’m glad I’m not colorblind, otherwise it might be impossible to see the court markings! It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but it would still prove to be harder than I was used to.

One of the women, Marie, asked if I wanted to warm up, so we dinked for a few minutes, hit a couple of ground shots, then started a game. Marie and I won fairly handily. Swapping players, in the second game, even without a strong partner, it was a lopsided win. Afterward, my partner gestured across the dividing tennis net, “You belong on that side!” Apparently, the weaker players stake out one side and the strong players stake out the other.

The Other Side

This group uses paddles in the fence to queue up for games. There was one paddle in the fence and I added mine next to it. It wasn’t a long wait.

It was heating up into the high 80s. With the strong sun, switching sides of the court at 6 points was commonplace at Collier—more so than in Santa Cruz.

There was a man named Gary who was warming up for a tournament later on in Oceanside today, 40 miles north. Pleasant fellow. He was playing with Iris, who was playing her third time ever at age 11 or 12. Gary played a few games then hit the road. He’s in great shape for a 74-year-old.

Before one game, I was warned about one player who uses a lot of spin. I was worried going into the game, but while he had some good spin on some balls, he wasn’t always accurate. And the spin didn’t usually prevent getting the ball back over the net. It turned out that he’s one of those people who takes the game more seriously than I think people should. After he lost, he seemed a bit grumpy and was explaining to us why they hadn’t won, at the expense of this partner—right in front of the partner. Though, if you are going to throw your partner under the bus, it’s good to do it on front of his/her face, I guess. But usually on a court, the players already know who the weak player is and why a team won or lost. There’s usually not a point to announcing that afterward.

Between a couple of games—we were waiting for the other game to end so we could mix up players—I got to share some strategy with a woman regarding returns and tracking, approaching the net properly, and team communication. The level of play in Santa Cruz keeps one on one’s toes. Study of the game.

With the warm temperatures, most players were gone by 11 a.m. Our last game wrapped up at 11:30. The girl, Iris, was my partner. She occasionally does the same thing Jeff (tennis Jeff) does—tries to hit it hard when the ball is too low. Yep. Into the net. (I told her with a smile, “Patience, Grasshopper!”) But she also had some really good rallies too. A good rough blank with a lot of promise. She’ll be really good if she sticks with it and learns the soft game. Iris and I lost 10-12, but we put up a good battle.

I would have stayed and played longer, but I’m a bit of a nut.

The players were all very welcoming. It was a nice experience there. With hindsight, since all the players were intermediates, I wonder if their more elite players were all off at the tournament in Oceanside. Dunno. I’ll have to go back on a future trip!

Me with Christina, Mary, and young Iris.

Number of days on a court: 95
Number of total hours: 269

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Club ‘Dura’s

Sunday, November 19, 2017 (Court Day #94)

I arrived at Derby Park at 8:45 to open up. It was 51° but mostly clear skies. Rolando rode up on his bicycle a few minutes later and helped bring out the net bags.

My first game—it would have been better had it been my last after I’d warmed up!—was with Stuart as my partner against Leslie and Kim. Boy, I think I singlehandedly lost that game and told Stuart so. I was hitting out long, out too far left, out too far right . . . never way out but 6 inches to a foot out might as well be 20 feet! Kind of embarrassing when getting to be on a court with advanced players.

A young couple arrived today for their first visit, Amanda and Guillermo. Nice people from Capitola. Amanda said that Kevin and Bev had showed them how to play and she and Guillermo had just played singles by themselves at Brommer Park since. After I had them sign the waiver, they signed up on the court waiting list board. I told them I was already committed to another game, but afterwards, I’d be happy to play with them. But, they found some partners by the time I got back. They got in on a number of games.

It turned into a beautiful day. Stuart whistled very loudly, stopping play mid morning. “Look up. This is why we live here! That’s all!” Sunny, not much breeze, the perfect pickleball temperature in the mid-60s.

Turnout was large. We played “to 9, win by 1” again today. We had about 40 people there.

My play started inconsistent but improved over the morning. Between a lack of staff at work and heavy rain on Thursday afternoon, I hadn’t played for a week. I was pretty solid later as I warmed up.

Ok. I’ve been debating, but I’m going to mention this just ’cause. Jeff (new, tennis), Terry (Laura’s husband), Warren and I were rotating partners and played four games at the end of the day. Partnered with Jeff, I made one service return where I put a bunch of spin on the ball, it dropped over the net into the kitchen and “did not pass Go”, it bounced up or sideways for a winner with no way that Terry could reach it in time. It’s fun when that happens. Jeff goes crazy with spin on his shots. Once he develops more patience in waiting for a winning shot and a stronger short game, he’ll be deadly.

They’re back!

Eric was back from his east coast trip, but we didn’t get to play on the same court. But it was nice to see him again.

Bruce and Janet were there. When I said I hadn’t seen them in a while, Bruce said Janet was injured. Probably from when she tweaked her back.

Bruce got an ace against me today! I’m not sure if that has ever happened before—anyone getting a clean ace on me. If so, it was once or twice. Quite the rarity. Regardless, it was a fantastic serve. Low and fast and angled off the court. Come to think of it, did my paddle tip it on its way out of the court? Maybe. Still, great serve.

Honesty

I called a foot fault on my own partner today. Warren (gray ponytail) landed on the baseline for a couple of serves. He was quick to properly correct it. He’s a good sport.

Dura

The biggest event of the day was decision by the steering committee of the Santa Cruz Pickleball Club to provide tournament style balls for use by anyone who wants one. Pickleball Inc.’s Dura Fast 40 balls. “The Onix balls last two years. These last 3 months,” said Stuart. One ball got used, but that was it. I’m going to try to play with those going forward.

The games wrapped up at 12:45.

Dave Witte (the SCPC Treasurer) told me to make sure to take the Dura balls home. He said when the temperature drops near freezing, the Dura balls develop “micro fractures” that cause the balls to crack.

I went home, watched the Raiders get wiped out by the Patriots and marked all the new balls with permanent marker: “SCPC”.

Number of days on a court: 94
Number of total hours: 266.5

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