Misadventures of Andrew Lenz and a yellow ball

Month: March 2021 (Page 1 of 3)

North Carolina, Take 4

Monday , March 29, 2021 (Court Day #367)

Last night, my wife checked the weather and said the rain would be stopping shortly. It rained heavily. My wife was suggesting I play pickleball in the morning since my flight wasn’t until 3 p.m. I checked myself and the weather app was predicting sun by 8 a.m. An hour of sun before 9 a.m. should be enough time, though was supposed to be cold, 41°F. Brrrr. I might get one more pickleball outing after all!

At the Courts

My wife said last night that she was going to drop me off at the courts then go shopping, but she changed her mind this morning. So I drove myself. I arrived at Ephesus Park about 9:10. As predicted, 41 degrees and sunny plus dry courts! It would gradually warm a bit and turn into a fabulous day with very little humity.

Ian, from my first day out, was in a game with three others.

Kylene was back today and as she was going to warm up with a young guy, I asked if I could join them and she said sure. The young guy was Donovan. About 5’11”, late 20s. Athletic. We warmed up about 10 minutes and a man named Dick appeared. He shared that he hadn’t played for four months. He started out a bit rusty but got better as the game went on. We lost against Kylene and Donovan but we tightened up the score a bit so it wasn’t quite the slaughter as it appeared it was going to be. We switched sides and played again.

Grace appeared and called from the fence, “Andrew! I thought you had left!” I explained my flight wasn’t until 3 p.m. and my wife suggested that I play.

I stepped out with Dick to a court to allow a waiting player to mix into a game. Dick said he had to leave soon but we hit back and forth for about 10 minutes then he had to go. I exited the fence with him, then waited briefly to work back into a game.

Grace, Donovan, Kylene, and I played a series of fun back and forth games where we mixed up the partners. Since we had no weak players, so it was a reasonably good balance. During one of the games after a good point, Grace blurted out, “Andrew! Chapel Hill needs you! Maybe you can delay your flight!” It’s nice to be wanted!

Kylene wanted to play with a friend of hers who had arrived. Donovan went with Kylene to a new court.

Full courts and players waiting. About 30 people total.

Singles

Since there was just the two of us, Grace asked about singles. “Do you know how to do it?” I told her that I’d done it a few times and knew how. So she and I played a game of singles. She adjusted to the singles game quickly but my brain was still processing the game like doubles. She was leading by a lot, but I adjusted and I came back to win 11-9.

Stacking

Grace and I played a game against Rick and Cathy. Grace suggested that we stack. She didn’t know how to do it, so I directed her to the correct spot for each point. It definitely worked, we won 11-2. At the beginning of this game, during introductions, Rick said, “I remember you, you are the one who schooled me the other day!” then mid-game later, “Thanks for the lesson!” Rick’s a down-to-earth, good guy.

My right knee was hurting a little bit but it went away, thankfully.

Grace and I played another game together, this time against Darcy (whose husband is Andy) and Mark (“Getting my steps in”). It was a good game, more stacking. We won 11-8. During that game, Darcy said, “Your serves are deceptive. They look like they are going out then curve in.” Yes, I’m managing some spin on some of these left serves.

Grace indulging my request for a photo.

Mark and I played a game against Grace and Andy (my first game with Darcy’s husband). We had to replay a couple points for dead spots—it was pretty obvious when the ball simply didn’t come back up! In the end, Mark and I won 11-8.

The last game of my North Carolina adventure would poise Kim and me versus Mark and a woman named Susie, whom I had not met yet, who turned out to be a lower intermediate player. It was a steamroller of a game, We won 11-2. I believe I made just one mistake in that game, a shot that went wide. I played very well, a good note to end on. It’s nice to finish with a game where you feel that you had the strongest play on the court.

I left just after noon, seeking out Kylene and Wendy to say goodbye first. With my flight set to takeoff in less than three hours, this would unquestionably my last visit to Ephesus Park on this trip. I told Mark, “Who knows, maybe I’ll be back in six months or something.”

Number of days on a court: 367
Number of total hours: 1,041.5

To start at the beginning of this blog click on “1st Post” in the menu above.

North Carolina, Take 3

Saturday , March 27, 2021 (Court Day #366)

I got to sleep after midnight—I have to write this blog at some time!—did a lot of tossing and turning, and woke up just before my alarm at 8:30 a.m. It hadn’t rained, but when I got outside, it was lightly drizzling. I would have to count on some diehards being at the courts. There’s always that fear that I’d make the drive and end up by myself.

At the Courts

I arrived at Ephesus Park just before 9 a.m. Almost predictably, were only three cars in the lot, I could see a couple playing on a court closest to the lot. Given that those are the worse surfaced three courts (ripples) of the six, that couple must not be regulars. Later, I’d see that they were using wood paddles, so definitely newbies.

As I got out of the car, a smiley middle-aged Asian woman was walking by from the courts: “Pickleball?” To which, I responded, “Yes!” She was as happy as I was! Her name was Grace. As she explained later, she was diagnosed this past Sunday with a partially torn meniscus but you’d never guess by her performance, just the brace on her left knee. The courts weren’t perfectly dry, but not particularly slippery. We warmed up for about 15-20 minutes then a man named Russ and his friend Rob appeared. They warmed up for a few minutes by themselves, then Grace and I joined them for a few more minutes of warm up on the same court.

As Russ was telling Eric about new courts going to be built in the Durham area, I told him that I was on the Durham email list and had received that message last night too, it included this: “In addition to the very exciting 14-court pickleball facility planned to be completed at Piney Woods for the end of the summer/early fall, and the renovation of Northgate Park tennis courts with 2-4 pickleball courts planned for 2022,  Durham Parks and Rec has also just posted a renovation project for Lyon Park in central Durham that includes 4-6 pickleball courts!” Pickleball is getting more or more popular all across the USA!

We were all in a game in short order.

Games

Russ is probably in his 40s and Eric around 30. This was Eric’s 4th or 5th time out, but he had a ton of previous tennis experience and it showed.

Grace and I lost the first game by roughly a 2:1 ratio. Youth and skill makes for a tough combination. Eric has some pretty intense forehands drives. He can whip it pretty good. He wasn’t making a lot of mistakes. Grace’s biggest weakness was hitting drives into the net. (Maybe that was Eric’s too.) Mine was popping up shots. Russ, it’s harder to pinpoint, maybe control, but he was about on par with Grace’s performance, with probably an edge to Grace, maybe. I felt like I was the weak link.

Russ recommended rotating players, so the next game saw Russ and me on the same team. Yeah, we lost.

Next was Eric and me, we lost 12-10. But then we played a second game together and we won this one 11-5 . . . go figure. In one of those games, I earned a point on a serve where I put enough sidespin on the ball that Grace couldn’t get it back over the net—a far cry from two years ago when half my lefty serves were faults!

The courts had gotten busy, so we’d have to wait until one opened up.

The paddles indicate the next group on the courts. Our paddles are next to go!

So, at Ephesus Park, they indicate which group is next in line to take a court by paddles in the fence. There are five vertical tape/ribbon rectangles lined up horizontally along the chainlink fence, each with four diamonds in the middle. Each diamond is meant to have a paddle handle placed into it. Above all five rectangles is a cord with a pickleball suspended on it. As each rectangle is released to a court, someone slides the ball to the next rectangle in sequence—if it’s the last one on the right, the ball next returns all the way to the left . . . much like an old school typewriter.

Eric, Russ, and Grace waiting for a court to open up.

I told my cohorts, “I have a hard stop at 11, I have to pick up my wife at the airport and she knows where I am. If I’m late, she will not be happy!” Russ chuckled and said he completely understood!

The last game was lopsided, with Eric and Russ dominating. During one rally, I’d gotten myself in a bind. Eric was at the net and smashed the ball with me at three-quarter court. I returned it and he smashed it again, but I was able to reset the point. He dropped the ball just over the net to the right (Grace’s) side of the net but I was able to race up and dink it just back over the net. Eric dinked it back and I reciprocated. Eric appeared to try to dink it crosscourt, but into the net it went. There was a chorus of appreciation of the rally from the people waiting. A fierce pickleball battle. It’s points like this that I’m amazed at myself that I’m doing this left-handed. Of course, you have to balance these good rallies with the embarrassing shots that I pop up, hit too wide or into the net or too long. The frustrating shots. Feast or famine. In any case, Grace and I lost 11-4 or thereabouts. Grace wasn’t playing her best in that game, I’d seen her play better.

I asked Russ the time. “10:58.” Perfect. I said my goodbyes. Surprisingly, they all also decided to leave at the same time. Things to do.

Despite my best efforts, I was actually melancholy leaving. Thanks, Ephesus Park, you’ve been good to me.

Number of days on a court: 366
Number of total hours: 1,038.5

To start at the beginning of this blog click on “1st Post” in the menu above.

North Carolina, Take 2

Friday, March 26, 2021 (Court Day #365)

I was awoken in the wee hours of the morning to thundershowers and lightning. Sure enough, when I got up, through my son’s apartment window, I could see wet asphalt. Not good, the courts would certainly be wet. But how long would it take for courts in NC to dry off with no sunshine, but warmer temperatures? This is unknown territory for me.

Shortly after noon, while outside, I saw dry spots in the parking lot. Ah! I changed and drove to the courts. There were only about 6-7 cars in the lot at Ephesus Park at half past noon. There was one game going and an older couple hitting a ball back and forth by themselves. The man asked if I wanted to play, I quickly agreed and another man, wearing khaki pants, Rick, arrived about the same time and made a foursome. We played a couple of games. Not hard games, but not a cakewalk either.

Back for a second time.

The only other court busy had five University of North Carolina students playing an energetic game while one student waited to rotate in. Top player Ben Johns name came up in their conversation but I resisted the strong temptation to yell over that I’d met and chatted with Ben. They stayed another 90 minutes after I arrived before they left.

Another view of the courts. Wendy is seated on the left.

Kylene was back and I played a game or two with her. Wendy (knee) was back too as was Ben. Ben and I ended up playing a number of games on the same courts.

A selfie with Ben.

I had a really good last game with a tall fellow named Rob, Michael, and Gary. It was past 3 p.m.—my planned departure time—but I couldn’t pass up this game. Rob was very solid with an obvious tennis background. He shared that he’d lived three years in San Francisco. When he warned his partner, Gary, I believe, mid-game that I was a lefty, I corrected him that I’m a righty but playing lefty since I had shoulder surgery. “That’s impressive!” I demurred, “I’ve been doing it 18 months.” “It’s still impressive!” (Actually, it’s now more than two calendar years—though probably about 18 months of actual play considering my layoff.) That was a fun game. I got to and made some shots I would have been proud to make right-handed. I did hear the “I’d hate to have to play you right-handed!” comment after this game. Always nice.

It was a lightly attended day, as some commented; 4 courts was the maximum in use, and mostly 2-3 courts.

At 3:30, I said my goodbyes, apologized for having to leave—they’d be missing a fourth—and headed “home” to shower and get ready for a visit to my cousin David and his family who live about an hour to the south.

One milestone is today was a “year’s worth” of court days. 365 days on a pickleball court. Between injury and and a pandemic, it took a little over four years to do it, or an average of one outing every 4-5 days . . . and that’s including a half-year break from play.

Number of days on a court: 365
Number of total hours: 1,036.5

To start at the beginning of this blog click on “1st Post” in the menu above.

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