While Hannah and I hike regularly during our winter two months in Santa Barbara, we also pickle three to four times per week. Today, I introduce four of the good guys at the pickleball courts.
Let’s start with Tim. Hailing from Virginia and here for the winter, he and I come to the courts in Santa Barbara as the outsiders. Many times Tim makes a point of seeking me out as a playing partner. His power, delicate touch, good humor, and the fact that he doesn’t take himself too seriously make him an ideal partner. Though we win more than we lose, it’s always a good time with Tim.
After our last pickleball morning before we return for home in Maine, Tim makes a point to come to wish me well. He then seeks out Hannah on another court to bid her farewell, and says, Take care of the old man.
Then there’s Bill. After one enjoyable morning of teaming on the pickleball courts of Santa Barbara, Bill offers up, why don’t we “catch dinner” together with our wives. Not exactly sure what that means, we invite them to our place in Carpinteria for drinks, dinner, and cards. Our Sunday night becomes one of the peak moments of our winter stay as we laugh throughout the evening over getting-to-know-you conversation and then conclude the evening with a spirited game of Mormon Bridge.
The following week, Bill and I play as partners all morning long, building on our growing friendship. Three days before Hannah and I leave for home in Maine, Bill and Claudia have us to their place for lunch, followed by a surprise trip to the Frog Wall in Santa Barbara. We have a home away from home. And Hannah has plans for a Frog Wall in York.
Jerry makes three. Though we only partnered up on two mornings at the end of our stay, he made an indelible impression with his encouragement and confidence in my play.
You see, I can be a fish out of water. I play the soft game; by that I mean I hit softer third shots over the net and dink to slow down the play; I’m waiting for an opportunity for my partner or me to pounce on a high return. At Santa Barbara Pickleball, power is the name of the game for so many of the top players. Slam, bam, thank you ma’am. They are bangers. Without subtly, they crush the ball and often leave me in their wake. I tire of points being over so quickly; either they pummel me or miss wildly.
Jerry is different. As an elite player, he values and celebrates our soft games. With some deftness, he and I beat some top opponents and narrowly lose to others. But Jerry is constant in encouraging me to keep hitting my low soft balls over the net. Self-deprecating himself, he pumps me up especially when we play games where I am clearly the weakest of the four players. He sees the best in me.
And lastly Sal. Everyone knows Sal with his effervescent personality. With his welcoming way and daily presence on the courts, he is a bridge to all the advanced players. Sal hits with power, plays the soft third shot, and good-naturedly moans about missing a shot, all in good fun.
At Santa Barbara Pickleball, if players win, they stay on the court for the next opponents. On one morning, I have just won a game with another player. We as a team move to another court to play, when that player calls out, Sal let’s play. Clearly that is against protocol since I just won. Sal turns and says, You won with Dan. It’s his turn to play. It may have been an innocent mistake on the other player’s part, but what I appreciate is that Sal stepped up. He could have let it slide, but he didn’t. He was looking out for me.
I want to take something from each of them to be a better version of myself. From Tim, let another know that they make a difference; from Bill, go for it and reach out to others; from Jerry, speaking up and be relentlessly encouraging; and from Sal, look out for the quieter ones so they don’t get lost in the shuffle of more aggressive players.
There have been others of note – Bonnie, Matt, Alistair, Paula, Ben, Andres, David, Paul, and Craig who were decent to me as well as excellent pickleballers. I look forward to returning in 2021.