I belong to a men’s doubles racquetball league of 13 seniors. Okay, when I say “league” that sounds a bit more serious than it really is. It’s actually more like a “club.” No, that’s not quite it either. “Herd.” Yeah, it’s more like a herd – as in cattle, because some of us play the game about as well as a spry Holstein. We meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 8am sharp – unless it’s Christmas. Then we play at 11.
Not to toot my own horn, but out of this Baker’s Dozen of racquetballers, I routinely rank among the top 15. As I see it, the only thing separating my game from my teammates’ is my lack of speed, power, accuracy, court awareness, and peripheral vision. Oh, and ability. Yeah, I’m sort of lacking in that department, too. And yet, despite how consistently inconsistent I am, they still let me play. My theory is that I make them all look like pros by comparison.
At 63, I am one of the youngest players. The ages range from 54 to 80. Jerry is eighty years young. He’s right-handed, but due to a shoulder injury, he now plays lefty. And he still cleans my clock on the court. Now, I’ve only been doing racquetball for forty years – whereas Jerry started playing during the Garfield administration. And as a relative rookie, I’m still learning the subtleties of this sport. For example, just last week I was informed that it’s legal to play the ball off the back wall. Thanks for finally telling me, guys. That’s a game changer.
Not long ago we accepted a woman into our men’s club. Kate is extremely talented – better than most of the guys – so, I always graciously invite her to be my partner. That’s because I am a gentleman and want her to feel comfortable and accepted in our group. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that with Kate as my partner, I might actually stand a chance of being on the winning side for a change.
Perhaps our best player is Jeff. He’s seriously good. But I still like him. When he sees me struggling on the court, he always offers me heartfelt words of encouragement, like, “Tim, have you ever considered giving up this game? Think about it.” We have a close relationship. He makes fun of my weight, and I compliment him on his rapidly-receding hairline.
Then there’s Gary. He’s in his mid-seventies and extremely fit and talented. In fact, he plays better than I did when I was 25 – although, now that I think about it, I wasn’t any good back then, either. Gary’s a power hitter. Nobody strikes the ball harder than he can. His favorite strategy is launching one of his 120-mph fastballs … straight into my back. Oh sure, when that happens, the pain can be excruciating – but only for a few hours. And besides, it’s just part of the game. I’d say more, but I can’t because my attorney, who is about to file a lawsuit against Gary for $50,000 for pain and suffering, told me to keep my mouth shut.
Recently, a new guy asked about joining our group. He shared that he’s played in over 100 tournaments and won several of them. Despite that, we agreed to let him play with us one morning. It was quickly apparent that he was way better than all of us put together. Way better. That violates our league rules – as does having 15 people on the court. So, I explained in my instantly-self-appointed role as club treasurer that we’d be happy to let him join for a one-time initiation fee of $500. He decided he was not interested. Problem averted. We now have a new motto: If you are “out of our league” then you are OUT of our league.
Seriously, it’s a super group. We play two against two, always rotating the players after every game. So, if I am paired up with Jeff or Gary, our team has at least a 30% chance of winning. But if you ask me, it’s not about winning. It’s about the comradery of being with a bunch of guys (and Kate) and sharing stories, like reminiscing about the time I made an excellent game-winning shot. Some of the guys question whether it ever actually happened. Sort of like how they question the existence of Big Foot.
When we are not on the court, we’re watching the other players behind a fiberglass wall – one so strong that I have repeatedly smashed into it and caused no damage – to the wall that is. I crash into it even more often when I am on the court. Watching my teammates play is an excellent way to observe some outstanding shot placement and learn how I might improve my skills. It won’t actually help, of course, because I have the long-term memory of a ficus plant.
I have loved playing this sport ever since I first started losing at it in college to my longtime friend Miriam. I am equally adept at tennis – which, by the way, is a great excuse I use to explain why I suck at racquetball (and vice versa): “It’s a different wrist motion and racquet configuration, which clearly explains why I missed that last shot by three feet.”
I hope I can continue to play racquetball for years to come. Seeing Jerry play so well at 80 gives me inspiration. It’s wonderful exercise. I have tons of fun. And it keeps me out of trouble with local law enforcement. The guys all have delightful senses of humor. Nobody takes the game too seriously. And so long as I’m not your partner, odds are you just might win.
Well, I have to go. The previous group just finished their match, so I’m up. I’m paired up with Jerry. Uh oh. I see our opponents are two of our best players, Jeff and Gary. Time to help them feel extremely good about their game. Nobody is better at that than I am.
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2018