It’s been a few months since I started playing this recently insanely popular game called pickleball. I agreed to start playing as more of a social thing — as opposed to a sport I could get excited about. It’s something different for my wife and I to do together with friends to break the monotony of our usual social endeavors out here in the ’burbs.

Played on a shrunken tennis court with a nearly dead Wiffleball-type ball and lightweight paddle, pickleball has an odd set of rules governing the angle and height of the paddle on a serve and required bounces at certain points in a volley. There’s also the “kitchen,” an area around the net you can step into to hit the ball on a bounce, but never on a fly, and then must quickly exit — or it’s a foul.

Keeping score entails also keeping track of which server is serving, and players on the serving team rotate sides after each serve, forcing the other team to also change positions, moving forward and back but on the same side. It’s a lot to digest, so we took a couple of lessons to get the basics down.

I’ve been a paddleball player since I was a kid and have always relished slamming a hard, lively little ball against the wall with varying degrees of power and finesse at all angles to either jam up my opponent or place it where it could not be reached. So pure and simple and so “city,” perhaps attributable to my “boroughs rat” roots.

But as an “older guy” in the suburbs — where racquetball and tennis are the dominant sports but neither does anything for me, and the former makes me claustrophobic — it’s always been paddleball, basketball and softball. And I’ve always had confidence in my skills when I step onto any of those courts and fields. Confidence I’d win was not certain as there were always the first impressions of the physicality of the other team.

Pickleball is another story. Although I’m capable of volleying, scoring points, managing the kitchen and usually keeping score correctly, I haven’t brought the same killer instinct to the game. Maybe because I’m playing with my wife and friends, maybe because I’m not so into it. I’m not sure.

But I play, sweat a little and have a few laughs. A nice social experience.

Another friend recently dragged me down to open play in a nearby park where the court inhabitants, despite the lack of a physically intimidating presence, were likely more experienced. Despite my lack of experience, I firmly believed my physicality and the exertion of my will would enable me to compete — if not prevail.


We got clobbered twice and were barely competitive in a third game. And then I played with another guy against an older couple who looked like they just got back from winter in Florida — we got crushed again.

I couldn’t believe it or accept it. I was embarrassed and beside myself with anger. I lost to all of them?

So I decided that I will continue to have fun with my wife and friends, but I will sharpen my knives and skills for the next park visit.

No more nonchalanting, no more arrogance and no more judging books by their covers. The old, beat-up looking ones cause the most pain when they hit the ball back and you can’t get to it.

Gary Mantell,


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