There’s no “I” in “Team”!

I didn’t get to reverse the curse: the Bass River make-up match was postponed due to scheduling conflicts on both sides during the Massachusetts school vacation week, so we ended up having a bye week instead.  This was probably not a good thing, because some internal issues that had been bubbling under the surface had time to fester, and that led to problems as we prepared for our next match against last-place Woburn Red.   All year there had been rumblings that a few guys, particularly Bryan and Justin, weren’t happy with the positions they had been playing, but they hadn’t exactly been locking down those lower courts, so I never paid the rumors much heed.  A few days before the Woburn Red match, though, Bryan took matters into his own hands by writing a long, irate email to Frank saying he was sick of playing too low on the ladder and that specifically he was a far better player than me and deserved to be positioned that way.  In an attempt to placate him, Frank then made a lineup switch for the Woburn match and moved Bryan up to play with Alan on 2 while dropping me down to play with Brandon on 3.

Let me be clear: I have areas where I fall short of being an ideal team member.   During matches I can get frustrated or upset with my own play, or (less frequently but more damagingly) my partner’s.   There are times I get too serious and forget that fun and friendship are ultimately more important than winning.  But I’ve never back stabbed a teammate that way to my captain try to enhance my own playing position.  I’ve never even asked to play a higher court, period; if anything, when I’m on a losing streak I’ll often say that I think I’m playing too high!   As long as I see my name on the lineup card somewhere- anywhere- I’m happy.   After all, courts 1-5 all have equal value in this league and the goal is to win as a team.  Most of our other guys feel the same way, and what Bryan had written really made Frank and Chris angry.  And when they told me about it a few minutes before the Woburn match, it made me angry too.   I still had smoke coming out of my ears as I took the court against the team of Halim (a big server with a strong competitive spirit) and Geert (an older guy with a game more geared to slicing and lobbing).   On another day the result might have been much different, but here I had my game going on all cylinders and we were able to overwhelm them 6-3, 6-1.  I stepped into the ball well and had a number of big returns off both sides, stuck my volleys and repeatedly smashed overhead winners out of their reach (especially important since they lobbed more frequently than most of our opponents).  Brandon was feeling the effects of some minor injuries and took a little while to get warmed up, but by the second set he had his big forehand going and we ran through the Woburn guys quickly.   Chris and Elias dispatched a team that had no business playing on court 1 in something like half an hour, while Dennis Robertson and Gary Barros filled in on 4 and cruised.   Playing with a new member who had been away from tennis for a while and was understandably rusty, Frank went down in flames on five, but Bryan and Alan seemed to have things in hand on two, leading by four games in the final minutes against Woburn’s true number one team of Brett Fairbanks and Justin McCabe.   They finished poorly, though, dropping the last five games, so we had to settle for a 4-2 win against a team we really should have swept.

The real drama, though, came after the match, as Chris, Elias, Bryan and I had an animated discussion for the next two hours or so in the Willows’ upstairs bar.  “Animated discussion” is a euphemism- this was loud and contentious enough that at one point Jimmy the bartender started yelling at us to cool it, because if he’d wanted to be around that type of conflict he would have stayed home with his wife.   It was probably my fault, because early in the conversation while the others were talking among themselves, I asked Bryan point-blank if he’d been dissing me to Frank and other teammates in order to play ahead of me.  His response was essentially that he wasn’t dissing me, he was just better than me and was telling the truth.  He wanted to play against tougher competition and thought he deserved the opportunity.  After some back-and-forth I realized that we were each going to have our own opinion of who was the better player.  So I just said he could believe whatever he wanted about who was better, but if we had to team up one day I needed to know he had my back, and talking shit about me was not the way to make that happen.   At that point Andros jumped into the conversation and Bryan reiterated his complaints about being undervalued, saying that he was as good as and probably better than everyone on the team except Chris.  Andros then got really revved up and said he was sick of guys bitching and moaning and not backing it up on the court.  “That’s why our team’s not going to go anywhere this year”, he said, “because we’ve got too many guys like you who all they care about is themselves.   Dave will play any position, with any partner, and he doesn’t care because he wants to win a championship.  You’re sitting here complaining and yet you don’t have the record to back it up (Bryan was 6-6).  If you think you should be playing higher, go to the lower courts and control the game and win, and you know what, eventually you’ll play higher!  Until then just be glad that I’m playing and winning every week on court one to keep our team afloat while guys like you complain all the time and don’t contribute anything.”  And though his singsong Middle Eastern accent stayed at a much lower volume, Elias was as mad as I’ve ever seen him.   “We are all basically the same level”, he said, “and I truly believe I cannot know for sure that I am better than anyone or they are better than me.  There are so many variables- how good was your partner, how good was my partner, many things.  But I can look at the record over time and see what good players this guy has beaten or that guy has beaten, and by that I can have some idea of a player’s value.  And your record says you are six and six, Bryan.  Six and six!  It does not matter how good you think you are.  You must win.”

Bryan was not so easily deterred, listing one excuse after another for his losses.  The opponents stacked and put better teams at my position.  Dennis quit on me after he served for the match and got broken.  Alan tried to stall with the lead and that made us lose our momentum.  The opponents hit it to Brandon all the time because they knew he wasn’t very good.  Justin was playing a few days after nearly being murdered in a street fight and had trouble just standing up (ok, that one at least was valid…).  After a couple of hours, the discussion finally ran out of steam, and though I think it was valuable to talk things out in the open like that, I’m not sure how much was actually resolved.  If I have to play with Bryan again, I will.  Although we had (and probably will continue to have) differences of opinion, I at least respect the effort that he gives on the court.  Some of my teammates hold grudges a lot longer, though.  Let’s hope we’re all somehow able to put this behind us and salvage what could still be a championship season.

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