I gave myself a ball machine for Xmas. I’ve been lusting after one for years but never really needed to own one before because I mainly happened to live in places where tennis could be played all year round. But now that I inhabit the tundra and folks seem to run indoors the minute the temperature drops under 65, I decided that the only way I could maintain my tennis form and my sanity was through buying myself a constant partner. Its name is the Silent Partner Star.
I brought it home a few days before Xmas. Well I didn’t actually bring it home; UPS delivered it. The UPS guy commented on the size of the box and asked if I was getting something extra special for Xmas. He has been flirting with me for most of the year and I usually look forward to our exchanges as he is rather cute. The glow of his attention usually lasts me until his next delivery. But this time the poor man was non-existent, his dimples irrelevant. My eyes locked on the Silent Partner logo on the side of the box and would not let go. I got so excited I started signing my name upside down.
I made the purchase through eBay – the place where large companies seem to outnumber everyday people trying to off-load merchandise that an economy ago they would have gladly re-gifted. But in guava season, every penny counts. And so instead of looking for a new machine, I decided to find one that was hopefully gently used.
I researched this carefully, snooping around in tennis forums like Tennis Warehouse for chatter on the pros and cons of this or that ball machine. Over at Amazon the entry model for the Lobster came with such a scathingly negative review that I decided that there was no way I was going that route.
The Prince Half-Volley seemed by all reports to be a very decent and manageable machine, but when I contacted the dealership they told me that I had to buy one through their distributors. Coincidentally, at the time I called, the distributors were all in a meeting at headquarters. A woman helpfully put me on the phone with the distributor living closest to me. He told me that he did not ever have used models; I would have to buy new.
In the end, the folks chatting at Tennis Warehouse seemed convincing that my best choices would be between the Tennis Tutor (the square black box) and the Silent Partner models. I promptly started bidding on eBay on both. If the response from bidding is any indication, Tennis Tutor ball machines re-sell rapidly. In fact they sold so quickly that I never managed to win any of the better-looking models I pursued. I even figured out a way to secretly bid while at work, but that made no difference.
At the same time I was also bidding on Silent Partner models. I came close to a couple of wins but never managed to close the deal. Finally I got lucky. The company posted some six or seven options. (Really, ordinary folk re-selling their machines don't stand a chance). I bid on the Star. Despite it being a bit more expensive than the entry models, I picked it because it came with a remote control. No one was happier than I when I won. I don’t think Silent Partner has ever been paid as fast.
The machine arrived four days before Xmas. That’s the day usually reserved for eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Me I got a tennis ball machine and a case of Penn tennis balls.
Unpacking it was a breeze. It came fully assembled. All I had to do was plug it in and charge it up. Because it was a gently used machine, it was fully charged in less than an hour. In the meantime, I emptied my hopper of the old balls that I had no further use for, and loaded it with 72 brand new Penn championships. I was ready to play!
And then I looked out the window. It was clearly freezing cold. Snow was predicted in a few days but the smell of it was already in the air. I had two choices. I could delay gratification like most sane people, or I could put on five layers of clothing and hit the courts. I started dressing.
I was the only person playing tennis that day. It took me a while to figure out how to pin down the basket at the back and get the machine to work properly. It would have helped if I had read the manual before leaving home but excitement got in the way. My nose watered, my eyes ran, my lips started turning blue. But eventually I figured out that I had to push down really really really hard on the back of the blue plastic basket and pin it down with the steel rod enclosed. And then it worked like a charm.
I only played one basket. Really it was too damn cold. And besides the people living nearby the courts had started looking out of their windows to see what the racket was all about. Because let me tell you something, I don’t care what this machine is called, the last thing you can call it is 'silent'. It is loud. The sound of the balls popping out is loud. It’s a sound almost like a modified gunshot. I don’t know if it was the noise, the cold, or my eventual self-consciousness that finally drove me to pack it in. But I was happy that I had tried it out.
The ball machine is now sitting in my garage waiting for warm weather. Every single time I drive in, I can almost hear it asking when did I become such a wuss.