One day, I found myself playing against a stranger in pickleball who introduced himself as “Stingray.”
That’s not his real name, he explained. It was his on-the-court persona.
“Call me Stingray,” he said. “That’s my pickleball name. What’s your pickleball name?”
I didn’t have a pickleball name. In fact, I still don’t.
We here at Murmurs from the Losers’ Bracket (*for those new to Murmurs, this is a humorous tongue-and-cheek opinion piece - don't take us too seriously... we are trying to have fun, just like we do on the pickleball court) tend to frown on pickleball names due to the fact that it requires a certain kind of moxie to take on a flashy persona on the court.
For example, Zorro would have probably stopped calling himself Zorro if the banditos roughed him up every time he rode into town. He’d just be that limping guy with the open sword wounds under his black cape.
So, when you’re like me, and settling comfortably into pickleball mediocrity, it’s hard to imagine whatever it is I do on the court deserves to be named. Especially considering my most common utterance on the court is saying “sorry” to my doubles partner.
I mean, what am I supposed to say? “My name is Frank, but you can just call me, “Señor Sorry” … Or considering my age, maybe “Senior Sorry.”
There’s an Australian dark-comedy series called Mr. Inbetween. It’s about a caring family man who is also a brutal murder-for-hire hitman.
I suppose I can borrow from that and start calling myself “Mr. Out of Bounds.”
But you see the problem? Taking on a nickname requires an unstated but mandatory measure of proficiency.
For example, you’ve got to be a guy like Dave Weinbach, a 10-time U.S. Open Champion who is still playing in top form at the age of 52, matched against people nearly half his age.
Dave calls himself “The Badger” and it fits him, not just because he graduated from the University of Wisconsin, a school that has adopted the badger as a mascot.
“I didn’t start out calling myself ‘The Badger’,” he said.
It started during the time he visited his parents in Arizona and began playing pickleball there, he said. Because he was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, others there referred to him as “The Badger.”
I guess it was a good thing for him that he wasn’t a graduate of Delta State University in Mississippi, or he might have ended up being known as Dave “The Fighting Okra” Weinbach. Or even worse, he could have been an alumnus of UC Santa Cruz, which may have landed him the nickname Dave “The Banana Slug” Weinbach.
For Weinbach, “The Badger” was a perfect nickname, fitting in a way that went beyond his alma mater.
“I would badger people on the court because I played hard and wanted to win,” he said. “If you look them up, you’ll see that badgers are very aggressive animals and very tough. They don’t back down from a challenge or fight.
“They’re very tenacious.”
And so is Dave “The Badger” Weinbach, who embraced his nickname so thoroughly that Paddletek now sells a paddle called “The Badger” that it designed with him.
Pickleball nicknames don’t make you play any better, Weinbach said, but they add much needed color and personality to the sport.
“I’ve got a doubles partner from India that I’ve started calling ‘The Mumbai Monster,’” Weinbach said. “He loves it.”
“The Mumbai Monster” is Altaf Merchant, a former college tennis player in India, and a rising pickleball doubles star, after taking up the game four years ago and living in Kentucky.
“I didn’t realize how being called ‘The Mubai Monster’ was working out until I was in India recently, and someone came up to me and said, ‘You’re the Mumbai Monster.’” Merchant said.
And it was “The Badger” who was most responsible for it, Merchant said.
“Staring in 2019, we played about 10 tournaments together,” Merchant said, “and when we’d win, The Badger would keep saying in the interview, ‘The Mumbai Monster got me another victory.’”
Weinbach, who also does pickleball broadcasting, said he’s on a mission to get more good nicknames in the game of pickleball.
“Do you know Jay Devilliers?” he said. “I’ve been calling him ‘The Flying Frenchman.’”
“At this point, I call more people by their nicknames than their regular names,” Weinbach said.
Some of the nicknames that are popping up in pickleball have a pro wrestling vibe to them.
Tim “The Puppet Master” Nelson. Randy “Pickleball Voyager” Coleman. And Matt “Pickleball McNasty” Manasse.
And then there’s “Sick Tryx”, a group nickname that includes Kyle Yates, Ben Johns, Irina Tereschenko, Vicki Love, Joey Farias and Brian Ashworth. I have no idea what’s going on there.
There are some nicknames that stick closely to the person’s actual name. For example, you’ve got Scott “The Golden Boy” Golden and Ryan “SherBear” Sherry.
I prefer the ones that reach beyond the obvious. My favorite is John “The People’s Champ” Davison.
Davison, a pickleball pro and tournament broadcaster who is also Stacie Townsend’s co-host on Pickler The Podcast, said he took on the “The People’s Champ” nickname before he started playing pickleball.
It was during his car racing exploits that he started calling himself “The People’s Champ.”
“I was like the class clown of the group,” Davison said. “Before I was fast and winning races I started calling myself The People’s Champ,” he said.
As nicknames go, it has the rare quality of boasting while also being self-deprecating at the same time. No easy feat.
“It’s kind of making fun of yourself, which is what I’m all about,” Davison said.
It made me think that maybe I’m looking at pickleball nicknames the wrong way. Maybe we denizens of the losers’ bracket deserve our own names. Humble names, for sure. But nicknames nonetheless.
I have an idea. I’ll have to consult my friends on the pickleball courts in Boca Raton, Florida, to make sure I’m not stepping on any toes here.
But I’m pretty sure the nickname, “The Boca Choker” is still available.
MURMURS FROM THE LOSERS' BRACKET
Read past editions of Murmurs from the Losers' Bracket, including:
- The Ozempic Ad
- Ball On Court? Maybe Not
- The PPA, the APP and Monty Python
- Time to Get Help at Bangers Anonymous
- "It's an Injury Sport"
- A Pickleball Translation Guide
Frank Cerabino is a long-time columnist for the Palm Beach Post in Florida, a pickleball addict like the rest of us, and a newly published author. Check out Frank's newly released book, I Dink, Therefore I Am: Coming to Grips with My Pickleball Addiction (available on Amazon and a great read (or gift!) for any pickleball player), for pickleball tips and laughs!