Lobsters persevere, lose anyway


MANCHESTER, Mass. -- Summer skies turned grey over the Joan Norton Tennis Center, and the promise of rain only manifested itself as an occasional droplet. However, despite the friendly weather, fans of the Boston Lobsters kept looking for good news from the sky.

The plane carrying the home team was stuck in Washington, D.C.

After losing 25-12 to the Washington Kastles, the Lobsters spent the night in the D.C. area, expecting their plane to leave at 10 a.m. That flight was delayed, and so was the next. The delays kept coming, and soon threatened the Lobsters' 7 p.m. start time against the New York Sportimes.

Bahar Uttam, CEO of the Lobsters, kept looking for updates, but the delays kept coming.

"It's the first time we've had this situation. I was more concerned about the weather and everything else. They've been getting different updates all the time," said Uttam, who has been with the team for nine years. "It's really stressful, but there's nothing I can do about it."

The first match started at 10:36 p.m., and the Lobsters fell behind early and lost to the Sportimes 24-17. Jill Craybas defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld 5-4 in a singles match for the Lobsters' (1-3) only win of the evening. It was Craybas' first win of the summer.

"We're pretty evenly matched. There were a lot of three-all points," Boston coach Bud Schultz said. "We have to win more of those points. And we have to serve better. Our first serve percentage wasn't good."

In an odd twist, the Sportimes (2-2) arrived without an opponent to play. The New York-based team had driven up from Albany, and in a gesture of sportsmanship spent time answering fan questions when it became clear that the match would be delayed for several hours.

Steve Calechman, the Lobsters' director of media relations, was charged with providing an entertaining filibuster for those who stayed throughout pending rain and the extended delay. Calechman, who wears many hats -- including stand-up comedian -- spent hours engaging the fans with jokes, music and on-court interviews.

"I'm used to working with crowds as a stand-up comedian, so I just try to keep it in the moment and talk to people," Calechman said. "It's just talking to people and listening and seeing what happens. I think the people saw what was happening, and they had relaxed expectations. If they're here this long, at this time, they're into it. It's not what they expected, so I hope they had fun."

Uttam, who met Calechman during a charity tennis event, knew the jack-of-all-trades would be a good fit for the Lobsters. Aside from his time on stage, Calechman is also a journalist with on-air experience and, according to his online bio, once came in second on an episode of "Jeopardy."

"This guy knows how to do it," Uttam said. "I think it's a love-fest for both of us. He's enjoying it, the fans love him and that's someone I want in our organization."

Despite delays teetering on four hours, a good portion of fans stuck around for the main event.

"I think we have very good fans," Uttam said. "It's satisfying."

Wrong side of the record

On Tuesday night, Uttam sent Washington Kastles owner Mark Ein a message.

"Congratulations on your winning feat, and thank you for making me part of it, at my expense," Uttam said, with a laugh.

With the Kastles' win over the Lobsters, the D.C.-based tennis club logged its 34th consecutive victory. The team's website touted it as "the longest win streak in major U.S. pro sports history," passing the 33 straight won by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA. The Kastles' streak ended Wednesday with a loss to Texas.

"Mark Ein has done such a wonderful job with the Kastles. It's absolutely good for the league," Uttam said. "I like to see the league succeed, and I like to see more people like Mark Ein in the organization. He knows how to create that buzz that's good for all of us."

The Kastles are headlined by former Wimbledon champion Martina Hingis and Anastasia Rodionova.