I just wanted to prove I could still play ball.
Although I’m a reporter — and four years removed from competitive sports, since the last time I played baseball was in high school — an opportunity to participate in the U.S. Open media ballperson tryouts on June 21 meant a chance to show I’m still athletic.
While watching the U.S. Open every year I inevitably notice the ballpersons scurrying around the court like squirrels, fielding balls as discreetly as possible and returning them to the players.
I thought this should be simple enough for me, who has played sports all his life.
Brimming with confidence, I listened to Tina Taps, U.S. Open Ballperson director, give the instructions on how to correctly field the ball to the group of media personnel gathered at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
She said to sprint to the loose balls, and sprint back to the closest side. Then throw the ball with high arches to clear players and make sure it bounces once to ballperson team members.
It was supposed to be easy for me, but for some reason that feeling of anxiety that scares Little Leaguers from making the right play at crunch time came over me when it was my turn. And surely enough, I screwed up from the get-go.
“Sprint,” yelled my evaluator, Cathie Delaney. I was running too slowly.
“That ball was a little off target,” she said. My throw was too wide.
Maybe once or twice I considered it would be cool to be a ballperson in the past, but I never seriously wanted to try out, because it seemed too simple.
But here I was looking dreadful. Before my turn came to try out I remember watching the other reporters from companies like ESPN and Newsday, dressed in athletic gear, and I wanted to look better than them.
My pride was on the line, so I picked up the pace.
I began full-out sprinting to my spots and gunning the bright, green balls as if someone was stealing second, while still keeping the bounce.
After my turn ended and I approached Delaney, out of breath from just 10 minutes of running and throwing.
I asked how my tryout was and she replied, “You could do it,” Delaney said “But you aren’t actually available, are you?”
Just the thought that I would be accepted was good for me, but to make it even better I was complimented.
“You looked good out there,” said a female Newsday reporter as I walked away from the courts.
My pride was intact, but not my colleague’s.
Terence Cullen, my fellow reporter, beaned another participant in the head, knocking his hat clear off.
There’s always next year, Terence.