Lament of the Tennis Ball

Well, well, well. Look at you, kid. Pickleball—the new hot game in town. Feels good, doesn’t it? Having your name on everyone’s lips? I remember when the only thing folks talked about was tennis. The non-stop buzz, the magazine articles, the red-carpet interviews. “Tennis Ball! I love your color—is that neon yellow? Tennis Ball, tell us—is it true that you and Baseball are dating?” Sure, the paparazzi are annoying, but that’s a small price to pay for Football-level fame.

Boy, do I have stories. There was that time Venus, Serena, and I hit the clubs in downtown L.A., partied all night, and ended up playing doubles with Madonna and Carrot Top until 6 A.M. Or that other time Mats Wilander hit me so high that I flew over the court and landed in Mayor Ed Koch’s Martini glass! I got olive juice all over his new suit. Later that night, Wilander and I just laughed and laughed—sigh. Those days are behind me. It’s you everyone wants to see and be seen with now.

Take some advice from an old ball: Enjoy the spotlight, but stay grounded and focussed. Brackets, statistics, rankings—that’s all a distraction. You just keep your eye on yourself and don’t get caught up in the numbers. I mean, take Basketball. Every March, he succumbs to madness. People get excited, but the reality is just depressing.

And, hey—don’t forget that you’re part of a team. You may be Pickleball but you’d be nowhere without the racquet. There’s a mutual respect that needs to be maintained. You get most of the attention, so it’s up to you to maintain the relationship. Check in on him every now and then. Send a nice letter. Don’t forget his birthday—that kind of thing. If the relationship goes south, you’d better believe that it’s game, set, match.

Take breaks. You can’t be on the court 24/7. I’ve seen balls pop from too much pressure. I once saw a football work his butt off all season only to deflate during the Super Bowl. The press would have you believe that it was the equipment manager’s fault, but we sports balls know the truth: he just couldn’t take it. So keep in shape, sure, but don’t neglect your mental health. The game will have ups and downs; you have to learn to roll with it.

Make sure to brush up on your sports analogies. “We need a Hail Mary” and “The ball’s in your court” are great, but get to know some of the more obscure ones, like “It’s on the tip of my lacrosse stick” and “You’re acting like a real floppy discus.” It’ll make you sound more professional.

Most of all, stay humble. Don’t bounce too close to the sun. Remember the little balls that helped you along the way: Ping-Pong and Shuttlecock never really got their moments, but, nevertheless, they saw something in you and they lifted you out of obscurity. And Wiffle Ball! I know you two don’t always see eye to eye, but you have more in common than you might think. Be kind. One day, when you fall from grace—and that day will come—you’re going to need friends.

Eventually, a new sport will come along and steal the spotlight. Perhaps some crazy new hybrid of soccer and handball. Maybe it will have a ridiculous name, like Burgerball or Ham-and-Cheese-on-Rye-Ball or something. Don’t let jealousy stop you from helping them out. You might think, They’ll never last. Believe me, I never would’ve thought I’d see the day that they’d start tearing up tennis courts to make way for the likes of you, but here we are. Was I envious? Of course. I mean, you’re not even in the Olympics, and you think you can replace me. ME! TENNIS! A SPORT THAT HAS CAPTIVATED FANS FROM AROUND THE WORL—

Ahem, sorry. What I’m trying to say, kid, is that your moment is here, so enjoy it. You’re a good egg. You make people happy. That’s the most important thing. The smile on a player’s face when they score a point. If you remember that, you’ll be good. That, and steer clear of Carrot Top. ♦

This is drawn from “Dink!: Pickleball Facts, Fictions & Cartoons.”

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