I’ve always been a gym class hero.
In my 23 years on Earth, I’ve played 14 seasons of organized baseball, over a decade of basketball, five years of football and four years of softball.
Whenever there’s a ball involved, I pride myself on giving 100 percent in order to be the best athlete I can be. So taking every athletic event seriously, even if the name of the game is simply having fun, is in my nature.
That’s why this reporter showed up to the media portion of US Open ballperson tryouts last Thursday looking like I was ready to replace Carmelo Anthony on the New York Knicks roster: high socks, a knee brace, basketball sneakers and all.
Prior to the public tryout later in the afternoon, where around 400 prospective ballpeople were expected to showcase their skills, approximately 15 reporters from various print and TV outlets throughout the area were put through the gauntlet by United States Tennis Association officials.
We all gathered in a light drizzle at the United States Tennis Center’s Court 11, where Cathie Delaney, the US Open’s assistant ballperson director for over 20 years, explained the specific throwing, running and catching drills we were going to be taking part in.
Luckily, I was selected to try out last, allowing me to scout my competition.
As I watched as Delaney criticized some of my struggling opponents for not making accurate throws or picking up a bouncing ball cleanly, I knew my lengthy baseball background and competitive drive would help me ace the challenge.
Finally, it was my turn to hit the court, under the watchful eyes of four veteran ballboys leading the drills.
To determine who would make the best “back ballperson,” the first drill consisted of quickly throwing three balls the length of the court to my partner, Scott. The ball had to be thrown between 10 and 15 feet in the air, with it reaching Scott, a Sports Illustrated intern, on one bounce.
I played shortstop and center field my entire baseball career, positions that require strong throwing arms, and Delaney took notice.
“I don’t think I need to see any more,” she said after just one round of throws. “You’ve got the arm.”
Both Scott and I excelled in the drill, with nearly all of our throws bouncing perfectly to one another.
This made the task of catching each throw cleanly, something a handful of other reporters struggled with, much easier.
Next, I had to complete the tasks of a “runner,” which meant sprinting across the court to chase down balls hit into the net before throwing them on one hop to Scott, who stood along the back wall of the court.
With Delaney screaming bits of encouragement behind me, I was able to overcome a slippery court surface to pick up each ball quickly and make a solid throw over to Scott.
For the final drill, I had to pick up balls rolled from the net before they reached the back line of the court, and sprint over to my partner along the rear wall and hand them off before running back to my position at the net.
It was here that I learned fielding ground balls in baseball isn’t much different than doing so on a tennis court. And while the running back and forth eventually tired me out, fielding balls wasn’t overly difficult.
So how did Delaney, a notably harsh grader, judge my performance?
“Tell your boss I could use you for two and a half weeks,” she said. “If you worked the Open ... you would definitely be a back ballperson at [Arthur Ashe Stadium].”
Around 70 to 75 other people will be selected to be US Open ballpeople out of the 400 who will try out, according to Delaney.
Some of the best rookies will even have chances to work high-profile matches such as the men’s and women’s quarterfinals at the iconic Arthur Ashe Stadium.
So if you’re planning on taking in some world-class tennis around Labor Day weekend this summer, look for the reporter-turned-ballboy with the bulky knee brace.