I had been warned about Billy Cove’s gambit by a reporter whose tryout preceded my own. But after nearly tripping over my own feet, feeling short of breath and generally failing to impress the judges with my U.S. Open ball-person potential, I failed anew, springing early from the net post with Cove’s shot still in play.
I had fallen for it.
“They would have to replay the point there,” said USTA evaluator Cathie Delaney, clipboard in hand, as Cove, a 19-year-old ball person, fired the next one into the net. I grabbed it with two hands, trying not to stomp my feet as I did.
Later in the day, hundreds of real candidates, 14 or older, would try out for as few as 75 open spots among the 275 ball persons who will play a role in the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 29. But first came this media tryout, a chance to scurry in the shoes of the ball persons who also shade world-class athletes with umbrellas, fetch their water and carry their towels. It is a low rung of existence at the tournament, but one that affords intimate access to the stars.
Cove, a Forest Hills native and college player at St. Bonaventure, said his mother urged him to try out at age 9 — and now counts it as “the best thing my mother ever did for me.”
My tryout continued with the task of hurling balls down the length of the court from the “back position.” (“We throw,” said U.S. Open Director of Ballpersons Tina Taps, contrasting the practice with that of Wimbledon, where ball persons roll the ball to each other. “It’s America. Lots of kids play baseball.”)
Delaney said I had a decent arm. “I’d probably put you in the back,” she said.
Back at a desk, I thought.
Max J. Dickstein (mdickstein [at] am-ny [dot] com or @amNYsports on Twitter) is amNY’s sports editor.