Move over Florida and Phoenix, the Pickleball Coast in Sussex County and bordering Worcester County, Md., is almost the cat’s meow of pickleball. We now have the Beach Blast by First State Pickleball Club, Ocean City’s Spring and Fall tournaments, Delmarva Team Pickleball League, Coastal Communities (Fun) Pickleball League, Ocean Pines Pickleball Tournament, beginner clinics at multiple communities in the area, etc.
The reason I say “almost” is because we are one brilliant developer and/or enlightened politician short to make that final step, and we are waiting on them to take stage-right.
This weekend, almost 200 maestros of pickleball will descend on Ocean Pines, Md., and participate in their first Ocean Pines Pickleball Tournament, which will be played on the wonderfully expanded pickleball and racket sport center.
They have an impressive field of competition, and all serious pickleballers will want to watch the competitors weave their incredible skills on that small 44-foot court. Sure, it isn’t exactly the next “Wimbledon of Pickleball,” but I am predicting Ocean Pines will become one of the major pickleball tournaments on the East Coast. It was once my job to bet large corporate dollars on players and tournaments, and I would bet both pickles and cucumbers on this one.
It is with pride I point out that I was Ocean Pines’ first tennis pro, and to borrow a once-popular tennis expression to celebrate Ocean Pines, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” and I suspect there is much more to come.
I had the recent opportunity to play some pickleball with Bob O’Malley, this year’s tournament co-director, with Frank Creamer, on their eight new dedicated pickleball courts at Ocean Pines. The have put considerable thought into laying out the entire pickleball complex.
Later in the summer, Ocean Pines has plans for a major 50th anniversary celebration and asked me to attend as the first tennis professional. I guess if you wait long enough, “old” finally becomes fashionable.
I was fortunate enough to be involved in the tennis boom of the ’70s while working for Wilson Sporting Goods, and pickleball’s phenomenal growth relative to tennis is like “Yogi” Berra said, “déjà-vu all over again.”
Working at Wilson at the same time was another retired Yankee, Lefty Gomez, and, like Yogi, you can find pages of his funny baseball one-liners on the Internet. Those Yankees brought home to me how sport brings laughter and fun, and I salute the Ocean Pines Pickleball Club for building this pickleball theater where we can all come together to laugh and celebrate life each and every time we play.
On the local scene, Ocean City, at Northside Park, announced summer sessions, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, 2-4 p.m. If the community pickleball clinic at Millville By-the-Sea is any indication, then there are a great many folks in the area who want to learn to play pickleball, or want more lessons.
This is just a reminder that you can sign up in the Sea Colony tennis barn for pickleball lessons this summer on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at noon. Rick Bell is also conducting a “Back to the Basics” clinic for novices and intermediates on June 12, from 9 a.m. to noon, behind Clayton Elementary School.
Get more information at pickleballcoast.com.
So you want to be in the sports business?
If you were one of the folks following the series on my travels in the sports business, you might remember I was last outbound from Africa to Europe. I landed in Paris with plans to meet my French distributor, whose family name was chiseled on the Arch de Triumph.
Unlike the movie version in Casablanca, he was a genuine hero of the French resistance. He was a waif-like man who carried a special alarm to remind him to eat because the German S.S. had kicked and beaten him so badly they destroyed the hunger mechanism in his stomach.
The morning after our visit, I jumped the train to Monte Carlo in the Principality of Monaco. At the time, Monte Carlo was billed as the best, and most glamorous, tennis club in the world. My French distributor had not made any inroads, and I wanted to understand the problem.
I checked in to my hotel and later walked around the town prior to dinner. It was a stunning location on the Mediterranean. That evening I had hoped to catch a glimpse of 007 gambling at the Casino Monte Carlo, but no such luck.
But it would actually be on my next trip to Paris, a few months later, that I attended the French Open. In sports like golf, tennis and pickleball, whatever world ranking a top player achieved last week is put to the test this week.
In addition to the rigors of travel, or the pressure of losing to some young new sensation, these players periodically receive death threats. Of course, the public never is made aware of them. I was standing in the crowd at the French Open when young Chris Evert passed me, headed for the locker room. She was surrounded by a phalanx of plain-clothes police, all obvious, with muscles protruding from under their suits. She had received a death threat, and the French were not going to let that happen.
Her secretary soon tracked me down in the crowd to tell me that Chris had seen me and wondered why I had not said hello. I started to explain I did not want to attract some police sniper when I raised my arm, but figured she had enough pressure without my wisecrack.
I was invited to the players’ lounge, where the three of us sat down to catch up. Chris asked where I was headed afterwards, and I explained I was headed to Rome. Chris wanted to know if I was going to visit the Pope while I was there, and it was then I realized what a cocoon we wrap our celebrities in, so they almost live in a parallel universe.
Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.
By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point