This is another one of those glimpses behind the sportswriter curtain I try to give you every once in a while:
We had a big NASCAR race here in Daytona Beach Saturday night. I’m not a big fan of the sport, and don’t know much about it, so when I go out to the track for the newspaper, I usually get to cover the celebrities/oddball angles.
Which I love, because it allows me to talk to all kinds of different people. Saturday was a particularly cool assignment: John Isner, the rising star tennis player who won that 70-68 fifth set at Wimbledon 10 days ago, was at the Speedway to play a Ping-Pong match with NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth. (It was a sponsor’s idea).
Two weeks ago, Isner walks the Speedway concourse and no one knows who he is. Saturday, he’s signing autographs, slapping backs, and having a great time (though he was chewing tobacco, which I thought very odd for a pro tennis player).
It was interesting watching Isner interact with people; he looks like a guy not quite yet sure how to be famous. He had fun with the Ping-Pong match, made a few jokes, but seemed a little uncomfortable with all the attention. This is not a kid who was a tennis prodigy coddled his whole life; he’s had to work hard to get to No. 20 in the world.
I spent about 10 minutes talking to Isner, which was very cool. (If you’re wondering, I come up to the 6-foot-9 Isner’s belly button).
There’s still a little part of me, since I worship tennis so much, that loves talking about the game with the pros. 10 days ago, I watched this guy win the longest match ever. Saturday he sat next to me in jeans and a T-shirt.
He seemed very much at ease talking about tennis, about Sunday’s final (he thinks Nadal will win, not that that’s a huge limb to climb out on) and how he’s become quite a bit more famous since Wimbledon.
It’s funny; 75,000 people came to the track Saturday looking forward to watching the race. For me, the highlight was watching a tennis star play Ping-Pong.
**The Women’s Professional Soccer League isn’t getting much attention these days. With the World Cup going on, plus the MLS (the men’s soccer league in America, if you didn’t know), it’s been hard for the WPS to get noticed.
And I missed this story, too, before I heard about it on NPR’s Only A Game. All-Star games are always pretty boring affairs that no one cares about, but the WPS did something cool for their game on June 30.
They picked two captains, Abby Wambach and Marta, and had them pick the all-star teams, one by one.
Basically, it was like we all did in the schoolyard and in gym class. “OK, I’ll take Steve. OK, I’ve got Mike. “OK, I’ll take Pat.”
And so on, and so on. Choosing up sides is something we can all relate to, and I think it would be all kinds of awesome if other sports did it.
Like at this year’s baseball all-star game, let’s let Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez pick teams. Wouldn’t that be way more fun?
Because let’s face it, the all-star who got picked last (like I often was in gym class) would be made fun of the rest of the year.