Sometimes, as we play pickleball, we suddenly find ourselves making a decision to call a ball in or out.
Here is an example: You are suddenly engaged in one of those wonderful pickleball exchanges where both doubles teams have hit spectacular shot after shot for an exchange of 10 or 15 shots, and then the opposing team hits an overhead that landed almost on the line.
The operative word here is “almost.”
You saw it out. Well, you wanted it out, and it probably was out. Your mother would probably have agreed with you that it was out, back when you were 10. In fact, you are so sure it was out, you begin looking around for affirmation from your partner, and maybe the Pepsi-Cola salesman passing by, pushing a handcart of their products
I think some people take it as a personal insult if someone questions their calls. Hey, most of us have poor eyesight, and I know I quickly experience oxygen starvation on pickleball exchanges of four or more shots. Face it — you might just have just made a bad call, and there is nothing wrong with reversing it.
I called one like that last week. I initially saw it out, but I really believe my brain anticipated the flight of the ball to be out, and then suddenly I was not sure. I certainly was not sure enough to explain that call to St. Pickle, who works for St. Peter in the “Possibly Fraudulent Pickle Calls Department.”
If you are not sure, don’t ask the crowd. Give the benefit of doubt to your opponent. Remember — if the match is really that important, you will have line judges assigned to your match, and I will be reporting your scores in the Coastal Point.
Which brings me to line judges...
Once I was one of those line judges on a CBS televised professional match between Stan Smith — then considered the top player in the world — versus the challenger, Jimmy Connors. I knew both players well — both used Wilson Sporting Goods rackets, and my job was to be their friendly contact at Wilson.
Suddenly, I was in the middle of a televised line-call fracas. This was the first nationally-televised match for the chair umpire, who asked me to call one of the sidelines. I was a qualified chair umpire, but my worst nightmare was to be caught in a dispute between a tennis professional using Wilson and another player using a Head or Dunlop racket.
The day in question, I had agreed to call the line only after the umpire said that if he thought any of our calls were incorrect, he would signal us.
So there I am, stuck on the sideline for a five-setter, with the CBS camera breathing down my neck. Stan Smith served a ball wide, and I called it “Out” as I theatrically pointed out like a baseball umpire.
Smith, who never questioned a call, and knew me, yelled “What?”
In my mind, as I write this piece, I still see the ball as very out, but the television evidence proved that the ball was well in. In fact, it appeared that my brain must have reversed the image, because the ball was in as much as I saw it out.
I looked at the umpire in his chair for his secret signal to stand down, but there was no signal. Suddenly, the umpire, Connors and Smith were engaged in heated conversation — half the crowd were booing, the other half agreeing. My father-in-law was flexing his muscles, as if to encourage me to strand firm. All I wanted to do was join Punxsutawney Phil in a deep hole somewhere.
The CBS announcer started talking about the problem of tennis linesmen not changing their calls when they obviously made a mistake, while on the screen they continued to run the slow-motion of my obvious error.
It wasn’t that I refused to change the call. In fact, I really wanted to go to the men’s room and toss dinner, then get a taxi and leave town. I wasn’t refusing to change my call, as CBS claimed — I wasn’t even in the fight. I was now sitting in my chair, like the town clown, and CBS made it sound like the umpire was protecting me.
Finally, they played the point over, and I just hoped and prayed that the ball would not come anywhere near me, because I think would have just stood and yelled, “I don’t have an opinion on that.”
So, unless you clearly see it out, do not call it out. And that is what this week is all about.
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