The tickle in pickleball

Date Published: 
Dec. 1, 2017

Coastal Point • File Photo: Vaughn Baker serves one up against Tripp in 2016.Coastal Point • File Photo: Vaughn Baker serves one up against Tripp in 2016.Research is revealing that laughter is one of the best medicines available, and you get plenty of it in pickleball.

I recently invited Matt Pencek, sports director at TV station WBOC, to Northside Park in Ocean City, Md., to meet nationally-ranked pickleball pro Sarah Ansboury so she could talk a little to him about the then-upcoming Beach Blast and give him an opportunity to learn a little about pickleball.

I taught the previous sports director at WBOC how to play tennis, so I understood a little about their business. When the WBOC camera and microphone shows up, bystanders normally preen and pose. When the sports director comes out, he is accustomed to viewing younger athletes in uniforms. The pickleballers were not preening, and they certainly were not in uniform.

When Matt was setting up the camera, he had a gaggle of pickleballers milling all around him, and some bumping into his camera. As he was refocusing his camera, he scanned the crowd one more time and then looked at me, surprised and in bewilderment.

This was not his typical sports assignment and, with a twinkle in his eye, he said something like, “What is this?” It was at that moment I realized how we — the pickleball gaggle — must look to someone viewing us for the first time.

Matt really worked the crowd hard trying to capture interesting pickleball video, and I learned that pickleballers are a hard group to work, and they put expensive camera equipment in peril. As expected, Matt managed to do pickleball proud that weekend with his news segment at prime time.

I think we made a new friend from the WBOC sports director. Be sure to wave your pickleball paddles the next time you see him on a WBOC sports assignment, and try not to knock over his camera after he has it set.

Because the WBOC sports director didn’t know about pickleball, I reflected back on the big days of tennis and pondered on what factor we might be missing in pickleball that tennis enjoyed.

It was music. That’s it. Music.

Elton John dedicated “Philadelphia Freedom” in 1973 to Billie Jean King when she was starting World Team Tennis with her Philadelphia Freedoms team. Neil Diamond wrote a song for then the world’s No. 1 player, Jimmy Connors, to sing on national television. Connors was constantly humming it around the locker room in anticipation of the television show, and it was every bit as bad as he was great in tennis.

Years ago, I had a consulting contract with the Italian sports designer Sergio Tacchini, who gave me the personal phone number of Kenny Rogers at his career height, because Kenny loved to wear the latest styles of Tacchini tennis clothing. If he liked the new look from Italy, he would wear it on stage in live performances as Tacchini sales continued to skyrocket.

I was always a big-picture strategic kind of guy, deferring tactics to others. So I am thinking strategically here but need your help on the tactics. Strategically, we need a great new celebrity musical pickleball group with a catchy song.

Tactically, since it all seemed to start in Philadelphia for tennis, let me run this idea past you: What about Pickleball Phil and the Philadelphia Philharmonic Pipers singing “Pickles on the Vine, Pickleball is Divine”? No? OK, then — give me a better idea.

I will be leading a pickleball clinic for beginners and novices on Jan. 10, 2018, at Northside Park in Ocean City ($6), and a free pickleball injury/physical therapy clinic on Jan. 16, 2018, at Tidewater Physical Therapy with Bob Cairo. Please send me a request for more information if you want to be included, as both have limited slots. Contact and put “Northside” and/or “Cairo Clinic” in the subject line.

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