Roddick still reaching for 'moment'
Andy Roddick proved to be easy to root for in the Wimbledon final
Roddick played a great match but came up short -- sports can be cruel that way
Roddick's desire to beat Roger Federer on this day was evident from the start
I have never had many feelings about Andy Roddick. It always seemed to me that there are athletes you love and athletes you despise, athletes you respect and athletes you fear, athletes who can turn games into beautiful events and athletes who can turn your stomach inside out because you so badly want them to lose. And these are the ones you remember.
Take A.J. Pierzynski. Please. He has been a pretty good-to-good player in his 12 seasons in the big leagues. His Baseball-Reference comps are Terry Kennedy, Tony Pena, Todd Walker -- very solid players. But as far as I know, nobody loved or hated those guys as players. Pierzynski, meanwhile, moves the Love/Hate Balance needle. They boo the White Sox catcher in Kansas City even though, as far as I know, he's never said or done anything specifically to Kansas City. As far as I know, the only current baseball players who routinely get booed in Kansas City are:
1. Johnny Damon: leftover bitterness from those days when the Royals felt compelled to trade him.
2. Derek Jeter: probably because he's glamorous and represents New York and he's just something else Kansas City cannot have.
3. Tony Pena Jr.: because he can't hit.
4. A.J. Pierzynski.
A.J.P. is like the baseball version of Bill Laimbeer -- you hate him because he's annoying and almost every game he will do something that will get under your skin. As his manager, Ozzie Guillen, said in his inimitable way: "If you play against [A.J.], you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less."
But this gets to the point: There are those players -- the bulk of players -- who don't get booed or cheered. They are just there, in the middle, the other people in the crime lineup. Look at those A.J.P. comps. Terry Kennedy was a good player -- a four-time All-Star -- but when you search "Terry Kennedy" on Google, you get a full page of links to:
1. Someone's MySpace page. 2. A Wikipedia entry on Terry Kennedy the skateboarder. 3. Some YouTubes of Terry Kennedy the skateboarder. 4. More links about Terry Kennedy the skateboarder. 5. "Terry Kennedy's web page," which links some 19th century books on tunneling in New York. 6. A collection of suggested Terry Kennedy searches, the first one being "terry kennedy in jail."*
*Apparently this is Terry Kennedy the skateboarder again.
When you finally get to Terry Kennedy the baseball player's Wikipedia page, you are informed that he was "known for not wearing batting gloves." Really? That's it? A man dedicates his life to the game, becomes a college baseball star, gets drafted with the sixth overall pick, makes his way through the minors, gets traded, makes the All-Star team his first full year, is the main catcher for two World Series teams ... and people will come up to him and say: "Hey, aren't you the guy who didn't wear batting gloves?" That's what it's all about?*
*On the other hand, the Web site wezen-ball points out that another comp, Tony Pena, had the single most average season in baseball history in 1984 ... so he's got that going for him.
But that's the plight of most athletes. I always like the introductions at the All-Star Game -- not to hear the players who get the loudest cheers or the wildest boos but to catch those who get neither, the players the fans give that most tepid cheer that really says, "I have potentially heard of you."
Now, I am not speaking for anyone else, but Roddick was in this netherworld for me the last few years. I was, of course, plenty aware of him, knew all about his monster serve and knew that he was with Sports Illustrated cover model Brooklyn Decker -- apparently he saw her in SI and had his agent set them up.* I had seen him play lots of times, saw him win the U.S. Open in 2003. I once went out to a team tennis event to interview him, and for some reason or other the interview never happened, which was probably just as well because I probably didn't have anything I especially wanted to ask him. I did sit in on a few Roddick press conferences at various events, and they were perfectly uneventful. As brilliant readers point out: There are some better ones on YouTube.
*I actually have an agent too -- a literary agent. As far as I know, he doesn't set up clients with supermodels, but maybe as a happily married guy I've just not been asking the right questions.
Point is, though, that while I was fully aware of him, I never had any feelings about him -- positive or negative. He might be a nice guy or not. He might be a talented player who did not live up to his ability, or a limited player with a big serve who maximized his game -- I never really knew and didn't especially care to guess. I did not root for him or against him when he played. He was just a guy to me. I don't mean that to sound harsh -- think of the (at least) 80 people on the PGA Tour who you don't care one bit about.* That's about how I felt about Roddick. He's interesting and charismatic, but you can't make yourself care about an athlete any more than you can make yourself love William Faulkner or Charlie Parker if their words and music don't speak to you. I've never wished him well or ill; he was background music for me.
*If I had to pick a golfer who was the best comp for my feelings about Roddick, it would be Sergio Garcia. He won, he lost, he dated Martina Hingis, he did beer commercials ... whatever.
All of that changed on Sunday, though. Funny thing, Sunday morning -- for the first time in more than five years -- I went out and played tennis with friends. That sparked quite a few emotions (one of those being an emotion called "back pain" -- it still hurts, tennis at 42 is not like tennis at 36).
I used to be a moderately good tennis player, had a big and inconsistent serve, pretty good hands, and I could hit a variety of shots (though keeping them in was a whole other story). I was -- and I realize now that I'm getting into preposterously boring self-scouting on my tennis ... but this does fit in somewhere -- one of those players who looked really good in practice. People would watch me warm up -- or they would be on the other side of the warm-up -- and at that moment they thought I was REALLY good. But I wasn't REALLY good. I was a good wall player -- I could hit against a wall really well. I was a good machine player -- I could hit with authority against a tennis machine. I was a good warm-up player because I could always hit one or two good shots that looked completely out of place. But I was not so good in games because opponents had this nasty habit of not hitting the ball waist high at the proper speed.*
*Once I was in a match, and I was serve-and-volleying, and I hit a serve long. The guy hit a brilliant return down at my feet, and I put the racket behind my back and hit what would have been a clear winning volley through my legs. My opponent was stunned -- called it the single greatest shot he had ever seen. He then beat me like 6-2, 6-2.
In any case, I was absolutely awful starting out on Sunday. But slowly, very slowly, I started to get a little bit of my game back. It felt good, a bit like I was a kid again hitting balls against the brick wall outside the Harris Teeter shopping center in Charlotte. Of course, I wasn't hitting the ball as hard or as accurately or as consistently or, you know, over the net much of the time. But just playing tennis again brought back those memories when I believed, really believed, that I was going to be the next John McEnroe, the next Ivan Lendl, the next Bjorn Borg. I really thought I was going to be a professional tennis player. I lost my baseball dream before I entered high school. I clung to my ludicrous tennis dream for a little longer.