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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
By Herb Benham
To remember Bakersfield, I gave him a carton of four chocolate chip cookies from Jake's and a copy of "First Kisses and Other Miracles," my first book, which spent 197 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List.
Last week, we housed Andre Dome, a 23-year-old tennis pro from Arroyo Grande.
Andre was playing in the Futures Tournament held at the Bakersfield Racquet Club. Polite, funny a great guest, we fell in love with Andre. If our children falter, Andre makes the living trust.
"Can you put up a player for a few days?" asked Stockdale head pro, Hank Pfister. "I know his coach, and he speaks highly of him."
We have five bedrooms, four of them unused since the children deserted us. How do you say no?
We've taken on cats, dogs, car and gardening projects but it was even better having somebody at the table telling stories about tennis, Indonesia (his mother's home) and Mexico, China and Turkey (places he's played or will play).
It's payback, too. When I played junior tennis in Southern California in the late '60s and early '70s, out-of-town players were housed by families in Long Beach, Fullerton, Beverly Hills and L.A. I remember pancakes and bacon for breakfast, and barbecued hamburgers for dinner.
Andre graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in five years with a degree in industrial technology. A college-educated tennis player. Impressive.
His diet was impressive, too. No alcohol during tournaments. No desserts. No late nights. He did eat the oatmeal chocolate chip muffins I made, but that was as wild as he got.
Funny, how quickly you slip into the parent/child relationship. Dinners included Andre. On a night dinner wasn't planned, Andre texted and said, "Just letting you know that I'm gonna head to dinner with a couple tennis buddies and I'll be back in a few hours."
Checking in. Now, was that so hard? Andre is in the trust. I'm bumping the non-checker-inners.
Andre had to work his way through two rounds of qualifying in order to get in the main draw of 32. Andre won his first match. I was calm.
I was less calm during the second match. I couldn't sit. When you have a horse in the race, you want him to cross the wire first.
After Andre won his second match, We were in the main draw. Yes, we. We are a team.
Watch Federer, Djokovic and Nadal, the announcers talk about their camps, the people in their boxes who are on the players' team -- massage therapists, spouses, girlfriends, parents and childhood friends. We were in Andre's camp.
Now, we played a Brazilian who had been No. 1 at Duke for four years. He had been ranked in the 400s at one time. That's OK. You've seen one Brazilian, you've seen them all.
This one, a lefty, was smooth and crafty, but surely he would be no match for Andre, who hit two-handed off both sides. Son, you might as well call Brazilian Air because you're going home.
The match started. Andre lost the first set. That's OK -- we have the second set to look forward to. Andre lost that one too. Suddenly, Andre was out of the tournament, and Andre's team had decamped.
A few hours later, Andre called.
"Herb (he pronounced it Erb), my dad is here and we're going to leave. I wanted to say goodbye."
I met Andre and his father at the house with the book and the chocolate chip cookies. We shook hands. I gave him some last minute advice on his backhand, which, if he were smart, he forgot immediately.
He was on to Calabasas and the next tournament. Then, China and parts unknown. Go forth, smile and pound your way through the rest of the world. Your camp wishes you well.
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On His Rocker
Visit with Herb on his front porch as he muses about life and all its absurdities in his series of videos at bakersfield.com.
These are the opinions of Herb Benham and not necessarily The Californian's.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. HERB BENHAM: Nice to be part of the tennis team again Herb Benham Californian columnist