I recently relished my first taste of pickleball. Ranch & Coast Magazine held a well-attended, inaugural Pickleball with a Purpose charity fundraiser on April 29 at Bobby Riggs Racket & Paddle in Encinitas. Brine eyes have seen the glory!
Some facts about pickleball are jarring. It’s the fastest growing sport in the country for the third year in a row. Governing body USA Pickleball reports there are now 8.9 million players. A national championship will be held in November. Earlier this year, on ESPN, I watched four tennis icons participate in a Pickleball Slam exhibition: Michael Chang, Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi, and John McEnroe.
The fad has gone mainstream. The sport is legit. But let’s dish about a real problem. What’s the dill with the name? Stop gherkin us around and give the game a proper title.
Baseball. Football. Basketball. There’s descriptive information in these sports’ monikers. I didn’t see pickleball pros Callan Dawson or Irina Tereschenko serve a single pickle on-court at the Bobby Riggs facility. Players used hard plastic polymer paddles to smack yellow wiffle balls back and forth. Nothing that could be mistaken for a deli side dish was part of the game action.
Nobody I asked at my pickleball coming-out party could explain the origin of the name. A few people mentioned an apocryphal story about it being named after a co-founder’s dog. (Yes, back in the late 1960s, Joel Pritchard had a dog named Pickles. However, the dog arrived on the scene after the game had been established.)
Multiple websites credit Pritchard’s wife, Joan, with naming rights. She noted the game was derived from a mishmash of other sports (tennis, baseball, and especially badminton). This odd combination reminded her of the “pickle boat” team in crew competitions, on which leftover rowers from other teams were lumped.
Thing is, modern pickleball is no longer a sport for leftovers. It had been described as tennis for people who’ve blown out knees or are approaching hip-replacement age, but that’s not the case anymore.
During the event, Leucadian Matt Rachow told me he crossed over from tennis. Sure, he said the pickleball barrier to entry is lower. That makes it easier to find an evenly matched opponent. Still, he said pickleball started as a finesse game but has evolved. Volleys are hit with some velocity. You do have to put some effort into navigating around the court.
Two local celebs who participated in the Ranch & Coast fundraiser included Fox 5 (KSWB-TV) reporter Jaime Chambers and 91X radio alum/podcast veteran Chris Cantore. Both said this event was also their introduction to the sport. Even as rookies, though, each speared some winning shots over the net.
Their game wasn’t exactly a Vlasic. But it was as Claussen as you could get. See? That’s what happens when a sport shares a name with a fermented cucumber.
“On the Sunny Side” columnist Ron Donoho is a veteran contributor and editor of downtown-centric thesandiegosun.com.