Former MLB pitcher reveals a big secret about his new favorite outdoor activity.

by Jonah Bayliss

I can feel a small bead of sweat nervously forming on my brow. My warmups are complete. The butterflies are beginning to congregate in my stomach, accompanied by a rollercoaster of self-doubting thoughts and positive affirmations. 

Am I as good as everyone else? I’ve put a lot of work in! Do I belong here? I’ve got this! Am I ready? OK, I’m ready!

“Jonah, you’re in!”

No, I’m not closing game seven of the World Series for the New York Yankees—a dream that isn’t so implausible given the fact that I am, in fact, a former major league baseball pitcher—this, friends, is pickleball.

It’s funny to me to think that, though I’ve actually pitched in Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field and countless other fabled gladiator arenas of sport, I find myself just as worked up to step on the pickleball court than to run to the pitcher’s mound.

When my professional baseball career was over, I went searching for a physical activity that would fill that void of competitive camaraderie with its ups, downs, laughter and frustrations, while offering feelings of accomplishment and enjoyment.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think the answer would be pickleball. I mean…seriously?

The design of the game and its unwritten code of ethics lends the perfect concoction for anyone to try and enjoy. I have left many pickleball games with blisters and road rashes and spent other games with a solo cup in my hand—and equally enjoyed both.

As Nancy Fedder, a former magazine industry executive and current unofficial pickleball ambassador for Girl Pickleball (#GPB) says, “If there’s any one thing that can bring people together, it’s pickleball.”

As a pickleball enthusiast and regular player, Fedder says she continues to be fascinated by the sport’s uniting power. “You wouldn’t believe the groups of insanely different people who come together to play in Central Park.” The game or is-it-a-sport? has steered her to an expanded circle of friends and a healthier self.

It’s worth noting, however, that it may not be all fun and games. “You have to stretch before playing pickleball,” Fedder warns and follows it with her cautionary tale of the time she tore her Achilles tendon.

Amy Barr, a writer with a home Upstate, also shares some personal woes from the court. Her family installed a court at their home, which has become a centerpiece for family gatherings and holidays. It was on that very court, where they find so much joy, that Amy found herself with a broken wrist.

And then there’s numerous stories like that of Gina Menza, a yoga instructor who, trying pickleball for the very first time, broke her wrist backpedaling on a court that was improperly swept. But, she said, “the first 40 minutes were spectacular.”

For any fence-straddling picklers out there, this article is meant as a friendly reminder to make sure your court is clear and don’t feel embarrassed to stretch for your “exaggerated ping pong” match. It’s certainly not intended to deter. After all, you may miss out on fun, healthy exercise and new friends.

Pickleball may not quite be Yankee Stadium, but it’s in the ballpark. I would know.

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