From now on, I do two things at once. I eat? I play tennis. I sleep? I play tennis. I shovel the snow? I play tennis.
There is no time to waste. There is no time to lose. I am on a mission. My mission is to cash in on this sudden burst of sports money — before it disappears. My mission began five minutes ago, when I called Aaron Krickstein to talk about his weekend in Munich. Now the phone is in one hand, the racket in the other. I speak — I play tennis. Two things at once.
“Tell me again,” I say to Krickstein, as I bounce balls off the kitchen wall. “Tell me about this tournament. The one where the winner got . . . how much?”
“Two million dollars,” he says. “Runner-up got $1 million.”
“How did you do?”
“I only won my first match. I made $300,000.”
I whack the ball. It knocks over the microwave. Two million dollars? For a single tennis tournament? Against the same guys you play every week? Come on, give me a racket. How hard can this be? You wear shorts. You yell at umpires. How hard can it be?
“Tell me again,” I say, switching to the backhand and knocking over the can opener, “tell me about the food at Munich.”
“It was all you can eat,” says Krickstein. “A lot of filet mignon. Pasta. Big dessert table. All free. And every player had his own locker room. Private lounge. Your name on the door.”
“Tell me again,” I say, switching to the serve and knocking over the toaster, “tell me about the car.”
“Well, every player got his own car and driver. Wherever you wanted to go. The driver just waited in the lobby or at the stadium until you needed him.”
“What kind of car?” I ask.
“BMW,” he says.
I whack a forehand. It hits the dog. Warm-up guys got $50,000
That’s it. I will play every minute of every day. After all, this tennis money is really something, even better than the $2 million they give football players, even better than the $5 million they gave Hot Rod Williams to play basketball. Hey, that was for a year’s work. Not a week. True, I know boxers who earn $10 million for one night. But they have to call a cab to get them out of bed the next morning.
Not tennis players — although I’m sure a limo was available to take them to the bathroom, if they wanted. Especially at this tournament, the Grand Slam Cup, a first-time event for the game’s top players and obviously some corporate sponsor’s new idea on how to go bankrupt.
“Tell me again,” I say to Krickstein, as I practice drop shots into the fireplace, “tell me about the alternates. That’s my favorite part.”
“Well, they were two guys who hung around all week, warming up the other players.”
“Warming up the other players?” I repeat. “And how much were they paid for that?”
“Fifty thousand,” he says.
“Fifty thousand,” I repeat.
Am I crazy? Can someone really make money this way — paying winners $2 million and warm-up guys $50,000? In tennis? The final was between Pete Sampras and Brad Gilbert. Forgive me for saying this, but if someone told you right now that Pete Sampras and Brad Gilbert were playing tennis down the street, would you even hit your brakes?
But there I go, being logical again.
“Tell me,” I say to Krickstein, hitting balls into the laundry room, “were there any special festivities with this tournament?”
“Oh, yeah. At the opening ceremonies they had the rock group a-ha. They played for a half hour. Then Placido Domingo cam out and sang.”
“The opera star?” I say.
“Uh-huh,” he says.
“Placido Domingo? At a tennis tournament?”
I serve a ball into the washing machine. Time out: Here comes baseball
Now, understand. I hold no grudge against Krickstein. He is a good kid, and a smart one. Someone offered two million dollars, and he had the sense to say, “Count me in.”
It’s the rest of the world that makes no sense. Where is all this sports money coming from? Five million for this guy? Eight million for that one? Two million for a tennis match? Can TV rights really cover all this? And if so, how come our parents always told us, “Stop playing sports and concentrate on your schoolwork. Don’t you want a good job?”
I don’t know. Two million for one week sounds like a good job to me.
And so I am training. I am making up for lost time. Tennis is my passion. I shower? I play tennis. I walk the dog? I play tennis. I figure, another year, maybe two, I’ll be ready for Munich, at least as an alternate. Hey. I can warm people up. For $50,000, I’ll even bring the matches.
I hang up with Krickstein. The phone rings again.
“Listen,” whispers a friend, “baseball’s gone even crazier than tennis. They’re giving $6 million to guys who can’t hit their weight.”
Where’s my glove?
Mitch Albom will sign copies of his new book “Live Albom II” tonight, 7 p.m. at Little Professor, Brighton; Friday, 7 p.m. B Dalton, Port Huron; Saturday, 1 p.m. Book Stall, Flushing, and 4 p.m. Waldenbooks, State Street, Ann Arbor.