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A Little Running, Maybe
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"A little exercise," the doctor told me -- "that's all." He wasn't asking much, mind you, just something to get me out of my desk chair a few hours a week. A little running, maybe. Or some tennis or golf. I wasn't getting any younger, you know, and not any thinner, either.

Jogging seemed the best bet, a chance to be fashionably healthy. I'd get to wear those running shoes and other trendy things with the labels on the outside that showed the wearer to be a bona fide member of the smart set. No more scruffy sneakers and beer for me. I'd join the fashionable white wine crowd.

But you know what those stylish shoes cost, and that other fancy gear. You can buy a lot of beer for that, and lots of white wine, too.

That called for investigation. I quickly discovered I wasn't likely to get anywhere near my money's worth. I watched joggers closely, everywhere they went. Rarely did I see anyone else watching them closely -- or watching them at all.

The joggers were much too concerned with themselves to notice the brand of anyone else's shoes. The non-runners were being compassionate, I suppose, or at any rate avoiding what were not pretty sights and sounds, given the groaning, moaning, grunting, grimacing, panting, sweating and flab flopping going on about them.

So jogging, it turned out, was merely exercise for the sake of exercise, something to be done merely for your health.

It was like those physical education classes in school. You remember, I'm sure, the outrageously energetic teachers in gray sweatshirts, whistles dangling from cords around their necks, loudly badgering everybody to do calisthenics, run around in circles and otherwise get all sweaty and winded.

That's pretty much why I spent my youth playing team sports -- to escape regular PE classes and that business of "Tweet! Tweet! All right now! One, two ... one, two!" To huff and puff without winning or losing made no sense then, or now either. There'd be no fancy footwear for me.

But tennis, I thought -- that might do. It is a game, after all. Resides, I had fond memories of tennis, thanks to Pancho Gonzalez and a young lady named Doris.

It was Doris who first tried to teach me tennis. That was in the 1950s, when I was an 18-year-old infielder playing baseball in the Southwestern Oregon League. Doris and her girl friends from the local high school would be at our home field whenever we were practicing, bouncing all over the tennis court just beyond the far end of the left field foul line, in white tennis skirts, those white tennis sweaters with red, white and blue trim, the whole works.

We spent a lot of our time shagging fly halls in left field, no matter what else we were supposed to be doing. We even tried tennis, which we considered one of those pointless "sissy sports" most people played just "to stay in shape." Doris, however, convinced me that swinging a tennis racket would strengthen my wrists so I could hit a baseball a long way. Which is of course why I stayed after baseball practice just about every day to get lessons from Doris.

A few years later, after I had abandoned baseball in favor of journalism and, eventually, a political reporter's job, I was pressed into emergency service as a sportswriter by my employer, The Associated Press. My first assignment was to interview Pancho Gonzalez, then one of the world's leading tennis players -- me, who couldn't even remember the rules of the game.

As a matter of fact, about all I could remember about tennis was that the players ran around in skimpy white clothes that could be quite attractive on someone like Doris. But Pancho turned out to be a very nice man who told a lot of very funny jokes about many subjects other than tennis. They made for a great story, although my boss remarked -- and rather harshly, I thought -- that most newspapers probably printed it in their entertainment or comics section rather than on the sports page.

Tennis, in any case, would be my path to the health and fitness endorsed by my doctor. However ... have you ever played tennis atop a windy San Francisco hill? Specifically, have you ever played tennis on the windy hill just above our house? On the tennis courts that are almost always free, for very good, windy reasons?

If you have ever tried that, if you have ever had all your serves, all your forehands and backhands, your every shot, blown far to the left, or far to the right -- every damn one of them -- then you know why tennis would not be my path to health and fitness after all.

I suppose I could have tried tennis on lower, less wind-blown ground. But golf suddenly was sounding like a much better idea. No running, no swatting at a moving ball. Only a little slow walking around, looking at nice scenery and occasionally whacking a ball that just sits there waiting to be whacked.

I even took golf lessons. Nevertheless, every one of the golfers I knew played much better than I could manage -- so much better I wasn't about to risk my fragile ego by playing with them. I recruited my wife Gerry as a partner.

Gerry also took lessons. But though she is a great teacher, a great cook and other great things, Gerry is not a great golfer. She is not a mediocre golfer. She is a lousy golfer. Her scores on the nine-hole course where we started our play would have been great, though -- had we been bowling. I told her so, too. And there went my partner, and my efforts to reach better health through golf.

But I did promise I eventually will engage in the healthful sweating the doctor prescribed, just as soon as he can convince the San Francisco Giants to give me a job at second base. Or at shortstop if they prefer.

Copyright Dick Meister