For $2.20 an Hour, the U.S. Open’s First Ball Boys Held Court With the Greats

Rich, left, and Tom McEvily were ball boys at the first U.S. Open in 1968 and say it was the “best job we ever had.”

The McEvily brothers — Tom and Rich — were ball boys at the inaugural United States Open in 1968.

“Best job we ever had,” said Tom McEvily, now 67 and the president of an insurance brokerage in White Plains. “We got paid $2.20 an hour to watch the greatest players in the world compete against each other. It was just incredible.”

At the time, McEvily was a member of the Fordham Prep tennis program in the Bronx. For two decades, it sent players to the U.S. Open to work as ball boys, turning a minimum wage job into a priceless fantasy for teenagers in love with the game.

“My tennis coach, Pat Rooney, continued to send many of his Fordham Prep players to the Open for years until his death in 1986,” McEvily said. “Despite the fact that Rich went to a different high school, Coach Rooney would always say, ‘Why don’t you take your little brother along?’ ”

Rich McEvily, now 65 and the senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Hertz, in Estero, Fla., isn’t quite sure how he and his ball boy brethren will fit into the Open’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

But he has an idea.

“For the Open’s 40th anniversary, they celebrated and brought back old players and umpires and so many others, but they didn’t bring back any ball boys,” he said, laughing. “I thought that we were critical to the history of this tournament, weren’t we?”

While the McEvilys, who grew up in Larchmont, N.Y., may not be a part of the Open’s official history, they are proud to have witnessed some of its history as it happened.

“It was a time where we got to see the Rod Lavers, the Ken Rosewalls, the John Newcombs and the Cliff Drysdales of the world, who were all pros,” Rich McEvily said. “And then there was Arthur Ashe, who was an amateur that first year. …”

“And he won the men’s title,” Tom McEvily said, finishing his brother’s sentence.

From their up-close-and-personal perches, the McEvilys were involved in a fair share of odd ball boy happenings at that first U.S. Open.

“As ball boys, we went out there in teams of six and got rated by the umpires,” Rich McEvily said. “In one of my first matches, the umpire was sitting in a wooden chair, and one of the guys threw a ball and hit him in the head, and all I could think of was: Well, that’s the end of my ball boy career.”

Then he brought up Torben Ulrich.

“Ulrich was a Danish player who didn’t have a lot of tolerance for people,” he said. “At one point in a match one of our guys did something wrong, and Ulrich winged the ball at the fence right next to his head and all you heard was BOOM!”

Yet nothing was more bizarre, he said, than the time he was approached by a man trying to obtain a patent for what could only be described as a “ball boy scooper.”

“This thing was basically a badminton racket with a net stapled to it,” he recalled. “It was supposed to be an easier way to pick up loose balls, but it really didn’t work. I used it for two matches and got rid of it.”

And while it is every ball boy’s mission to remain unnoticed, Tom McEvily and several of his Fordham Prep buddies had the misfortune of being noticed while taking sports drinks from a cooler meant only for players.

As punishment, they had to work an extra doubles match.

“Believe me, we learned our lesson,” he said, laughing.

The McEvily brothers went on to play college tennis at Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and the U.S. Open played on at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens, until 1978, when it moved to its current location in Flushing Meadows.

“I loved watching John McEnroe any time he played, though I didn’t always appreciate his temper and his antics on the court,” Tom McEvily said. “But he had such great intensity, and he was left-handed, like I was.”

“My favorite player was Rod Laver,” he continued. “He had a drive to be physically fit, and a determination to win.”

From Ashe to McEnroe to Navratilova to Seles to Federer to the Williams sisters and hundreds of players in between, so much of the game has changed in the past half-century, Tom McEvily said.

“It’s gone more from a serve-and-volley game to a baseline game with players just pounding the ball,” he said. Then, referring to Tom Okker, he added, “We’ve gone from the days when Ashe and Okker were playing with wooden rackets to a nowaday guy like Rafael Nadal, who can hit the ball so hard, with so much intensity, it’s a miracle his arm doesn’t fall off.”

The ball was back in Rich McEvily’s court.

“If you want to talk power, it’s hard to ignore Serena Williams,” he said, “I saw Martina Navratilova back in the day, but Serena, man, it’s just another level.”

The U.S. Open is now 50 years old, and the McEvily brothers, who still play tennis, are both grandfathers.

“It was an honor for us to have served as ball boys at the U.S. Open,” Rich McEvily said. “Best job we ever had.”

In Other News

For $2.20 an Hour, the U.S. Open’s First Ball Boys Held Court With the Greats

Rich, left, and Tom McEvily were ball boys at the first U.S. Open in 1968 and say it was the “best job we ever had.”

The McEvily brothers — Tom and Rich — were ball boys at the inaugural United States Open in 1968.

“Best job we ever had,” said Tom McEvily, now 67 and the president of an insurance brokerage in White Plains. “We got paid $2.20 an hour to watch the greatest players in the world compete against each other. It was just incredible.”

At the time, McEvily was a member of the Fordham Prep tennis program in the Bronx. For two decades, it sent players to the U.S. Open to work as ball boys, turning a minimum wage job into a priceless fantasy for teenagers in love with the game.

“My tennis coach, Pat Rooney, continued to send many of his Fordham Prep players to the Open for years until his death in 1986,” McEvily said. “Despite the fact that Rich went to a different high school, Coach Rooney would always say, ‘Why don’t you take your little brother along?’ ”

Rich McEvily, now 65 and the senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Hertz, in Estero, Fla., isn’t quite sure how he and his ball boy brethren will fit into the Open’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

But he has an idea.

“For the Open’s 40th anniversary, they celebrated and brought back old players and umpires and so many others, but they didn’t bring back any ball boys,” he said, laughing. “I thought that we were critical to the history of this tournament, weren’t we?”

While the McEvilys, who grew up in Larchmont, N.Y., may not be a part of the Open’s official history, they are proud to have witnessed some of its history as it happened.

“It was a time where we got to see the Rod Lavers, the Ken Rosewalls, the John Newcombs and the Cliff Drysdales of the world, who were all pros,” Rich McEvily said. “And then there was Arthur Ashe, who was an amateur that first year. …”

“And he won the men’s title,” Tom McEvily said, finishing his brother’s sentence.

From their up-close-and-personal perches, the McEvilys were involved in a fair share of odd ball boy happenings at that first U.S. Open.

“As ball boys, we went out there in teams of six and got rated by the umpires,” Rich McEvily said. “In one of my first matches, the umpire was sitting in a wooden chair, and one of the guys threw a ball and hit him in the head, and all I could think of was: Well, that’s the end of my ball boy career.”

Then he brought up Torben Ulrich.

“Ulrich was a Danish player who didn’t have a lot of tolerance for people,” he said. “At one point in a match one of our guys did something wrong, and Ulrich winged the ball at the fence right next to his head and all you heard was BOOM!”

Yet nothing was more bizarre, he said, than the time he was approached by a man trying to obtain a patent for what could only be described as a “ball boy scooper.”

“This thing was basically a badminton racket with a net stapled to it,” he recalled. “It was supposed to be an easier way to pick up loose balls, but it really didn’t work. I used it for two matches and got rid of it.”

And while it is every ball boy’s mission to remain unnoticed, Tom McEvily and several of his Fordham Prep buddies had the misfortune of being noticed while taking sports drinks from a cooler meant only for players.

As punishment, they had to work an extra doubles match.

“Believe me, we learned our lesson,” he said, laughing.

The McEvily brothers went on to play college tennis at Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and the U.S. Open played on at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens, until 1978, when it moved to its current location in Flushing Meadows.

“I loved watching John McEnroe any time he played, though I didn’t always appreciate his temper and his antics on the court,” Tom McEvily said. “But he had such great intensity, and he was left-handed, like I was.”

“My favorite player was Rod Laver,” he continued. “He had a drive to be physically fit, and a determination to win.”

From Ashe to McEnroe to Navratilova to Seles to Federer to the Williams sisters and hundreds of players in between, so much of the game has changed in the past half-century, Tom McEvily said.

“It’s gone more from a serve-and-volley game to a baseline game with players just pounding the ball,” he said. Then, referring to Tom Okker, he added, “We’ve gone from the days when Ashe and Okker were playing with wooden rackets to a nowaday guy like Rafael Nadal, who can hit the ball so hard, with so much intensity, it’s a miracle his arm doesn’t fall off.”

The ball was back in Rich McEvily’s court.

“If you want to talk power, it’s hard to ignore Serena Williams,” he said, “I saw Martina Navratilova back in the day, but Serena, man, it’s just another level.”

The U.S. Open is now 50 years old, and the McEvily brothers, who still play tennis, are both grandfathers.

“It was an honor for us to have served as ball boys at the U.S. Open,” Rich McEvily said. “Best job we ever had.”

In Other News

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