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November 25, 2014 10:48 PM
Hank_Paskiewicz_(3)When Hank Paskiewicz, 84, was growing up, tennis was the furthest thing on his mind.  He wanted to be a professional baseball player and he eventually became one.  An infielder, Hank played six years in the minor leagues, four of those in New Mexico for the now long-gone Clovis Pioneers.  (Shameless plug: You can read about Hank’s baseball career in a just-published book of mine titled Bush League Boys: The Postwar Legends of Baseball in the American Southwest, UNM Press.) Hank gave up playing baseball in 1958 and went on to become a schoolteacher in Albuquerque. He coached baseball and taught history for 20 years at Sandia High School. His boys’ baseball teams at Sandia won three state championships. Along the way, he picked up tennis and became very good player.
Why didn’t you play tennis as a kid?
You kidding?  If you were walking around the South Side of Chicago, where I lived, and you were wearing shorts, they’d throw rocks at you.  Tennis wasn’t on my radar.
Did you know anybody who played?  
There was this older guy who lived next door and he played. But he was kind of odd. Tennis was not a thing for us.  We never even saw it.  Baseball was everything. There was no Little League, but Chicago had a lot of good public parks and I played at three different parks on three different teams.  I loved the game. Eventually I signed a pro contract and that’s how I wound up in New Mexico.
When did you start playing tennis?
I was about 34 or 35.  I had begun teaching at Harrison Junior High in the South Valley.  John Garrison was also a teacher there and we became lifelong friends.  John and I tried golf at first. We went to Los Altos, but golf wasn’t our thing. One day we bought some tennis rackets and balls, maybe at Kmart, I can’t remember. We went out and hit with each other at Beverly Park.
Did you take lessons?
No, never. We watched others and we learned how to keep score.  One day our wives asked Sue Jollensten and someone to play doubles against us.  We thought we were hot stuff until they kicked our butts. After a while and a lot of practice, we started playing some tournaments.  Age-group tournaments. We started at the 35s.  
Did you travel outside New Mexico?
As we got better we went to the Southwest in Phoenix and we won that tournament several times. John and I were ranked a lot in the Southwest.  We played in the 40s, 45s, 50s, 55s, and so on. I played a lot of USTA league tennis, too. John and I won the New Mexico Open a few times when it was played at TCA. One year we went to Baton Rouge for the Senior Olympics.  I won the 60 singles and John and I won the 60 doubles. I was 63. It was over a hundred degrees and I didn’t lose a set.  They put us on a platform and presented us with medals. I couldn’t believe it.
Where else did you go?  
We used to go to El Paso tournaments. Taos also had a good tournament.  I played against Dick Mechem, I remember.  I think we broke even in singles. One summer my wife Dodie and I went with Dick Gorman on one of his tennis trips to Europe.  We played in the Czech Republic, in Germany, in Italy.  All red-clay courts.  Dick did a wonderful job organizing things.  He really loved tennis.
You had tough opponents through the years, didn’t you?
Oh, we used to battle Bob Howard from Scottsdale and Tom Springer from Cloudcroft.  Springer, he was a big tall sonofagun. Really tough. Lots of times John and I faced John Simmons and Roger Coad.  One year, in 1994, I think, I was named senior player of the year in northern New Mexico.
Do you still play?
I stopped playing tournaments when I was about 65.  I play fun doubles now at Highpoint, twice a week, sometimes three times. Different guys swap in. Ken Hanks, Don Strunk, Mike Dana, Tom Meyer, Jerry Carlisle and Tom Tumolillo. 
Did playing baseball all those years help you with tennis?
Oh, gosh yeah. Hitting a tennis ball is a lot like hitting a baseball. They both involve hand-eye coordination.   When they show someone on television hitting a tennis ball, you see their eyes staying right on the ball as it hits the racket.  In baseball, you watch a good hitter and he keeps his eye on the ball as it touches his bat. If you don’t do that, you probably pop up or strike out.  In tennis if you don’t keep your eye on the ball, you probably lose the point.
Do you watch a lot of tennis on television?
Tennis and baseball. Sometimes both at once.  I’m pretty quick with that clicker and my wife gets on me about that.  I love the athleticism of that fat Panda, Pablo Sandoval of the Giants.  How he gets his body to stretch out for ground balls is something.
Who do you like in tennis?
Federer.  I like him better than anyone. He’s got class and he’s beautiful to watch.
And baseball players? Do you have a favorite?
Mike Trout of the Angels, no question.  He does it all.  Hits for power, is a great fielder, has a strong arm and lots of speed.  By the way, Joe Morgan (the Hall of Fame second-baseman and broadcaster) he plays a lot of tennis.  He’s really good. He’s a 5.0 player, I hear.
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