A REAL ACE

Ken Hoffman's favorite memories of his legendary tennis partner President George H.W. Bush

President Bush poses with Hoffman's young son after the tennis "incident." Photo by Ken Hoffman

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Mr. President, would you take a photo with my little boy?

“Absolutely, bring him over here,” former President George H.W. Bush said. “You need any help? You okay?”

Earlier that morning, I had played a doubles match at a charity event at Lakeside Country Club in Houston. It was Indian tennis great Vijay Amritraj and me against Chris Evert and Chuck Norris at Norris’ "Kick Drugs Out of America" fundraiser in 1999.

During the match, I heard a rumble go through the crowd. President Bush and his wife, Barbara, were being seated in the first row. They had brought Ranger the dog with them. Millie, their best-selling author dog, had passed on, and Ranger was their new pooch.

It was one of those moments when I wanted to call timeout and phone everybody I’ve ever known and tell them, "I can’t talk now, I’m playing tennis against Chuck Norris and Chris Evert. And President Bush is in the front row. Gotta go."

With the score tied, 3-3, Chris Evert was serving. She had been mocking me the whole match for staying behind the baseline and refusing to come to the net. She was wearing a microphone, and the crowd was enjoying her ridiculing me. “C’mon Miss Hoffman, get your butt to the net like a man!” After being the “Ice Maiden” her whole career, suddenly she was Shecky Evert. Amritraj, my partner, a Wimbledon doubles champion, ordered me to move forward.

I should have stuck to my guns, stuck behind the baseline. As Evert went into her service motion, Amritraj warned me to “stay alive up there.” I didn’t hear him clearly and turned my head to say, “Huh?”

Evert served as hard as she could and the ball hit me right in … how should I say this? How about my crotch area? 

Guys, you know how that feels. I crumbled to both knees. I couldn’t breathe. The crowd exploded in laughter. I was in pain, the wind knocked out of me. I was embarrassed or humiliated, whichever one is worse. I noticed Evert running toward me. I swear there were tears in her eyes. She was laughing that hard. “Are you going to write about this?” Evert said.

Presidential assist
I felt someone help me up from behind. The person said, “If you do, say ‘groin,’ it sounds nicer.”

It was former President Bush. I said, in a weak, high pitched gasp, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. President.”

After I was taken to the first aid tent, I limped back to the tennis court and played another match, this time with President Bush as my doubles partner. After the match, I asked President Bush to take a photo with my son, Andrew, who was 3 years old.

Andrew is a Gladney Center kid. President Bush was a Gladney grandparent.

Andrew sat next to the former leader of the free world, and I took a photo. I used a $4.99 disposable camera from Walgreen’s.  I took the film to the pharmacy to be developed that day. I’m not a photo ace. There have been times when I’ve heard, “Sorry, none of your photos came out. No charge.”

Please, not this time.

Picture-perfect
The photo could not have been more perfect. It’s President Bush, holding a camera and his tennis racket in one hand, my boy with the other. Best photo I’ve ever taken — sweetest photo anybody’s ever taken.

The next day, I called President Bush’s office on Memorial Drive. I told his secretary, “I don’t know if President Bush signs autographs, but I took a picture of him with my son yesterday. Tell him I’m the guy who got hit in the groin by Chris Evert. He’ll know who I am.” She said, “I’ll ask him. Bring the photos by.”

The next day, my phone rang. It was President Bush’s secretary. “Mr. Bush has signed your photo and he would like you to come by and get them. Can you come over now?”

What’s the speed limit on Memorial?

Ken, meet 41
I was given the once over by the Secret Service and walked into President Bush’s outer office. His secretary said, “He’s waiting for you. Just go inside.” President Bush motioned for me to sit down. He asked, “How are you feeling?” He was laughing, too. I was happy that my pain brought such joy to the president and Chris Evert.

“I’m fine, thank you for asking.”

President Bush said that he enjoyed my newspaper column. Wait, a former president of the United States reads my column? Then he said that Mrs. Bush reads my column in the morning, too. Is this a hidden camera show and the president is pranking me? 

Mr. Bush handed me the photo with my son. He wrote on it, “To Andrew Hoffman, have a wonderful life, big guy — love, George Bush.”

Wow! He wrote “love!” He called my baby “big guy! He also autographed another photo, one of him and me after our doubles match. He wrote, “Thanks for carrying a heavy load.”

The 41st president of the United States and I talked for about 45 minutes. I told him that I was at the Berlin Wall the day it came down. He was president at the time. We talked about other events during his presidency. After a while, he gave me a tour of his office. We walked into a small snack room where two young women were talking over coffee. He introduced them as his “interns.”

I asked, “Do you think it’s a good idea to say ‘interns'? You might want to use a different word.” This was only a couple of years after President Clinton’s scandal with his intern Monica Lewinsky.

From the White House to blue humor
President Bush laughed and said, “I still call them interns. We’re close … but no cigar.”

Great line! The president works blue! As the president said goodbye, he reached in his desk drawer. He said, “I wrote a note to you." (Twitter hadn't been invented yet.) I acted cool and put the note in my pocket. The moment the elevator door closed, I tore open the envelope. The note read:

Dear Ken,

Chrissie seemed pleased that she drilled you. I sent her your column. Here are the photos.

Sincerely, George Bush.

Netting a lasting relationship

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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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