Bo knows tennis?
Remember those old Nike commercials, when Bo Jackson was tearing it up on the football field and baseball diamond, and John McEnroe turned to the camera and asked, incredulously, if Bo knew tennis, too?
Bo didn’t really know tennis.
But UNLV has a couple of brothers who know baseball and tennis quite well.
Jason Sharman started 11 games in the outfield as a Rebels’ freshman and played in 28, collecting 14 hits in 48 at-bats for a .292 average. Younger brother Josh recently led Desert Oasis to its first 4A state championship, pitching three-plus innings of shutout relief and going 3-for-4 with an RBI in the title game.
The Sharmans also played No. 1 tennis doubles at Desert Oasis, where they were fond of bumping each other in the chest like the Bryan brothers on the pro circuit.
They will reunite at UNLV in fall to concentrate on baseball and academics. Both get straight A’s — “We always made sure they were students first and athletes second,” says father Jason — and will continue to live at home, so UNLV won’t have to carve its allotment of 11.7 baseball scholarships into even smaller pieces.
In addition to ground strokes and batting strokes and honor rolls and dean’s lists, the Sharman brothers also know American Legion baseball and the ESPN SportsCenter. They were stars on Desert Oasis’ American Legion team that advanced to last summer’s national championship game in Shelby, N.C., before losing 1-0 to Wilmington, Delaware.
Josh Sharman pitched seven shutout innings in the championship game. But, this being the media age, he’ll probably be bettered remembered for pulling off the hidden ball trick in the sixth inning. He faked a pickoff throw to second base, and when brother Jason, playing center field, and the other teammates feigned as if ball had sailed into the power alley, Wilmington’s runner was tagged out at third.
The deftly executed ruse was one of ESPN’s Plays of the Day.
“I got a couple of hundred (social media ) followers because of that,” Josh said.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 22, 2018
While combining tennis with baseball seems a bit unorthodox among multisport athletes, it’s not unheard of.
Before he became the pitching ace for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Zack Greinke served aces on the junior circuit in Florida. Greinke was something of a tennis prodigy. But when the pressure became too much, he turned to baseball.
Tennis was never that intense for the Sharman brothers, who said they played mostly because there wasn’t much else to do in the fall. But their mother also might have been an influence. Stacey Sharman played tennis at Emporia State in Kansas. When Jason and Josh played doubles, the latter used his mom’s pockmarked racket from college.
Despite the boys both being left-handed, they proved a formidable tandem.
“He had a really good backhand and I had a good forehand,” Jason said as Josh practically finished the sentence. They could have passed for twins until Josh let his blond hair grow long and curly.
“Tennis, the serve, is just like pitching — all that motion is the same,” Josh said winding up as if to throw a fastball or to serve one.
But when it comes to hitting a tennis ball, you can’t swing for the fences every time — although don’t try telling that to Andy Roddick in his day, or Venus Williams.
“Hitting the ball is a little bit different in tennis,” Jason said. “It’s not as much power, it’s more precision. It’s like making contact in baseball. The hand-eye coordination is the same.”
In baseball, when one makes contact, the whole field is in play. In tennis, as in golf, everything pretty much has to be over second base. And lobbing the ball in baseball generally is frowned upon, unless you’re trying to hang on as a spot starter by developing a slow curve and a change of pace.
“Baseball is more competitive, and everything about it is pretty much better,” Josh said after his mom had wandered out of earshot. “But tennis was more fun because I got to play it just with my brother.”
The Sharman boys say their focus is all on baseball now. Unlike Bo Jackson, they don’t seem too interested in that Tour de France thing.
Playing the fields
A partial list of major league ballplayers who excelled in individual sports:
— Mookie Betts (bowling)
— Sammy Byrd (golf)
— Tom Candiotti (bowling)
— Rick Rhoden (golf)
— Jackie Robinson (track and field)
— Ralph Terry (golf)
— Herb Washington (track and field)