This is another chapter from my Bats' book—to be published Spring 2020
“We watched the best [tennis] player in Harwich Port”
Bats’ father was a great tennis player. When he was nine or ten years old his dad asked an excellent tennis pro on the Cape, Roy Barker, to come over and give Bats lessons on the Rockwood court.
From that time on, Bats played lots of tennis, and became a ranked New England tennis player. At Harvard, he played on the tennis team before getting more involved with squash—which he continued to play for a long time. He competed in tournaments all over New England, serving on the board of New England Senior Tennis Foundation for many years. He was a member of the Longwood Cricket Club—one of the world’s oldest tennis clubs, founded in 1877 and moving to Chestnut Hill, MA in 1922. He belonged to tennis clubs in Harwich Port, MA
I was fortunate to play a number of times with Bats and Mercy at Longwood. With 25 superbly maintained grass courts plus 20 clay courts, this club still has an all-white tennis dress code. I once brought a banker friend from Pickens, SC to Longwood. This guy featured himself an outstanding tennis player and had bought ‘whites’ specifically for our Longwood match with Mercy and Bats. I’ll never forget the look on his face when Mercy aced him with her first serve on that grass court. It was downhill for John and me from that point on.
Stocky Clark, Brooks’ brother and distant cousin of Bats and Mercy took us sailing on his catamaran the summer of 2015 off Wychmere Harbor. Stocky told me the following about the Wheeler’s and tennis playing on Cape Cod:
I am part of the larger clan of Clarks and Cushwas. …We are related thru the 4 Cheever sisters and we have always been bound by a sense of kinship and gratitude to the Wheelers over several generations….
We all enjoyed tennis, but never to the level that Bats and Mercy maintained for so many years. A friend and I were just learning to play tennis on the Rockwood’s tennis court. I remember Bats showing up with an opponent. He un-assumedly asked how our tennis was going! We jumped and quickly gathered our balls and vacated, so we could watch the best player in Harwich Port. What a delight to see his always consistent strokes and slice backhand.
As we got older, I was able to play Bats a few times and Mercy many times. Always fun and competitive.
We have spent many hours on their [Wheeler] deck looking over the harbor…Mercy’s endless joy and Bats’ interesting prospective on the world were wonderful.
On one of Bats’ numerous trips to South Carolina, he and I teamed up to play doubles against my Greenville lawyer and his son, Dave Merline and Dave Merline, Jr. We played on clay at the prestigious Greenville Country Club—a tennis bastion. The Merlines were excellent players, but Bats and I played our best that day and beat them on their home court.
Bats and Mercy played lots of mixed doubles together. One match in the finals of a Mid-Cape Tournament, Bats double-faulted in the third and final set. Mercy said to him, “I can’t believe you did that, Bats.” Bats, who had a fine reputation for always being a gentleman on the tennis courts, merely said, “I didn’t mean to.”
They often played on the 4th. of July weekend in Woodstock, Vermont with Danny and Karen Mayers. Mercy would pair up with Danny and Bats with Karen as mixed-doubles’ partners. “It was always a fun tournament. Danny was a great tennis player and one day we played so hard, Bats got over-heated and jumped into a local Vermont stream to cool off.”
Bats consistently wore two pairs of socks on each foot, neither ever matched. “His tennis attire always left something to be desired,”
One year we ran into a friend of Bats at a funeral of Bats’ client. We asked him, “If you were going on a trip, where would you go? He said, “Oh my G.., you’ve got to go to Australia and see the Australian Open Tennis Tournament. We booked it with our travel agent, who suggested the Langdon Hotel telling us it was within walking distance of the matches. They served enormous breakfasts so we didn’t have to eat lunch. We had great seats and watched tennis almost every day from 2 PM until 10 PM. I remember watching the Bryan twins play amazing doubles….That was our last big trip.
Years before, Bats and I went to Bermuda and played with Mike and Sue Hazard at the Coral Beach Club. We never won anything but had a great time.
In September 2019 the tennis club Bats helped found on the Cape alerted Mercy that they’d like to have a BATS WHEELER MEMORIAL TENNIS TOURNAMENT. Mercy was delighted. On September 14, 2019, George Jr. wrote the following:
Just before I collapse into bed, I promised Mercy I would write a note to you to let you know what a tremendous success the “Bats Wheeler Memorial Tennis Tournament” of the Harwich Port Tennis Association, held in gorgeous, perfect weather conditions today, turned out to be. Mercy did a wonderful job of introducing Bats and his tennis background to a very large group of contestants, many of whom, although not all, had known him and his important role in founding the HPTA - and realized he had been one of the best players here for many years. . . . It was won by Gil Daley and Mike Miller—prominent Boston tennis players, … Bats apparently had known each of them for quite a while. Mercy, as you can imagine, kept in close touch with everyone there throughout the day. Emily was here, as well as Ian and Judy Duncan. ….
Mercy plainly was … delighted with the tournament and extremely gratified that everyone there knew about Bats and the reason for the event. The Club, fortunately, has an excellent young professional who kept everything running on schedule. The whole thing was a great success!
Winners of the 2019 Bats Wheeler Memorial Tennis Tournament, Harwich Port, Massachusetts—Gill Daley and Mike Miller with Mercy and their trophy (made from one of Bats’ racquets).