“We watched the best [tennis] player in Harwichport”
Bats had been a top New England tennis player and at Harvard, he played on the tennis team before getting more involved with squash—which he continued to play for a long time too. 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 and tennis clubs in Harwich Port, MA.
Among many significant events played at Longwood was my idol, Arthur Ashe’s 1968 victory in the only National Amateur Championship that remains one of the game’s great historical moments. The first Davis Cup tournament was also played at Longwood.
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 who featured himself an outstanding tennis player. He’d bought ‘whites’ just 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, a close friend of Bats and Mercy told me a couple of stories 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 unassumedly asked how our tennis was going! We jumped and quickly gathered our balls and vacated, so we could watch the best player in Harwichport. What a delight to see his always consistent strokes and slice backhand. …
We have spent many hours on their deck looking over the harbor…Mercy’s endless joy and Bats’ interesting prospective on the world were wonderful.
Each weekend, …we would scamper up to the Yacht Club to watch the Wiannos come in. Bats was always on the Ebb, skippered by George Rockwood. Somehow the cypress wood bottom absorbed more than other Wiannos, making it less competitive. It didn’t matter. They looked like they were having a ball.
On one of Bats’ 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 were playing our best and beat them on their home court.
Bats and Mercy played lots of mixed doubles together. In one match playing together 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.” He said, “I didn’t mean to.” Bats had a fine reputation for being a gentleman on the tennis courts.
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 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 wore two pairs of socks on each foot, that never matched. As Mercy said, “His tennis attire always left something to be desired.” [see photo of Bats playing, wearing his J&B Sweatshirt we gave him]