By Joseph Staszewski
A quarter of century as a US Open ballperson hasn’t diminished Jorge Cabrera’s enthusiasm for the job and the sport.
The 38-year-old Elmhurst native still plays tennis in a Long Island men’s league and did so at St. Francis Prep. He remembers being just a 14-year-old getting ready to start high school and thinking just how cool it was watching tennis’ great players up close as a ballperson.
“For me being a tennis player and loving the game it was like, ‘Holy Cow,’” Cabrera said. “I’m … on the court with these players. It was just fun being 14. There is just that kind of amazement and awe.”
While there is a matured level of appreciation now, he still looks forward to taking vacation from his job managing two Manhattan Fendi stores to spend two weeks at the Billy Jean King National Tennis Center at the end of each summer. There is a camaraderie built among his fellow ballpersons by seeing each other every year that he enjoys.
“It’s kind of like when you are a kid and you go to summer camp,” said Cabrera, who is married and has one son. “It almost has that feel to it.”
His journey to the US Open courts started on a whim back in 1990, when he decided to try out for the position at the behest of friends and fellow tennis players. Cabrera, who currently lives in East Rockaway, said he was asked to run down six balls at the net before being told to stop. He had no clue if it was good enough until he received his acceptance letter.
That summer he was quickly introduced to the perks to the job that require long hours, a little sweat and some athleticism. Cabrera worked a men’s quarterfinal between Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi against Boris Becker in the semifinals and Martina Navratilova in the women’s doubles finals.
He remembers having to slide in player’s nameplates for each match on the old outer court scoreboards.
Cabrera, a music writer and producer in his spare time, has since worked three singles finals that included the likes of Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, Michael Chan and Serena Williams. Agassi was a hero of his and working with him the first time left a lasting memory.
“I remember him walking out and I am at the net and I remember just looking at his sneakers like, ‘Those sneakers are cool,’” Cabrera said.
This year’s US Open was particularly challenging last week due to high temperatures and humidity. Cabrera said it is one of the worst stretches he has encountered during his tenure. The ballpersons need to stay just as hydrated as the competitors.
“We sometimes can sweat just as much as the players,” he said. “Sometimes even more.”
None of that will discourage Cabrera from continuing to come back. For a tennis enthusiast there is no better place to be in the summer. The 14-year-old in him still gets a kick out of it all.
“At one point I didn’t think I’d be doing it this long, but at the same time I kind of did,” Cabrera said. “I love tennis. I love the game. I love watching it. I love playing it. It is just being on the court. We kind of have the best seats in the house.”