Baseball Leads Again

Baseball Leads Again

Pardon the pun here but it seems to me that baseball has always been a little ahead of the curve when it comes to social reform.

During World War II baseball followed the lead of the rest of America, sending some of its biggest stars into the various armed services and in some cases into combat. The list is long and impressive. Ted Williams was a willing fighter pilot, Yogi Berra volunteered to be part of the invasion of Normandy, Hank Greenberg, Joe Dimaggio, Stan Musial and dozens of others volunteered to serve their country.

A few years later in the spring of 1947 baseball led the way for America when  Jackie Robinson became the first black player in the major leagues, thanks to a partnership with Brooklyn Dodger’s General Manager Branch Rickey. It took the country 17 more years to enact Civil Rights legislation under the Lyndon Johnson presidency.

Fast forward to 2017 and the World Baseball Championships. Big league players from every team in both leagues are playing for their home countries in this most patriotic tribute to what was once called, “The National Pastime.”  Baseball may not be first in the hearts of ‘Americans anymore with the growth of the National Football League but it still leads the way as far as social awareness is concerned.

While many in our country including our new president preach daily about “America First,” and spread the fears of globalization, baseball leads by example.  Players like Mariner pitcher Felix Hernandez who’ll pitch for Venezuela for the next two weeks and Seattle Mariner teammates Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Jean Segura who’ll play for the Dominican Republic can still love America while playing baseball for their countries of origin for two weeks.

Baseball is the best example of what mankind can be if you really think about it. In baseball once a man is on first base, a teammate may be asked by his coach to “sacrifice bunt,” allowing the runner to advance to second base.  Who can imagine giving up their own freedom or in this case “at bat” to allow a teammate to succeed?  That’s what you do in baseball.  If we did more of this in America we truly would be “great again.”

So while some in this country and many around the world are rejecting what is called globalization for what is called nationalism I’m suggesting that we embrace both. Why can’t one be proud of his own country while still respecting the rest of the world? That leads to peace, which I’m sure to many is a sign of weakness.

The alternative is to spread fear and hatred from our borders outward building walls real and imagined between us and the rest of the world. That leads to mistrust, ignorance, fear and a false sense of pride and all that leads to war. Do we really want more war? Have we not learned anything from history?

Time to look at baseball as the leader it is. Time to see it as a glowing example of what’s right in America. Any activity that calls for all participants to work for and with one another towards a common goal is an activity worth cheering for.

Baseball is ahead of the curve which seems rather poetic since one who can’t catch up to a curve will not succeed in baseball or in life.

NFL Combine 2017

Can you imagine what it’s like to be prodded, measured,  tested,  scrutinized and talked about for an entire week in Indianapolis, Indiana.  No I’m not talking about the 4H pig contest at the Indiana State Fair, I’m talking about the NFL Combine.

Since 1982 coaches, scouts, trainers, doctors, psychiatrists and the media have put the spotlight on college football players hoping for a shot in the National Football League. It’s like having your job interview times ten while also having everyone in the world see the results.

I can see it now. “Tony would make a really good salesperson for us but his 40 yard dash is a little slow, he hesitated when we asked him if he still reads comic books and frankly he wasn’t that impressive in the Wonderlic test.”

That by the way is formerly known as a cognitive ability test. It tests the aptitude of perspective employees.

This year 330 college players have been invited to the combine,  77 of them underclassmen.  A quick breakdown shows that 15 quarterbacks are at the combine and 58 wide receivers. Let’s face it a lot of teams are desperate for a quarterback. Just ask fans in San Francisco and Cleveland. The Seahawks don’t have that problem and won’t for at least a few years. They do have other problems or issues as we’ll call them here.

Needed in Seattle for the Seahawks to return to a Super Bowl are the following.  At least one and maybe multiple offensive lineman.  Easier said than done. There are not too many over the top offensive lineman in the draft this year and it’s been that way for a few years.

The Seahawk also need depth at cornerback. There was a time when Richard Sherman was the third string corner behind Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond. He’s been a star for years now but he needs back up help, especially with DeShawn Shead likely to miss all of training camp and part of the regular season. Back up help at safety would be helpful. Earl Thomas will be back and so will Kam Chancellor but they need back ups and they need them now.

It wouldn’t hurt for the Seahawks to draft a wide receiver. By the end of the season they were very thin  in that area due to key injuries.

So as fans we all have our wish list. Now it’s up to the coaches and scouts to comb the combine, see what they like and work their magic in the draft and free agent signings on the final night of the draft.

Best Ever - Women's Sports, Huskies and the Pac-12 Tournament

Best Ever

I’ve been so fortunate during my 40 years in sports journalism.  I’ve met most of the all time greats including Muhammad Ali, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr,  Joe Montana, Steve Largent, George Foreman, all the current Seahawks players to mention a few.

No I’m not name dropping here, I’m just trying to give this column a little perspective. I’ve seen so many magnificent sports performances but none of them can beat what I saw on Saturday at the UW women’s basketball game against Utah.

Senior guard Kelsey Plum went into the game needing 54 points to become the all time leading scorer in NCAA women’s basketball. No one thought she would do it on Saturday. Most of us figured it would happen during the Pac-12 tournament at Key Arena the following week. We were wrong. She scored 57 points to lead her team to victory 84-77 and become the all time leader in points. All of this happened on Senior Day in front of 6,775 lucky and smart fans.

Kelsey woke up Saturday morning with a raspy voice and a bit of a cold. My gosh what would she have done if she was feeling great?  She scored ten points in the first quarter and had 22 by halftime and added 16 more third quarter. Then with eight minutes left in the game Chantel Osahor fouled out. The game was still close so Kelsey did what she always does, she took over scoring 19 points in the final period to lead her team to victory and break Jackie Stile’s all time record. Stiles was among the first to congratulate Plum via Twitter after the game. Plum now has 3,397 career points.

Watching the 5-8 Plum take over another game and make almost every shot imaginable now ranks as the most exciting moment of my sports career. Yes I said it. More exciting than the Seahawk’s Super Bowl win, more exciting than the Mariner’s run through the playoffs in 1995 and the Sonics near NBA title the following year.

Women’s sports get little or no credit on most days in the national and local media. Seattle has two radio stations doing sports 24/7 and they’ve managed to give Plum and her team only occasional mentions. Program directors of both stations have told me, “womens sports don’t move the needle.” In other words unless the talk is about Russell Wilson or the Mariners the radio stations don’t care. Well I do and I am grateful to have seen one of the best individual performances by an athlete at any level last Saturday.  We wish the Huskies all the best in the Pac-12 tournament and beyond.