True confession time. I didn’t watch the Apple Cup live on Saturday. Instead I spent the day helping my friend Dave, owner of Newcastle Fruit and Produce, sell Christmas trees and prepare for the annual tree lighting. I’ve always gotten a kick out of selling Christmas trees ever since my Dad and brother Phil decided to add a little spirit to Ventrella’s Barber shop by selling trees in the parking lot.
All these years later, I still get a kick out of helping people pick out a tree, and that includes the lady who last year looked at 14 different trees only to choose the first one after all. Hey, it’s part of the fun.
Anyway, I recorded the game before leaving for the tree lot then around 10 minutes before kickoff decided to listen on the radio. For some reason it doesn’t bother me to know the outcome of a game before I watch the replay.
I made sure to switch back and forth between the Husky and Cougar broadcasts so I could do my own comparison. That’s what a life in the broadcasting business will do to a person. The broadcast of the game was just as important as the outcome, after all I covered both the Huskies and Cougars for nearly 30 years and always remained neutral even though my wife was a Husky and my granddaughter is currently at the UW.
After working outside in fairly cold November weather for Seattle, I welcomed the hot shower I took just before settling in to watch the replay of the game around 9 o’clock Saturday night. Nothing beats a hot shower, a warm spot in front of the fireplace, a snack and a football game on TV, especially a classic like the 115th Apple Cup turned out to be.
I was proud of the effort by the Cougars, who were coming off a five game losing streak and playing at Husky stadium. I was also proud of the Huskies effort as the game rocked back and forth promising a dramatic outcome.
I was proud of the effort by the Cougars, who were coming off a five game losing streak and playing at Husky stadium. I was also proud of the Huskies effort as the game rocked back and forth promising a dramatic outcome. I sat and watched the replay in real time, no fair fast forwarding.
So around midnight Saturday with the Huskies deep in their own territory, well out of field goal range, I finally got my treat.
Dillon Johnson was stuffed for no gain on a third and one on the Huskies 29 yard line and thoughts of overtime danced in my head. What a treat. The Cougars would field the punt deep in their own territory and actually have a chance for the biggest upset of the season. Could they actually beat the favored Huskies, finish with six wins and go to a bowl game, leaving the Huskies status as a contender for a national title in doubt? No. I guess not.
The Huskies did have the punt team on the field briefly but just long enough to try and draw the Cougars defense off sides and get that first down.
Suddenly the punt team was replaced by the offense with Michael Penix at quarterback flanked on his left by Rome Odunze and oh the right by Johnson.
Would they send Johnson to get that yard or fake and throw a short pass to Odunze, or would Penix run a keeper straight up the middle. How about none of those. “I figured it was worth a chance” said UW coach Kalen DeBoer a few minutes after Penix faked a handoff to Johnson then flipped it to his favorite target Odunze who needed one yard and got 23 instead.
That led to the winning field goal by Gross and a thrilling finish for the 115th Apple Cup. Huskies win 24-21 to finish the regular season at 12-0.
Even though I knew what the outcome of the game was before I saw the video, it didn’t matter. I’ll probably never delete this particular Apple Cup. After all it is the last official Pac-12 Apple Cup meeting between these two storied programs.
No time to fret over the greed and mismanagement that led to the demise of the Pac-12, we’ve got the rest of our lives to do that. I choose to celebrate one fantastic football game, between two arch rivals and for now leave it at that.
Is it me, or are there more injured starting quarterbacks in the NFL this season than ever before. Aaron Rodgers started the parade a few plays into his first games as Jet’s quarterback. Since then he’s been joined at some point by Kirk Cousins, DeShaun Watson, Anthony Richardson, Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Daniel Jones, Derrick Carr, Taylor Heinicke and Mathew Stafford.
This is all happening at a time when the NFL has gone to great lengths to protect quarterbacks, or have they?
Now that I think about it, the league can do so much more, but because of money and my favorite anti human force greed, it will never happen.
There are two changes the league could make that would greatly decrease the number and frequency of QB injuries. First, get rid of Thursday night football. Second install real grass on all NFL fields.
I realize that neither of those will happen. Amazon pays a lot for those “Prime” games on Thursdays and installing and maintaining grass will cost millions.
That leaves us with only one other option. Flag football!! The NFL owners can provide flags for every starting, back up and practice squad QB in the league. How much can that cost?
It’s Thanksgiving week and I love it. According to the airline industry, 2023 will be as busy at airports and on the highway as 2019, the year before Covid turned us upside down. Be safe out there and patient too, get to your destination safely, always bring a gift and avoid talking politics.
Thanksgiving gives me the opportunity to tell my family how much I love and appreciate them. It’s an opportunity to reflect on my good fortune to be raised by loving parents and be surrounded by so many hand waving, expressive, loud talking Italian relatives.
My gratitude list is a long one so here’s an edited version of the things for which I’m grateful. Baseball, wiffleball, football, basketball, golf, soccer, hockey, boxing, running, Ken Burns films, books, musicals, comedy, “live” theatre, Duncan donuts, good pizza and elected officials who serve all the people, listen to those with whom they disagree, vote for or against bills based on research and not party politics or what the lobbyists have to say.
I’m grateful for anyone who reads this column or any of my books or listens to my podcast. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Halloween turned out to be a frightening night for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Texas got a big lead early and held on to take a 3-1 lead in this best of seven series. Only six teams have cone back from a 3-1 deficit to win the whole thing. The last team to do it was the Chicago Cubs in 2016.
As far as the home field advantage, forget about it, as they say in New York. In the 2023 playoffs the Rangers have a ridiculous 10-0 record at the opponent’s stadium.
I’m not sure why but I’m reminded of the 1960 series in which the Yankees faced the out manned Pittsburgh Pirates. When the Yankees won, they won big, scores like 10-0, 12-0 and 16-3, but the Pirates won the series in seven games. Their margin of victory was always close. They won 6-4, 3-2, 5-2 and 10-9.
I mention this particular series because it still bothers me to this day. I was a huge Yankee fan as a kid so when game seven at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh went to a seventh game, I was pretty nervous.
I remember getting off the bus, running into the house and flipping on the black and white television to watch the end of the game.
The home team Pirates came to bat with the game tied 9-9 in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Yankees brought in reliever Ralph Terry to face Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski and the smallest guy in the game hit the biggest home run of his career, a line drive over the left field for a walk off 10-9 Pirates victory. The only time in baseball history a World Series ended with a walk off home run.
Nine years later the New York Mets, who had lost 102 games in their inaugural season just seven years earlier, somehow won the National League pennant and faced the powerful Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
The Orioles won the first game and most experts and fan expected a Baltimore sweep. By then I had my own business, a barber shop and a 16” color television next to my barber chair.
After the Orioles took that one game lead, the Mets superior pitching with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan and others along with lots of luck and some spectacular defense by Tommy Agee and Ron Swoboda, won the next four in a row to take the series. Making the whole outcome more of a surprise is the fact that the 1968 Mets, a year earlier finished 9 th in the National League with a record of 73-89-1. Now that’s a comeback.
I might toss in the fact that the fledgling New York Jets, who came into the American Football League in 1960 as the New York Titans, won the WFL title in 1968, then upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl lll , led by a young Joe Namath. It was a glorious time for New York sports teams with the Knicks of the NBA winning that title in 1970, by beating the Los Angeles Lakers.
For someone like me who grew up the 50s collecting baseball cards, playing two on two basketball with the three other kids in my neighborhood and running across my yard in the fall carrying a football while avoiding stepping on the leaves which I pretended were tackles, life was pretty simple.
We did have a Little League in my small New England home town and a recreational basketball program at the old elementary school gym which still have a creaky wood floor and metal back boards, but other than that, a kid was on his own.
We invented games, like wall ball and step ball, hit the bat and a most primitive version of “Home Run Derby, using a pitcher, a batter and two fielders. Then, suddenly, around 1955, it all changed for the better. In the small town of Shelton, a father and son were experimenting with a plastic baseball that would curve like a real ball but with half the effort. By punching holes in that plastic ball, one could make it curve in just about every direction.
After starting and scrapping many experimental balls, the Dad finally came up with the Wiffle Ball. It was a winner. As a lefty I quickly learned how to throw a pitch at the head of a left handed hitter and have it break over the plate. Heck, even when I hit the batter occasionally, that plastic ball didn’t do much damage. Later I mastered a “screw ball,” which would break away from the right handed hitter, then came the rise ball, the sinker, the knuckle ball and a few others I can’t remember.
We played two on two wiffle ball from dawn to dark every day of the summer and most afternoons in the fall. The Wiffleball became a part of my life and still is to this day. Would you believe I still have a Wiffleball bat and a bag of balls in my car, at all times.
As the years went on, we set up Wiffleball leagues complete with a pennant race and World Series and then in 1972, we really got creative. We played the first of several 24 hour Wiffleball marathons, using eight players on four, two man teams. The rules were simple, each team had a pitcher and an infielder/outfielder, we didn’t run bases, we set it up like a city game with boundary lines designating a single, double, triple and home run. If the fielder caught a grounder or fly ball clean, it was an out. Meanwhile the four guys playing had to be catchers or umpires, so one got to rest for 24 hours.
We had a blast, so much so that first year that we did it for two more years after that. All these years later, everyone who took part in those Wiffleball marathons still talks about it today. And the little company that invented the Wiffleball, is still in business today.
I started collecting baseball and football cards in the early 1950s. In those days we didn’t have shops that specialized in that. Instead my friends and I found a place called Herman’s Smoke Shop, a few miles from our neighborhood but thankfully on the way to his Dad’s office.
So once a week, my friend Dave and I would get a ride with his Dad to the office in the next town and walk over to Herman’s. To answer your question before you ask, yes there was a Herman and he worked at the store every day. I was never interested in smoking but I must admit, I loved the smell of cigar and pipe smoke that greeted the nostrils and found a place in my memory all these years later. My favorite pipe smoke was called Cherry Blend and years later, when I got my first job at a newspaper as a sports writer, I actually tried some in a pipe I bought at Herman’s. It wasn’t the same. Smoking it was much less fun and satisfying than smelling someone else’s smoke while picking up a park or two of baseball cards at Herman’s.
Oh, by the way Topps cards cost 10 cents a pack when I was in the 4 th grade and each pack came with a rectangular piece of bubble gum that could’ve doubled as a roof shingle. Heck I could afford that, I has bringing down a dollar mowing the lawn at the Elliott’s house in my neighborhood.
Herman’s had a pretty nice display on Topps cards in those days. Now keep in mind there weren’t too many companies turning out baseball cards back them. Kids bought and collected them, not for their potential value, but to keep in a shoe box, trade with friends on in some cases, put them into the spokes on our bikes to make it sound a little like a motorcycle. Times were simple back them.
We did have our eyes out for the big games cards though and again, not for the money value of the card but for the coolness of owning a 1953 Willie Mays, Duke Snider or Mickey Mantle. At one point I had two Mickey’s, one Willie and one Duke. I ended up trading one of my Mickey’s for a bunch of lesser known players.
After showing up at Herman’s every week for about a month, the owner took us aside and tipped us off about getting the “really popular” cards without having to open the pack. He tipped us off that on the back of the “stars” cards there was a small star stamped in black. You had to look carefully to spot it. From that point forward the first thing Dave and I did every time we walked into Herman’s was flip over the packs and check for the star.
They were rare, but if you did get one, your chances of getting a Mickey, Willie or the Duke were much better. Herman was a man if his word.
All these decades later, the sports cards business, which died in the 1970s, then came back strong in the mid 90s, is hotter than ever. The difference today is that it’s mostly about money now. It’s all about the rare rookie card hidden somewhere in a box of cards that may cost two or three hundred dollars. The sports collecting business has become a lottery, but then hasn’t life itself?
Gotta go now. Need to dust off my 1953 Mickey Mantle and see if I can swap it for a new car.
A friend of mine traveled to Europe at the end of September and sent me a text asking my what happened in the Mariner series against Texas the final weekend of the regular season. Actually he had two questions for me in the same text and I quote; “What happened with the Mariners and Kevin McCarthy.” Both were in the news that week. I replied with a simple five word answer, “neither made the post season.”
McCarthy was ousted by Matt Gaetz (R-Fla) who somehow managed to get elected to Congress with absolutely no agenda beyond his own ego boost. The Mariners were ousted by a stunning performance by lefty starting pitcher Andrew Heaney who put it in four solid innings before being aided by a suddenly sound Texas bull pen. Final score 6-1, good bye baseball as far as the M’s 2023 season.
You might say a lefty sent the Mariners home and a righty sent McCarthy packing. Rough weekend for both. McCarthy says he won’t run for the speaker position again. The Mariners say they’ll be back, although lots of fans say they won’t be.
McCarthy’s got no choice but the Mariner fans do. Judging from local talk show radio, letters to the Seattle Time’s and social media, fans are miffed and frustrated, a bad combination. Some of those feelings will fade as winter gives way to spring and thoughts of a weekend in the Arizona sunshine replace their September blues, but there is a way to shake the bad feelings even quicker. If the Mariners make a big deal or two in the off season, the fans will be back. The mega deal everyone’s clinging to is one that includes the Bambino of the 21 st century Shohei Ohtani.
He may be sidelined as a pitcher until the 2025 season but he remains the top prize in the free agent market with his prolific skills as a hitter and fielder. Signing Ohtani would go down as the best move in Mariner history, even surpassing the signing of Ichiro in 2001 and Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989.
The only problem with dreaming about Ohtani in a Mariner uniform is that the Dodgers or even Padres may have a better shot at him than Seattle does. We don’t get to sit behind those closed door meetings between agents and team executives but it sure would be fun.
All fans can do is be aware of the dates that matter. The big one is the beginning of the free agency period the day after the conclusion of the World Series. A player can start talks with a team then but cannot sign with a new team until five days later.
Advice for Mariner fans, dream big, keep hope alive, be optimistic, at least until five days after the World Series. If Ohtani signs with the Dodgers, Padres or shakes up the world completely and becomes a Yankee or a Met then you can start complaining again.
Let me get this straight four weeks into the regular college football season and the Pac-12 is the most exciting conference in the country.
Washington, Oregon and Washington State have fans in the pacific northwest giddy with excitement and expectations.
Michael Penix jr. keep adding to his impressive statistics every week, piling up 1,636 yards, 16 touchdowns and a 93.7 quarterback rating. Rome Odunze treated Husky fans to a pair of touchdown catches and an 83 yard punt return for another one. Ja‘Lynn Polk caught a pair of TD passes from Penix and Sam Adams, Jaydn Ott and Dillon Johnson ran for one each. The 59-32 blowout of California has the Huskies at 4-0 , ranked 7 th in the latest Associated Press poll. When you consider that Washington is ranked 7th , USC is 8th , Oregon 9th, Utah 10th , WSU 16th and Oregon State 19th suddenly the Pac-12s demise makes me shake my head even more.
So sad what is happening in Denver these days. Sure it was a little disappointing when Russell Wilson’s rookie like innocence and attitude that helped bring the Seahawks a Super Bowl trophy, hardened in the last few years and led to his trade to the Broncos, but he doesn’t deserve what’s happening now.
After a terrible first season in Denver last year, this year is even worse. Going 0-3 to start any season is painful enough but then to have 70 points scored your defense is downright cruel. Sure, the Dolphins look like Super Bowl champs right now but 70 points and 700 yards of offense, no body is that good.
It’s he final week of the regular season in major league baseball. Neither of the high spending New York teams will make the playoffs this year which for most people in the rest of the country is no big deal, but for Big Apple fans, it’s another reason to yell at a cab driver who drives through a puddle and gets you soaked. I do feel good for the fans of the Phillies, Cubs, Brewers, Diamondbacks and Orioles though, now you’ll get your chance to see some baseball In October.
A quick note about the WNBA. Good luck to Connecticut and New York in the Eastern finals, Dallas and Vegas in the West. If Iowa’s superstar Kaitlin Clark declares for the draft, she’ll be the top pick. As of now Seattle has the 4th pick. The draft order will be finalized later this year when the WNBA conducts its draft lottery.
The Storm has first pick in 2001 and chose Lauren Jackson, then a year later used the top pick to choose UConn star Sue Bird and you know the results of those two picks. Together Jackson and Bird helped Seattle win it all in 2004, then Birds teamed with others to grab titles in 2010, 2018 and 2020.
Don’t ask me why but I spent an hour or so on Sunday night watching a YouTube feature on the top 50 baseball movies of all time. I’ll admit I may have drifted off to sleep between number 35 on the list and number two. No, I don’t remember which movie was ranked 35th but I recall vividly that “The Babe” starring John Goodman got panned. Apparently the actor weighed in at 235 pounds for the movie but in real life, the real Babe was actually about 25 pounds lighter than that.
I woke up in time to see Bull Durham finish in the top five and Field of Dreams finish second. Wanna know who came in first? Me too. Fell asleep again, didn’t see it.
I needed the sleep after spending the weekend doing yard work, playing in a softball game and of yes, watching college and pro football and some late season baseball.
Not much drama from either the Huskies or the Cougars. WSU crushed Northern Colorado 64-21 and Washington traveled to the Great Lake state to handle Michigan State in a 41-7 drubbing. Incidentally, I bet it’s been years since you’ve seen the word drubbing in a sports column, or any column for that matter.
On Friday the Seahawks packed up and flew to Detroit to face the 1-0 Lions. The Lions were fresh off an upset win at Kansas City while the Seahawks lost 30- 13 at home to the Rams.
Impatient Seahawk fans, wasted no time blaming Pete Carroll then piled on by suggesting that the 72 year old coach should step aside. I understand the need and the right to complain when your team loses but I also see a disturbing trend by fans, especially on social media, who feel the need to take out their frustrations on a player, coach or official.
In about 100 cases throughout the NFL season so far, fans have taken out their frustration and anger on other fans. In stadium assaults, attacks by one fan to another are more common this young season than in the past. I blame the combination of alcohol and in game betting for the up tick in bad behavior.
I know we tend to be an uptight nation these days, offended easily, flipping off other drivers on the highway, looking for new ways to be offended so we can strike back by offending someone else. So I say lets cool it. Try to enjoy your team, win or lose, If you sit next to a guy wearing the opposing team’s jersey, go easy on him, he probably paid too much for it anyway.
This column is like a trip down memory lane for me and I appreciate your indulgence. Back in the 1960s when newspapers at every level still ruled the media world, I got a job at the Wilton Bulletin in Connecticut writing and editing the sports section of that weekly publication.
There was one high school in Wilton and there still in only one high school in Wilton so it’s no surprise that the Warriors often grabbed the headlines. Since I owned my own barber back then and was open Tuesday through Saturday, I was able to cover to cover evening basketball and ice hockey but for Saturday football and weekday afternoon baseball, I’d sneak out of the shop for a few hours, leaving a note on the door for my customers letting them know when I’d be back. Not exactly the best business practice, but I managed to get away with it since most of my customers also read the Bulletin every week.
My first column, also called Sport Tones, was about high school basketball and in fact was written as an audition for the job. Had my boss Dave Gearhart not liked and approved that first column who knows where my sports career in print, radio and eventually television would’ve gone.
I still have the Royal typewriter I used to knock out my weekly little league results, Biddy league football articles and everything from high school Lacrosse and Field hockey, Cross Country, track, football, baseball and softball. I was a one man show and it was a blast.
Perhaps that explains why I’m calling this column Sport Tones as well.
As we move into September the local college football season has the state of Washington buzzing. In the aftermath of the bad news about the future of the Pac-12, both the WSU Cougars and UW Huskies have started their seasons at 2-0 and in fact eight of the Pac-12 schools are ranked in the top 25.
As I write this, the Mariners have just dropped three out of four in Tampa and finished a rough road trip winning only three of ten games. They’re still in the hunt for the A.L. West title and a playoff spot but it’s starting to look like their young pitchers are struggling as the season enters it’s final 20 or so games. Mariner fans aren’t the only ones wringing their hands either since the Seahawks dropped their opener to the L.A Rams 30-13 and the Rams were playing without their All-pro receiver Cooper Cupp.
Being a sports fan can be an emotional roller coaster. Add the heavy promotion of sports betting on all the networks and that roller coaster ride can become depressing and dangerous if the betting gets out of control.
So as I launch this new column, I’ll try to keep you in good spirts to the best of my ability with stories that entertain and maybe even enlighten. Have a great week.