Friday, April 27, 2007

Sports Icons of my Childhood

My dad recently mailed me an article from the Seattle P.I. about Sonics play-by-play announcer Kevin Calabro, and it made me realize how much I loved watching the mid-90s Sonics play. As entertaining as Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Detliff Schrimph, and Sam Perkins were to watch, it would not have been the same without Calabro. I began to think about the sports icons I looked up to as a kid in Seattle… and here are my top ten:

1. Ken Griffey, Jr. – “Junior” as he was called burst onto the scene and took the Mariners from cellar-dweller to one of the most exciting teams in Major League Baseball. The "Refuse to Lose" 1995 season was one of the best summers of my life, going to games and listening on the radio as Griffey ironically had his first injury plagued and worst year of his young career. But he came up big in the playoffs, hitting .391 with 5 home runs against the Yankees. One of the great sports images in my mind is his picture-perfect swing. But the memory that will always stick with me of Junior was the image of him under a pile of teammates after scoring from first base on an Edgar Martinez double to win the ALDS. I’ve never seen someone run as fast around the bases in my life. It was the most amazing sporting event I have ever attended.

2. Marquis Tuiasosopo – The Washington Huskies option-quarterback from 1997-2000, he was one of the most exciting players I have ever watched. His freshman year he was forced into a game against eventual national-champion Nebraska due to an injury to the starting quarterback and threw for 270 yards and 2 TD, and that season became the first ever true freshman to start a game at quarterback for the Huskies. His career highlight came his junior year, where he became the only player in NCAA history to pass for over 300 and run for over 200 yards in a game, a 35-30 victory over Stanford. I remember watching that game, and I have never seen a performance like it. It was even more impressive than Vince Young’s Rose Bowl. No joke. In his senior season in 2000, Tuiasosopo led the Huskies to the Pac-10 title, an 11-1 record, and victory over Purdue and MVP in the Rose Bowl.

3. Shawn Kemp – The Reign Man, as Calabro called him, was a force to be reckoned with. He teamed with Payton to be one of the great guard/forward dynamic duos of all time. Like Payton, Kemp left Seattle on bad terms and ended his career even worse, but while he was in the Emerald City, he was king. I think only Ken Griffey, Jr. surpasses the excitement that Kemp brought to the Seattle sports scene. Like Griffey’s swing, Kemp’s dunks captivated an entire city during his reign.

4. Kevin Calabro – An amazing play-by-play announcer, with catch phrases such as “and Shawn Kemp takes it down THE BOULEVARD!” and “million dollar move, five cent finish.” His talents on air led to his simulcast of games on both TV and radio. Not many broadcasters can cater to both mediums at the same time.

5. Edgar Martinez – “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedgarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” I’m not sure who started it, but some crazy fan decided he would yell Edgar’s name for as long as he could when he came up to bat. It caught on and every time he came to the plate, fast scattered throughout the Kingdome (and later, Safeco Field) would compete and try to have the longest yell. I remember one time I almost passed out from trying to yell so loud. I also remember Edgar Martinez hitting the double that drove in Joey Cora and Ken Griffey, Jr. to beat the Yankees in game 5 of the 1995 ALDS. Edgar was a clutch performer and a class act, as well as a pleasure to watch play.

6. Randy JohnsonThe mullet, the slider, the fastball, and the intensity all took a major part in my love for Randy Johnson. A few Randy moments stick out in my mind above the others… the 500ft bomb he gave up to Mark McGwire while he was on Oakland, when he came out of the bullpen to face the Yankees in the 10th inning of Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS, and even his first game back in Seattle at the newly opened Safeco Field in 1999, when he shut us out and struck out 10 in a complete game, and received a standing ovation after each inning.

7. Dave Niehaus – The voice of the Seattle Mariners, I would listen to him every night until we got satellite TV (cable couldn’t run out to our house). I could never ask for more than the Mariners loading the bases, because if someone hit one out of the park it was time to “GET OUT THE RYE BREAD AND THE MUSTARD, GRANDMA! IT’S GRAND SALAMI TIME!"

8. Gary Payton – The Glove burst onto the Seattle scene from Oregon State and quickly made a name and reputation for himself throughout the league as a trash talker and defensive stopper. He ran the Sonics of the 90s, who will probably go down as one of my favorite bunch of balers of all time. He left Seattle on poor terms, but while he was there, it was nothing but love for GP.

9. Jay Buhner – “The Bone” was famous for his bald head, high strikeout rate, power at the plate, “the catch” in Boston where he went over the wall in right, his rocket arm, and my favorite, Buhner Buzz Cut Night. One year as a promotion, the Mariners gave free tickets to anyone willing to have their head shaved. Each year, Buhner Buzz Night became more and more popular, even attracting women to participate. Every team needs a character and a tough guy. Buhner was both, and I loved him for it.

10. Cortez Kennedy – It is kind of sad that there is only one Seattle Seahawk on the list, and that he ranks tenth, but they were a straight AWFUL team throughout my childhood. Not to say I didn’t root for them and follow them, but there just were not a whole lot of players to become attached to. Shawn Springs was the only other guy who came close to making the list. Besides, the 1990s were a great decade for the Mariners and Sonics. Regardless, Cortez was a pleasure to watch, and was good enough to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992 on a team that won only two games.

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