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A Triple Crown memory

A GRIP ON SPORTS

As Miguel Cabrera attempted to become the first player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown, I sat at home and hoped he was a bit nicer than the last guy to lead a league in all three major offensive categories. Read on.


••••••••••

• Sometimes I feel a bit like Forrest Gump or Zelig. Not that I am as smart as either of those fictional characters, but throughout my life I've rubbed shoulders with some famous people, including one memorable run-in with Henry Winkler. Anyhow, such is the case with Carl Yastrzemski (right), or as he's been known to me since an infamous day in 1967, The Jerk. Let me set the scene. I was 10, playing baseball in the Sierra Madre Little League for the Red Sox. One of dads of a player on the team was a dentist in neighboring Arcadia. One of his patients was Dick Wiliams. Yes, the manager of the Boston Red Sox, who had graduated from nearby Pasadena High and made his offseason home in the area. Through this connection, our Little League team was invited to Anaheim Stadium for the Red Sox game. It was July 3. We all wore our Red Sox uniforms and headed down the freeway, arriving for the Monday night contest long before first pitch. We were met by Williams, who gave us a little pep talk and probably rubbed a few crew-cut heads. The manager, if I remember correctly, handed us off to some flunky, who gave us a tour of the clubhouse – my vivid memory is of starting pitcher Lee Stange on a massage table having his right shoulder worked over by someone who was doing an excellent imitation of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, a movie that wouldn't even be made for almost 20 years – and the insides of Anaheim Stadium. But the highlight of the day was when we were escorted into the visitors dugout during batting practice, where folks like George Scott (my memory: A big, big dude), Joe Foy and Tony Coniglario (my favorite Red Sox) signed autographs and told us to study hard in school. But the guy we really wanted to talk with was Yaz. He was the Red Sox's star, the guy everyone wanted to be, with the batting style we all imitated when we were playing wiffle ball in Ted Bohler's backyard. But Yaz was busy. He was doing a radio interview. So we all trundled down to the end of the dugout, lining up on the steps near the bench and waited silently and respectively while Yaz talked into the radio guy's tape recorder. I know I was excited. Here was my chance to get Yaz's autograph, a chance to take it back to my school and show off. I wasn't going to ruin my possibility for such a special item, so I didn't make a peep, something that wasn't easy for a 10-year-old. As the interview wound down, we started to move closer as a group, waiting to hear a few words of encouragement from the guy who would go on to win the Triple Crown and lead the Red Sox on their impossible dream. The recorder clicked off, the radio interviewer shook Yaz's hand as the great hitter rose up – and I will never forget this as long as I live – glanced dismissively at us, hopped up the steps and jogged out to right field, never even acknowledging our existence. If you wanted to put a sound effect to the moment, it would be of air escaping a balloon. Or the sound of a dozen or so 12-to-10-year-olds' collective happiness disappearing into the summer evening.

• Then a savior arrived. “Do you know who I am,” he asked. We turned and looked. “Ya, you're Rico Petrocelli,” I said, emphasizing the chelli part of his last name. “Hey, you pronounced it right,” he said. Being a smart ass even then, I answered, “I'm Italian, of course I'm going to pronounce it right.” Petrocelli laughed and started signing autographs, paying special attention to the smart ass Italian kid. I remember he made some excuse for Yaz to us, but later, as we were being escorted out of the dugout, I hung around as long as I could and heard something I shouldn't have. Petrocelli was talking to another ballplayer and was saying some critical things of the team's star, calling him a term that I had heard my dad use before but still can't write on a family-friendly blog. It actually made me feel better. … By the way, the Red Sox won 9-3, Tony Conigliaro hit a home run in the eighth inning that sent me scurrying from the upper deck to the main concourse to find an open souvenir stand (I had picked Conigliaro in my home run derby with my dad – a tradition I continued with my kids – and had earned a $3 souvenir; I bought a small wooden bat and used it to play 76 Union ball in the backyard all summer) and I never forgot what a jerk Yaz was – and how nice Petrocelli was. Someday, I thought, when I'm in the big leagues, I'm going to be like Petrocelli, not the other guy. … One last note. The Angels' starting pitcher that night was Jack Hamilton, who later that season would hit Conigliaro in the face with a pitch, shattering the Red Sox's young star's cheekbone and destroying his promising career.

•••

• Washington State: The key to Oregon State's hot start? The play of quarterback Sean Mannion, who also had an outstanding game last season against the Cougars in Seattle. Christian Caple has a story on Mannion and the Beavers in today's S-R. Christian also held a live chat yesterday, posted his pick 'em contest, had a blog post following practice and added his morning blog post. One more thing. Christian has his picks for the week. … Bud Withers has a few thoughts about the Pac-12's television contract and start times. … The guys at ESPN.com's Pac-12 blog have their picks. The conference's games start tonight with USC visiting Utah.

• Gonzaga: The Zags have scheduled their annual “Kraziness in the Kennel” day, as Jim Meehan passes along in this blog post. … Andy Katz had a mention of the Zags in a recent ESPN blog post.

• EWU: Jim Allen has some basketball news (men's practice begins next week) in the form of this short story on a verbal commitment to Jim Hayford's program. He also has his Big Sky notebook.

• Whitworth: If you like human interest stories (and who doesn't?), Jim Meehan has one today on the Pirates' Aaron Cochran (left), a defensive lineman who moonlights as a firefighter in the summer. Isn't it nice when writers can interview college athletes and find out the stories behind their athletic stories? A little bit of access makes it a lot easier for fans to get to know their team's players.

• Preps: It's Thursday, which means it's Prep Page day. That means we have a Greg Lee column to pass along, a notebook, a feature from Mike Vlahovich on the unsung heroes of cross country programs and Jim Allen's coverage of Wednesday's soccer action.

• Shock: Andy Olson will be back to coach the Shock for a couple more years after signing an extension this week. Well, at least he'll be paid to coach. There are no guarantees in the football business.

• Seahawks: Besides the obligatory lazy pieces on injuries and the thoughts about third down success, there is – shocking – some stories on Russell Wilson and the trials and tribulations of a rookie quarterback.

• Mariners: Now that the season is officially over – as opposed to the unofficial ending sometime in June – we can ask, are the Mariners any better? Eric Wedge thinks so, but others aren't so sure. … The fence change, part two: Art Thiel sees it as putting lipstick on a marmot while John Hickey thinks it is a good thing.

• Sounders: There is going to be a loud, large crowd in CenturyLink on Sunday, though the Timbers don't think it will be a big deal. We'll see.

•••

• That's our Thursday morning report. I've been saving that Yaz story for years, waiting to spring it on an unsuspecting world as soon as there was another Triple Crown winner. It only took, what, 45 years? Amazing. Until later …


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