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A Mother’s Day gift of memories

A GRIP ON SPORTS

We'll be back soon with links, but we promised you a special Mother's Day report. Here it is. And thanks to everyone who responded. You made our day. Read on.


••••••••••

• I asked for your Mother's Day stories and you responded. Big time. So it's only fair I share my favorite story of my mom and sports. It pales in comparison with a lot of yours, but that's OK. It's important to me. Let me take you back to a simpler time, August of 1977. “I Just Want to Be Your Everything,” by Andy Gibb was the No. 1 song in America – Really? Man, disco sucked – and “The Spy Who Loved Me” was atop the box office – so did movies. A 20-year-old Vince Grippi, all freckles and sun tan, had the second-best summer of his baseball life, earning All-Star honors in the Orange County Metro League and a chance to play in Anaheim Stadium following an Angels game. The All-Star team, led by future major leaguer John Moses and future major league coach Doug Mansolino, would face off with the league champion following the Sunday, Aug. 7, Angels' game with Baltimore. Pretty cool, huh? But scary too. Some 16,000 folks gathered that day to watch future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer battle the Angels' Paul Hartzell, who honed his slider during the offseason throwing bullpen sessions to the young Mr. Grippi – at $20 a pop (easiest money I have ever made, until recently). Many of them, including my mother, were still in the park when the All-Stars took infield. How did I know mom was there? Easy. See, my mom had a distinctive voice. One that could carry a long distance and was easily recognizable. Especially when she would yell a sentence that included my name, a comment on my stature and her feelings for me. All were included in what she bellowed while I took the field (I'm pretty sure the “L” word – “little” – was used). The other catcher, whose name escapes me now, just busted out laughing. I remember thinking how glad I was to be wearing a mask. No one could see the color of my skin. Despite a summer-long tan toned on the beaches of Orange County, the red had to be showing. My first chance to play in a big league stadium and my mother let everyone know I was her little man and she loved me. Geez. No wonder I didn't get a hit that day. But I did pull a high fly ball foul that landed in the upper deck – yep, to all of you who have played baseball or softball with me in Spokane, there was a time I could pull the ball – and rattled around. It was the coolest thing I ever did on a baseball field. So cool I can't even remember what my mom said afterward. Probably something about how proud she was. I'm sure everyone heard. I stepped back into the batter's box. And struck out.

• OK, now on to your stories. These are all that we received, and they are darn good. The one thing I noticed is there is a universality to them. They are all filled with love. So cool.

•••

• My mom, Karen, is first and foremost my biggest fan. I can remember her and my dad from a very early age taking me to and from virtually every kind of sports practice imaginable. Even now, they make it a point to attend games of teams I coach and were both at our recent Senior Day up here in Kettle Falls, even though they live more two hours away in Cheney.

Anyway, this story is one that most hockey moms can probably relate to. To set the record straight, hockey moms are the toughest moms out there. Imagine all the travel, the smells of wet, rotting gear, the freezing-cold rinks, and finally, watching your son legally fight right in front of you. Now I was a goalie, so I didn't get in many fights (in fact this is the only one of significance that I can remember) but when I did I did it all the way. The scene was at a rink in Eugene, Ore., and I was playing net for a Bantam travel team as part of the SAYHA. Well to make a long story shorter, we were getting beat 5-3 late in the 3rd period and had just given up an empty net goal to pretty much seal the loss. As I was skating back out to my net, I took offense to a couple Eugene bruisers pushing around one of our smaller forwards away from the ref's eyes.

Whether it was the fact that we'd just lost a close game to a team I absolutely hated, or that I simply wanted to help a teammate, something in me snapped and I clocked both of those guys in the back of the head – my catching glove for one and my blocker for the other. It wasn't my smartest move as, even though they both dropped to the ice, I was soon tackled and smothered by their entire team. It was then that I realized I'd committed my act of stupidity directly in front of their bench. By then both benches had cleared (obviously) and the melee was on. I finally managed to scratch and claw my way out from under the pile and when I did I looked up to see my super mom clinging to the boards/glass, yelling at Eugene players to get the hell off me. I had to smile at her failure to recognize that I'd brought this carnage completely upon myself. Even now, she likes to recall how several opposing players stared at her like she was the craziest woman alive. But no, she was simply my mom and I was her baby boy. What's really crazy is that several Eugene fans actually DID jump the glass and managed to get on the ice before the police were called to escort us to the locker room and eventually, to the parking lot.

The final damage? I got a two-game suspension, a good-sized knot on my head, and the knowledge that my mom would do anything (even something completely out of character for the gentle-mannered school teacher) to protect her son. I love you mom, and promise next time I sucker punch someone I'll make sure I'm a lot further away from their bench. :)

– Landon Johnston

• The summer between third and fourth grade, my parents took me to my first professional baseball game. The Boise Braves were a farm club of the Milwaukee Braves in the summer of 1954 before they moved to Atlanta.  I don’t remember who they were playing, but I was studying a game program when I asked my Mom what RBI stood for.  She answered without hesitating, “Rabbit Beat the Indians”.  Still makes me smile fondly!

– Ray Murphy

• I think you may have heard of my mother, Emma Wasson (pictured), in connection with Gonzaga basketball. Senior Night 1999 is the memory of my momma at a sporting event that brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eye every time I think of it. In November 1998 one of the moms of a player asked me, “Do you think your mom would like a jacket from the boys? The team really wants to give her a jacket.”  I responded with, “I think she would love a jacket.” It was my mission then to measure her for the jacket, and to keep the secret until the actual event. Fast forward to Senior Night: we were sitting enjoying the pre-function when Quentin Hall walked in to find Momma and asked her to walk him out on to the court, as his folks were unable to attend. She was so touched and went with him into Martin Centre to learn what she needed to do. She was still unaware of the other momentous occasion that was to transpire.

As the crowd settled in, and the regular Senior Night Presentation was about to begin, Harv Clark said, “Before we start with Senior Night, Emma, you need to come to center court.” However, she was adamant that she was going to walk Quentin out and needed to stay where she was. Harv finally convinced her and she stood out on the court, as he informed the crowd that she had been attending games since 1972. He also told them what she done for the players in all the years, by providing cookies, bread, and dinners, and attending games in an era when the attendance was very small. As Harv continued recalling Emma’s commitment to the Gonzaga team, the student section starting chanting, “Emma, Emma, Emma…” She was standing mid-court, beaming, absolutely beaming. And I was on the sideline, bawling. It had all come together. The three seniors, Jeremy Eaton, Mike Leasure, and Quenten Hall, on behalf of the team, walked out to her and put this wonderful letterman’s jacket on her. One of her most prized possessions from that point on in her life. All I could think is how few people get a moment like this in their lifetime. And she was so happy, so touched. The picture that captured the moment is perfect. It shows the pure joy on her face.

– Mary Rose (Wasson) Hawkins

• My mom's the coolest mom ever, and here's why…

When I was a kid growing up in Redmond, my dad would throw batting practice to me, and my mom would chase down all of the balls in the outfield. I can still picture her racing all over the place with that funny-looking run of hers.

She never missed one of my games - whether it was a baseball game when I played most of the time or a basketball game at Redmond High when I rarely played. It didn't matter, she'd be there just in case I budged from the bench.

Then during my 35-year career as a sportswriter, she is the only person alive who has read every single story I've written. She has a box in the garage filled with stacks of newspapers from my stops at the Ketchikan Daily News, Anchorage Daily News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

I have written some clunkers over the years, but she enjoys those too, never understanding how readers could be critical of her son.

One of the best sporting memories I have comes from the 1996 NBA Finals when my mom went to Chicago with me for Games 1 and 2 against the Sonics, a team that I covered for the P-I.

For the past three years, she has listened to every show that I'm on at 710 ESPN Seattle. When she's in Arizona, she listens and watches the broadcast on line. I tell her: “Mom, stop it already!”

She'll say: “But, Jimmie, I like the show.”

Most days, a listener will text in and tell me I'm an idiot, and a reader will call me a moron. So it's nice to know that at least one person thinks I'm the best thing ever, even if I'm not.

– Jim Moore

• I am the oldest of five children in our family and as such a lot of responsibility was placed on me.  My mom was amazing. … I just don't know how she did it. She always found the time to play catch with me in the backyard because dad was always busy at work.  Note, she was a hell-of-a third baseman on the husband/wife softball team.

That, however, is not why I am writing this. Here is the story. In high school I played and started on the Varsity football team for two years. I was the kind of guy that could not eat dinner before the game. Knowing this, my mom would drive 8 miles into town with a hot lunch for me every game-day, Friday. And then after the game, be it an away game or home game followed by the dance; I had to be home by mid-night but here is the kicker … my mom was up waiting for me with a steak and fries, ready to talk about the game. Remember, she already had a full day with four siblings, the house et. al. This was really hard for me to write as it brings up so many wonderful memories of my mom. … She isn't able to remember any of those memories as she is entering the final stages of her life.

– Al Nocciolo

• In the early 1970's my mother was a widow raising six kids when she had a serious heart attack. As part of the “recovery” process, my younger brother and I were sent to spend the summer with my aunt and uncle in Boise, ID.  So every night during the summer we went to La Boise Park to watch the horse races and watch my aunt do better than uncle at betting (he knew it too!).

My brother and I would huddle with my aunt and listen her on how she reviewed the horses and jockeys and how she made her bets. Toward the end of the summer she started listening to us and making bets on what we recommended. She would make $2 bets and split the winnings with us.

My mother recovered from her open-heart surgery and at the end of the summer my brother and I returned home.

A few years later I was in high school and somehow ended up going out to Playfair with my Mom.  She got a racing form and we looked at it together.

In the second race I picked a horse that I thought would win but told my mom to bet on it to show. The horse won the race. Mom was happy.

In the third race I picked another horse that I thought would win but told mom to place a show bet. The horse won. Mom was a bit perturbed that she only place a show bet.

In the fourth race I picked another horse and told mom to place a show bet. She made a place bet and the horse won.

The Trifeca came up and I picked the order of finish for three horses but told me not to bet. The horses finished in the order I predicted and dear old Mom was just beside herself because she had not bet. I believe the Trifeca paid off around $700-plus, which was big money in those days.

We never went out the races again but my mother would tell the story on how she lost out on a ton of money at the track.

Mom died in 1987, eight days short of her 61st birthday. Whenever I see horse I can't help but think of her.

– E.J. O'Connell

• It was fourth grade and I was playing Little League baseball. At some point during the season, my eyes were checked and it was found that I was near-sighted and should be wearing glasses for distance. So my mom bought some really stylish black-framed spectacles. Being a shy kid, I did not want to hear any ribbing from my friends and classmates, so I would put them on as I left home each morning to walk to school; then at some point along the way, I would put them in a case and put the case in my pocket. No one would ever know.

Well, at the first game since getting glasses, I struck out in my first at-bat, not wearing them of course.  My mom, in a very loud voice, called out, “you might be able to hit better with your glasses on!” The cat was out of the bag. Teammates, almost in unison it seemed, said, “you wear glasses?” 

My next at bat I did hit the ball. I can't remember if it was a base hit, ground out or fly out, but I did make solid contact. And at school the next day, I could see the chalkboard much better.

– Kent Hollenback

• Mom was incensed with me when returning form the store after requesting a “jockey strap,” wondering why I didn't tell her it was really called an “athletic supporter.” Mom was famous for getting things a little wrong … though it was my first one and I had told her I needed a jock strap for P.E. Thanks for stirring up that memory for me. 

– Ray Lancaster

• When I read the insert in the local sports section asking people to write in about how their mother had impacted their sports life, I could not help but feel overwhelmed and obligated.

I was young when my father left. As a single mother, it was not easy for my mom having three kids in the house. It did not take long for me to become interested in sports. As I grew older and became a more devoted athlete, my siblings left home. My mom lost her job shortly after my brother left for college and we struggled to make ends meet. As things grew tough and we barely got by, so football and wrestling became my outlets. With no job and little money it seems amazing to me that there was always a way to pay for the next football season or that weekends’ wrestling tournament.

My success through sports quickly became a bond my mother and I shared and one that kept us close through tough times. I could always count on her to be there in the stands for every game and every meet, proudly wearing my number. She was my biggest fan. I was devastated when I found out she was going to have to move the East Coast to get work as I got ready to enter my junior year. I was faced with a decision that seemed too tough at the time. Go with her and leave my friends at teammates behind, or watch my mom move 3,000 miles away and never see her in the stands again.

I ultimately decided to stay put in Washington, not realizing how much I would miss the bond with my mom. With the regret constantly buried in the back of my mind every time I stepped on the football field I entered my senior year. It seemed as if the years of hard work had played off as my teammates and I prepared all week the play for the 2006 4A state football championship, but I could not help but feel heartache knowing my mother would not be there to see me compete. She was working two jobs in Maryland at the time and simply could not get the weekend off work.

With a heavy heart I got through the week. The night before the big game I got the news that my mom would be able to attend in spite of not being able to get time off work. She would not come for the weekend or even the night. Instead she flew from Baltimore to Seattle the day of the game. She flew all day to make it. She drove from the airport to the stadium to watch the game. Immediately after the game she drove from the stadium to the airport to fly back to Baltimore that same night.

What else other than a mothers love would drive someone to fly 16 hours and 6,000 miles in one day just to watch her son play his final three hours of football? We ended up winning that game. I'll never forget the tears that rolled down my face as I climbed into the stand to put my arms around my mother.

Tears of accomplishment. Tears of pride. But mostly tears of love.

As I have become a young adult now I have begun to make a career out of coaching, but I know whatever I accomplish in the sports world, my greatest memory will always be climbing into those stands and putting my arms around my biggest fan. To any mother who my read this, know you are more than just a face in the stands or a car pool on the weekends. You are the love that drives young men to compete and succeed in and outside of sports.

– Andrew Renninger

• Growing up on Spokane's North Side, Dad hit me grounders, but Mom instilled my passion for baseball. She also came to my rescue about 50 years ago preserving a life-long love of the game.

In her early teens, Mom (Sunny Bunch) was among the thousands who packed Ferris Field after World War II to watch the Spokane Indians of the Western International League. When I was really young and just learning the game, she gave me several team autographed baseballs from those years. In grade school she took me the library and hooked me on sports fiction writer John R. Tunis. I read them all — “Highpockets,” “Kid from Tomkinsville,” “Keystone Kids” and many others.

I was 9 or 10 when I tried out for a summer baseball team with many of my elementary school classmates. After two days of tryouts, I was cut while my friends made the team. I was devastated. I retreated to my basement room and sobbed for hours. After getting my five younger siblings to bed that night, Mom came downstairs, comforted and assured me that I was going to play baseball that summer. Everything would be OK.

The next day we walked to Shadle Park and she introduced me to Bill Via, a friend of hers from high school. He was a Shadle Park High School teacher and coaching the park’s summer youth baseball program. Mr. Via had me practice that day.

 It was a grand summer. I played center field, we won quite a few games and I usually went for cherry Cokes at the Shadle Ladle after practice with the boys. Mom even had a movie of me hitting a triple ­­– one of those lucky right-field liners and probably one of three hits I had the entire season.

On Mother’s Day, about 15 years ago, I presented Mom with an autographed baseball. It said: “Thanks for being there when I needed you. Love, Jeff.”  She kept in prominently displayed at her house for all to see.  When Mom died my youngest sister returned the baseball to me. I see that baseball today and always think back to the night Mom made everything better.

– Jeff Jordan

• My mom loves football. She loves watching it and can't get enough of it. Especially when I was playing. She'd get more excited for a Friday night and Joe Albi than I would. You always knew where to find her, sitting in her same seats, wearing the same thing every week (yes, she is that superstitious). Even if that mean a heavy sweatshirt in 80-degree heat. But of course it was a bit more stressful being the mom of the quarterback. She felt every hit and cheered louder for every touchdown. My mom was the greatest. When she was put on the lung transplant list, she sat me down and said that if she were to get her call on a Thursday or Friday that I was supposed to stay and play in my game before I came over. My mother cared way more about me playing football than me being in Seattle for her surgery. When her call came on a Monday, and she got the chance to get new lungs the next day, everything worked out great. Of course she looked at me on that Wednesday, not 24 hours after receiving a double lung transplant, and said I should probably leave so I don't miss any more practice in preparation for a Friday night game. After a great win, that weekend coaches Jim Sharkey and Grady Emmerson attended a clinic in Seattle and went out of their way to visit her and bring her a signed football from the Ferris Saxon football team. She might not have been able to see a lot of my games in person my senior year, but she never missed one, whether it be online or on the radio. She always has and always will be my biggest fan. My life in sports meant so much more because I had a cheerleader I could always count on to love me no matter what. 

– Ben Goodwin

• I played hockey my whole life, started when I was 3 years old, played competitively at the collegiate level, and still play today.  Ironically my memory comes not from my playing days, but the one and only year I refereed youth hockey. 

I was fourteen years old and was asked in my fourth game to call penalties instead of be a linesman. I come from a player’s background, so I let a lot of stuff slide. I want the players to decide the game, my job was to maintain the chaos and protect the safety of the players. 

After the game I stepped off the ice, and a mom of one of the players came over to express her disdain for my refereeing philosophy accompanied by some yelling and finger pointing.  And to my relief, my mom came to my rescue. 

She stepped in front of her 6-foot, 200-pound fourteen year old, looked the mom square in the face and said, “How dare you.”  I could see the realization that I was someone else’s son wash over the woman’s face.  And to this day, though I have provided countless blunders for my mother to say the same to me, she keeps picking me up, brushing me off, and pointing me in the right direction. I love you mom.

– Tyler Ham

• I have a very fond memory of my mom involving sports. The year was 1970, the Spokane Jets hockey club were playing to win their first Allan Cup championship. My mom and dad (Jeanette & Jerry Fletcher) were both employed by the Jets hockey club. Dad served as the ticket manager and during the road games was the color commentator on their radio broadcasts with Tom Mableson. Mom was the team's secretary, working under coach Al Rollins. It was Game 6 in the Spokane Coliseum and the Jets were up 3-2 in the series.

I was 11 years old at the time and when it was obvious that the Jets were going to win the game, and the Cup, my brothers and sister and I found our way down to the players' bench, waiting for the final whistle so we could storm the ice. Mom was there with boxes and boxes of Game 7 tickets, handing them out to us kids so we could litter the ice with them. It was a memory I will cherish forever. We threw those tickets up in the air in celebration and littered the ice with them. My only regret was that I did not keep one of those tickets for a souvenir.

– Kevin Fletcher

• Hi, my name is Jeff Moffat.  I am the head wrestling coach at Coeur d’ Alene High. I will give you a little history on my brother and I, and how our mother influenced our athletic careers.

My brother Kelly and I participated in football, wrestling, high school baseball, and American Legion baseball. We did all four activities during our four years at CDA High. We both were also members of the Lewis Clark State College baseball team. 

My mother Vicki Moffat is one tough lady.  She grew up on a farm in Colville. Our mother coached our T-ball team, Mahoney Ford. We were undefeated and many of the kids on the team went on to play in little league all–stars, high school baseball, and even college baseball. Our mother then coached our Little League team. The one thing that most people still remember about our Mom as the coach, is that she would jump behind the plate get in a catcher's position, and warm–up the pitcher as the catcher was getting his gear on.  Big Daddy Rasmussen would always say “your mom is one tough lady to get down and warm up the pitcher.”

When we wrestled at CDA High, our mother was very tough with us and our diet. When we were cutting weight she would never give in and let us stray from the diet. She would always say we need to toughen up, and do what is best for us and the team.  

We always played sports through injuries and sickness, because our mom would never feel sorry for us. I remember when my brother was very sick during the Tri-State wrestling tournament. My mother would give him a B- 12 shot before he went to wrestle. 

The days of these tough mothers has come and passed. Today the slightest little injury or sickness, and Mothers hold their kids out of activities.

Without our mother being so tough, and not enabling us my brother and I have benefited from it over and over again throughout our entire lives. 

Vicki Moffat is by far the toughest lady that I know.

– Jeff Moffat

• Now that I'm adult, father of three wonderful children, I can begin to appreciate the love that my mother showed me. It was something that I couldn't and didn't understand at the time.

Our living arrangements were different than most. I was the oldest of five children (spread out over eight years). Sibling number four, Cory, fought a long battle with cancer and was sick and in need of constant care for most of her 11 years. My other sister, Claudia, was adopted from Guatemala. She came into our family with serious mental and physical handicaps. As challenging as my two sisters were they paled in comparison to the challenges that the three boys gave her. Myself being the chief troublemaker.

Despite our challenges my mom somehow found time to drive my brothers and me to various sports. This included baseball, swimming, football, track, soccer, and golf. I don't remember a single practice missed. As for games and meets … not only did she get us there, but she stayed and watched every pitch, snap, goal, lap, and bogey. I don't recall a time ever looking into the stands and not seeing my mom.

It was only years later, when I became a dad, that my mom revealed that she didn't enjoy most of the sports (especially track). But she did love her boys and her boys loved sports. That was enough for her.

With everything going on in our family, my mom found the time and energy to be a nurse, counselor, social worker, taxi driver, chef, maid, and coach (along with the stress of running her own business). I thought that I appreciated her when I was younger. Now I'm just astounded. I have no idea how she did what she did. I just know that love is what motivated her. 

– Bill Coleman

• My father died in 1972. My mother knew of my in interest in sports – I played outside linebacker for Herb Criner at CDA High. We were undefeated in 1982. That year coach Criner came up with an idea that we should pay tribute to our fathers by having them line up in two single file lines inside the goal post as we came out after halftime. He knew I did not have a father so he said he would stand in for me and I said “No. I have someone else in mind.”

All the fathers were sporting are white away jerseys and we go busting through this paper sign and in a instance I saw my mom – not because of recognition, it was that she was the only woman out there. I gave her a hug and went on to beat Sandpoint!

 – Richard Hawkins

•••

• There are your stories. As I read through them, I was struck by how long it takes us as sons and daughters to realize the sacrifices our moms (and dads too, but that's a June holiday) made for us. Thinking about it now, I really wish my mom were still around to yell something right now. Something like … “Hey, everyone, this Mother's Day idea came from my little man, Vince Grippi. Isn't he cute? Those freckles. I love him.”


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