May 12, 2013 in Sports

For Mom, it’s all about the love

A Grip On Sports
 
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Emma Wasson was Gonzaga’s No. 1 fan, even during lean years when there were a lot of empty seats.
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Vince Grippi has an opinion about everything local, especially sports. Every Sunday we provide samples of his daily riffs. Read him daily at spokesman.com/sportslink.

I asked you for your Mother’s Day stories and you responded.

Big time.

We received too many letters to print, but you can read all of them this morning at Sportslink.

My favorite story of my mom and sports 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.

The best cheerleader

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 meant a heavy sweatshirt in 80-degree heat.

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. 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, 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 Saxons 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

Mom knows best

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 nearsighted and should be wearing glasses for distance. 

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

Steak and fries

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.

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 midnight.

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

Moment of a lifetime

I think you may have heard of my mother, Emma Wasson, 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 and 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, (P.A. announcer) 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 had 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 started chanting, “Emma, Emma, Emma …” She was standing midcourt, beaming, absolutely beaming. And I was on the sideline, bawling. It had all come together.

The three seniors, Jeremy Eaton, Mike Leasure and Quentin Hall, on behalf of the team, walked out to her and put this wonderful letterman’s jacket on her. It was 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

Coolest mom ever

My mom’s the coolest mom ever.

When I was a kid growing up in Redmond, my dad would throw batting practice to me, and my mom would chase down all 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 online. 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

Symbol of love

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 lifelong 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 to 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 and 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 it 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

Tough love from tough mom

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

No distance too far

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, 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 weekend’s 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 to 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 and 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 paid off as my teammates and I prepared all week to play for the 2006 4A state football championship. Still, 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 mother’s 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 stands 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 may 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


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