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Grip on Sports: Gonzaga’s Steve Hertz receives a well-deserved honor etched in stone

Gonzaga University is planning to rename its baseball field after the long-time coach Steve Hertz during a dedication at Friday's game. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga University is planning to rename its baseball field after the long-time coach Steve Hertz during a dedication at Friday's game. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Tomorrow at this time the baseball field at Gonzaga University will have another name added to it. Steve Hertz’s name. It’s one of those honors that is well-deserved, and comes with a little history. Read on.

••••••••••

• As the 1970s faded and the 1980s began, Steve Hertz was no longer the Gonzaga baseball coach. He had played at GU, he had been an assistant coach there and he had been the head coach for a year. The he left.

He and his wife Vicki returned to Southern California so Steve could become the head coach at UC Irvine.

The team he inherited there was a mess. I know. As a recently graduated player, I lived with some of them. And I was the team’s PR guy.

That year I got to know Hertz pretty well, traveling with the team, keeping the scorebook, watching him lose his mind over the selfish and inept play. He rarely smiled.

OK, there was this one time. It happened exactly 39 years ago today (I looked it up). The Anteaters, on their way to one of their 36 losses that season, were playing at Pepperdine. The Waves were rebuilding the grandstands at their stadium. Mud was everywhere. So were Pepperdine runs (UCI would lose 13-2).

Hertz was steaming. Until two Pepperdine female students decided to walk down the hill from the school en route to sunbathing on the grass behind the left-field fence. That was their plan anyway. But the duo, clad only in skimpy bathing suits, found they were stuck behind the UC Irvine bench. A large pool of mud, where the new stands’ footings were being excavated, blocked their way.

Hertz was focused on the field; most of his players were not. I was sitting in the press area with a birds’ eye view of this developing situation.

It was obvious the two were in a quandary. Go back up the hill or try to walk across the mud? They decided on the latter. The first stuck a foot in. Solid footing an inch or so down. The next foot. Same thing. The third? Nothing. The whole leg sunk, deeper and deeper. Arms flailing, she started to fall – and grabbed her friend. Both collapsed into the 3- or 4-foot deep mud puddle, almost disappearing.

The Irvine players erupted in laughter as the two tried to extricate themselves. Hertz just wanted to erupt I think. But he turned around to see what the commotion was about.

The two girls had extracted themselves from the mud. I’m not sure their bathing suits made it, but who could tell? They were covered in the brown goo up to their necks, with more on their faces and hair. It was something out of a Mel Brooks’ movie.

You couldn’t help but laugh. And Hertz did. It may have been the only time I saw him smile that entire year. The two surprised entertainers retreated back up the hill from whence they came. Hertz’s smile faded as the Eaters went on to another loss.

The next season was better, as Hertz’s Irvine team was 37-25-1 and finished second in the Southern California Baseball Association race to Augie Garrido’s best (if not most-successful) Cal State Fullerton team. 

Then Hertz was gone. He headed home. Back to Gonzaga, where his heart was. 

I didn’t get it – at the time. 

Then, three years later, Kim and I decided to leave the L.A.-area ourselves. A job was open in Spokane at The Spokesman-Review. I flew up to interview. It seemed nice but I wasn’t sure. It was a huge change. I only knew one person here. I called Steve and went to visit him at his cramped GU office.

We talked for a half-hour or so. I left his office. My signature was attached to a figurative letter-of-intent. He had recruited me.

Over the years we stayed in touch. My sons attended Hertz’s baseball camps. We would go to Gonzaga games. I covered college baseball for a while, though not until Steve had retired as coach. But he was always around, working in athletic administration.

On fall Sundays one year I coached in a high school instructional league in which Steve’s son played. It was intimidating having him watch. After all, it is easier to critique than to be critiqued, right? 

But it went well. How did I know? That year Steve and Keith Snyder, the former SFCC coach, coached a college summer team together. Steve asked me if I would be an assistant and coach third base for them.

I wasn’t allowed to do it due to perceived work conflicts but the offer was a nice compliment. And just another example of how Hertz’s life crossed with many in Spokane. He is a Gonzaga institution and a Spokane one as well.

That role becomes etched in stone today at Gonzaga. Hertz’s name will be added to the school’s baseball field. It’s an honor he’s earned. It’s on honor he will cherish. And it’s an honor that has roots in the past five decades.

•••

WSU: Luke Falk is officially a Tennessee Titan. He signed his contract this week. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, do not miss this piece from Jon Wilner. He’s right about both Washington State mentions. … Herm Edwards is out selling Arizona State football to anyone who will listen. … Some players did well during Oregon State’s spring practices. … Promotions were handed out at Oregon.

Gonzaga: John Blanchette shares his thoughts on Hertz’s career in this column. … Corey Kispert will be traveling this summer, playing hoops and sharing his story. Jim Meehan has all the particulars. … Jill Barta’s tenure with the Minnesota Lynx didn’t last all that long. Jim Allen has a story on her release

EWU: The Eagles have picked up a transfer post. Jim Allen’s story explains. … The Big Sky Track and Field Championships are underway.

Chiefs: Everett must win tonight at home or the WHL championship series is over.

Preps: A parent’s job change brought Gonzaga Prep the best tennis player in the area this season. Justin Reed’s story explains the journey of freshman Callah Preti. … We also have roundups from baseball, softball, soccer and tennis.

Mariners: The M’s pounded the ball yesterday, most notably Kyle Seager, who hit a first-inning grand slam in a 9-3 win over Toronto. … Ryon Healy has been hitting well lately. … Scott Servais is missing two games to watch his daughter graduate. 

Seahawks: Rashaad Penny has a legacy to deal with

•••        

• We didn’t delve into the M’s all that much today, partly because we will have a column for this weekend in the paper. Want a sneak preview? Nope, not going to happen. You’ll have to wait. OK, there is some of what I’m going to be writing about contained in this Press Box pod from Larry Weir. We talked yesterday. Until later … 

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