The sounds of summer while sitting on the stoops of the streets of Philadelphia during the 1970s emanated from a small box. It was the crack of the bat and the occasional crackle from the lost radio signal.
There was nothing like listening to a baseball game delivered by the insightful minds and mellifluous voices of Harry Kalas, Vin Scully and Mel Allen. After games of stickball, I would ditch my friends and catch baseball games with my octogenarian neighbor, who would detail what it was like witnessing the Herculean exploits of icons such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx.
I witnessed quite a few MLB games in person as a kid. I’ll never forget experiencing my Philadelphia Phillies in our home ballpark, an awful concrete doughnut, which was the rage during the Nixon era. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis, unfortunately, had nearly identical stadiums. “Wow, I’ve never seen grass so green,” I said after first laying eyes on the Vet’s unforgiving Astroturf.
I loved going to games, but there was something magical about experiencing the radio broadcast. The images conjured in my young mind were so stimulating. I always wanted to pass on that experience to my children, but the odds of that have always been slim and none during this visual era. If a child isn’t watching a game or other programming on television, there’s the cellphone, which is akin to an extra appendage for a child.
After skiing on April 3, our tradition post-slope is to dine at a Sandpoint Mexican restaurant. My son Milo, 15, and I arrived just prior to the tip of the Gonzaga-UCLA game in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. I figured the game would be a blowout and planned for a post-dinner commitment in downtown Spokane.
The Zags were favored by 14. I would leave after the first 10 minutes with the Bulldogs up by, say, 25-11. But a funny thing happened as the supposedly overmatched Bruins were up to the task as they proved to be a worthy adversary.
We didn’t leave our booth until halftime. While racing toward Spokane, I tuned into the broadcast, and it was if I was transported back in time. Without a television or phone for Milo, who destroyed his electronic means of communication during our recent trip to Hawaii by diving into the Pacific shortly after we arrived with his device in a trunk pocket, he had no choice but to hang on every word of the gripping broadcast.
It was a compelling 45-minute ride listening to Zags legend and radio analyst Adam Morrison and play-by-play man Tom Hudson. When the Zags pulled ahead by seven points late in the game, I felt a sense of relief.
“Do you know what would be wild?” Milo said. “How amazing would it be if UCLA came back, took the lead and Gonzaga pulled it out miraculously.” “I don’t think I could handle it,” I said. UCLA snaked back ahead, but Gonzaga battled its way to overtime. We were close to home, and I thought about racing toward our television.
“No chance we get pulled over,” I told Milo. “Every police officer in the city is watching the game.” We were encouraged as Drew Timme took over during overtime. Our hearts raced as we were informed and entertained by Morrison and Hudson.
“Listening to the game is like reading a novel instead of watching a movie,” Milo said. “I can see it all happening in my mind.” I never thought about it, but that sounded about right as the picture was painted in my brain when UCLA sensation Johnny Juzang snatched his own rebound and tied the game up with three seconds left.
And then it happened! “Here’s Suggs the other way, pull-up three, for the win,” Hudson said. I had a flashback of when I was shooting from half court at a Sixers game two years ago. My shot clanged off the rim. However, Suggs, who practiced the desperation shot each day, was fortunate.
“Yes!” Morrison screamed as the ball banked off the glass for a game-winning 40-footer. Suggs’ shot was sunk as we parked. Milo and I smiled and laughed at each other.
“I’m so glad we got to listen to the game on the radio,” Milo said. “What a cool experience. I doubt Monday’s game can get any better than this.” Milo was correct. Expectations were high. He and I sat at a table at Northern Quest Resort & Casino. I wanted Milo to experience a championship in a crowd. At 15, he’s the same age I was when the Phillies won their first World Series.
Milo and I had a great time at the sports bar Epic – until the game started. It reminded me of the 2001 NFC Championship between my Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants. The G-Men were up 14-0 four minutes into the game. It was evident that heavyweight battle was finished halfway before the first quarter concluded.
It felt the same way against Baylor, who were up 9-0. The championship game was over before it started. But I wasn’t as sad as usual when my team loses a big game. Much of that had to do with the Zags crowd at Northern Quest, which took the world-class beating in stride. As I groaned while departing, a fellow fan said, “Wait until next year.”
I’ll do just that, but Milo and I wondered how Spokane would have reacted to a national title. Would the middle of town be turned upside down a la Montreal and Detroit? Would ESPN analyst Sean Farnham have returned for a parade? There are many unanswered questions, but what Milo and I do know is that there is magic in the airwaves when Morrison and Hudson wax about the Zags.
Will Gonzaga, who is already the favorite to win the national championship in 2022, win it all next year? All Milo and I know is that we’re going to listen to at least one game on the radio during March Madness. The Zags didn’t win it all, but it was a glorious run by Mark Few’s gifted and gritty squad and a much-needed diversion from the pandemic.
Normalcy and 2022 are on the horizon, and perhaps that elusive first national championship for the small Jesuit Catholic school, which matches up well with any of the college basketball blue bloods, is up next.
Thanks for a tremendous season, which included 28 consecutive wins by double digits; a squad, which plays the right way; and a game for the ages against UCLA. Go, Zags!
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