A GRIP ON SPORTS • There are a lot of subjects we could cover today. Washington State’s prep for its showdown with on-its-way-to-the-ACC Stanford. Game three in the World Series. But we won’t. Instead, we want to take a moment and share a personal memory of a gentle giant who left us yesterday. One who made his mark in our life with a few moments of kindness and caring.
• It’s family lore. How, in the early 1960s, the youngest Grippi played catch with then-Dodger up-and-coming star, Frank Howard. Turns out, it was just something Howard, who died Monday at age 87, did. He spent his Major League career making fans – and that’s what we were as a child – feel special.
Did he ever.
Many people in Spokane can probably recall when Howard roamed the grass of then-Indians Stadium. How could you forget? He was 6-foot-7 and, even then, hit towering home runs. When he left Spokane for good and became part of the Los Angeles core that would sweep the hated Yankees in the 1963 Series, he settled in the cramped suburb of Monrovia.
In a working-class, sun-drenched neighborhood oddly named Mayflower Village. A place of small, post-World War II homes and growing families. Including ours.
Howard was hard to miss. Still, as dad used to recall, the folks in the neighborhood left him alone. He was a laborer, like everyone there, though he did his work in the batter’s box at Dodger Stadium. That was, like all work, highly respected. The Monrovia way.
But he loved to connect with the neighborhood kids. According to the stories – we must admit we were too young to remember, but dad used to share the tale often – we would gather around him when he was doing his yard work, and do what children do: pester him for attention.
He obliged. With his time. With his autograph. And then the one time that has a special place in our family’s oral history, by playing catch with the youngest Grippi. According to the family legend, he marveled at the 5-or-6-year-old’s ability. Again, we have no recollection. But dad did. And he always relayed the story with pride.
How Howard tossed the ball underhand at first but discovered quickly the little fellow could handle overhand ones. How he praised the technique. The speed of the throw back. The accuracy.
Afterward, he autographed the ball. It, alas, didn’t survive the three family moves that followed. But the story did. And we can’t help but think of it today.
Major league players back then made good money. But not life-changing sums like today. They lived among the same people who sat in the stands. Shared similar dreams. Lives. Hopes. Still, they stood out. They had to.
Howard understood his outsized stature – in every way. He seemed to relish it. And loved using it to make someone, even a little kid, feel special. He knew he could create a memory just by being nice.
So, he did. One that has been passed along from father to son to grandsons. And will survive his passing.
Howard made his baseball mark after he left Los Angeles. After he was traded to the Washington Senators. After he hit so many mammoth home runs, seats where they landed in old Robert F. Kennedy Stadium were painted a different color.
That team, like the original Senators franchise before it, left D.C. Became the Texas Rangers. The same Rangers who took a 2-1 lead in this year’s World Series on Monday night with a 3-1 win over the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
The franchise noted his passing. So did the Dodgers. And the current Washington baseball franchise, the Nationals, who changed its rules in 2016 so it could induct Howard into its Ring of Honor. Not just because of his prodigious home runs but because of a lifetime of prodigious kindness with baseball fans. A skill actually worth honoring.
A skill that made the man a hall of famer in an even better way. And part of our family’s history.
WSU: OK, back to more local news. The Cougars on Saturday what Jon Wilner describes in his Mercury News Pac-12 power rankings as: “There are must-win games, and there are MUST-WIN games. And the latter doesn’t begin to accurately describe WSU’s assignment this week.” Greg Woods has his first look at the home contest with 2-6 Stanford in today’s S-R. And he shares the news two key players probably won’t be available. … Though the showdown games Nov. 11 – USC at Oregon and Utah at Washington – were put on a one-week hold by the networks, Washington State knows its time. Greg tells us the Cougs game at California will start at 1 p.m. on ESPN2. … Before we move on, we also want to share Wilner’s homage to Mike Leach – and to Halloween. He describes each of the Pac-12 football programs as candy. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, John Canzano has a mailbag that covers the conference. … Washington will look to bounce back a bit at USC on Saturday. … With Cal coming to Eugene, Oregon may be able to take a breath. Or maybe not. … Oregon State heads to Colorado probably a bit ticked off after last week’s loss. The Buffs have their own reasons to be angry. … The team that handed the Beavers that loss, Arizona, hopes to do the same to UCLA in a battle of top-notch defenses. … Arizona State will try to build off its first conference win of the season with another upset at Utah. … The ACC yesterday released its football schedules for the rest of the decade. Cal and Stanford will basically quadruple their travel miles playing in the conference. And just think, the other sports will be even worse. Academics are king, right? … In basketball news, Arizona raced to an easy exhibition win last night behind Caleb Love. … Colorado kicks off its season this week. … The Utah women think they can compete for a national title.
Gonzaga: Mark Few was ready if any GU professor wanted him to write a what-I-did-on-summer-vacation essay to start the school year. As Theo Lawson shares, Few’s piece would have been a doozy. The Bulldogs’ coach did an oral history of his time with USA Basketball for Lawson recently. … Though neither Drew Timme nor Malachi Smith made an NBA roster to start the season, that doesn’t mean Jim Meehan has forgotten about them. He shares what’s ahead for the duo in this story. … The Zag women will play a game Feb. 28 on ESPNU. That game change news is part of the S-R’s latest local briefs column.
EWU and Idaho: Around the Big Sky, UC Davis lost in more than one way last weekend. … So did Montana State, which is trying to shore up its issues quickly. … In basketball news, Idaho State rolled in its exhibition game against Division II member Simon Frazier.
Seahawks: No, we didn’t forget what the Hawks did early Monday. Their trade for defensive lineman Leonard Williams was as big an anti-Mariner move as we’ve ever seen. Williams will be a free agent. The Hawks may have overpaid with second- and fifth-round draft picks. But the franchise can see what everyone else sees. The NFC is wide open. Shore up the defense and maybe the Seahawks can be the team representing the conference in the Super Bowl. So, they went for it. … This year’s draft class has been good for Seattle once again. … DK Metcalf is proud of his key block from Sunday.
Mariners: Corey Seager, another former Dodger, hit a Howard-like two-run home run to key the 3-1 Series win. … Paul Sewald spent some time with Larry Stone and shared more thoughts on his season and the M’s.
• Hey, this is the final day of October, isn’t it. Sort of slipped our mind, what with all the travel we’ve done recently. That means it’s Halloween. And, as we discovered looking out the front window this morning for the first time in a couple weeks, time to start raking leaves. Why did we return again? Oh, ya. We’re having hernia surgery in a week. Now, that’s scary. Until later …