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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: Spring training is not just about watching players get ready for the season, it is also about hope

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Another Wednesday, another notes column. Except this one has a special note. Spring training is full-go in Arizona and Florida. The training part is immaterial. The spring part is what matters.


• Seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. But the opposite has to be true, right? As daylight sticks around, as the air grows warmer, as life begins to blossom once more, we go from sad to glad. Slowly, sure. But surely. As sure as we are the M’s are still a bat or two short to win an American League West race that slowed down slightly over the offseason.

Texas is going to take a step back. After all, when you win the World Series, the only way not to is to win it all again. Houston is aging. The Angels are the Angels. And Oakland? Where art thou, Oakland?

It’s a perfect year for Julio Rodriguez to hit .318, crush 47 home runs, drive in 118 and strike out a who-cares 153 times. That’s what it might take – and a little more – for the M’s to win the West. The pitching will do its part, even if the defense might let it down a time or two. The lineup, though, not only needs an MVP-like Julio but a healthy Mitch Haniger, a revitalized Jorge Polanco, a steady J.P. Crawford, a back-from-the-dead Ty France and another feel-good story to really compete.

That’s a lot of hope in a sport that hoping usually only leaves you hopeless come October. And sleepless in Seattle all summer long.

• But you are right, hope is a good thing, Andy.

We hope the Cougars make the NCAA Tournament, mainly because it’s such a good story. Last year of the Pac-12. Oregon State and Washington State left behind. A rebuild on the horizon. And the Cougs find the Promised Land for the first time in 16 years. A perfect segue into the Kyle Smith-to-Indiana stories that are sure to pop up in late March.

Then there are the Eastern Eagles. Last year they were the class of the Big Sky. But the only hope they seemed to have of getting stops in the conference’s tournament involved an inadvertent dribble off an opponent’s foot. That can’t happen again this season, can it? We hope not.

Up north, the Whitworth Pirates have one hope of making another NCAA Division III tournament. Win this weekend’s conference automatic berth on their home court. Two games. Two wins. One berth.

And then there is the previously hopeless Gonzaga Bulldogs. No hope, right, after they lost at home to Saint Mary’s? Dropped from the top 25. Fell from mock brackets. A few weeks, and a few tough-it-out wins later (including one across the country), the Zags are a win or two away from earning a double bye in the WCC tournament. And then just another win away from securing an NCAA berth.

There is always hope for a high seed with the GU women. Hope of an NCAA berth for the Cougars is suffering from a season-ending injury. And there is a eliminate-the-need-for-hope game Thursday night in Cheney for EWU.

It’s true. When it comes to sports, hope is the best of things.

• You know what is really the best of things, though? A pop tart. Lightly toasted. Just enough to be warm but not too much to burn the edges. Just saying.

• There is no hope in the professional golf world right now. The game itself is doing well among the masses. It’s no pickleball, but what is? Anyhow, the professional part of it is so fractured as to be Humpty Dumpty-esque. Yolk all over the place – and on us.

The professional game is about stars. A constellation. One supernova – Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods – and then a bunch of red-hot ones. There is no giant right now. That’s not the worst of it. There is always hope one will emerge. But the supporting cast is scattered all over the world. And the gathering places, the majors, are slowly excluding some of the bigger names.

We’ll delve into this deeper in early April but for now we hold out hope money will bring them all together at some point. After all, it was what drove them apart.


WSU: How the heck did Kyle Smith build the second-best team in the Pac-12? A team that has a chance to show it may just be the best tomorrow night? Greg Woods spends a few thousand words this morning trying to explain it. In the end, the No. 1 reason is the assembly of players. And 1A is their development. … Washington State pitcher Chase Grillo is on the 2024 NCBWA DI Stopper of the Year preseason watch list. That news leads off the S-R’s latest local briefs column. … Next year’s 12-team football playoff will have a revised format, one that Washington State president Kirk Schulz agreed to after a meeting Tuesday. Today’s meetings, focusing on the 2026 season and beyond, will be more contentious and could lead to more fracturing in the top ranks of the sport. … Just who will be broadcasting the Pac-2’s football games next season? … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Arizona’s new athletics director hire is considered a home run by everyone. Call us jaded, but we are still nagged a bit about Desiree Reed-Francois taking such a large pay cut to move from Missouri to UA. Attending law school in Tucson doesn’t seem to be enough to leave an SEC school for less money. Unless there is more to the departure. … Arizona’s boosters are on the hook for some of her salary and some of the new extension given Tommy Lloyd. … How hard is it to win in college basketball these days? Ask UConn. You know, the unanimous No. 1 this week. Now the victim of Creighton on the road. By 19 points. … Washington has some issues in its athletic department, issues Big Ten membership won’t automatically solve. … Speaking of issues, it seems to be an issue whether or not Oregon and Oregon State will continue to meet in hoops. … Colorado is turning its focus toward Utah. … What do Arizona State’s issues mean for Bobby Hurley’s future? … Injuries have turned one key Oregon women’s player into something of an assistant coach. … A Colorado running back hopes to dominate next season. … Finally, we just loved this story about a first-year basketball coach in Wisconsin. No reason to pass it along except to say there are a million ways to be successful coaching and all have one thing in common: Be true to who you are.

Gonzaga: Did you know the GU alumni playing in the NBA has reached double digits? Of course, Theo Lawson did, and he also knows just how they are doing. He shares that this morning. … One of them, Zach Collins, is front and center watching Victor Wembanayma develop into an NBA star. … The next GU star? Maybe it will be a 7-foot, 290-pound New Zealand center. Jim Meehan has this story on the recruitment of Julius Halaifonua. … Elsewhere in the WCC, we watched the first part of Saint Mary’s 70-66 win over USF last night. And realized early the Gaels were going to win. You know how there are horses for courses, as they say? Well, there are ways games are officiated that benefit one team or another. Last night’s crew were calling certain things and not others. As happens. The ignored calls were iffy-screens. Saint Mary’s loves to move late and knock defenders off their paths. Call it and the Gaels struggle. Don’t and they don’t. It wasn’t. In the end USF made 5-of-8 free throws. Host Saint Mary’s made 22 of 32.

EWU: Win tomorrow night’s showdown with Northern Arizona and the Eagle women will set a program record for most wins in a season. They will also have a one-game lead in the conference regular season chase. Dan Thompson has that and more in this story. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, the race for the men’s player of the year award seems to be in Weber State’s Dillon Jones’ back pocket.

Chiefs: Dave also put together a story on Spokane’s crucial 6-4 win over the Wenatchee Wild on the road. The Chiefs’ hold on the eighth and final playoff spot is tightening.

Preps: Ridgeline girls and boys played the school’s first State basketball tournament games last night. Dave Nichols was at the school as the girls posted the first win, 49-39 over Peninsula in a 3A elimination game. The boys fell 63-57 to Todd Beamer on the road.

Seahawks: What does the future hold for the Hawks’ tight ends, from local product Will Dissly all the way down the depth chart? … Can Seattle afford Leonard Williams? Can it afford to let him go? … The coaching staff is filling fast.

Mariners: Yesterday was the first day all players were in Peoria. Julio was one of them. He talked about what he expects this season. … Scott Servais had some things to say to the players as well. … The M’s fan-favorite now has a spot the media guide.

Kraken: Playing Vancouver could be Seattle’s best hope in the playoffs.


• Honestly, we watched the first two segments of the WCC showdown in Moraga last night. And went to bed. The outcome was clear, even if the gap wasn’t wide. We could have sat there and witnessed the inevitable outcome. Or read a chapter or two of the newest Abe Lincoln biography with which we’re involved. We chose the latter. Until later …