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

A Grip on Sports: The passage of time hits hardest when thinking about the death of others, no matter how well we knew them

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Too many passings lately. At least in our life, and in the sporting realm. Each have a different impact but all are important. And all deserve some sort of acknowledgment on this Memorial Day weekend.


• The personal we’re going to keep that way. As we age, we realize such things will happen more and more, hitting not only us but those we love. It’s just the way of life. Nothing we can do about it. Except be the best we can be every day.

But other losses have a wider impact. Come at times that don’t seem appropriate. Shock everyone. Such is the case with Brendon Merritt’s death 10 days ago.

The name might not ring many bells for you. It certainly didn’t for us when we first read the news of Merritt’s heart attack and subsequent passing in the S-R. We recognized it, but it took some memory-jogging to put it together with his time at Eastern Washington a few decades ago. Then it hit us. He was the big guard on that stellar 1994 Eagle team. What ever happened to him?

A quiet journey of epic proportions, that’s what. From the shadows to the light.

Thanks to Dave Boling today, and his incredibly touching column, we were able to track it. And to understand why every one of Merritt’s family, friends, and acquaintances were so saddened by his death. Whenever someone travels through the hell that life can be, battles the demons, whatever they are, and comes out clean on the other side, they become someone you want to root for and support.

Merritt traveled that journey. Lived it. Had found what we all look for. Acceptance, thankfulness and joy in what we have. And then left this world – leaving others behind to deal with the loss, with a responsibility. To celebrate the life. The best parts of it. To share them. As we do this morning.

• Not every passing hits personally. But they hit. Such was the case with Grayson Murray, who died Saturday at the age of 30.

We knew Murray’s name. Saw it on the PGA leaderboards off and on over the past decade. Knew he won a tournament earlier this year. Did not know he had withdrawn Friday from this week’s event in Fort Worth, Texas, citing illness, other than to see the WD next to his name as we checked the scores in the morning.

We didn’t know Murray’s story. His journey. Now we do. A story that seemed just beginning. Again. That turned out to not be the case. It’s those unwritten chapters, the ones that should have been authored by Murray and read by all of us, that hit so hard. Again.

• The passing of an entity isn’t at the same level as the loss of even a single life. But it does invoke many of the same reactions, including mourning – even when you have known for a long time it was coming.

Such is the case with the Pac-12 Conference that accompanied our life.

When we were a child, it was the Pac-8. When we were a young adult, it was the Pac-10. And when we finally were a mature one, it matured as well, into the Pac-12. An athletic conference seemingly positioned to be a powerful entity in college sports for perpetuity, albeit with a bent toward Olympic sports.

Turns out, that wasn’t enough. Not with the tectonic changes in college athletics. The ground shifted and the Pac-12 was ripped apart like a bamboo building.

Treachery played a part. Intransigence too. Stupidity. Arrogance. Lack of vision. Greed. Bad luck.

The obit has been written a thousand times in a million different ways. But it comes down to a simple truth. The conference we’ve come to know will no longer be with us in the foreseeable future. No matter how many times Washington State and Oregon State supporters wish it were so.

Does that mean it can’t pull a Lazarus, and rise from the tomb? No. We used the term “foreseeable future” with a purpose. Temblors are still happening, reshaping the college athletic landscape on a daily basis. There are no signs they will stop.

If the change reaped over the past two decades seems incomprehensible, the next few years holds the potential to eclipse it. Heck, holds a distinct probability of doing that.

The Pac we’ve known since childhood may return. It’s possible.

It’s that possibility that allows us to understand WSU and OSU’s quest is not quixotic. The windmills are real. Hard to see, sure. But there is a possibility, a chance, one greater than Lloyd Christmas reveled in, for the two schools to once again be part of a West Coast entity that holds a key place in college athletics.

Whatever college athletics becomes.

• The final Pac-12 event? Yesterday’s baseball title game, which seems appropriate.

The Pac-12 has never been a football conference, as defined by the media mavens. Good often, sure. Great? Occasionally. The football field was never where the Conference of Champions earned its nickname.

The basketball court, yes. The tracks and tennis courts and golf courses, even more so. But when we think of the Pac-12’s dominance over the years, we immediately default to the baseball field.

Led by USC’s 12 titles, teams that made up the Pac-12 this season have won 29 NCAA crowns, more than any other conference.

The last game pitting two Pac-12 schools? It seems right it was between USC and Arizona, two of the top three programs historically.

That the Wildcats rallied from a three-run deficit to win 4-3 with a bottom-of-the-ninth run-scoring single, seemed apropos, considering they did the same thing to Oregon State last week to win the regular season title.

And the fact the conference should have as many as seven teams in the NCAA tournament, but probably will end up with just four, seems apropos as well.

Part of the conference’s demise was a lack of respect nationally. Too often Pac-12 schools were shunted to the side to allow more SEC and Big Ten schools access to major events. Not surprisingly, those two conference have emerged as the current top dogs in the athletic hierarchy.

Maybe one of the four will go on to win the national title. That would be worth celebrating. And if it happened to be Oregon State? Epic. Heroic. And appropriate.


WSU: Maribel Caicedo won the women’s 100-meter hurdles in 12.38 seconds at the NCAA West regionals, the best time in the nation this season and setting a school record. Her performance leads off this roundup of performances by local athletes at the regional. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, what a big week it was, as Jon Wilner recounts in this Mercury News column. … John Canzano has some thoughts on that as well this morning. … We mentioned above Arizona’s 4-3 win over USC in the baseball tournament title game. The Wildcats are on a roll. … Stanford stayed alive in the NCAA softball Super Regionals, as the Cardinal’s best pitcher rebounded with a 3-0 home win over LSU. … Arizona couldn’t rebound, however, and was eliminated at Oklahoma State. … UCLA has already moved on to Oklahoma City courtesy of its young pitchers. … The House settlement will impact every school. We pass along a story on Utah. … It can be considered a rare win for the athletes. … The demise of the Pac-12 means new places for the 10 schools.

Gonzaga: Jim Meehan spoke with newest Zag Braeden Smith this week, delving into such topics as why he would leave Colgate and a starting spot to redshirt at GU. And why the Bulldogs, when other schools offered immediate playing time? Jim’s story is worth reading. … Elsewhere in the WCC, San Diego won the conference’s baseball crown, and automatic NCAA berth, Saturday, topping Portland 8-6.

EWU: We linked Dave’s column on Merritt’s death above. We do it again here in case you missed it. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, we passed along news yesterday concerning Northern Colorado’s baseball team. Thought we better let you know the Bears lost to Oral Roberts (again) in the Summit League championship.

Preps: Greg Lee was in Tacoma covering the State big schools track meet yesterday. Once again he has two roundups to pass along, one on the girls and another on the boys. East Valley won the 2A girls title and Mead the 3A boys. … As Saturday was the final fay of spring sports, and of the 2023-24 prep year, we have a roundup to pass along on all the other events. … Rogers High plans to celebrate the 60th anniversary of one of the great prep races of all time, Gerry Lindgren’s win at a U.S.-U.S.S.R. meet in the 1964. Dave Nichols has more in this story.

Indians: Dave also has the coverage of a 3-2 loss in Eugene for the Indians. Despite the defeat, Spokane remains in first in the Northwest League standings. … Elsewhere in the NWL on Saturday, Everett pounded Tri-City 7-1. … Visiting Vancouver edged Hillsboro 2-1.

Velocity: Two tries. Two home losses. Spokane has yet to figure out a way to defeat Greenville Triumph FC in the Lilac City. The latest loss came last night in penalty kicks after a scoreless 90 minutes. Justin Reed has the coverage.

Mariners: We have some thoughts on what the M’s need to do. We think we will share them tomorrow. They are a bit out of character for us. But after Saturday’s loss, and the way the Mariners have been hitting, we believe something drastic is the only solution. What happened Saturday? Logan Gilbert was nearly lights out, albeit only over 78 pitches in six innings. After that, Washington put the bullpen’s lights out and won 3-1. … Hey, at least Julio Rodriguez hit a home run. … No, this is a bad idea. Just get to computer-assisted balls and strikes already. … Down on the farm, there are highlights.

Storm: Skylar Diggins-Smith hit shots, Seattle defended Washington well and the Storm dominated 101-69 at Climate Pledge Arena last night.

Sounders: Hey, the Sounders won. And that 2-1 victory in St. Louis lifted them above the playoff line in the MLS’ standings.

Kraken: Dallas tied up the series with Edmonton, winning 3-1 Saturday on the Oilers’ ice.

Indianapolis 500: The weather is the key concern today. Rain isn’t conducive to auto racing. … Rain isn’t a concern in Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600 tonight. There are other elements in play though.


• We have been a McDonald’s fan since, well, Pac-8 days. But if the fast-food giant gets rid of free soda refills, we will no longer spend a dime in the place. It’s as simple as that. We are Sicilian. We hold grudges. Until later …