…Continued from the previous post.
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home. That goes double when you are playing for the right to advance to the CIF Southern Section 8-Man Football Championship. Especially when you are the owners of a 7-4 record, and you’re playing against an 11-0 powerhouse.
Such is the case when you are a member of the Windward Wildcats.
To lend support to their efforts against the heavily favored Faith Baptist Contenders, I had braved L.A.’s 405 freeway on a Saturday during the Christmas shopping season. Embedded war correspondents have it cushy by comparison.
As for that “ever so humble” thing, it’s a perfect description of the athletic complex at Windward. Sandwiched into a parcel of land scarcely larger than the average dog park are the Wildcats’ baseball, softball and football playing fields. Suffice to say, there’s some overlap.
While 8-man football may consist of reduced roster sizes and smaller fields (just 80 yards long), if I had any inclination to devalue the skill level of the players, all I had to do was remind myself of this: Just across town in the L.A. Coliseum, where USC was preparing to host Notre Dame, the quarterback ready to enter the game should anything happen to the Trojan’s starter Mitch Mustain was John Manoogian – Windward High School, Class of 2009.
Regular readers may have gleaned an inkling that football isn’t exactly Number One With A Bullet on my list of favorite spectator sports this week. Going to an NFL game will do that to you these days.
But duty called, and the name of this duty was 8-man football.
The concept is a good one – the 8-man version of football allows teens to play the game even if they don’t attend a school with a large student body. Instead of simply saying “Sorry, we’re too small to field a team”, 8-man football puts high schools in a position to offer the All-American athletic experience.
In 1959, British writer Alan Sillitoe published a short story entitled The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. It was made into a movie in 1962, and ultimately received enough acclaim to land it on the British Film Institute’s list of the greatest British films of the 20th century.
I never read the story nor saw the movie. In fact the only thing I’ve ever known about the plot line is that it revolved around cross country running. And that one small nugget of knowledge has always framed my perception of the sport. Cross country = lonely.
Hey, I never said it was a rational perception.
I was a fish out of water. In over my head. Tossed into the deep end. (Feel free to insert your own favorite water-based cliché here). I was sitting in the bleachers at the Mission Viejo Aquatic Center, taking in the USA Diving National Championship Prelims, and I was the only uninformed member of the “crowd”.
Every 30 seconds or so, in front of me a young male or female would bound off of a springboard, contort themselves in mid-air and somehow (most of the time) straighten themselves out for a hands-first entry into the water. This would be followed by a mysterious authoritative voice emanating from…well, from somewhere I couldn’t see, reading off a set of five scores. This had been going on continuously for almost 90 minutes now.
There’s something about a Team USA competition that always makes me think that the event staff would be startled to come across someone onsite who is not: (a) an athlete taking part in the competition; (b) a friend or family member of a competitor; or (c) a member of the facility management staff. These dedicated people work so hard to create an environment in which their athletes can shine – yet the thought that others may enjoy watching them shine appears never to occur to them.
It was a day whose name ended in “y”, so traffic was heavy in SoCal – thus causing me to run a few minutes late for the start of the USA Diving National Preliminaries. So I can’t say this with absolute certainty, but based on the sub-low-key (no-key?) nature of the event that I came to witness, I probably didn’t miss much in the way of opening ceremony pomp and circumstance. In fact, within a few minutes of taking a bleacher seat in the Mission Viejo Aquatic Complex, I started to wonder if I had come to the right place.
Sometimes a game is destined to be a classic before the first pitch is thrown. You pretty much know it going in. But sometimes a classic sneaks up on you unexpectedly, coming out of nowhere to carve out a particularly hallowed spot in the annals of Fan-dom. Game Two of the NCAA College World Series Super Regional between UCLA and Cal State Fullerton was just such a game.
In almost every notable sports accomplishment there is a serendipitous occurrence. In a no-hitter it may be a wall-climbing, home-run robbing catch by a rookie outfielder. In a long hitting streak there is always the check-swing bloop single on the last at-bat of an otherwise hitless day. In a tournament winning round of golf, perhaps it’s a lucky bounce off of a tree and back into the fairway on a drive headed deep into the woods.
In my quest to capture all the best that sports in this country has to offer, my stroke of blind luck has a name – Jim Winn.
Blair Field, in the heart of Long Beach’s famed Recreation Park, is home to Long Beach State’s baseball team, the Dirtbags. Yes, I said the Dirtbags. I can imagine that this makes for interesting recruiting challenges. How do you start that conversation? “Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, we think your son has what it takes to be a Dirtbag…”
On May 26, 1959, a pitcher named Harvey Haddix pitched 12 and 2/3 innings of perfect baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Milwaukee Braves. He had the unfortunate timing to pitch this masterpiece on a day that his teammates failed to score, and when he gave up a home run in the 13th inning he lost the perfect game, the no-hitter…and the game. Even now, 51 years later, it is considered by many to be the most extraordinary game ever pitched – and the standard by which baseball frustration is measured.
Harvey Haddix, meet Stevie Goldstein.
There is a rich legacy of success involving UCLA softball – as is the case with most of the athletic programs. The school has won almost 90 national championships in various sports over the years, and a microcosm of that mindset of success is on display at Easton Stadium. Evoking thoughts of Yankee Stadium, ringing the outfield wall is a series of banners, each of which celebrates a separate national softball championship.