Umpires, Grateful Dead, and sunsets

My wife and I just returned from a week on Anna Maria Island in the Tampa Bay Area sunburned and relaxed, after spending time with our daughter Lauren, son-in-law Erick, and grandkids, Millie, 6, and Clarkson, 5. Those of you who have been on the Gulf Coast will know what I mean when I say that the sunsets are spectacular in that part of Florida—more on that later!! 

Meanwhile, there’s a lot to cover so let’s get started— 

Josef Newgarden became the first racer to win the Indy 500 in consecutive years since Helio Castroneves took the checkered flag in both 2001 and 2002. Newgarden passed Pato O’Ward on the final lap of the weather-delayed classic to claim the trip to Victory Lane and relegate the  Mexican driver to a runner-up position for a second time. The 25-year-old O’Ward is a fan favorite (as is Newgarden, who once again ran through the crowd after his win), so you have to think that someday he’ll share the glory of past champions. 

Congratulations to both the Greenville Lady Wave and Tri-Village Lady Patriots softball squads on tremendous seasons that both came up a little short of their regional title aspirations. The  Lady Wave fell to Kenton Ridge 1-0 in a D-II semifinal contest (Ridge went on to defeat  Granville and advance to this weekend’s state semi) while T-V lost 5-3 to the Lady Wildcats of  Minster in the D-IV championship game. Great programs backed by avid supporters, both schools will be powers again next spring! 

High school baseball regional play finds several local teams on the bracket lines—in D-IV Fort  Recovery plays in the northwest regional while in the southwest defending state champion  Russia takes on Galion Northmor and Bradford’s Railroaders face the Eagles of Troy Christian. In D-III Coldwater and Brookville represent the area, albeit in different regions. Vandalia-Butler advanced in D-I action and will square off with always powerful Moeller. The Miami Valley  League would have had two regional qualifiers but Troy came up short against Mason in a district final. Good luck to all teams this week as they vie for the trip to the state tournament! 

The state track meet will be held this week at Welcome Stadium in Dayton with many area  qualifiers participating; a complete listing of athletes making the so-called “Sweet Sixteen” in  each event in each of the three divisions can be found by going to the OHSAA website. Again, here’s hoping for personal records for all who made it to this point in the season! 

See where Major League umpire Angel Hernandez is finally “retiring” after over thirty years.  The veteran had been widely criticized lately for an inconsistent strike zone and woefully mistake-filled games, whether behind the plate or on the bases. If you see some of the  “highlights” of his past calls it’s easy to understand why maybe it’s best the 62-year-old hangs up his gear. Speaking of umpires here are a few that easily come to mind in the past 30 or 40  years, both for their notoriety and personalities—how about Harry Wendelstedt, Bruce  “Spanky” Froemming, and Country Joe West? Each were unique in their own way and favorites of Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman. Trivia question number one today—name the home plate umpire who suffered a fatal heart attack at the 1996 Opening Day game between the visiting Montreal Expos (yes, the Expos!) and the home-standing Reds.

Sad news with the passing of legendary Hall of Fame basketball standout Bill Walton at age 71. The 6’11” UCLA grad was the three-time NCAA Player of the Year, led the Bruins to two national championships, including an 88-game winning streak, was a two-time NBA champion with first the Trail Blazers and then the Celtics, and was an icon of the sport both on and off of the court. After retiring he became one of the true characters in the broadcast industry, a devoted follower of the Grateful Dead becoming known for wearing tie-dye tee shirts on national telecasts, and an activist for many different causes. One-of-a-kind, the native San Diego resident had battled cancer for the past few years. Trivia question number two—can you name the team who denied Walton and UCLA a third national title? 

Back to the sunsets on the Gulf Coast of Florida – those of you familiar with nature’s beauty along that part of the peninsula will surely reaffirm my thoughts. When the sun dips into the  Gulf water it first makes the water glow a golden color and then the sky takes on a brilliant yet soft orange-pinkish hue as our favorite star slowly fades from sight. The crowds gathered on the white sandy beach applauded each evening we were there, truly memorable moments. There are beautiful sunsets everywhere but this has to rank as one of my favorites. 

Answers to the trivia questions – the late John McSherry called the first seven pitches of the  Opening Day contest in Cincinnati before beckoning his fellow umps, staggering a few steps backwards, and suffering a fatal heart attack, causing the game to be postponed until the next day. David Thompson and Tommy Burleson led North Carolina State to the Final Four semifinal upset of the seven-time defending champion Bruins, later claiming the national title with a  76-64 win over Marquette. UCLA returned the next year to claim a tenth crown in Coach John  Wooden’s final season at the helm in Westwood.  

Have a great week as summer arrives in the Midwest!!