A friend asked whether I'd witnessed any of the 10 top moments in local sports from the past year. I confessed that I had not, owing to the fact that I don't really follow high-school ball anymore.
All right, so maybe the pro and college ranks did provide a few of the 2004 high points, along with so many of the lows. Would that all the best moments actually involved significant victories.
In fact, the most memorable sports moment came during an otherwise meaningless game Oct. 1 at Safeco Field when, in the third inning, Ichiro Suzuki tapped one of his patented seeing-eye singles up the middle, besting one of the longest-standing records in baseball. Two days later, as the Seattle Mariners lost their 99th game of the year, No. 51 had a couple more singles to set the record—unbreakable by anyone but himself, perhaps—at 262 for hits during a season.
Here are the nine other most significant local sporting memories of 2004:
2. The Storm win the WNBA title—at home, yet (Oct. 12). The presence of ticket scalpers at a Storm game once seemed about as likely as finding Chris Vance speechless, but winning in sports (as Vince Lombardi liked to say) is the only thing, and the women gave the happy town a world champ. Many still think the gal game is about as compelling as a stitch-and-bitch session. Basketball purists, however, might note that a pass-oriented attack rewarding short-shot strategy could be a better brand of ball than the distracted NBA standard of three-pointers and tomahawk slams.
3. Seahawks 27, Rams 33 (Oct. 10). Wait a minute (or five minutes, while the Rams score 17 points to send the game into overtime), didn't the Hawks win this thing and improve to 4-0 for the first time? No, but they were 8-7 going into the season-ender against Atlanta at home this Sunday, Jan. 2, meaning they'll be called division "winners" if they beat the Falcons.
4. Mariners' Christmas binge (Dec. 15 and 16). The most audacious player-acquisition spree in the history of Seattle sports took place within one calendar-page turn when the above-mentioned moribund M's met a skeptical fan base with four words: Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre. It nicked the club a potential $114 million (or the cost of only about 153 gubernatorial election hand recounts), but if both of these talented infielders equal their career-best years, the 63-99 '04 Mariners could become the 99-63 guys of '05.
5. Sonics (November and December). Huh? Weren't these achievement-challenged Greenies so bad that they actually made the 1-10 Husky footballers and 63-99 M's seem respectable by comparison? Yes, but then came an early-season, 19-5 preholiday run that has every "authority" in the region admitting that nobody ultimately knows anything about sports. One KJR-AM radio squawk-jock went so far as to call the Sonics' shocking resurrection the greatest surprise in the history of local sports.
6. Bellevue High 34, De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) 20 (Sept. 4). One of those 10,436 prep games I missed this year merely had the Wolverines bringing to an end the winning streak of a team that had last lost in 1991. The game lured 25,000 to Qwest Field to see Bellevue's J.R. Hasty hustle for 271 yards and score four times in a masterfully coached and played game that had sports scribes coast-to-coast coughing up hot dog scraps with their superlatives. Not to get too, ahem, Hasty with predictions, but the Bellevue star could become a key part of the recruiting fortunes of:
7. Tyrone Willingham, hired (Dec. 13) as only the third University of Washington football coach during the entire past 18 months. Some of us thought Dan Hawkins of Boise State might have been the best man to lead the 1-10 Huskies into the next 18-month era, but the traditional "time-will-tell" headline seems to suffice as Willingham finds out whether Washington's admission standards are easier for recruiting than what he faced at Notre Dame and Stanford.
8. Husky men's basketball (2004–05). As of the after-Christmas sales, the DribbleDawgs were 12th ranked and 10-1 going into league play against Cal at home on New Year's Eve. One measure of their success: Most of the UW guys played a very uninspired Dec. 19 game against national power North Carolina State and still prevailed. Final Four, fercrissakes?
9. Locals, including 11 medal-winners, acquit themselves well at the Athens Olympic Games (August). During a parallel incarnation, this observer actually was the classroom instructor of two rowing silver-medal winners who will be identified here only by the code names Anna Mickelson and Mary Whipple. Others with regional ties somehow triumphed despite the lack of similar classroom instruction.
10. Edgar retires (Oct. 3). The inevitable left a collective throat lump, even given a local electorate wondering why the M's beloved Martinez had risked blue-state-fan-base alienation by shilling for the Bush cause late in the political game. Many said they wept anew every time the indispensable man of Seattle sports came to the plate his final night on the roster.
The end of the Edgar era, then, for many, let slip the dormant emotions that some may not have felt for years or decades—not since they last experienced such a pure public catharsis, perhaps in a hot gym or cold stadium one time when they were still young, still in high school.