We’re No. 1!*

* In curling.

In Arizona, Ichiro is batting better than .500.

In Arizona, Ichiro is batting better than .500.

One way of looking at it is that the University of Washington DribbleDawgs lost the NCAA basketball championship in three games instead of the traditional six. They lasted until the final seconds of the middle of the first half of their Sweet 16 game against Louisville. In so doing, judging from much of the Seattle fan response, you’d have thought the UW men were as scorn-worthy as the 1995 Seattle Mariners, who lost the World Series before even getting there. Fully fossilized locals also will remember that the 1983–84 Seattle Seahawks were the last team eliminated before the Super Bowl.

All of the above seemed to prompt anger and frustration rather than admiration and satisfaction among the fan base. It’s as though Seattle fandom won’t rest until this area has another national championship of some kind. It should happen sometime within the lifetime of someone you love. In truth, it already has, what with the Sonics (1979), the Storm (2004), Husky football (1991), and the Seattle Metropolitans, a Stanley Cup winner (1917) in the stone-puck era. A few also would include Washington’s Brady Clark curling contingent winning the Mixed National Championship a few weeks ago. (Curling, actually not a bad spectator sport, is said to have been invented to display the combined skills of bowling and housework.)

None of the above seems to appease Seattle sports fans; their astonishing sense of championship entitlement is such that they’re about as patient with the area’s major teams as Donald Trump would be with Ferris Bueller.

Why give a chit about championships? Let’s say tomorrow you wake up and the M’s, Sonics, Hawks, and Huskies have won it all. What good would it do you? Would it mean you’d swagger into sports bars in New York and L.A., and patrons would want you to autograph their tank tops? During the late ’70s, Pennsylvania Jaycees nearly wet their leisure-suit trousers while rhapsodizing about the so-called “City of Champions.” Did the success of the Steelers, Pirates, and U-Pitt gridders bring any lasting respect (or revenue) to Pittsburgh? Is Boston really a better place because the Red Sox and Patriots (of Foxboro, not Boston) are winners?

The Husky basketball team could have had the national title this year. It didn’t get past Final Four contender Louisville March 24 precisely because of reasons we cited here a month ago after a road loss to Oregon State. Skillfully forced turnovers that should have led to easy Husky lay-ins were missed. Three-pointers clanged. Shots within the paint rolled off. Louisville threw up a zone that was about as penetrable as razor wire. When the Huskies did get inside, they fouled like middle schoolers. It’s too bad that the pratfall happened to a top-seeded, overachieving local team that actually pulled within six points during the second half, but the reason is five words long: Washington played poorly that day. It was at best a 50 percent effort reminiscent of the March 5 collapse at Stanford.

Much is made now about whether UW juniors Nate Robinson and/or Brandon Roy will jump to the NBA. “Yes” and “no,” respectively, is the consensus as I write this.

Perhaps the more germane question: What has the re-emergence of the UW basketball program done for the way we think about sports in this town? Has it made fans even less patient about getting that major championship, or is it OK to think of, say, the approaching M’s season as an occasion to watch baseball rather than worry about the elusive World Series?

Those who want to fast forward the season to October may wind up missing some splendid day-to-day baseball from the M’s team that debuts Monday, April 4, against the Twins at Safeco Field. Don’t go by Seattle’s Cactus League record. Success in spring training obviously is not about daily scores. It means bringing a healthy 25-man roster to town in April, and the M’s Arizona tour has produced a lot more to like than to lament. It’s particularly noteworthy that Managin’ Mike Hargrove will bring a team with better age and skill balance than the M’s have had for a decade. Nobody seems willing to predict that 23-year-old center fielder Jeremy Reed is going to erase memories of the young Ken Griffey Jr., but Reed (four for four Saturday, March 26) should hit better than Mike Cameron and play excellent defense. Raul Ibanez won’t engender the fan affection Edgar Martinez earned, but the new designated hitter could put up Gar-like numbers. The other key upgrades, of course, are Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson in the infield. Left-handed relief is a problem, but starting pitching looks much more reliable than it was last year, especially in light of Joel Pineiro’s Clemens-caliber outing Saturday. Ichiro? He was hitting a mere .519 through Sunday, March 27.

Perhaps the sly strength of the new- edition M’s is that few will pick them as a World Series contender. Are they? Hey, the Husky men played 35 times, and the fans were usually rewarded. Maybe we ought to at least let the M’s get in that many before imposing a world-champ expectation guaranteed to leave fans even more frustrated when it doesn’t happen.


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