Sports Roundup: Felix, golf, and more

Northwest Sports Blog: A quick look around the sidelines, front offices and scattered fields of the Seattle sports scene by longtime observer Mike Henderson. Up now: Felix signs. Ryan Moore displacing Fred Couples? Tia leads. Kevin Durant's scoring pace.
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(Photo courtesy of City of Sunrise, Florida, which does not endorse <i>Real Husbands of Seattle</i>.)

Northwest Sports Blog: A quick look around the sidelines, front offices and scattered fields of the Seattle sports scene by longtime observer Mike Henderson. Up now: Felix signs. Ryan Moore displacing Fred Couples? Tia leads. Kevin Durant's scoring pace.

Greatness has eluded many Seattle-area sports organizations, mainly those of the professional variety and specifically where game performance is concerned.

But "great"ness has been in abundance the past fortnight at glam press conferences introducing new personnel or, perhaps more importantly, reintroducing Felix Hernandez today after the prized right-hander signed to a five-year, $78 million contract extension. It means much more than a princely sum for King Felix, who probably will play for the Seattle Mariners at least until the team has won the World Series the next five years.

It also means the reiteration of the "G" word. Hernandez said at the press conference what new Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Hawks fledgling G.M. John Schneider had mouthed recently at similar press events: This is all happening because Seattle is a "great" place and its sports institutions themselves are, well, "great."

As a 38-year resident, I agree about the merit of the city, especially when there's no accumulated snow. As for the sports orgs, the only local "great" one claimed the 1979 N.B.A. championship and now plays in Oklahoma. Great, right?

Could be that Hernandez, perhaps destined to be the, er, greatest pitcher in baseball going forward, signed to stay with the M's simply because it could help assure domestic tranquility. The American League Cy Young '09 runner-up repeatedly said at the Jan. 21 press bash, that is, that his decision was heavily influenced by the opinion of his wife. She wants to stay in Seattle, thinks it's "great."

The clad hatters

The greatest golfer born in Washington state is, of course, Fred Couples but that undisputed truism could soon change. Couples, he of the sweetest swing since Don Bies reigned as the state'ꀙs best, turned 50 last year and said the other day that he plans to play selected PGA Tour events this season, along with engagements on the Champions (nee, Seniors) Tour.

Within a few years Freddy may be remembered as second best. Ryan Moore, seemingly healthy after a nagging hand injury, won a late-season tournament last year and started the 2010 campaign by placing sixth in Hawaii at the initial PGA event, banking about $200 grand.

Moore, 27, who played his formative-years pasture pool at The Classic (a layout his dad owns and runs in Spanaway) is the rare golfer to have gone straight from college to the PGA Tour. Like prior Washington links prodigies, he already has displayed a few endearing quirks. One is a Jim Furyk-like hitch in his golf swing (it lacks the elegance of those of Bies and Couples).

Another is the hat thing.

Bies often played without sporting a chapeau. Couples has usually preferred a visor on top of his thick, graying thatch. Then there'ꀙs Kirk Triplett, the Pullman-bred pro who duffs under a 'ꀜbucket'ꀝ hat, dubbed by one online wag as 'ꀜthe Gilligan look.'ꀝ

Moore mostly has preferred a Fidel Castro-style cap, disparaged by golf commentators as 'ꀜa painter'ꀙs hat.'ꀝ He also, unlike most golf pros, eschews NASCAR-style logo endorsements on his clothing.

That'ꀙs why it was surprising to see him on TV earlier this month wearing a more traditional ball cap. Perhaps the recent public acceptance of the Castro cap (stroll most university campuses and you'ꀙll see about a hundred of them per minute) will result in Moore seeking other sartorial unorthodoxy.

What he'ꀙll mostly be seeking this season is more tournament victories. Many believe he'ꀙll at least be in contention during one or more of the four PGA majors this year and could even become the first state-bred player to win one since Couples prevailed in the 1992 Masters. If it happens, Moore could probably start wearing a diamond-studded tiara to tournaments without having his head-gear savaged by golf'ꀙs fashion mavens.

Who's on second?

Some baseball execs publicly talk a lot and privately swap a little. Jack Zduriencik is just the opposite. The Seattle Mariners general manager has quietly but relentlessly rebuilt the franchise, so that the only remaining starting player from the end of the 2008 season may be Ichiro Suzuki when the '10 season commences. That would happen if, as many believe, Jose Lopez isn'ꀙt long for the second-base starter'ꀙs job.

Jack-Z already has brought in three surrounding infielders, including Chone Figgins (from the Angels) at third and Casey Kotchman (from the Red Sox) at first. The shortstop presumably will be Jack Wilson, injured after having been acquired last July from the Pirates.

One hopes the GM is on the honker for the immediate future trying to talk some gullible front-office boss out of a quality catcher: the one position that remains utterly suspect going into spring training next month. Those of us who wanted something better that Kenji Johjima behind the plate the past four seasons may live to regret that Joh took his American League .268 batting average and went back to Japan.

Mamma Tia!

It may not be enough to prompt triumphant (or brain-aching) choruses of ABBA tunes but note this: The UW women'ꀙs basketball team is 10-8 (including early 'ꀜexhibition'ꀝ wins) heading tonight and Saturday into a pair of home games with the LA programs. That'ꀙs up — way, way up — from the 21-40 mark the Dawg Daughters notched during the first two seasons under the reign of coach Tia Jackson.

The latter started the 2007 season with the reputation of a tough task-mistress, tough enough, one imagines, to prompt the departure of players left over from the 11-year June Daugherty era.

"Tia is a work-in-progress," UW Athletic Director Scott Woodward told a Seattle Times writer last fall. "I think she's going to be a great coach."

Other arbiters didn'ꀙt think greatness 'ꀓ or even goodness 'ꀓ would come anytime soon. Coaches and media experts prior to the present season picked the UW women for dead last in league. Instead they'ꀙre dead even in Pac-10 competition: 3-3 before greeting 4-1 (10-6 overall) USC Jan. 21 and 3-2 (10-6) UCLA two days later.

Last in league? June Daugherty'ꀙs Washington State contingent: 0-6 and 5-12.

Heaven Durant

Probably haven'ꀙt seen much lately of the greatest scorer in Seattle SuperSonics history, right? Possibly it'ꀙs because Kevin Durant, of course, is the property of the superceded Sonics, which is to say, the Oklahoma Thunder. Strictly speaking, it'ꀙs also true that we have no idea what his career point total will be and very little will be attributed to Sonics stats, but consider this:

The sleek forward, third right now in the NBA with a 29.1 points-per-game average, doesn'ꀙt even turn 22 until next September. Yet, during just two and a half seasons (through 40 games this year), he'ꀙs put up 4,660 points.

Project it anyway you like. If he stays healthy for just another few years, he ought to pass Fred Brown'ꀙs career point total of 14,018. If he stays in the NBA for 10 seasons he could double Gary Payton'ꀙs total: 21,813, with 18,207 of them accomplished with the Sonics. (Other great Sonics scorers such as Lenny Wilkens and Ray Allen were with the Soops for just fractions of their careers.)

More impressive yet: Durant'ꀙs career points-per-game average already is 24.0. The best Payton ever achieved for a single season was 24.2 (1999-2000); Brown topped out at 23.1 in 1975-76.

There must be all kinds of die-hard Sonics fantasists following Durant'ꀙs budding, brilliant career. If nothing else, barring unforeseen circumstances, they'ꀙll be able to see him start for the Western Conference in next month'ꀙs NBA all-star game.

Maybe he'ꀙll even cover the achievements of a pair of other bygone Sonics stars: Tom Chambers and Lenny Wilkens, voted most-valuable players in, respectively, the 1987 and 1971 all-star games.


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