WALLA WALLA — A recent three-week vacation in paradise — Hawaiian style — offered the opportunity to test myself as never before.
It was an experiment I would never have considered undertaking during my long tenure as a full-time sports writer and sports editor at the Union-Bulletin.
But from the time my wife Margaret and I left the Walla Walla tarmac early on the morning on Jan. 11 until we touched down in Pasco 19 days later, I never opened the sports section of any newspaper. I avoided ESPN, too. And the U-B website.
Ahhh, the luxury of retirement. And the liability.
Upon returning to Walla Walla — and real life — I made it a point to wade through all of the U-B’s back issues just to see what I had missed. And there were a number items that caught my eye.
I learned that the Mariners had reacquired Mike Morse in a three-team trade with the Nationals and the Athletics. The M’s are hoping the 30-year-old outfielder can supply them with some much-needed power from the right side.
Morse hit a grand total of three home runs in an even 300 at-bats over four seasons in Seattle after breaking in with the M’s in 2005. But in his final three seasons in D.C., Morse pounded out 64 homers, including 31 in 2011 when he also posted a .303 batting average and drove in 95 runs.
Even though the Mariners gave up catcher John Jaso in the deal, it was a smart move. Jaso, who batted .276 and hit 10 home runs in 294 at-bats in his one season in Seattle, is now an Athletic while the Nationals received Oakland pitching prospect A.J. Cole from the A’s.
I also read with some interest the strange cyber world saga of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, cyclist Lance Armstrong’s televised steroid confession and details on another round of PED (performance-enhancing drug) charges leveled against Major League Baseball players, Alex Rodriguez among them.
A-Rod’s alleged steroid woes coupled with ineffective play and injuries have pushed the Yankees to the point where they are trying to void the remaining five years of the third baseman’s $114 million contract.
And then there was something leading up to the Super Bowl about Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and deer-antler spray. Having never been a Ray Lewis fan, I checked off that story as too much information.
While it’s still not official, I was encouraged to read that by all indications the NBA will be returning to Seattle in the near future. If all goes as planned — and there are forces in California determined to thwart those plans — the Kings are poised to leave Sacramento and relocate in the Pacific Northwest.
Baseball lost a pair of greats during my self-imposed media exile.
Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial — a veteran of 19 big league seasons and one of the first baseball cards I ever collected — died at age 92. And Earl Weaver, who earned his Hall of Fame credentials by managing the Orioles to a World Series championship in 1970 plus three other American League titles during his 18 seasons in Baltimore, died at age 82.
I wasn’t totally able to clear my head of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, however. Most notably the agony.
Our son, Aaron, texted us a play-by-play account of the closing minutes of the Seahawks’ playoff game in Atlanta as Margaret and I explored the quaint town of Lahaina on the island of Maui on a sunny (what else) Sunday afternoon.
When Aaron reported that the Seahawks had gone ahead 28-27 on Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown with 31 seconds remaining, I turned to Margaret and said, “Too much time left.” Sure enough, Aaron’s next — and last — text read, “Last-second FG. HAWKS LOSE!”
Aaron was also kind enough to remind us to watch the Gonzaga-Butler men’s basketball game that ESPN was televising. So we tuned in, and you all know how that one ended.
Sometimes you can walk around with a rock in your gut even in paradise.
There was also a lot of local catching up to do once I returned home.
Some of the best news came out at Walla Walla Community College where Warriors women’s basketball coach Bobbi Hazeltine celebrated her 300th career victory at WWCC and sophomore guard Michelle Seitz set a single-game scoring record with 44 points in a 77-53 victory over Yakima. Seitz surpassed the mark of 42 points scored by Amy Wilkins, the former Wa-Hi star, in a 1993 victory over Columbia Basin.
Another former Blue Devil, Kate Keyes, was hired as Wa-Hi’s new head softball coach, taking over for Jerry Humphreys, who resigned last spring after 12 successful seasons. Keyes, a 2005 Wa-Hi graduate who played volleyball and basketball in high school in addition to softball, has been one of Humphreys’ top assistant coaches the past two years.
And Wa-Hi added five names to its Hall of Fame list: Old-timers Dick Turner and Bill Till from the Class of 1952, Phil Reser (1965), Randy McDougall (1968) and Eric O’Flaherty (2003).
It was especially gratifying to see Reser’s name added to the list. Reser was a standout baseball player at Wa-Hi who went on to star at the University of Idaho and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs. He reached as high as triple-A ball with the Tacoma Cubs before he decided to retire.
However, Reser’s path to Wa-Hi hall of fame inclusion appeared to be blocked on a technicality, because one of the criteria for selection is being named to your high school all-conference team. And close friend Bob Fox, who championed Reser’s selection to the hall, was unable to uncover any all-conference teams from that era.
But Fox persevered and the selection panel finally made an exception based on Reser’s statistical achievements and media reports over the course of his high school, college and professional careers. It was the right decision.
After ending his professional career, Reser returned to the Walla Walla Valley, tried his hand at teaching and coaching baseball at Mac-Hi and eventually took up farming with his father, Phil Reser Sr., south of Walla Walla where you will still find him to this day.
Over the years, Reser has remained active in youth baseball on and off the field, helping Walla Walla youngsters improve their baseball skills.
Finally on a sad note, I read the Jan. 14 obituary of Tom McKeown, a longtime baseball umpire and basketball referee who lost his long battle with cancer at age 78. McKeown officiated youth games in this valley over a 26-year period.
His sons, Tim and Pat, were athletes at Wa-Hi, and a number of his grandchildren have competed in athletics in more recent years.
His oldest grandson, Casey Richard, was the 2000 Blue Mountain Sports Award Male Athlete of the Year after an outstanding prep career at DeSales. Two of his grandsons, junior Connor and sophomore Colter McKeown, and freshman granddaugther Cierra Jo McKeown, are currently competing in athletics at Touchet.
Tom will be missed.