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Kids are watching, kids are imitating
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At the recent Manteca Sports Heroes Hall of Distinction awards dinner, I was shooting the breeze about sports with East Union High Principal John Alba.

Suddenly, we were joined by a rather familiar face in Mark Ibanez, who was serving as master of ceremonies emcee for this special event.

He cordially introduced himself and mentioned that he grew up in the San Rafael/Petaluma area.

In a way, we all grew up with Ibanez, who is currently the longest running sports reporter and anchor in the Bay Area. He’s the sports director at KTVU Channel 2, and has been on the air for 29 years.

For awhile, I was able to catch Ibanez on the 10 o’clock evening news even when I was living down in Fresno. My cable television subscriber at the time, Continental, was still airing the Bay Area channel.

I think it was shortly after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that services ceased on one of my favorite TV stations. Sadly, I would only be able to catch KTVU Channel 2 only during my visits to the Bay Area.

Seeing Ibanez that night was like getting reacquainted with an old friend. Yet this was my first time rubbing elbows with the three-time Emmy Award winning sports caster.

At one point, he had a chance to leave the Bay Area for ESPN in Bristol, Conn. Ibanez, who has no regrets, was happy just staying close to home all these years.

He was a product of a non-sports household where his family strongly emphasized education. When Ibanez was in elementary school, he had a newspaper route.

His life changed as a sixth-grader. Thanks to his job tossing newspapers, Ibanez earned a trip to attend a San Francisco Giants game at Candlestick Park.

He remembered arriving early to the ballpark to catch the players warming up, and initially was awestruck by the colors.

Ibanez, for example, vividly recalled the “bright green” playing surface of the old ‘Stick – the Giants’ home ballpark from 1960 to 1999 – and the red baseball caps worn by the visiting St. Louis Cardinals.

During that first-ever exposure to a Major League Baseball game, he constantly nudged his friend about the identity of certain players, asking “who’s that?”

Willie Mays, no surprise, stood out above the rest.

He was considered by many baseball minds to be the greatest all-around player. Ibanez was fortunate to have caught the “Say Hey Kid” still in his prime.

And just like that, his interest shifted to sports.

Ibanez would later read the various books about his new sports hero.

“Mays had an impact on my life without even knowing it,” he told those attending the Manteca Sports Heroes event.

Years later, in his role of a sports caster, he would have several encounters with boyhood idol. Ibanez even impressed him with his Willie Mays knowledge.

Yet he was also stymied by Mays when asked to identify the pitcher of his 3,000 hit.

The answer:  Mike Wegener.

On July 18, 1970, Mays stroked a single off the Montreal Expo hurler, thus, becoming the 10th member at the time to join the 3,000-Hit Club.

Ibanez shared words of encouragement to parents attending this special function held at the Big League Dream sports complex.

“Kids are watching, kids are imitating, and kids are learning,” he said. “So keep an open mind – their lives can change in a hurry.”