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Play Ball (or just watch)
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Cut grass, new uniforms, smiling faces, and hope. These are the main ingredients to the beginning of baseball season — for all ages. Seeing the pictures of the 75th installment of the Manteca Little League Opening Day Ceremony made me very jealous. Those were hands down the greatest days. 

Meeting new friends and rivals sets the tone for the next 10 years of Manteca competition and camaraderie. Mini dynasties are born, and then torn apart as players age and jump divisions. Eventually the big split takes place when high school starts and former teammates become sworn enemies. 

I remember when I first saw Babe Ruth teammate Scott Hansen — the best pitcher in my age group — wearing the red and blue of that school across town. How could he align himself with the hated Mark Kackley and Eric Simoni?! These were our arch rivals from the Manteca Sports Center Babe Ruth squad. We hated that team, because they were pretty awesome. I’d always hoped there could’ve been some type of intra-high school supplemental draft, because Hansen would’ve been wearing green. But he was gone and only lived in memories. 

Yet I digress.

The one major difference I’ve noticed between my era and today’s is the uniforms. The current kids of summer are getting to sport professional uniforms: Lil’ Giants, A’s and Yankees. Oh, and Royals and Orioles. What happened to the days of Manteca Lions Club, Big O’ Tires, AC Trucking? My fear is that an 8-year-old playing on a championship Royals squad will develop a kinship with their pro team. Who wants that? Poor kid.

Think I’m stretching? My Raymus Realty squad of 1985 won the mid-summer Baldwin Tourney, and to this day I refuse to step foot in a non-Raymus home. (Now that’s a stretch). But as an Expos fan my fear is warranted.

Yes, I grew up an Expos fan. I agree; where was the family intervention? An uncle to force a Giants hat on me? Somebody should’ve taken the time to shame me from this life-altering decision. I can spew out early 80’s Expos stats and names like Raines, Carter and Dawson in an attempt to quantify my decision to root for a team from Montreal. But we all know what sucked me in — that hat and uniform!

Many years of awful Expos baseball turned around in 1994. We were heading to a pennant. Best team in baseball. And then ...


And then in 2001, the Expos were out of baseball. Four years later, they resurfaced in Washington, D.C., I tried to root for the Senators, but it felt dirty, as if I were the product of a nasty divorce and my team/mother had remarried a guy from Washington, changed her name and started a new family. 

It certainly doesn’t help being surrounded by a huge group of Giants fans. They speak of their recent glory, and I can only chime in with a story of Tim Raines leading the league in stolen bases in 1981. And I can feel them thinking “Man, he makes us all feel uncomfortable with his broken home stories.” 

I attempted to become a Giants fan in 2009, but was told I couldn’t officially be one until they won their first World Series. I completely understood, a lifelong Giants fan shouldn’t share their first title with a newbie. They won in 2010, and I was on board. They won another title in 2012, finally a championship to celebrate with friends. As I went to high-five friend John Coldren, I soon realized where I really stood. “You try to high-five me again and I’ll punch you square in the nose. Stupid Expos fan!”he said as he pulled his away. My other Giants friends laughed and joined in. In truth, my desire to have a new team, something a 40-year-old that had his team taken away should have every right to do, never took. I chose this powder blue bed, and now I am forced to lie in it. One day, Expos, one day.

Anyway, PLAY BALL!

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You can’t please everyone

Last week’s column had a poll question: Who is Manteca’s all-time greatest all-around athlete? I listed a few possibilities, and boy did people let me have an earful. “Your Manteca High bias shines again. Not a single EU athlete mentioned! Scott Brooks played pro basketball. Some reporter you are!” wrote an unnamed EU person. 

First, Scott Brooks is more than likely our greatest basketball player, but I don’t recall him dominating other sports. Second, and most importantly, I’m not a reporter. I’m just a dude writing a column loaded with personal opinions about our town. Nothing you read in this column should be considered news. And as for my MHS bias, ummm ...  Yes! Example: Were I to find myself trapped in the snow, and somehow came upon an EU blanket as my only form of warmth, rest assured you’d find me a proud green and white popsicle in the morning. 

The overwhelming email response was awesome, especially from the Lancer alum. And guess what? I left Armando Avina off the list on purpose! He is in my opinion “The Other Schools Greatest All-Around Athlete,” but we were rivals. Even he knew there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Fresno that I’d submit his name. I have ex-Buffs around town I have to answer to. In truth, I assumed it would make great water cooler talk, and I was correct. So let’s try a less incendiary question this week: Who is your favorite Manteca teacher and why?

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Shamrocks and Shenanigans

St. Patrick’s Day festivities are happening all weekend. Corned beef and cabbage, redheads giving hugs and kisses, and the non-Irish pretending they are. Believe me, the Irish people are more than happy to share the traditions of the day, which commemorates St. Patrick’s death on March 17, 461, and the arrival of Christianity into Ireland. It is said that St. Patrick used the three-leaved Shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the people of Ireland. Whatever your reasons are for celebrating, be safe. There is nothing lucky about drinking and driving. Designate a driver or take a cab.