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On this day in history -- June 3, 2000: Portland Fire beat Seattle Storm, 65-58

On this day in history -- June 3, 2000: Portland Fire beat Seattle Storm, 65-58

After the Women’s National Basketball Association was founded on April 22, 1996, and play began the summer of 1997, the league expanded four years later.  

In 2000, the WNBA welcomed the Indiana Fever, the Miami Sol, the Seattle Storm and the Portland Fire.

The Fire joined the league as the counterpart to the Portland Trail Blazers.

In the Portland Fire’s second game of their inaugural season, the Fire defeated the Seattle Storm on the road.

It’s hard to believe that the Fire’s first season was 20 years ago and after falling to Houston at home, 93-89 on May 31, the game in Seattle was Portland’s very first WNBA victory.

In that year’s draft, Portland selected four players:

  • No. 7   pick Lynn Pride (G/F) out of Kansas
  • No. 23 pick Stacey Thomas (F) out of Michigan
  • No. 39 pick Maxann Reese (G) out of Michigan State
  • No. 55 pick Rhonda L Smith (C) out of Long Beach State

The Fire also picked up Alisa Burras (F), Sonja Henning (G), Tari Phillips (C), Coquese Washington (G), Molly Goodenbour, and Jamila Wideman (G).

In the June 3 victory over the Storm, it was starting forward Sylvia Crawley who led the way for Portland. Crawley finished with 18 points on an efficient 7-of-10 from the floor to go along with six rebounds, one assist, one steal, and two blocks. Fire starting guard Sophia Witherspoon added 11 points, while guard Tara Williams notched 10 points off the bench.

Portland went 2-1 against the Storm that season, as the Fire finished the year, 10-22, just ahead of the last place finishers in the Western Conference -- the Seattle Storm who held a 6-26 record.

Now that twenty years has passed since the Portland Fire’s first victory in the Women’s National Basketball League and after playing a total of three seasons before the team folded, we are taking a look back at what happened to the Portland Fire.

That's right! We’re excited to announce that on Tuesday, June 23, we will be releasing part one of a three-part mini documentary series on the WNBA’s Portland Fire.

June 23 is also a significant date to the organization. On that day in 2000, Portland won its first game at home in front of the enthusiastic Rose Garden crowd, beating the Storm, 72-61.

Hear from Fire head coach Linda Hargrove, former WNBA President Val Ackerman, standout players Jackie Stiles and Tully Bevilaqua, along with many other women who worked for the team in NBC Sports Northwest’s special on the Portland Fire.

I never told people this because they would think I was crazy, but internally I wanted to be the best that ever played the game... That’s why probably my body broke down because I was like ‘other people take days off, I’m not gonna take a day off.’ -- Former Portland Fire guard and the 2001 WNBA’s Rookie of the Year recipient Jackie Stiles

Part 1 of “What happened to the Portland Fire?” drops June 23 on our website and will air on NBC Sports Northwest’s 'The Bridge' on June 24. 

Bethany Balcer’s stoppage time goal secures Reign’s first win of NWSL Challenge Cup

Bethany Balcer’s stoppage time goal secures Reign’s first win of NWSL Challenge Cup

It only took 15 shot attempts and three games for the OL Reign to record their first goal of the NWSL Challenge Cup, but on Wednesday, they finally found the back of the net. 

In stoppage time, NWSL 2019 Rookie of the Year Bethany Balcer scored on a header to give the Reign the 1-0 victory and their first win of the tournament. Balcer was ultimately named Budweiser Woman of the Match. 

The score came in the 91st minute when Yuka Momiki, who came off the bench in the 81st minute, found Balcer who nodded in the game-winning goal. 

It feels really good. It feels like it’s been a long time coming. Our first two games, we didn’t really feel like we showed who we are, so it felt good to get the win. -- Balcer told OLReign.com

It was also a special moment for coach Farid Benstiti, who secured his first win since becoming the Reign’s head coach in January.

It was a game like we wanted it to be. The pressure was good and positive for us. We had a lot of pressure to do well. The pressure on the players must be positive. Even if you have to get a result, you have to be calm to be good and to listen to what we wanted, what we expected them to do. That’s the great thing. We expected that. The timing was good for everything. We were humble. We were passionate and we wanted our substitutes to come on the field fresh. It looks like a movie. They are happy because the result is positive.” -- Farid Benstiti

The preliminary round concludes on Monday, July 13, when the Reign and Portland Thorns clash at 9:30 a.m. PT. The Thorns are coming off a 1-1 draw vs. Washington Spirit and remain winless in the 2020 Challenge Cup. 

[RELATED: Despite Lindsey Horan's best efforts Portland Thorns FC draws once again]

Seattle Mariners 2020 schedule released-- Five things you need to know

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IMAGN

Seattle Mariners 2020 schedule released-- Five things you need to know

Major League Baseball is one step closer to coming back! 

After the MLB and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) agreed to a 60-game season in late June, the framework led to Monday’s schedule announcement. 

The reigning World Series champion Nationals will host the New York Yankees on July 23 to kick off MLB’s mid-pandemic shortened 2020 season that will be held over 67 days.

Players have already reported for "spring" training on July 1. 

For the Seattle Mariners, they’ll begin play on July 24th against the Houston Astros. 

Seattle will play 40 games in their division, the AL West, and 20 games vs. the NL West. The Mariners regular season is expected to conclude on September 27th. 

Here are other things to know about the 2020 MLB season.

  1. Roster— Teams will begin with a 30 man roster for the first two weeks of the season. It will be paired down to 28 players for the next two weeks, and then 26 players for the remaining of the season. Players not invited to participate for the remainder of the season will still be paid.
  2. Universal DH— The MLB institute a universal DH, meaning pitchers will no longer be hitters. A designated runner will be placed on second base at the start of every half-inning during extra innings.
  3. Pitching in— Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, unless an injury occurs. This will speed up the game and will add more strategy. There are also no rules or restrictions on position players pitching in 2020.
  4. Trade deadline in August— It’s not a long season, but still one of the best parts of the season will happen. Instead of falling on July 31, the trade deadline will occur a month later on August 31, the theoretical midpoint of the season.
  5. Inactive list COVID-19 edition— The MLB will have a COVID-19-specific inactive list that players will be placed on if and when they test positive or show symptoms. There will be no set amount of time for the player to sit out, unlike the injured list, which requires hitters to miss at least 10 days.

Play ball!

WNBA: 5% of players test positive for COVID-19 ahead of bubble season

WNBA: 5% of players test positive for COVID-19 ahead of bubble season

As the WNBA gears up for its shortened season in Florida, the league announced Monday that 137 players have been tested for COVID-19 over the past week and only seven tested positive. 

The WNBA began mandatory testing on June 28 as teams prepare to head to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. 

The league released the following statement detailing the recent tests and plans moving forward: 

In tests conducted of 137 WNBA players between June 28-July 5, seven players have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Any player who tested positive will remain in self-isolation until she satisfies public health protocols for discontinuing isolation and has been cleared by a physician.

Players and staff from 11 of the 12 WNBA teams will arrive at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida today. The Indiana Fever will delay their travel by at least five days in an abundance of caution due to the CDC’s close contact self-quarantine requirements.

The exact players who tested positive weren't released. But, as noted, the Indiana Fever will delay its travel to the Sunshine State after two players tested positive. The Fever won’t hop on a flight to Bradenton for at least five days. The WNBA’s seven tests account for approximately 5.1 percent of the league. 

Former Oregon State standout and Los Angeles Sparks guard Sydney Weise was the first WNBA player to test positive for the coronavirus in March. She detailed her experience on the Talkin' Beavers podcast with host Ron Callan. 

The WNBA will return to action in late July with a 22-game season all played at IMG Academy.  

Time to tip your cap to some great baseball players who were locked out of MLB

Time to tip your cap to some great baseball players who were locked out of MLB

I was lucky. As a very young boy, I saw Satchel Paige pitch. I saw Artie Wilson play, too. Both spent time with the Pacific Coast League Portland Beavers.

But I never saw Cool Papa Bell or Oscar Charleston or Josh Gibson play. I didn’t see Buck O'Neil play, either, but I did meet him and listened to him deliver perhaps the best banquet speech I’ve ever heard.

All of those men were stars in the Negro Leagues -- for you youngsters, that’s where Black baseball players got their chance to play professional ball before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.

I wish I could have watched these men in their prime. The stories I’ve heard have always entertained me. It was amazing these players were not allowed to be in the big leagues, obviously. We were deprived of their talent and their enthusiasm.

I speak about this because this week marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Negro leagues. Many stories have been told about those days and a good many that I’ve heard speak to the love of the game these men had.

They weren’t paid much, didn’t always play in the best ballparks and often were treated as second-class citizens as they moved around the country. But what I always seemed to hear about was joy. Excitement. Fun. They were playing a game they loved, with teammates they loved.

Wilson became an icon in Portland when his playing days were over. He brightened up every room he entered with a ready smile and caring heart. I loved him and treasured time spent listening to his stories.

He got his start with the legendary Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro American League, played for several teams in the PCL, but loved Portland and retired here. He spent 30 years selling cars for the same company, Gary Worth. He won batting championships in the Coast League, led the league in stolen bases and was a terrific infielder.

He got his only 22 at bats in the major leagues in 1951, before being sent back to Triple-A, so the New York Giants could call up some young kid named Willie Mays.

In 1962, at the age of 42, the Beavers ran short of infielders and signed Wilson, who didn’t hit much but fielded well and acquitted himself well. The sight of him at that age, flashing a big smile, in the infield for the Beavers is a lasting memory.

But playing into old age was what Paige was known for. He toiled on the mound for two decades in the Negro Leagues, pitching nine innings almost every day, they would say. He was known for a fastball that was regarded as the swiftest in baseball. As the years went along, he added curveballs, knuckleballs, his famous hesitation pitch and every other pitch you could imagine to his arsenal.

But he didn’t get as much as a sniff of the big leagues until 1948, when Cleveland signed him as the oldest rookie in MLB history at 42. He managed to pitch in the majors until he was 46 and then spent many years in the minors, including his stint with the Beavers in 1961, when he started five games and had a 2.88 earned run average -- at the age of 54! He actually threw one inning for Kansas City in 1965, when he was 58!

If you want to know more about O'Neil and the others, I recommend a book by the great sportswriter, Joe Posnanski, “The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America.”

Posnanski -- along with Negro Leagues Museum president Bob Kendrick -- has been the one who has sparked this celebration of Negro League baseball.

The idea was originally to get major-league players, during a game, to come out of the dugout together and tip their caps to the players from the Negro Leagues. But the pandemic changed that plan, leaving something even better.

It became Tip Your Cap 2020. And you can read the wonderful story of how it came about, here.

And, I implore you to go to the website tippingyourcap.com to feel the love and emotion of all those who offered video tributes, including four living former presidents and a who’s-who of athletes in all sports.And what better day could you have than the Fourth of July for this -- a perfect time to combine baseball and history.

Amazon announces naming rights to NHL Seattle arena, first zero-carbon arena in world

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NHL Seattle

Amazon announces naming rights to NHL Seattle arena, first zero-carbon arena in world

History is coming to Seattle, Washington.

For the first time ever, KeyArena (former home to the Seattle SuperSonics, Seattle Storm and minor league hockey’s Seattle Thunderbirds) will be transformed and renamed into the first zero-carbon arena powered by exclusively renewable energy.

Just last week, NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke told The Seattle Times that both the name unveiling and reopening of KeyArena have been delayed. One week later, the arena has a new partnership and a new name.

The former KeyArena will now be named Climate Pledge Arena, and be home to the WNBA's Seattle Storm and the future NHL Seattle team.

The partnership is between Oak View Group, NHL Seattle and Amazon.

[RELATED]: Sockeyes? Totems? Seattle's NHL team is taking names

According to NHL Seattle: The partnership was formed to make the Climate Pledge Arena the first zero-carbon arena in the world, powered exclusively by renewable energy including both on-site and offsite solar rather than the widespread standard use of natural gas in arenas and stadiums. The arena will run solely on electric for daily operations, eliminating all fossil fuels from the building and installing the first all-electric dehumidification systems in the National Hockey League. 

Our goal is to make sure every visit to this arena will be enjoyable and memorable, and sustainability is a large part of that. It is not just about one arena, it's the platform. We challenge music, facilities, concert tours and sports. It is our time to step up to face the challenge of our generation. We must take steps to build arenas and stadiums that front-and-center align with our zero-carbon mission statement. — Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group and leader of the arena project.

Here is what you can expect from the upgrades:

- The first arena to ban single-use plastics and commit to functional zero waste. Fans will see only compost and recycling bins, no trash cans.  

- The first arena to fully offset the carbon emissions of all events and related transportation by fans, sports teams and entertainers, achieving carbon-neutral operations and use.  

- The lowest embodied carbon arena in the world; saving the landmark roof and the new arena's subterranean footprint significantly reduces façade materials needed and the associated greenhouse gas emissions.  

- The greenest ice in the world using rainwater, refrigerants with zero greenhouse gas emissions and electric Zambonis.  

- The largest coordinated effort of fan engagement with climate issues of any NHL team.  

Read more from the press release here.

There will be many opportunities for our fans to make a difference nightly. We will now look to involve our fans and the community to continue to help teach the world. Fans someday will demand more of these types of buildings. It is challenging and expensive but a small step out of the way relative to the issue of sustainability and global climate change. — Tod Leiweke

The Portland Fire had the support, fans showed up

The Portland Fire had the support, fans showed up

This summer would mark the 20th Anniversary of the Portland Fire’s inaugural season in the WNBA.

The Fire joined the Women's National Basketball Association in 2000 as the counterpart to the Portland Trail Blazers while playing all of their home games at the Rose Garden. The team folded; however, after just three seasons in the league.

To celebrate what would’ve been 20 years in the league, NBC Sports Northwest is releasing a three-part documentary series on the Portland Fire.

While catching up with former players, coaches and employees of the organization, one thing kept coming up:

Fire fans were loud, proud, and there were many of them.

[RELATED]: Portland Fire Part 1: The love and excitement for a WNBA expansion team

Former guard Tully Bevilaqua reminisced about playing in Portland

“Oh I loved it,” Bevilaqua said of her time in Portland. “The city itself was beautiful. It was a nice easy going pace, not that hustle and bustle type city so that was definitely appealing to me, very scenic -- going up on that drive, seeing the mountain tops there, especially with the snow peaks on them it was just awesome, so picturesque.”

In 2000, Bevilaqua signed as a free agent contract with the Fire and played with them for three seasons until the franchise folded after the 2002 season. She eventually went on to win a WNBA Championship with the Seattle Storm in 2004.  

Fire fan favorite Jackie Stiles says she was in awe of the fan support in the Rose City.

It was phenomenal. Oh my gosh, the Rose Garden -- what an amazing, amazing environment and facility. And our fans in Portland were great. I know I’m biased, but I felt like we had the best fans in the league. We really drew pretty well and I think we were towards the top in attendance, or I felt that way... Maybe there were just louder, but I loved our fans. They were incredible. -- Jackie Stiles on the Portland Fire fan base

Over their three seasons in the league, the Fire posted an overall record of 37-59.

Stiles, who was selected fourth-overall by Portland in the 2001 WNBA Draft, earned Rookie of the Year on August 16, 2001.

There’s no doubt that the love between the players and Fire fans was mutual.

“The sporting community was, I mean, you had obviously the Blazers -- they were very popular in town. So, there was a passion for it and we became a part of the community,” Bevilaqua said. “It was a great town and obviously you’ve got the Nike campus there as well, so I mean, that was huge just the passion for sports in the city… You could feel it. You could feel it in the air… When you run through the tunnel, and you hear the screams… the hairs on the back of your neck start standing up just thinking about it again.”

Yes, it’s true, Rip City has a lot for people to do and see; it just needs a WNBA team back to really have it all.

You can check out Part 1 of ‘What Happened to the Portland Fire’ right here.

We will roll out Part 2 of 'What Happened to the Portland Fire' on June 30 right here on our website, while Part 3 will be released the following Tuesday, July 7.

MLB set to return for 60-game season-- Here is what it will look like

MLB set to return for 60-game season-- Here is what it will look like

MLB baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced on Tuesday that Major League Baseball would be making its return. 

According to the official press release, players can start reporting to camp on July 1st, with games to begin on either July 23rd or 24th. 

With much of the season already lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, the league will play a modified 60-game season. 

What will that season look like?

Let's first take a look at some other sports leagues like the NWSL, MLS, and NBA, all of which drastically altered their respective seasons to return to play.

Both MLS and the NWSL will skip traditional "regular season" play, instead choosing to play World Cup style tournaments. Due to having more games in a shorter time frame, MLS has expanded roster size and increased the number of substitutions allowed in-game. Both leagues will have all their teams report on one central location, with all MLS games being played in Orlando, and all NWSL games being played in Utah. 

The NBA will return next month, and like MLS it will be doing so with all its teams meeting in Orlando. The league will return with an eight-game regular season to decide playoff seeding. Teams not currently in the top eight have a small chance to catch up and make the playoffs. Once the "regular season" is done, if the ninth place team is less than four games behind the team in eighth place, than there will be a sudden-death style game to decide who gets the eighth and final playoff spot. Once the playoffs start, it's business as usual for the NBA, with the NBA Finals scheduled for late October. 

As for the MLB, it will look drastically different as well, including some very interesting rules changes. 

Here is what the season will look like:

  • The season will be 60 games in length
  • The proposed schedule will feature mostly divisional play, with remaining games to be interleague games played against the corresponding division. I.E., The AL West will play teams from the NL West
  • Each team will play 10 games against their division rivals, and four games against their interleague opponents
  • Teams will make just one trip to each city it visits. So, for instance, the Mariners could play 10 games against the Angels with a five-game series being played in each city
  • 10 teams will make the playoff, the playoffs will be played as normal

So, for you Mariners fans, we may not know the exact schedule, but we do know who they will play. The Mariners will play 10 games each against the Rangers, Athletics, Angels, and Astros. They will also play four games each against the NL West's Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, and Rockies. 

When teams return to play, the schedule won't be the only difference. There will also be some rule changes and dates to watch:

  • NL teams can now use a Designated Hitter
  • If games go to extra innings, the innings will start with a runner on second base
  • Active rosters will be at 30 for the first two weeks, 28 for the second two weeks, and reduced to 26 players in week five
  • The trade deadline will be August 31st 
  • Players must be with an organization by September 15th to be playoff eligible

The shortest baseball season since 1878 looks to be a fun one. 

Can Major League Baseball actually safely play even a 60-game season?

Can Major League Baseball actually safely play even a 60-game season?

Major League Baseball, which never could come to an agreement with its players, is apparently going to force a season on those players, if the players agree to a proposed health and safety plan.

But you have to wonder if that return-to-play plan is actually going to work. So much time has been spent between the two sides trying to work out monetary and scheduling issues, there is a possibility that the plan to play -- which includes travel from city to city and a rushed training camp -- will not provide for player safety, in terms of physical readiness for a season and protection from COVID-19.

Baseball is not going to quarantine or play in a bubble. And although there will be no fans present at games, the teams are going to shuttle between cities and apparently not control the comings and goings of players and staff.

Given the virus situation in many MLB cities, this sounds reckless and dangerous.

But baseball has already botched an opportunity to do this thing right by delaying its return so deep into its usual season. It should have been playing games by now, with the sports spotlight nearly all to itself.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has been unable to find consensus between players and ownership and has done everything he can to show he isn’t up to his job. Yes, he works for the owners. All commissioners do.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t mediate, arbitrate and create consensus.

Mike Veeck, whose father (Bill Veeck, as in Wreck) is in baseball’s Hall of Fame for his innovative methods of running MLB teams, has been owning and operating minor-league and independent-league teams for years and recently described Manfred as a man not qualified for his job:

“Manfred doesn’t like baseball,” Veeck said. “He’s a labor lawyer. All he likes is winning a negotiation. And his right-hand guy, [Dan] Halem, he’s the same. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Bud Selig. The game was his life. I believe that serving the ‘best interest of baseball’ that’s part of the commissioner’s job description … that should mean something.”

Amen. And MLB is going to have a very difficult time digging itself out of this miserable summer of indecision and acrimony. Especially in light of recent decisions to drastically cut back minor-league teams, which chops away at the sport's grassroots foundation.

This is going to be a very damaging summer for MLB, even if it does manage to somehow play a woefully inadequate 60-game schedule.

Iconic moments from "Junior," Ken Griffey Jr. documentary on MLB Network

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Getty Images

Iconic moments from "Junior," Ken Griffey Jr. documentary on MLB Network

MLB Network released the documentary “Junior,” on Father’s Day, which highlighted the astounding career of Seattle phenom Ken Griffey Jr. 

The 90-minute piece followed Griffey’s career from high school to his illustrious days in Seattle and his induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.  

There were plenty of highlights from Junior. Griffey’s selection by the Mariners as the first-overall pick in 1987, reaching the majors two years later at age 19 and becoming an All-Star for the first time at 20, and of course Griffey Jr. and Sr. becoming the first father-son duo in MLB history on the same team. 

Here’s a look at some of our favorite moments from Junior: 

Griffey's dog-pile moment

Before Damian Lillard hit the “bad shot,” waved goodbye to the Oklahoma City Thunder and was subsequently dog-piled by his Trail Blazers teammates, Ken Griffey Jr. was the Pacific Northwest’s original dog-pile hero. 

In the 1995 American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, Griffey hit five home runs in five games as the Ms rallied from an 0-2 deficit to take the series. Junior scored the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning on an Edgar Martinez double. 

Then, the dog-pile ensued at home plate and Griffey flashed a huge smile. 

The Griffeys on the same team

Major League Baseball is filled with prodigious bloodlines. In 1990, Ken Griffey Jr. was 20 and coming off his first All-Star appearance. His dad, Ken Griffey Sr. was 41 and in his second stint with the Reds. 

That August, Griffey Sr. was given 15 minutes to decide whether he wanted to retire, accept his release or be placed on the Reds disabled list. He decided to retire, then unretire and sign with the Mariners, on the same team as his son. 

One of the coolest father-son moments occurred on Sept. 14, 1990 when Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. hit back-to-back home runs in a game against the California Angles. 

Hitting 500th home run with dad in the crowd

Another sentimental father son moment came on June 20, 2004. Junior delivered the ultimate Father’s Day gift to Griffey Sr. when he knocked his 500th career home run over the right fence at Busch Stadium. 

Then there was that time Junior was grounded and had his car keys taken away by Senior for stealing a fly out while Senior was in left field and Junior was in center. 

Junior’s beef with the Yankees

Ken Griffey Jr. has long hated the New York Yankees. In “Junior,” it was finally revealed where Griffey Jr.’s grudge against the Yankees actually came from. 

In 1983, Junior detailed an incident with then-Yankees owner George Steinbrenner while visiting his father before a game. 

“I came up to visit my dad and it was just me and him. I got to the ballpark early and I'm sitting in the dugout and the security guard comes over and says, '[Then-Yankees owner George Steinbrenner] doesn't want anyone in the dugout.' My dad was like, 'What? He's my son.' So, he goes, 'Alright, hey go in my locker. But before you go, look at third base.' It's Craig Nettles' son taking ground balls at third base,” Griffey Jr. said.

“And at that time, my dad was 38 years old, he's like, 'I ain't fighting this no more. I got somebody a little younger. And a little bit better.’

“There’s certain things a dad drills into you as a kid that just sticks with you. And [to beat the Yankees] was one of them.” 

Enshrined in Cooperstown

Griffey Jr. was known for more than his 630 home runs. His smile, contagious personality, smooth swing, insane catches and explosiveness are also why people call him the G.O.A.T, including LeBron James. 

Junior was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2016.