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A 'step-back season' for the Seattle Mariners? Not so fast...

A 'step-back season' for the Seattle Mariners? Not so fast...

Teardown, rebuild, reimagine. These were all words used to describe the future of the Seattle Mariners when Seattle made nine trades this offseason, shedding itself of lofty salaries and hefty contracts.

But fast forward half a year and the phrase "step-back season," that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto coined to describe the 2019 season has all but dissipated, Seattle is off to its best start in club history. 

That was a surprise.

The M’s just can’t stop hitting home runs and they’ve racked up a monster 98 runs for an average of 8.2 runs per game. With a 13-5 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Monday, the Mariners now have the best record in baseball to this point in the year.

Edwin Encarnación hit two home runs during an eight-run sixth inning against Kansas City, two of the five homers hit in the game. 

Seattle now has 32 home runs—the most of any team in MLB in the first dozen games. The Mariners didn’t hit 32 homers until their 26th game of the season last year.

Domingo Santana, who hit 30 home runs and stole 17 bases for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017, has been a key player for the Mariners this season. The outfielder has 19 RBI’s through 12 games, the most in the AL, tying a Major League lead with Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger. Jay Bruce (6), Tim Beckham (4) and Encarnación (4) have all provided a spark for the home-run happy Mariners.

So, are the Mariners the real deal? In this moment, the answer is yes.

The Astros are still the favorites to win the AL West, but the Mariners are definitely the team to watch. 

XFL draft: Five former Seahawks return to Seattle

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USA Today Images

XFL draft: Five former Seahawks return to Seattle

The Seattle Dragons may be the Emerald City’s new XFL team, but soon many familiar faces with grace the turf at CenturyLink Field.

In the skill, offensive line, and defensive front 7 phases of the 2019 XFL Draft on Tuesday, the Dragons selected five former Seattle Seahawks: wide receiver Keenan Reynolds, wide receiver Kasen Williams, offensive tackle Isaiah Battle, guard Robert Myers and tackle Taniela Tupou.

Perhaps the most recognizable player selected in Day 1 is Kasen Williams, who was taken in the seventh round. Williams spent most of his career in the Seattle area, starting with Skyline High School in Sammamish, where he was a USA Today High School first team All-American. He played for University of Washington in college, earning All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2012. 

Williams first signed with the Seahawks in 2015 following an impressive showing during rookie mini-camp. He had reoccurring  stints on Seattle's practice squad and active roster, but was released in 2017. Most recently, Williams played for the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns. 

Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright and former backup QB Jake Heaps were happy to see Williams get another shot. 

The XFL draft will resume Wednesday with the defensive backfield players and an open draft, which includes all remaining players after positional drafts. 

My all-time favorite home run -- and the endangered stadium where I hit it

My all-time favorite home run -- and the endangered stadium where I hit it

You talk about pressure on youngsters in sports? Well, my first real encounter with it came when I was 12 years old.

I was a catcher in the Sellwood-Moreland Little League, which was a pretty good training ground for young baseball players. Good coaches, nice uniforms for the time and our team couldn’t have asked for a better sponsor than the now-long-gone Rettman’s Market.

The only downside to the league was we played our games in Sellwood Park – a nice diamond but it had no outfield fence. You wanted a home run in our league, you had to run it out. And when the other team played its outfielders deep, that was a difficult task.

And that’s what made it so special, once a season, when our whole league got to play in Alpenrose Stadium in Southwest Portland. It was a showplace of a ballpark for kids -- dugouts, press box, PA system, concession stand, plenty of seating for spectators and... It had a fence! You could hit a home run and actually do the home-run trot around the bases.

To a kid in those days, it was like playing in Yankee Stadium.

But when you were a pretty good player, that day came with pressure. I mean, if you wanted a real home run you had to do it there, at Alpenrose, on that one day in the summer.

So the pressure was on that Saturday at Alpenrose when we played our game. As a 12-year-old in Little League, this was my last shot at that fence. One game. And several of my friends had already cleared that fence in earlier games.

Man, everybody knew what was at stake. You think it wasn’t a big deal? Well, one of my friends – whose father was his coach – was actually traded to another team DURING that day, so that he’d get another game at Alpenrose to try to hit one out. He didn’t make it, by the way.

But I did.

I clubbed one over the center-field fence and don’t think I felt my feet hit the ground all the way around the bases. So many decades later, it’s still a pleasant thought. My father, determined to capture the moment on his 8mm camera that day, was so intent on my plate appearance that he forgot to pick up the camera until the ball was on its way out of the little park.

He ended up with a shot of two outfielders watching an unseen ball carry over the wall and me finishing a trip around the bases. No matter, my memory is stronger than that long-ago film.

That dairy was amazing in those days. Ballfields everywhere – softball and baseball – with a quarter-midget race track, a velodrome, picnic area and all sorts of other things that made it delightful, year-round. Later at Alpenrose, my son attended, then worked at, the long-running Metro Baseball School, run by Jack Dunn and Roy Love – a camp that helped thousands of young kids learn the basics of the game. Later, the Little League softball World Series set up shop at Alpenrose and found it a perfect home.

And I guess that’s why my heart hurt when I heard about the family controversy that is putting the dairy and its facilities at risk. On Wednesday of this week, a judge will decide whether to grant in injunction to family members who want to stop a possible sale of the dairy. It’s the heart of a family feud that has torn apart the Cadonau family, the owners of the business and the property it sits on.

I understand the situation but I hate it when money divides a family. Yes, that land is worth millions, but so are the memories and the future ones yet to be made at Alpenrose. I would hope that an injunction and cooling off period would provide time to find a solution that would please all concerned. Maybe even enough time for enough money to be raised to save the kids' part of it, as it stands now.

That place is an important part of Portland – in the past, the present and, hopefully, the future.

And I confess, I’d like to see a lot more boys and girls get a chance to feel what I felt on that trip around the bases, so many years ago in what has always been a very special ballpark.

From the Ivory Coast to PSU, this Romeo is turning heads on the football field

From the Ivory Coast to PSU, this Romeo is turning heads on the football field

Just getting to Portland State University was a long journey for Romeo Gunt.

So when you see that the 5-10, 190-pounder, who appears to have muscles on his muscles, made 15 tackles last weekend in the Vikings’ one-touchdown defeat in front of about 61,000 people at Arkansas, you figure it wasn’t the most difficult task he’s accomplished in life. That the reigning Big Sky Conference defensive player of the week found his way to Portland in the first place is nothing short of amazing.

And the whole thing about even playing football is a bit of a surprise, too.

You see, Gunt’s mother was a professional soccer player and he spent the first seven years of his life in Ivory Coast, a country on the south coast of west Africa, where he spoke only French.

But his family moved to Philadelphia and he found football because his mother enjoyed watching the Eagles play on television. He played his high school ball at a charter school and didn’t get a lot of exposure, so when he was looking for a place to play in college, he was advised to find a junior college – where more people could see him in action. He ended up at Los Angeles Valley JC, where he made the dean’s list and second-team all-conference.

After junior college, he was recruited by Portland State and fell in love with the city and coaching staff.

The rest has been history. Installed as the team’s rover back, where Coach Bruce Barnum gives Gunt the freedom to use his instinct for the ball, he was the team’s third-leading tackler last season and, by the way, was an academic all-league selection.

There are still aspirations of playing pro football after that, but he’s working toward a degree in sociology.

He was a very enjoyable interview and I think you will find the accompanying video entertaining.

Meet The Seattle Dragons: The Emerald City’s new XFL franchise

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The Seattle Dragons

Meet The Seattle Dragons: The Emerald City’s new XFL franchise

“Really...the Dragons?”

“Why the heck did they name Seattle’s XFL team the Dragons?”

These were just a few of the mutters I heard around Seattle today as the Emerald City’s new XFL team officially debuted its name and logo. Drum roll please...introducing The Seattle Dragons. 

So, why the Dragons of all mystical creatures? According to president Ryan Gustafson, the team wanted to create “something that was unique, but also part of the entire brand that represents the community of Seattle, with the imagery of the water, the city and just the fierceness of the character.”

Well, Seattle’s XFL franchise certainly created something. Here's a look at the team's mantra: 

Rising from the turbulent sea. Beneath the darkening skies of their weather-hardened home. Relentless, ruthless, ravenous. Not of mythology, but of muscle and might. Not of folklore, but of football. This is your darkest fantasy, in cleats. The Seattle Dragons. Breathing fire.

The XFL rolled out names and logos for all of its teams on Wednesday, including the the New York Guardians, the Tampa Bay Vipers,  the St. Louis Battle Hawks, the Los Angeles Wildcats, the Houston Roughnecks, the Dallas Renegades and the DC Defenders.

The professional football league, which lasted just one year in 2001, announced its rebirth last December. Seattle was named one of eight cities for the revamped league, which will hold games at CenturyLink Field in February 2020.

Sprague All-Stars to represent Northwest in Little League Baseball World Series

Sprague All-Stars to represent Northwest in Little League Baseball World Series

Oregon's Sprague All-Stars beat Idaho's Coeur d’Alene All-Stars on Saturday to punch their ticket to the Little League Baseball World Series (LLBWS). 

The win almost didn't happen. Sprague trailed Coeur d’Alene 4-3 in the final inning but managed to score two runs in the top of the sixth to take the lead and eventually win the game.

In winning the Northwest region Sprague becomes just the seventh team from the state of Oregon to advance to the LLBWS. Even more impressive, according to the Statesman Journal, this is the first time a team from the Salem area has advances this far. 

The LLBWS has already released the playoff bracket, and Sprague will be playing the winner of the Mid-Atlantic region, New Jersey's Elmora Youth Little League, in the first round. 

The LLBWS starts on Augusts 15th, with Sprague's opener against Mid-Atlantic being played on the 16th.

Portland Diamond Project knocks down another task

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portland diamond project

Portland Diamond Project knocks down another task

The quest towards bringing another professional sports team to the city of Portland is continuing to chug along. This morning, the Portland Diamond Project announced that they are joining the Oregon AFL-CIO and other related unions. According to the organization’s press release, it is the first of its kind for Oregon area sports venues. 

Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain explained the significance of this agreement in the quote below: 

“By signing this agreement, the Portland Diamond Project has shown us they value and respect the rights of working people and care for the prosperity of the community,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain. “Oregon’s unions are proud to be a part of the efforts to bring baseball to the Rose City and to be a part of the only unionized sports arena in the state of Oregon.  By giving workers the unfettered opportunity for union representation, we are securing a bright economic future for the women and men who will make baseball happen in Portland. When working people stand together in unions, we get a fair return on our hard work.”

The deal includes a variety of potential team employees, including concession workers, hospitality services, the sales team, and security employees. 

Founded in 2017, the Portland Diamond Project has been aggressively looking to bring a professional baseball team to Portland. Led by Craig Cheek (former Nike executive) and Mike Barrett (former Portland Trail Blazers broadcaster), the group has brought on some big names, such as Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Ciara, and big baseball names Darwin Barney, Dale Murphy, and Larry D’Amato.

Current MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been open about a new MLB market, either through relocation or expansion teams. 

Star-studded event: A WNBA All-Star game for the record books, Seattle represented nicely

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USA Today Images

Star-studded event: A WNBA All-Star game for the record books, Seattle represented nicely

It came down to the wire in Las Vegas at the 2019 WNBA All-Star game as Team Wilson defeated Team Delle Donne on Saturday afternoon, 129-126.

Team Wilson, whose captain is Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson, held on late to knock off Team Delle Donne, whose captain is Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne.

Team Wilson won and she didn’t even see the floor.

The Aces forward suffered a sprained ankle earlier this month. She was replaced in the starting lineup by Chicago Sky guard Allie Quigley.

Indiana Fever guard Erica Wheeler finished with a game-high 25 points and seven assists, shooting 9-of-17 from the field. Wheeler went undrafted and in her first All-Star game, she took home the MVP honors.

Wheeler hit six three-pointers in the first half coming up just one short of matching the WNBA All-Star game record.  

NBA STARS IN ATTENDANCE

NBA players were scattered all around courtside on Saturday to take in the game with the best women basketball players in the world.

Trail Blazers forward Rodney Hood, along with former Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher were just a few of the NBA stars watching from the stands.

Kobe discussed in a sideline interview with ESPN/ABC reporter Holly Rowe about his longtime special relationship with Seattle Storm All-Star guard Jewell Lloyd.

“I’ve watched her grow… She’s like a little sister to me,” Kobe said.

REPPIN’ SEATTLE

Loyd, who sat out for three and a half weeks due to an ankle sprain, returned last week just in time to make her first All-Star Game start.

Loyd finished with six points and three assists in the losing effort on Saturday.

As for Storm forward Natasha Howard, she was one of six newcomers making her All-Star Game debut.

This season injury has plagued WNBA stars all across the league, including 11-time All-Star and the Seattle Storm’s own Sue Bird (knee).

Howard scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting. She also pulled down six rebounds and had one steal in the win.

The Storm forward has been putting up MVP like numbers this season with 18.1 points, rebounds, 8.3rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game.

BREAKING RECORDS

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner broke a record and showed off her dunking skills on Saturday.

After handling the point guard duties in the first quarter, Griner took the ball up the court easily took it to the hoop and completed it for the one-handed slam. Griner didn’t wast anytime throwing down her second dunk about a minute later.

Dunk number three came later in the first half where Griner went with the two-handed slam.

Throwing down three dunks in an WNBA All-Star game was a first for any player.

Griner finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.

Also a new record: Team Wilson took a 77-63 lead at halftime, and set a new record for points in a half.

Portland Diamond Project Q&A: Darwin Barney provides updates on MLB to PDX

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PDX Diamond Project

Portland Diamond Project Q&A: Darwin Barney provides updates on MLB to PDX

The movement to bring Major League Baseball to Portland is gaining traction. 

To catch baseball fans up with the latest news, former major leaguer, Oregon State infielder and Portland Diamond Project investor, Darwin Barney, took to Twitter to answer a few of your questions on the latest MLB to PDX news.

Here's a wrap-up of Tuesday's Q&A: 

On whether the Portland Diamond project would be interested in an AA or AAA team:

On the most difficult part of the MLB to PDX process:

On one pitcher and one position player Barney would start the franchise with: 

https://twitter.com/PDXDiamondProj/status/1153735012262404096?s=20

On who Barney would choose to lead Portland as skipper to the World Series in 2023:

On how a farm system would shape up for a potential expansion team:

On if there are other teams with a similar initiative:

On whether Barney could join Portland's roster: 

To stay tuned to all of the latest updates, head on over to @PDXDiamondProj on Twitter.

Social media reacts: Seattle NHL team hires Ron Francis as GM

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NHL Seattle

Social media reacts: Seattle NHL team hires Ron Francis as GM

Excitement is growing in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle’s unnamed NHL expansion team, set to debut in the 2021-22 season, are starting to get the initial necessities of the franchise together. Today, the organization announced the reveal of their new General Manager, Ron Francis, through a press conference that was also streamed on Twitter. 

Francis has a storied career within the hockey world. Drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 1981 NHL draft, Francis was able to sustain a 23 year career in the league, finishing with 1798 points. Since retiring, Francis has spent time as the Carolina Hurricanes’ GM and president of hockey operations from 2014 to 2018. 

Not only is it big news for the yet to be named Seattle hockey team, the rest of the Pacific Northwest showcased their excitement on social media.