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Memories of baseball days past

I'll be honest. When one of the teams I cover advances a long way in the state playoffs, I root for them - quietly - to win.

That was certainly the case on Saturday when Westview battled back from a 5-0 deficit to beat Central Catholic 9-6 and win its first-ever state baseball championship.

When the Wildcats - the 2010 OIBA champs and 2011 Metro League co-champs - fell behind the Rams 5-0 three innings into Saturday's game, I was silently - but fervently - hoping that Westview would get its act together.

Part of that desire is just natural - it's more fun to write about winners than losers, and it's more fun (and much easier) to interview kids after a thrilling win than after a heartbreaking loss.

But it's more than just that for me. I want to see my local teams succeed because I remember what it feels like.

Back in the dead-ball era when I played for St. Helens, when bats were still smelted in steel mills and uniforms had barely advanced past wool - in this case, back in 1980 - I was part of a team that won a state championship.

There are many things I still remember vividly about championship day and the moments leading up to it.

We graduated the night before the state championship game, and our head coach - wisely fearing the decision-making deficiencies of his six senior starters - met us as we exited the gymnasium with our new diplomas. He escorted us down the hall, made sure we dropped off our caps and gowns in a nearby classroom, then shoved us onto a bus. Along with the rest of our team, we drove to a Portland motel where we stayed overnight - with each room staffed by an adult coach or parent - and stayed out of trouble.

We got up early on championship Saturday morning for batting practice on the dewy field at La Salle High School, with our coaches yelling at us and cranking the pitching machine to 90 miles per hour in preparation for the opposition's No. 1 pitcher.

Next came a team lunch at the hotel's small restaurant, and there, we got the first inkling that things might just go our way. As we ate at the hotel, some 35 miles away from home, our star pitcher accidentally bumped into his chiropractor.

That pitcher - later a star at the University of Utah - had suffered from a sore back for most of our team's stretch run, the result of missing the pit and landing on his back while demonstrating the high jump to sophomores in a PE class.

But that chance meeting with his chiropractor resulted in a private session right before we hit the bus to go to the big game, and very well may have paved the way for our success later that day.

Once we reached what was then known as Civic Stadium, we got our first look at the underbelly of a big stadium, waiting in the wings - seemingly forever - as the day's earlier state championship game dragged into extra innings.

Then there was the pregame infield practice on the brand new artificial turf at Civic Stadium. I remember the way the ball would hop - almost logically - across what seemed to us an almost unnaturally smooth surface. After years of practice on lousy fields that once were cow pastures - and smelled it in the rain - fielding a baseball for the first time on turf seemed almost too easy.

The game itself was a pitcher's duel between two first-team all-stater hurlers and passed quickly. I remember handling three separate fielding chances in the first inning alone, and while I survived that auspicious start without a screw-up, I walked off shaken that the pressure might continue and I wouldn't fare so well the rest of the way.

As it turned out, I never saw the ball again defensively, grounded to shortstop three times, and remember little else until our shortstop singled to center field and drove home two runs in the sixth to win the game and our school's first baseball crown.

Now, even 31 years later, much of it comes back as crisply and sharp as the day it happened.

And the same will be true for this year's Westview champions - they created memories that will last a lifetime.