Sports Extra

By Eric Becker


As long as there are professional sports, I will be a happy camper. While I do think athletes are well overpaid, they do perform on the greatest of stages in the greatest of places.

If I ever inherit a ton of money, and it hasn’t happened yet, obviously, I would find time to tour the country and Toronto and visit all 30 major league parks in one fell swoop.

That would be my at the top of my ultimate bucket list. Will it happen? No, I don’t see it happening. I’ve heard of people who have done this, and am quite jealous.

Recently, I wrote down a list of all the stadiums and arenas that I have visited (that I could recall) over the past three-plus decades of following sports.

The list is pretty lengthy, but not as lengthy as I would have liked.

Oddly, I’ve never  been to a postseason sporting event in person. I’d say the highest touted event I have been  was the baseball College World Series in Omaha, back in 2002. I believe Clemson played South Carolina, but I could be totally wrong. It was a highly entertaining, thrilling venue to take in a game at that level.

I love the anticipation of visiting a new venue in a place I’d never been. Last year, it was Comerica Park in Detroit. Two years ago, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Not planning any new venues this summer. Hopefully, next year.

Locally, I’ve been to about as many high school gymnasiums and schools as anyone, from as far north as Seneca and LaMoille to as far south as Metropolis, and many, many places in between. Last year, my first in Carlinville, I crossed Carlinville, Roxana, Pana, Piasa, Gillespie, Staunton, Litchfield, Greenville, Bunker Hill, Mt. Olive, North Mac, East Alton and probably many others off the list of high schools I’ve now had to chance to visit.

Haven’t been to Hillsboro yet. Been to Vandalia, but many years ago when I was in Clinton, covering a wrestling sectional.

I’ve covered events at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Field and the Assembly Hall in Champaign.

Been to Wrigley Field, old Comiskey Park, U.S. Cellular Field and the old Chicago Stadium for games in Chicago.

I’ve been to Busch Stadium II and III, the Dome at America’s Center, and the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. In Springfield, been to Lanphier Park and Prairie Capital Convention Center for games.

I’ve either toured the stadium/arena or saw a game in 19 cities across the land.

That doesn’t take into account my spring training vacations to Arizona and Florida. Six trips, one to Florida and five to my favorite destination, Phoenix, to watch spring training baseball.

I’ve seen spring training games in 12 different towns across Arizona and Florida. Arizona has expanded to a couple newer venues, so I will need to get back out there again soon. I have not been back to spring training since 2007.

I’ve seen pro baseball games in St. Louis, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit and Tampa. Toured the ballpark in Phoenix. Been to two different stadiums in Chicago, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Been to NFL games in St. Louis and Indianapolis, and toured the stadium in Seattle.

Been to NBA games at the old stadium in Chicago; Indianapolis and Phoenix, while touring the arena in Washington, D.C. and went into the lobby of the Target Center in Minneapolis.  Seen NHL games in Phoenix and Saint Louis.

Just love visiting the sports venues. Lots of people, yes, but, its a place where I feel at peace with the world. We all need a little of that in our lives.

Came across a sports legend I’d never heard of before. The NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and the legend of the infamous Taro Tsujimoto.

Seems like Tsujimoto, out of the Japan League, was the Sabers 11th round draft pick back in 1974.

He had no chance to make the NHL because, well, quite frankly, he never existed.

Seems like the Buffalo general manager at the time, George “Punch’ Imlach, decided to trick the league because he thought the draft, conducted via telephone at the time, was too long and he was fed up with the process.

So, with the help of the Sabres PR Director Paul Wieland, they created this fictional player.

The NHL made the pick official, and it was reported in media outlets at the time, including The Hockey News. He was pick number 183 of that year’s draft.

This came at a time when the NHL was just beginning its search for players outside of North America.

In 2011, a trading card company created a card of Tsujimoto, an unidentified Asian man playing hockey for a team wearing similar blue and gold colors that Buffalo Sabres players wear.

Just goes to show you, if you draft a player that doesn’t exist, it doesn’t mean he is totally forgotten.

Sad to read a report over the weekend on one of the greatest coaches of all time.

Former Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt, who coached 38 years, suffered from dementia for about the past five years, and early Tuesday morning passed away at age 64. Hate to see the legends at the end of their lives. Mohammed Ali died a few weeks ago and it was a tragic few days as we remembered his life.

Summitt won 1.098 games, a record for men or women coaches, and eight national championships. And she helped promote women’s athletics at the collegiate level. Women’s collegiate sports really began to prosper during her time as coach. She was a pioneer for women’s sports. The WNBA would not exist if not for coaches like Pat Summitt. Rest in peace.

Also tragic news Tuesday that Buddy Ryan, NFL coach for several teams over several years, died at age 82. He was the defensive guru for, in my humble opinion, the best defensive team in a single year, the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears. (No offense to Denver’s defense last year or Seattle’s three years ago). The 1985 Bears were downright nasty.

Love him or hate him, Buddy did bring some new insights into the game with the ‘46’ defense. His son Rex Ryan, coaches the Buffalo Bills. Another son is an assistant coach.

St. Louis Blues traded their primary number one goalie this past season during Friday’s draft.

Brian Elliott led the Blues into the Western Conference Finals this past spring. He was traded to Calgary.

I was kind of confused by the trade, but the Blues have decided that Jake Allen is the future for the Note. Hope they are right and didn’t trade the wrong goaltender.

I completely admire what Elliott did this past season. He and Allen were a terrific tandem. When Allen got hurt midway through the season, Elliott played a majority of the games down the stretch, and then helped beat hated-rival Chicago and Dallas, both in seven game series.

Good luck Moose up in Canada. Thanks for all that you did in St. Louis.