THE EARLY LEAD: The lasting memories of summer
By BRANDON HURLEY
Welcome back, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it?
The pages of the Jefferson Herald sports section have been absent of a column and it almost began to feel like a ghost town. But fear not, I make my triumphant return with a list, because, frankly, summer is for lists and reminiscing, is it not?
This column certainly won’t tickle your brain strings or incite fury from within, but why not have a little fun with it. It’s time to call on our memories a bit and reflect on the summers gone by, how sports made them special and why we love these little competitions so much.
Feel free to share your best summer sports memories with fellow readers as well.
So without letting the summer heat and humidity damper your mood too much, I present you the Early Lead’s top summer memories.
1. Almost meeting Roy Williams in Omaha
It was a real chance to hang with a legit celebrity completely blown.
My friends and I were mere moments from joining North Carolina coaching legend Roy Williams for a tailgate in the Rosenblatt Stadium parking lot at the College World Series, but our buddy had to ruin it. He shockingly said no to the offer from one of Roy’s assistants, can you believe that?
There’s a funny, but weird back story to the offer. We were walking behind Williams in the concourse when one of our friends thought it’d be funny to start yelling “dad” at him. Well after just 30 seconds, his assistant stops, turned around and instead of being angry, offered up the invite. What a missed opportunity.
2. A rain out at the CWS
Speaking of the College World Series, and I don’t know why this is so prevalent in my mind, but a rain out is perhaps one of my fondest memories in Omaha. I don’t remember what game, or even year it was, but it was in the old Rosenblatt Stadium in the outfield, general admission area. So of course, seats are first come, first serve in the bleachers, if you can even find a spot. Naturally, a rain delay and down pour ensues, clearing the bleachers. But somehow, they didn’t evacuate the stadium, which left a friend of mine with an idea. To go get a front row seat, right at the peak of the outfield wall, whilst sitting in the rain. We were stupid enough to join in, and had an amazing view point once the game finally resumed.
We even saw a streaker pre-nakedness walk past us and hop over the wall. Wild, wild scene that was.
Boy, do I miss the innocent days of junior high. The summers were our playground, our escape from reality, a place to grow (I almost puked writing that). My friends and I spent hundreds of hours out on the Homewood Golf Links in Ames throughout the summers of sixth through eighth grades, tearing the course apart and launching ball after ball into the trees. Probably four or five of us had season passes, and we were out there in the fairway and rough every single day, often play 27 or more holes. We weren’t any good, but it was certainly a blast. We’d then retreat to the clubhouse for some pop and card games, usually spoons or BS. Those were the simple days, I tell ya. Now, I’ve graduated to a few rounds per year, with a cigar and a couple of beers. My, have times changed.
4. First – and only – career home run
To not come off as too boastful, I’ll keep this short. My first and only career home run came during a JV game, on what was supposed to be a hit and run. Well, being the champ I was, I swung and made decent contact, a line drive that barely cleared the fence. My peers erupted in cheers, the bench met me at home plate and the varsity team even came in from the stands. Crazy moment in a meaningless JV game.
5. A pitch away from state
I attended Ames High School and graduated in 2007, and that very summer was the closest our baseball team got to state in my four years. Except, we ran into the traditional power of Fort Dodge in the substate final. Somehow, they played a “neutral site” game but in Fort Dodge. So we were at a disadvantage there even if they weren’t playing on their ivy covered home field. We played them close the whole game, even holding a lead late, until one pitch changed it all. Fort Dodge smacked a grand slam on a hanging curveball, and just like that, our dreams were shattered. We never recovered and my baseball career was over. Devastating.
6. World Cup challenges my sanity
This one will stick with me for quite some time, merely because of the lengths I went to follow along.
It was the summer of 2014 and the U.S. were set to play their opening game of group play against Ghana in Brazil. I was living up in Spirit Lake at the time, and what do you know, a massive thunderstorm decides to hit just as the game is about to start, knocking out the power in my apartment. Cell phone service is beyond shoddy, I can’t stream the game either. So I decide to venture out into the downpour. And just my luck, either the satellite is down in every bar in town or the power is out. I return home to sit in my dark apartment receiving updates by text from my mom. Luckily, USA won, even though I missed it all.
There’s also another memory that sticks with me… the 2010 World Cup. Particularly, the final game of group play when Landon Donovan and the United State tied Algeria in extra time to advance to the quarterfinals.
I went bonkers in my college apartment at noon on a Tuesday, my neighbors probably thought I was being robbed. I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited for a non-Hawkeye related moment since. The rebound goal and jubilation was top notch. And how could you not go crazy for this ?
Too bad our country isn’t going to have a chance to top those two moments this year…
7. AAU memories
My AAU days were not the most memorable, unless you consider pure trash long-lasting. I once air balled two consecutive free throws in a basketball game, which were promptly followed by my benching from my dad. Our AAU baseball team, the Ames Bombers weren’t much better. We were a disaster in elementary school, and I think, though my memory is hazy, we may have only won two games over a two year span. Winning is not in my blood, obviously.
8. State baseball at Principal Park
I had to throw in a work-related memory that’s still ongoing. My first trip to the Iowa state baseball tournament at Principal Park was in 2016 to follow Kuemper Catholic. And boy, was it a treat. I had been to the downtown Des Moines stadium many times before, but it had a different feel from the press box while covering the intensity of it all. The Iowa Cubs’ home park is a tremendous place to host a state tournament and makes me even more envious my high school teams never had a chance to play there. The outfield grass is so pristine and so well-manicured that honestly, I wouldn’t be too mad if I had to sleep on it. The place is a gem, and the atmosphere is great as well. Game after game of baseball throughout a week’s span in late July. I love it, and hope to continue covering the state tournament for many years to come.
As a side note, there’s honestly no better summer job than covering baseball and softball for two months. Getting out the scorebook, unfolding my chair with a pencil in hand and some sunflower seeds, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
9. Video games (Yes, really)
There’s no better way to avoid the summer heat and the responsibilities of chores than to hang inside and play video games, primarily MVP Baseball and NCAA Football. We were obsessed with these two, and anytime you didn’t see us out on the golf course or on the baseball diamond, you could catch us virtually competing. I have many fond memories leading Cliff Floyd to the home run title or guiding the Iowa Hawkeyes to back-to-back national titles and a 10-game shutout streak. Ah, if only real life sports were this easy.
10. The infamous Rice hat
My bucket list hat, the navy blue Rice University hat with the cursive capital R. I loved it, and wore it all the time. Guess where I bought it? During the summer in Omaha at the CWS. I didn’t have any connection to Rice and don’t know why I was drawn to them, but I had to have their hat.