Monday, November 16, 2009

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming

When I was growing up in Davenport, Iowa I watched a lot of professional baseball. My dad would gather up my brother and I and take us to Municipal Stadium to watch (first) the Quad City Braves. If the weather was nice we would walk the mile and a half to the stadium. Sometimes we would stop at a stand on the way and buy a big paper shopping bag of popcorn and take it with us.

In 1962 the Quad City team became affiliated with the Los Angeles Angels – then a one-year-old expansion team. It was cheap entertainment and my dad was a fan so we went to at least one game every home stand. Two things happened in 1963 that permanently cemented my love for baseball. First, the QC Angels held a clinic for kids aged 10 – 16. I got to be down on the field and taught by REAL PROFESSIONAL baseball players. I got batting instruction from the Angels’ manager, Chuck Tanner (yep – that Chuck Tanner, manager of the 1979 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates). I was thrilled.

A few weeks later the “big club” came to town to play an exhibition game. It was a major event. The stadium was sold out. Since I wouldn’t attend my first major league game until the next year – it was the biggest crowd I’d ever seen. Bobby Knoop, Jim Fregosi and Leon Wagner were among the LA Angels that played in that game. Wagner hit a home run that took one bounce after leaving the yard and landed in the Mississippi (think McCovey Cove). To make the event even more spectacular – Gene Autry was there. He sat right behind the third base dugout, his “ten gallon” white cowboy hat visible from anywhere in the stadium.

I still rank that night as one of my favorite all-time sports experiences.

If you’re within driving distance of Mount Vernon, Iowa you have the opportunity to give your young wrestler/wrestling fan a similar experience Wednesday night (November 18th). A team of Russian wrestlers will battle a team with ties to the Hawkeye Wrestling Club in a freestyle dual meet at the Small Multi-Sports Center on the Cornell College Campus. The doors open at 5:30 and wrestling begins at 7:00.

When I first started following wrestling the legendary Soviet heavyweight, Alexander Medved, was the only foreign wrestler whose name I knew and the only time I saw him wrestle was on television in the 1972 Olympics. It wasn’t until I started to study the sport that I learned that he won 3 Olympic gold medals and 7 world titles. Since then I have come to appreciate Russian wrestlers as among the most dominant – if not THE most dominant – in the sport. The advent of youtube has allowed me to watch many matches featuring greats like Sergei Beloglazov and Buvaisar Saitiev.

This could be a once-in-a-lifetime event for you and your kids. Make the most of it. I’m no expert on Russian wrestling, but this is a good team. Yesterday (Sunday, November 15th) they defeated an American team in Chicago that featured Danny Felix, Coleman Scott, Trent & Travis Paulson, Carl Fronhofer, Andy Hrovat and Tervel Dlagnev. (See Craig Sesker’s full write up.). Wednesday the Russians will face a team that includes former Hawkeye NCAA champions Doug Schwab and Steve Mocco and Hawkeye assistant coach and World silver medallist, Mike Zadick. Tell your kids stories as you drive about your favorite Schwab or Zadick match or about Gable in the ’72 Olympics.

Go early so you can revel in the amazing history of Cornell College wrestling. Point to the 1947 NCAA championship trophy and tell the kids that this is the greatest David vs. Goliath story in collegiate wrestling history. Be sure that they see all of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame plaques. Pass on a sense of awe about the accomplishments of Paul Scott and Lowell Lange.

Gene Autry won’t be there, but I’ve been told that Dan Gable will. Get the kids an autograph. I’ve also been told that Scott Casber from Takedown Radio will don a tuxedo and be your announcer.

Tickets are $10 for adults and just $5 for kids. You can buy them today (Monday) from 10:00AM to 2:00PM at the Mount Vernon Bank and Trust, Lepic-Kroeger Realtors (2346 Mormon Trek Blvd, Iowa City) or at the Overhead Door Company (6515 4th St SW, Cedar Rapids). Tickets will also be available at the door Wednesday night.

You have an opportunity to enhance a kid’s love for the sport. Why not do it.

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