By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Seattle sports fans, please erase 2008 from your memory.
The city lost its basketball team as the Seattle SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City. The University of Washington football team didn’t win a game this season and fired head coach Tyrone Willingham. The Mariners finished in last place in its division with 101 losses and fired its manager, John MacLaren.
Finally, the Seattle Seahawks experienced its first losing season since 2002. Although Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren was not fired, he stepped down as head coach after suffering the worst record in his coaching career.
Yet, 2008 was a breakthrough for many Asian Americans in sports. This is a list of athletes who had a good 2008 and will be on the rise in 2009.
1. Don Wakamatsu became the first Asian American to manage a major league baseball team when he was hired as the Seattle Mariners manager in November.
2. A San Francisco Giant and former University of Washington Husky Tim Lincecum won the National League Cy Young Award, an annual award given to the league’s best pitcher. Lincecum’s grandfather is Filipino.
3. Michelle Wie successfully completed “Q-school” with a qualifying score to earn her tour card and become an official member of the LPGA tour. Prior to qualifying, Wie received sponsor exemptions to play in LPGA tournaments.
4. Erik Spoelstra is in his first year as an NBA coach for the Miami Heat. Spoelstra, who is half-Filipino, played college basketball at the University of Portland.
5. Kim Ng, the assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was on the short list of candidates for the general manager position for the Mariners. Although Ng was not chosen, many baseball executives believe that it will only be a matter of time until Ng becomes a general manager of an MLB team.
6. In the absence of Tiger Woods, 23-year-old golfer Anthony Kim’s enthusiasm and clutch play led the United States in upsetting the European team in the Ryder Cup. Playing in his first Ryder Cup, the Korean American waved the American flag and led cheers as the U.S. team upset the favored European team.
7. Boxer Manny Pacquiao had a successful 2008. He won three fights this year with his last being the biggest and best as he dominated Oscar de la Hoya on Dec. 6.
8. Phillipe Nover, a Filipino mixed martial artist (MMA), participated in the reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter.” The show placed MMA fighters to live in a house and train to compete for a contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Nover, a nurse in Brooklyn, made it all the way to the televised finals before losing. Nover tried out eight times for the reality show prior to being accepted to participate this past year.
9. Mark Munoz is an up-and-coming undefeated mixed martial artist. The UFC has signed “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” to compete in the UFC in early 2009.
10. Geno Espineli became the first full-blooded Filipino to pitch in the major leagues when he pitched an inning for the San Francisco Giants in July 2008.
11 and 12. Two Indian pitchers, Dinesh Patel (right), 20, and Rinku Singh, 19, were signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Patel and Singh appeared on a reality television show in India, “The Million Dollar Arm,” in which the winner was given a chance to sign with an MLB team. The Pirates signed Singh, the winner of the reality show. The organization also signed Patel because they were impressed with his potential.
Seattle’s Apolo Anton Ohno won his eighth consecutive national title at the U.S. Shortrack Speedskating Championships on Dec. 21.
Haley Ishimatsu appeared in her first Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. The 15-year-old California native competed in two platform diving events.
Ohno and Ishimatsu accomplished a lot in 2008 but may stay low-key in 2009. (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.