By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. As we begin the summer, we take a look at a Mariners ace, the world of competitive spelling, what American speed skater JR Celski is up to, and much more.
The M’s other ace: Hishasi Iwakuma
We are only a couple months into the baseball season, and the Mariners are already unbearable to watch. While I might not be the biggest fan of baseball, Seattle’s annual rite of spring is to hope that the Mariners revive the thrill of the 1995 season when they captured the hearts of the city. A return to 2001, when the Mariners won the most games in the regular season ever — that’s right, ever — would be great too. Yet, the team has never made it close to the World Series, and by the looks of things we have a better chance of the NBA returning to Seattle than the Mariners returning to the playoffs anytime soon.
But, one of the shining spots of the Mariners this season is Japan’s Hishashi Iwakuma. While Felix Hernandez is the M’s most valuable player, Iwakuma is a close second.
The 32-year-old Iwakuma signed with the Mariners last season. He started off in the Mariner bullpen and became a valuable member of the pitching staff midway through the year. What had started out as an audition for a talented but unknown pitcher became a great find for the Mariners.
This year, Iwakuma proved that his performance last season was not luck. He has seven wins with only two losses and has been one of the best pitchers in the major leagues.
Iwakuma was a successful professional player in Japan and played for Japan in the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics in 2004. Yet, it was not clear whether his pitching skills would translate to the MLB. Fortunately for the Mariners, Iwakuma is virtually unstoppable. Now if the Mariners could only score some runs for him.
UW golfer competes at US Open
In our continued amazement of how good Asians are at golf, University of Washington standout golfer Cheng-Tsung Pan was the second best amateur at the U.S. Open golf tournament held June 13–16. Pan, a First Team All American for the Huskies, ended up tied with pros such as Sergio Garcia and 2013 Masters Champ Adam Scott. Currently just a sophomore, Pan should continue to improve while playing in college. It’s likely that we’ll hear his name again and again on the leaderboard and major golf events.
A new spelling bee champ is crowned
Arvind Mahankali of Bayside Hills, New York won the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee, which took place in late May. Mahankali becomes the sixth Indian-American in a row to win the competition and the 11th in 15 years. He correctly spelled “knaidel” to take home the contest. If you’re wondering, knaidel is a type of dumpling.
Mahankali took home $30,000 in cash and prizes and a trophy to brag about to his friends. Spellers ranged in age from 8–14 and the 13-year-old Mahankali outlasted a group of 281 other contestants. Remarkably, the event has been put on the national stage and is shown by ESPN. Apparently, there’s not enough Tim Tebow news to fill up the hours of programming.
Na upset at French Open, upset at Chinese media?
Chinese tennis star Li Na, the 2011 French Open Champion, was upset in the second round of this year’s tournament and expressed her frustration of losing with the Chinese press. When asked to explain her performance to her fans back in China, Na shot back, “Do I need to explain? Do I need to get on my knees and kowtow to them? Apologize to them?”
Surprising comments from an athlete who many have believed to be easy to work with and interview. However, Chinese press has increasingly called her “unprofessional” in her dealings with the media.
Maybe it’s the unrealistic expectations or the personality conflict with the media in her country but based on the quotes, Na seems angered by some of the questions lobbed by the press in China. We will see how she does in Wimbledon. For her sake, hopefully her performance satisfies more of her fans.
Hines Ward — triathlete?
He used to play football, then he was on “Dancing with the Stars,” and then he faced off on The Food Network’s “Celebrity Cookoff.” He was even a walking dead on AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Now, Hines Ward is doing triathlons.
Ward is training for the Ironman Triathlon in Kona Hawaii later this year. He’s enlisted the help of former world class triathlete Paula Newby-Fraser to get his body ready for the grueling swim, bike, and run. He recently completed a Half-Ironman (also known as a 70.3 based on half the distance of a full Ironman) in Kansas. His final time was five hours and 53 minutes. Good luck to Ward — it’s a grueling race and training for it is much harder than dancing or making dinner.
JR Celski’s documentary screened at SIFF
Federal Way Olympic speedskater J.R. Celski is preparing for another Olympic effort in Sochi, Russia in 2014. Celski is well on his way to improving on his two-Olympic-bronze-medal performance in Vancouver as he won the 2012 overall title at the U.S. Senior Short Track Speedskating National Championships this past December and broke the world record in the 500 meters. However, the Filipino-American Celski is also a filmmaker. His documentary on the Seattle hip-hop scene, “The Otherside,” appeared at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) this year. The film explores the Seattle hip-hop scene with focuses on Billboard chart toppers Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
Celski and his friends thought up the idea after the 2010 Winter Olympics as a benefit for Seattle Children’s Hospital. Although the benefit did not work out the way they thought, a new project arose. The friends worked on a documentary on the Seattle hip-hop scene, something not covered since the days of “Posse on Broadway” and “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot gained national notoriety.
After a gruesome speedskating injury left Celski with a gash in his leg, he discovered the local hip hop scene and became enthused about sharing it with others. The filming of the documentary took place over the span of two years and features many local artists including the Blues Scholars. We wish “The Otherside” much success and will be looking forward to Celski next winter in Russia.
Former Olympic diving champ found
Some very good news from earlier this spring as the first Asian-American to win Olympic gold for the United States was found safe and sound after leaving his Huntington Beach, Calif. home and not returning. Sammy Lee, 92, suffers from dementia. Lee was found a day after he did not return from his usual swimming workout. Although beset with dementia, Lee still drives.
Lee, a Korean American, won back-to-back gold medals in diving at the 1948 and 1952 Olympic Games. He coached the U.S. diving team and served as mentor to Olympic medalist Greg Louganis. Despite his athletic success, Lee experienced racism during his time training for the Olympics; he was only allowed access to a pool once a week.
UW’s Kelli Sugoro makes ESPN
The University of Washington Softball Team made another run at the NCAA Women’s College World Series this spring. Although the team fell short in the end, Kelli Sugoro made sure that she gave it her all. During one of its games at the College World Series, the junior second baseman from Kent, Washington made a terrific diving stop off of a ground ball. No time to get up and throw the runner out, Sugoro, threw the ball from her stomach making a strategic one-hop throw to first base and getting the runner out. Her outstanding play made it one of ESPN’s Top Plays of the Night — a nightly feature on the network’s Sportscenter.
The Former Kentridge High School star chose to play at the University of Washington over other schools that offered her softball scholarships because of the UW’s competitive Softball program and its acclaimed business school. Sugoro was a Pac-12 honorable mention this year. (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.