D-Backs Say Good-Bye To Amazing Grace

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For those of us who enjoy cheering an old-school, hard-nosed throwback type of player, the retirement of Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace has created a huge void that might not soon be filled.

After 13 years as the Chicago Cubs first baseman and three with the Diamondbacks, Grace announced his retirement last week.

Although he posted a .300 career batting average and was known for his solid defense, Grace doesn't have the gaudy home run numbers to make him an instant favorite to enter baseball's Hall of Fame.

What he did have was a charisma that was refreshingly different from the repugnant aura of today's pampered, overpaid superstars.

He was the gritty player who refused to wear batting gloves and wasn't the least bit shy about dirtying his uniform by diving for red-hot ground balls.

Watching him play in the late innings of a hard-fought game at Bank One Ballpark during the Diamondback's 2001 championship season, my wife, Kay, likened his grimy appearance to that of the character Pig Pen from the Snoopy cartoons.

Last season, he provided fans with what will probably long be a favorite memory. After offering his pitching services during the final inning of a lopsided loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Grace dead-panned a side splitting imitation of teammate Mike Fetters' idiosyncratic pitching gestures. His comedic routine has been rerun hundreds of times on Diamondback TV broadcasts.

With Grace's retirement, it seems to me that there will be one less of a dying breed of baseball players that parents and coaches hope their sons and players will to look up to.

Sure, Grace admitted his character had a few flaws. But from what we knew of him, he seemed to be the type of team player we didn't mind coughing up our hard-earned bucks to see play.

He was a lowly 24th round draft pick out of San Diego State whose work ethic, solid character and determination eventually earned him a World Series ring.

Grace wasn't a thoroughbred destined for greatness. He was a work horse who shouldered much of load of his team. His smooth swing and grasp of the sport's fundamentals reminded coaches that sheer talent is not the only ticket to the big leagues.

Some young athletes publicly declare an almost heroic worship of professional sport's troubled superstars. They proudly sport their high-dollar athletic jerseys, wear their trendy shoes and condone their off-the-field behavior and on-the-field antics.

To this old coach's way of thinking, the teens would be better off following in the giant footsteps of No. 17.

Homecoming

The halftime promotion that has proved so popular at Longhorn football games this season will return for Friday evening's homecoming.

For those who missed the Horns two earlier home games, here's how the promotion works.

When entering the PHS stadium, fans have the opportunity to purchase $1 raffle tickets. The winner of the raffle drawing, which is held during second quarter play, is allowed to try a field goal kick from an unspecified distance.

Also, 10 miniature footballs are thrown into the stands at halftime. The spectators who catch the balls with the NAPA Autocare signatures earn a shot at kicking a field goal.

At halftime, contestants will be called onto the field to attempt one FG boot. If the kick attempt splits the uprights, the kicker pockets $500 of the prize. An additional $500 will be donated to a NAPA athletic scholarship fund at PHS .

Thanks to the generosity of the Knights of Columbus, this year's homecoming game will be televised. The Knights have paid Rick Clark to videotape the event, which will be replayed Saturday, Oct. 4 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Cable Vision Channel 4, the local access station.

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