2020-07-13 sp-emigcolumn Drillers

Tulsa Drillers pitcher John Beller pitches during their Opening Night game against the Frisco RoughRiders at ONEOK Field in Tulsa on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

It was boiling at the Drillers’ game against Amarillo last Tuesday evening, and still 74-year-old Wayne Rice kept his powder blue mask on. He sat there in section 106, row T, seat 16, wearing it during pregame conversation, during the national anthem as he stood and saluted the flag and then right through the first pitch.

“I’m happy to see baseball again,” he said. “I don’t like the mask.”

But you’re wearing it?

“For my safety,” he said, “and everybody around me’s safety.”

Rice, who volunteers at Destiny Church in Broken Arrow when he isn’t at ONEOK Field or enjoying time with his wife, Paula, chatted about the pandemic for a bit.

Then I asked him about the Air Force Veterans cap he had on.

“I served from 1960-65,” he said. “My first assignment out of basic was in Goose Bay, Labrador in Canada. It feels like you’re practically in the North Pole. I served 15 months up there in communications. I got to see President Kennedy once. He stopped in for refueling in Air Force One. The first year at Christmas time, I got to meet Bob Hope when he came up to entertain the troops.”

Rice said he went home to Houston after serving. He was there a while before moving to Tulsa. He started going to Drillers game at the old ballpark at 15th and Yale. Paula worked in the ticket office. She still does, he said.

“My wife watches the major leagues on TV and says, ‘Oh, he played for the Drillers. He played for the Drillers.’” Rice said. “She’s a huge fan. When the Drillers won the (Texas League) championship (in 2018), me and my wife went down on the field to give one of the players his championship ring.”

So we’re talking two loyal fans here...

“Oh sure,” he said. “When I retired from John Zink a few years ago, they gave me a dinner here at the park. They brought ‘Hornsby’ to John Zink to wish me luck when I retired. I know a lot of the management here.”

Sounds like the Drillers take very good care of Mr. and Mrs. Rice.

Makes it pretty cool that the masked Mr. Rice took very good care of the Drillers last Tuesday night.

Now you know the highlight of my week. There were others...

This made me laugh

Oklahoma State fans are going to love watching Cade Cunningham play basketball this year. I can tell from his 40-minute Zoom call with media last Wednesday that I’m going to love interviewing him. He is composed and easygoing.

At one point the Oklahoman’s Jacob Unruh asked him: “LeBron or Jordan?”

“Wooo,” Cunningham answered with a big smile. “You put me on the spot with that one. I’m growing up in the LeBron era, so I have to say ‘LeBron’ just out of respect. But I’m not going to argue with anybody that says ‘Michael Jordan’ at all. I can’t argue with that. I did watch the (“Last Dance”) documentary and it did wake me up on a lot of things.”

And this made me laugh

I’m not sure Mike meant to crack me up when he sent the email about the Mike Gundy/OAN/Black Lives Matter storyline last Friday, but he did. Maybe it’ll crack you up as well.

Mike’s closing line: “I am sorry that this is the direction in your life and you have to cover it because you know deep down this is the most trite, absurd non-controversy since the release of New Coke.”

NEW COKE?!!!!!

When’s the last time any of you thought of New Coke?

I replied thanking Mike for taking me back to high school, New Coke debuting and fizzling out my junior year.

This week, I hope to hear from a reader who believes the Gundy stuff is the biggest waste of time since Pepsi Blue.

P.S. Yes, Mike did sign the email with his last name. No, it wasn’t “Gundy.”

This made me think, and cry

It’s convenient to poke fun at athletic directors who schedule non-conference football games far in advance anymore. The pandemic has taught us we should probably stop doing that, no matter the timeline.

June 30, 2015, Oklahoma State and Oregon State announced a home-and-home series scheduled for 2019 and ’20. Five years out. Totally reasonable time.

Two OSU’s. Two programs with a vested interest in challenging the old guard in their Power Five conferences. Totally reasonable matchup.

Now, thanks to the Pac-12’s Friday night cancellation of non-conference games, Oregon State has to decide how it feels about a nine-game conference-only schedule.

And Oklahoma State must scramble to figure out what to do about opening the season, something the Cowboys were scheduled to do Sept. 3 against the Beavers.

So much for the best laid plans of athletic directors Mike Holder and Scott Barnes. I feel worse for the players who have lost that game, but I feel lousy for the two ADs just the same.

I interviewed Barnes for a column about coming to Stillwater last June 1. The last thing I asked: “So whaddya think... You guys gonna play or not?”

“Let’s play,” Barnes said. “Let’s play.”

The coronavirus just... plain... sucks.


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Guerin Emig

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Sports Columnist

Proud father of Gretchen and Holden. Devoted husband to Christy, who has been my best friend since biology class at Booker T. Washington. I covered the Oklahoma Sooners for 15 years. That was both challenging and rewarding. Now I get to write columns.