A few things I care about …
▪ While Lauren Yung was spending her youthful and college sports days serving, setting or spiking a volleyball, she wasn’t thinking about football. But as she sought new outlets for the athletic drive that took her through Northborough’s Algonquin Regional High School and Washington University in St. Louis, the path from the volleyball court to the football field somehow made sense, drawing on the type of hand-eye coordination skills or pace-of-play action bursts that underscore both sports.
Consider the transition complete.
Yung, along with the rest of the Boston Renegades for whom she is a top wide receiver, will play for a third consecutive Women’s Football Alliance championship next weekend in Canton, Ohio. The powerhouse semi-pro women’s football team advanced to face the Minnesota Vixen at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 24, the reward for their 63-3 semifinal victory over the Tampa Bay Inferno this past weekend. With a perfect 6-0 record and an aggregate score of 354-12, their odds for bringing another championship banner back to Boston are pretty good.
But more than the story of a title drive, this is the story of an amazingly dedicated group of women, athletes determined to find their place in a sport historically limited to men, professionals from the classroom to the boardroom, from the homefront to the front lines all making time for the game they have come to love.
“Everyone on the team is juggling a lot of things,” Yung said. “We have parents, teachers, first responders, corporate lawyers, everything. You name it, we probably have it on the roster. For me, it’s always been a part of balancing this with everything I do. I do work full time [in sports sponsorship] and over the course of the past four years I’ve been working full time, been a grad student full time, lived in Watertown to Amherst to New York. I’m no different from anyone on this team.
“I saw a great quote: It’s not talking about work-life balance, but what you prioritize and when. It’s not because we have a ton of free time, but because we make time.”
Time for late-night practices when a field is available, time for film study squeezed in around work hours, time for COVID-19 protocols that might have robbed them of an entire 2020 season but have also allowed for the resumption of a 2021 campaign.
“It’s hard to pull into a few sentences what this season has meant, for everybody and for all the reasons everyone else is experiencing this year, it has been totally different. But just being out on the field is obviously a real privilege,” Yung said. “To have the support of such a great organization, to rally a roster during such a strange time, just a privilege and honor to be a part of.”
Yung has been doing it for four years, from the 2017 team that lost its only game in the championship, to the ones who returned in 2018-19 with back-to-back titles. So many others have come before her, and some, such as standout quarterback Allison Cahill, are still here. As one of the WFA’s all-time leaders in too many categories to count, Cahill will be out there again, winging the ball down the field.
“She was Tom Brady before Tom Brady was Tom Brady,” Yung said.
▪ Really enjoyed the All-Star Game, except for those boring, homogeneous uniforms that robbed us of the visual smorgasbord of individual home jerseys that were always part of the game’s charm. One uniformity I can endorse, however, were the 44s players wore during the Home Run Derby, the homage to the late, great Hank Aaron.
The tributes to Aaron, who died in January, reminded me of being at the Masters in April, when Lee Elder joined the ceremonial first tee in honor of his breaking the color barrier at the tournament. Elder and Aaron shared a long friendship, spending time together in Atlanta.
“We were right around that same era and I had a chance to talk with him a lot of time, and as a matter of fact we sat in his office just not too long ago before he passed,” Elder recalled at Augusta in April.
Aaron still holds the record with 25 All-Star Game appearances, and on Tuesday his widow, Billye, was escorted onto the field by Freddie Freeman and Aaron Judge and presented with a 1974-style Braves jersey signed by the All-Stars. That’s the year Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.
▪ But it was another echo of Ruth that starred on the field, with the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani inspiring the lords of baseball to alter the game rules just so we could appreciate his rare gifts. After leading off in the top of the first, grounding out, and then pitching a perfect bottom of the inning (to later earn the victory in the American League’s 5-2 win), Ohtani was lifted for a reliever. But he stayed in for one more at-bat, a tribute to his singular appeal as the game’s best two-way player since Ruth.
National League starter Max Scherzer said it best prior to the game, before retiring his counterpart in that one at-bat. “He’s must-watch baseball any time he’s on the field,” Scherzer said.
Laughing that he’d love to get even one hit but that he’s “0 for the first half of the year,” Scherzer explained, “Just the fact that he can pitch, the demands on your body to be a pitcher are intense to say the least, I can definitely speak to that. So to be able to shoulder those workloads and also be able to hit as well, that’s just absolutely incredible.”
▪ Also loved the mic’d-up moments, such as Freeman and Judge comparing their perfect teeth, or even better, when Fernando Tatis Jr. reacted just like we did at home as his lifelong buddy Vladimir Guerrero Jr. launched a home run into outer space. That it happened just as Tatis was talking about them growing up together was perfect, and a great reminder that the game, if it can get out of its own labor way, is in good young hands with the two 22-year-old stars.
▪ If you read one thing, make it the beautifully moving essay from Rio Gomez, the Red Sox prospect and son of late ESPN reporter Pedro Gomez. When Rio wrote, “My dad was never afraid of emotion. He didn’t hide from anything,” I remembered all the times I would meet Pedro at games and how genuinely helpful and friendly he was, and indeed, how emotional he would get talking about his son. He is missed.
▪ The British Open gets under way missing plenty of stars (Zach Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama out because of COVID) but still thick with the drama between Americans Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. Though I am still entertained by their animosity — rivalries are part of the essence of sports — I find myself (surprisingly) tilting toward DeChambeau, who seems cast as the easily targeted outsider for the popular kid that is Koepka.
▪ Book notes from a book nerd: Finally got around to reading Kristin Hannah’s “The Four Winds” and though it was emotionally wrenching, with echoes of “The Grapes of Wrath,” it was worth it. Looking forward now to two reader submissions: “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions: What the women’s national team teaches us about grit, authenticity, and winning,” from Joanna Lohman and Paul Tukey, and “Bathsheba Spooner: A Revolutionary Murder Conspiracy,” from Andrew Noone.