Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Grab bag on the sports scene

Sacramento State men’s basketball coach Brian Katz recently received a five-year contract extension and a raise.
Sacramento State men’s basketball coach Brian Katz recently received a five-year contract extension and a raise. rbenton@sacbee.com

While cleaning out closets, listening to music, reading, reacquainting myself with the Crocker Art Museum – a true area treasure – during a weeklong stay-at-home vacation, there was no escaping the sights and sounds of autumn’s annual sports gridlock.

Several Kings are competing for their countries in the European Championship. The Giants are succumbing to injuries. The A’s are increasingly irrelevant. The post-Harbaugh 49ers are a curiosity, at the very least. The Raiders are intriguing for the first time in years, and not merely because this could be their last season in Oakland.

Here are a few other observations, musings and opinions from someone who tried, but failed, to avoid the temptations of cellphones, radio, television and other assorted devices that can lead to sensory overload and ruin any hopes for a great escape:

▪ Sacramento State men’s basketball coach Brian Katz recently received a much-deserved raise and five-year contract extension for reviving the program at his alma mater. But the unfailingly upbeat Katz is encouraged for another reason: the improving prospects for a new on-campus facility. “Our new president (Robert Nelsen) is making a new arena one of his top priorities via fundraising,” he said, “and as everyone knows, that’s something we’ve really needed. There is a lot happening regarding the fundraising, so it made signing the contract extension pretty easy. You can definitely feel the change, not just on campus, but in our community in general.”

▪ The River Cats didn’t qualify for the playoffs, but they topped the minor leagues in attendance and recorded their largest gate since 2008. Teams president Jeff Savage attributes the 10 percent bump from a year ago (up from 607,839 to 672,354) to the obvious: the switch of their Triple-A affiliate from the A’s to the Giants. “There are a lot of Giants fans here,” he said, “and they’re very passionate about their team. We opened ourselves up to another fan base, and a bigger fan base, and now they’re coming in masses. It’s really been a great year.”

▪ Though the Kings estimate 13,500 parking spaces exist within a half-mile of the downtown complex, another 3,125 spots, it should be noted, are available at Raley Field just across the Tower Bridge in West Sacramento. Savage said the lots are largely vacant in the offseason and an easy walk to the arena. In other words, don’t be shocked if there’s a Kings-River Cats partnership sometime in the future.

▪ If Josh Donaldson wins the American League MVP award, shouldn’t Billy Beane apologize to A’s fans for trading the talented and eminently likeable third baseman? When does stripping a team to its skivvies become illegal or, better yet, the final reason for fans to find another team? Imagine an A’s batting order featuring Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Carlos Gonzalez? What coulda, shoulda been.

▪ Serena Williams has overcome injuries, ailments, a disdain for conditioning and boredom, yet she eventually will retire as the greatest female tennis player of all time. Apparently, father knows best. While older sister Venus was captivating crowds and climbing up the rankings after turning pro at age 14 (she won at Oracle Arena in her debut), Richard Williams insisted Serena would be the superior pro. He cited Serena’s imposing physique and more athletic, powerful game, and said she possessed a mean streak that the graceful, long-limbed Venus lacked. Unfortunately, we never see enough of the Williams sisters, for whatever reasons.

▪ While AT&T Park remains the jewel of major-league ballparks with its waterfront location and expansive views of one of America’s most beautiful cities, Petco Park in downtown San Diego – the most recent publicly-privately financed professional sports and entertainment complex built in California – is a terrific and uniquely appealing venue. Bordered by high-rises and historic buildings, and across the light-rail tracks from the Convention Center, the $450 million sand and stucco structure has an urban feel, though fans in the north grandstands are afforded views of San Diego Bay. The most notable features might be the unusually wide outdoor concourses that stretch around most of the ballpark and feature an array of bars, restaurants and team stores. It’s hard to believe the facility is 11 years old.

▪ With the Dodgers playing four games at AT&T Park during the Giants’ final homestand, fans can work up a nice pregame lather by perusing Molly Knight’s recently released book: “The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse.” It’s an easy, entertaining read, and offers interesting anecdotes about some of baseball’s most compelling figures, among them Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Don Mattingly and the enigmatic Yasiel Puig.

▪ Finally, within the past few days, the Kings’ downtown arena began growing some thick exterior skin. The structure is visible these days when driving on Interstate 5. So back to vacation, and listening to great music: I’m sticking with my pitch for Paul McCartney for the opening act. Let it be? Kings president Chris Granger is still soliciting suggestions.

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