TACOMA — The period from mid-June to late July is playtime in the NFL. The last time coaches and players can get away for an extended period before the grind of the long season begins.
More proof, though, that Seahawks fans can’t wait for the season to get started came Sunday as more than 7,000 turned out for the Richard Sherman Celebrity Softball Game here at Cheney Stadium, usually the home of the Tacoma Rainiers.
Some fans began assembling as early as 8 a.m., tailgating in the parking lot as they would before a game at CenturyLink Field. Virtually all seemed to be wearing a Seahawk jersey and carrying high expectations for a season as hotly anticipated as any in team history.
“I tell you, you can’t find better fans than this,’’ Sherman said as he scanned the stands before the game.
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Those who came watched the likes of Sherman, quarterback Russell Wilson, safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, linebacker Bobby Wagner and receivers Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin and Percy Harvin participate in a pregame Home Run Derby and a seven-inning game.
As is customary for such affairs, the game was far from serious and the rules somewhat loosely enforced. And there was one notable personnel change with Tacoma residents Marcus and Desmond Trufant filling in as coaches of one team for Pete Carroll, who is on a planned vacation and was unable to attend.
Their team, however, couldn’t quite pull off a comeback despite a, well, valiant effort. After tying the score with four runs in the bottom of the seventh at 20-20, it was quickly determined that another Home Run Derby would be the ultimate decider. It took a few rounds, but finally cornerback Walter Thurmond won it for Wilson’s team with a line-drive home run (over what was a drawn-in fence of roughly 300 feet or so).
Tate was named the MVP with a day that included two home runs that cleared the actual outfield wall during the Home Run Derby.
Tate was also the subject of one of the more interesting sights of the day, posing for pictures with Lance Easley, better known as the replacement ref who called a touchdown for the Seahawks last September when Tate and Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings each came down with the ball on the final play of the game.
In something that could only be expected of Sherman, he invited Easley to help umpire the game — Easley worked at first base and was the focus of several playful arguments over calls.
Easley posing for pictures with Tate is the kind of move that will likely only further inflame the feelings of Packers fans, who no doubt will insist forever that their team was robbed.
Easley said afterward, though, that he isn’t a fan of either team but is merely taking advantage of what he said is an unexpected spot on the public stage to spread a message of overcoming adversity — and in his case, doing so through his Christian faith.
“I haven’t looked for this stuff but it keeps coming and coming,’’ he said.
Easley also said he wanted to support Sherman’s charities — the main one was Helping a Hero, which helps builds homes for those injured in military service and their families.
“I’m here for charity,’’ Easley said. “I would do the same for their (Green Bay’s) charities.’’
He also doesn’t have to worry anymore about a conflict of interest as he has retired from all levels of officiating — he was working primarily high-school games in California when he was hired as a replacement ref. He said he wants to devote his time to his new projects — which include a book coming out in August titled “Making The Call: Living With Your Decisions.”
He said he still believes the call was the right one. “I made a call,’’ he said. “It was the correct call.’’
If he has a regret, he said “I would have talked it over with my partner (back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn, who made a signal for the clock to stop).’’ But he said he’s reviewed the play many times and doesn’t see anything to make him think the call was incorrect.
As he spoke, a few fans waited to ask for his autograph. It was that kind of day — one of good feeling.
Soon, the Seahawks will get back to work — training camp starts July 25.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.