Mike Szostak

Sports Blogger

Mike Szostak covered sports for The Providence Journal for 36 years until retiring in 2013. His career highlights included five Winter Olympics from Lake Placid to Nagano and 17 seasons covering the Boston Celtics. His beats  also included tennis, skiing and college sports, especially Brown and URI football.

Ways to Connect

Are you surprised the Indians eliminated the Red Sox in their best-of-five American League Division Series? I’m not. Swept? Yes. Eliminated? No, and here’s why.

After that stirring 11-game winning streak September 15-25, the Red Sox lost eight of their next nine games, five of six at the end of the regular season. They dropped three in New York two of three at home during David Ortiz Weekend and then two in Cleveland in the ALDS and the 4-3 finale Monday night at Fenway Park.

Phil Estes remembers his first visit to Meade Stadium on the University of Rhode Island campus. The year was 1977, he was a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, and he played guard for the Wildcats football team, the defending Yankee Conference champion.

Dick Ernst was as Rhode Island as Del’s Lemonade, Federal Hill and the Big Blue Bug. Cranston-born and Cranston-bred, he accomplished much in life, almost all of it right here in the Ocean State.

Dick died this week at his home in Cranston. He had turned 78 on Sept. 4. His passing shocked me because even though he had slowed a bit in recent years, I still thought of him as the passionate hockey player always searching for a frozen pond, the gritty tennis player wearing down opponents with his stubborn baseline game, and the coach ever in search of a team.

September has turned into the sweetest month this year, and here’s why.

THE RED SOX

Jared Donaldson, the kid from Chepachet who always wanted to play professional tennis, is in the third round of the U.S. Open in New York. Wait a minute. A Rhode Islander in the main draw of the U.S. Open? An Ocean Stater in the same tournament as No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 2 Andy Murray, No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, No. 4 Rafael Nadal and the rest of the best tennis players in the world? Yes! And he’s in the third round? Yes, again.

The Rio Olympics are history, its torch extinguished Sunday night amid an explosion of color and sound befitting the conclusion of this quadrennial spectacle celebrating athletic prowess and human spirit. Like you, I watched on television, as I had from time to time during the two weeks or so of competition. Like you, I watched Michael Phelps swim into Olympics history; gymnast Simone Biles dazzle with her smile and her stunning array of leaps, twists and tumbles, and Usain Bolt dash to gold for the third straight Olympiad.

What is the cost of admission to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minn.? For you and me, $8. For Mount St. Charles Academy coach Bill Belisle, 990 victories, 32 state championships, 20-plus players drafted by NHL teams and two Mounties picked first overall in the NHL Draft.

Belisle, having more victories and more consecutive state championships (28) than any coach in U.S. hockey history, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame with former American star Craig Janney and the 1996 World Cup of Hockey championship team. The date and location will be announced later this month.

If you played high-school baseball in Rhode Island from the 1950s to the early 2000s, Dick Lee probably umpired one of your games. If you ran cross-country for Coventry High School in the 1950s, Dick Lee probably coached your team. If you played field hockey or girls lacrosse in the 1980s and 1990s, Dick Lee probably covered one of your games. And if you read The Providence Journal sports pages during those two decades, you saw Dick Lee’s byline over reports of just about every sport Rhode Island high-school kids play.

Never say never, they teach you in the journalism business.

But there are exceptions to every rule, right?

So, we will never see the likes of Muhammad Ali again. Never. Ever. Trust me.

Some stories just refuse to go away. In Rhode Island we have corruption in the State House and Providence City Hall. In Sports World we have deflategate, concussions, performance enhancing drugs and sexual assault. They lie dormant for a while but then return like weeds, mosquitos and humidity.

Brown is playing championship-caliber lacrosse again, just in time to challenge Navy for a berth in the NCAA Final Four Memorial Day Weekend in Philadelphia.

Eight days after losing to Harvard in the Ivy League semifinals, the fifth-seeded Bears (15-2) crushed perennial power Johns Hopkins, 17-8, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday before a standing room only crowd of 3,200 at Stevenson-Pincince Field in Providence. They earned a berth in quarterfinals next Saturday at Brown Stadium.

Deflategate is over. The National Football League and Commissioner Roger Goodell won. The New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady lost.

They’ll be talking about Brown’s 14-12 lacrosse victory over undefeated Yale Saturday for a long time.

They’ll mention how Yale, ranked first and second in the national lacrosse polls, scored first, led for all but 1 minute and 34 seconds of the first half and went up by four goals on Ben Reeves’s unassisted goal with 13 seconds remaining in the second quarter. 

On the college sports calendar in New England, spring feels like 3 o’clock in the morning, when all is quiet, when nothing much happens. Spring is the dead zone between March Madness and final exams.

Sure, there is college baseball. And softball, tennis, golf, lacrosse, rowing and outdoor track, all worthy endeavors cheered by hard-core fans. But not one can match college football in the fall or college basketball in the winter for crowd appeal.

Forget about Opening Day of the baseball season this week. How about Closing Nights of the college basketball season? If you did not stay up to watch the end of North Carolina-Villanova game for the men’s NCAA Division I Championship Monday night, you missed a gem of a game and a finish that nobody, and I mean nobody, could have imagined.

An instant classic. A game for the ages. The most fantastic finish of any game in any sport. Ever.

That’s what you missed.

Pages