Best of Sacramento 2016: Sports & Recreation writers’ picks

Play me a song, organ man.

Play me a song, organ man.


Hear Gus Pearson’s tunes at the next River Cats’ game:

If you told a 4-year-old Gus Pearson he’d be scoring baseball games with keystrokes at 81, he probably wouldn’t have been all that surprised. He was already a sprouting classical pianist by then, and by the fourth grade, an aptitude test had all but confirmed his professional dreams. He scored 100 percent with music.

“It was always music,” he said. “I’ve been so fortunate, because very few people can make a good living in that.”

Any time the Sacramento River Cats play a day game, you’ll find Pearson perched up in the control tower, spilling electronic organ melodies onto Raley Field. Disc jockeys usually handle the bulk of sounds in modern baseball, but like peanuts and other all-American iconography, Pearson’s organ tunes bring an air of nostalgia for longtime baseball fans.

He explained his secret: Keep the audience’s spirits lively, and stay away from the dissonant stuff. “You don’t want to go out there and play something that’ll remind them of a funeral,” he said.

Pearson started with the River Cats in 2004, but he’s been organ-izing for at least 60 years. The native Minnesotan took to professional accordion playing at 14, performing on local television and radio stations for a reputable polka band by his name, Gus and the Three Yanks.

Aspiring polka troupes were the pride of Minnesota, but Pearson wanted a career in piano. He moved to California and joined the Rudolph Wurlitzer Co. in 1959 as a concert artist, promoting its line of electronic organs at music festivals. The instrument, a bit different in timbre from the piano, still made perfect sense.

“The organ was a much more popular instrument then,” he said. “You could play anything from classical to pop to anything else.”

In the 1960s, he performed a few games for the San Francisco Giants at Seals Stadium and Candlestick Park. The stages have since varied: freeway openings, Main Street in Disneyland, Little League games, his grandkids’ weddings.

But the joys are simple at Raley Field. His favorite part is still catching the games, much like he did as a kid ushering for the Duluth Dukes minor league team in Minnesota.

Pearson remembers a bygone time when organs could outsell electric guitars. But even so, he doesn’t see the organ going anywhere, and he sure isn’t, either: He looks forward to playing as long as he can.

“If I got a call tomorrow to do a classical recital, or if I had to play a wedding, or if I had to back a rock group, I would do it,” he said.

Best big bird savers

Sacramento Heron & Egret Rescue

Sorry, Big Bird, no one was able to save Sesame Street from being cut from an hour to a half-hour show, but there are people able to save real big birds in Sacramento. The Sacramento Heron & Egret Rescue is a group of volunteers who rehabilitate young herons and egrets—which, coincidentally, kinda look like little beasties from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop—who have fallen out of their nests in front of an apartment complex on Truxel Road in Natomas. SHER has posted signs for folks to drive slowly and watch for fallen baby birds, and has provided holding pens for anyone to place injured ones in until a volunteer comes to nurse them back to health. (916) 452-2473, S.

Best sports superfan

Randy Brink

In Major League Baseball, there’s a renowned fan known as Marlins Man who seems to always be sitting directly behind home plate wearing a bright orange Marlins shirt and visor no matter which teams are playing. Sacramento has its own version of this in Randy Brink. He is at everything. The cool thing is that local teams seem to recognize, appreciate and celebrate Brink’s loyalty. The Sacramento Kings threw Brink a 50th birthday party on the court. Sac Republic FC appointed him volunteer director of the pitch. The Sacramento River Cats, meanwhile, use Brink as volunteer head of security. G.W.

Fly high, splash hard at Wake Island Waterpark.


Best man-made wipeout

Wake Island Waterpark

The largest water park on the West Coast is just 15 minutes outside of downtown Sacramento, somehow hiding in the tiny community of Pleasant Grove. And it is massive. It’s also got a floating obstacle course that isn’t as savage as the ones used in wacky competition shows like Wipeout and its Japanese inspiration, Takeshi’s Castle. That’s not necessarily a compliment. But it’s also not not a compliment. Dig? 7633 Locust Road in Pleasant Grove, (916) 655-3900, RFH

Best new reason to start thinking about rugby

Sacramento Express

Forgive the blood on Bonney Field, Sacramento FC: The city has a pro rugby team now, and they just got through their first season. A gang of nimble giants don yellow-and-green jerseys for the Express, one of five national teams in the newly born Professional Rugby Organization. The first inaugural season commenced in April, with the Express twice clobbering San Francisco’s tribe, the Rush. Unfortunately, the guys couldn’t get a win against Ohio or this year’s champion, the Denver Stampede. Folks wanting to witness fullback Garrett Brewer dance effortlessly away from interceptions and broken bones will have to wait for next April. Until then, enjoy some insane highlight reels. M.Z.

Best on-field emcee

Mike on the Mic

Years ago, Mike Osborn was just another struggling stand-up comedian. Then he applied for a job with the Sacramento River Cats and became Mike on the Mic, the ubiquitous on-field emcee. Go to any River Cats game and there’s Mike on the Mic coolly doing live shots between innings, going around the stands to interview fans and appearing in prerecorded videos on the center-field scoreboard with team mascot Dinger. He also shows up on on local television to review movies and makes frequent visits to area schools with Dinger. It’s probably safe to say stand-up comedy was never this rewarding of a career. G.W.

Best sports battalion to join

Sacramento Republic FC

When it comes to sports teams, Sacramento fans are fully dedicated. From purple and silver tattoos in honor of the Sacramento Kings to dance battles with the River Cats’ mascot, Dinger, during the seventh-inning stretch, we go hard. So it’s no surprise when the Sacramento Republic FC kicked off its first soccer game at Hughes Stadium in 2014 that fans quickly backed maroon and gold. These die-hard fútbol fans are known as the Tower Bridge Battalion, and they show their loyalty by packing the team’s new home stadium at Bonney Field with face paint and clever chants accompanied by drums and megaphones; their love for the Republic knows no bounds. It’s so boundless, in fact, that the Battalion led a crowd of thousands through the streets of downtown in September 2014 just to showcase its dedication to Major League Soccer officials. No big deal. S.R.

They’ve got game.

PHOTO BY Griffin gher

Best #nofilter hoops action


Griffin Gher first found the instrument and then found inspiration. After buying an old film camera at a thrift store, he decided it might be cool to take pictures of the people and plays going down during pickup basketball games at Roosevelt Park.

“There are people from all walks of life playing, so you never know who or what might happen,” he says. “I think a big part was being from a small town in Illinois, I grew up reading and watching stuff on street ball in New York, and it just clicked that I was now part of that culture here in Sacramento.”

Gher launched his 10thandPeople Instagram account earlier this year (the handle is a play on the park’s downtown location that borders 10th and P streets) and his approach is equal parts old-fashioned and social-media modern: Gher documents games via high-energy plays and thoughtful vignettes: Once a roll is finished, he gets the photos developed and uploaded to a CD. From there he posts them to Instagram. Unlike most Instagram users, however, Gher says he prefers to keep the photos in their original state. Aside from the occasional crop, he doesn’t do much tweaking and never employs one of the site’s famous filters.

“[It’s] a crazy process but I fell in love with how the colors pop on film and never wanted to switch to digital. R.L.

Best good-guy sports guys

Jerry Manuel Foundation

Charities set up by athletes often don’t do the things they say they will, as ESPN famously showed in a 2013 Outside the Lines investigation. But this is not the case with the Jerry Manuel Foundation. The former Major League Baseball manager and Cordova High School alumnus and his son Anthony run a foundation and are connected with two charter schools in Elverta that strive to get more minorities playing baseball. Their work includes fundraising, since MLB doesn’t bankroll Jerry’s efforts, even though he works as a consultant for its youth services division. The Manuels also run practices and organize charity work for their players. G.W.