JOE FANN

Fann: Handing out the 2022 Seattle Sports Awards

Dec 29, 2022, 1:45 PM | Updated: 1:45 pm
Seattle Sports Julio Rodriguez, Cal Raleigh...
Julio Rodríguez high fives Cal Raleigh after scoring for the Mariners against the Blue Jays on July 7, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

We have reached the end of 2022 in what has been a wildly entertaining and eventful year in the world of Seattle sports. Thus, it makes sense to take some time and recognize all that has taken place in the Pacific Northwest by handing out some year-end awards.

Person of the Year: Sue Bird

Bird is a Seattle sports icon who finally called it a career at 41 years old (now 42) after two decades as the face of the Storm. Originally taken as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft, Bird made 13 All-Star teams while bringing four WNBA Championships to Seattle.

If you’re putting together your Seattle sports Mt. Rushmore, it would be objectively incorrect if it didn’t include Bird. Her statue outside Climate Pledge Arena needs to be built sooner rather than later.

MVP: Julio Rodríguez

The 22-year-old phenom is the new face of Seattle sports following Bird’s retirement and the departure of Russell Wilson. Rodríguez wasted little time assuming the mantle after forcing his way onto the Mariners’ opening day roster and putting together a sensational rookie season that earned him MLB’s American League Rookie of the Year honors.

Rodríguez posted a ridiculous 6.2 WAR with a .284 batting average, a .345 on-base percentage, 28 home runs, 84 runs scored, 75 runs batted in and 25 steals. Most impressively, Rodríguez embraced the pressure of being the savior of a franchise that hadn’t made the postseason in two decades. His signature smile never wavered even as he battled early season struggles, often as the victim of an egregiously bloated strike zone.

His performance at the 2022 MLB All-Star Game and Home Run Derby put him on the map as one of the game’s brightest young stars. Rodríguez’ play earned him a massive contract extension that will keep him in Seattle for more than a decade and could be worth up to $470 million.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Matty Beniers

The Seattle sports scene had no shortage of talented first-year players in 2022. Beniers, despite debuting during the Kraken’s inaugural season in 2021-22, kept his rookie status into the 2022-23 season. He has been sensational thus far with 11 goals and 14 assists. His 25 total points leads all NHL rookies and make him a candidate for the league’s Calder Trophy, given annually to the game’s top rookie.

Beniers’ name will continue to garner interest and acclaim if the Kraken continue to excel and clinch a playoff spot for the first time in franchise history. The Kraken would be the Western Conference’s No. 7 seed if the season ended today.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Tariq Woolen

Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner of the New York Jets will likely keep Woolen from winning the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worthy of such recognition. Woolen leads the NFL with six interceptions, and he brought one back for a touchdown. As a fifth-round pick out of UTSA, Woolen is John Schneider’s latest draft day gem. You could easily argue that he’s already the Seahawks’ top defensive cornerstone.

Storyline of the Year: Seahawks trading Russell Wilson

Rumblings of unrest between Wilson and the Seahawks gained steam over the last few seasons, but the blockbuster trade with the Broncos remained a shock to the system all the same. I know many would disagree, but I’d argue Wilson is the most valuable player in franchise history as a nine-time Pro Bowler and Seattle’s first Super Bowl-winning quarterback (for what it’s worth, Pro Football Reference agrees with this sentiment).

What adds to the storyline, though, is the fact that Wilson appears to have magically forgotten how to play football. He’s genuinely been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL this season with the Broncos standing as the league’s biggest disappointment. It’s gotten so bad in Denver that the Seahawks, who own the Broncos first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, could be getting a top-three selection.

Schlereth: What went wrong in Broncos’ 1st season with Russell Wilson

My hope is that down the road, once his playing days are done, Wilson can return to Lumen Field and receive the flowers he most certainly deserves as a franchise and Seattle sports legend and eventual member of the Ring of Honor.

Most Improved: Geno Smith

I prefer Smith in this category compared to being labeled as a “comeback player” even though he didn’t “come back” from anything. Smith has taken full advantage of his first starting role since 2014. He has grown throughout this season from a capable game manager to a bona fide star with the precision and arm strength to make big-time throws.

Smith’s 70.7% completion percentage leads the NFL to go along with his 3,886 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His stellar campaign earned him 2022 Pro Bowl honors.

Now the attention turns to whether he’ll receive the franchise tag from the Seahawks or sign a multi-year contract, whether it be in Seattle or otherwise. He’s certainly earned his looming payday.

Comeback Player of the Year: Michael Penix Jr.

After an injury-plagued tenure at Indiana, Penix was finally able to remain healthy for an entire season upon transferring to Washington. Penix was downright dazzling for the Huskies with 4,354 passing yards and 29 touchdowns. He had more yards than this year’s Heisman winner Caleb Williams (4,075).

Penix has already announced that he’ll be returning to Washington in 2023, which will make the Huskies one of the favorites in the Pac-12.

Coach of the Year: Kalen DeBoer

DeBoer arrived on Montlake with modest expectations. Washington was projected to finish in the middle of the Pac-12. Instead, the Huskies finished 7-2 in conference play (10-2 overall) and were kept out of the title game due to a tiebreaker.

DeBoer gets plenty of credit both for Penix’s monster season and for the quarterback’s decision to stick around for another season. There’s still much work to be done and Washington’s 2023 recruiting class ranks just 27th in the nation, but the arrow is trending upward for the Huskies.

Executive of the Year: John Schneider

Schneider has the Seahawks on the winning end of this era’s Herschel Walker trade given Wilson’s implosion in Denver and the bevvy of picks and players Seattle received in the deal. In addition, the Seahawks 2022 draft class is arguably the team’s best in a decade with Charles Cross, Abe Lucas, Kenneth Walker and Woolen all expected to be cornerstone-caliber pieces.

Moment of the Year: Mariners clinching a playoff spot

Funny story (well, you might not find it funny, but I’m going to tell you anyway). Now that I live in Las Vegas, the MLBtv app is my only avenue to watch Mariners games. The significant issue with that is that MLB’s blackout restrictions are ridiculous in this city. The A’s, Angels, Giants, Dodgers, Padres and Diamondbacks are all blacked out in Las Vegas. It makes zero sense, but it remains my plight all the same.

So when the Mariners hosted the A’s on Friday Sept. 30 with the chance to clinch the franchise’s first playoff appearance in two decades, I had no way to watch this game at home. I ended up at a local sports bar for all nine innings. As you can probably picture, I went nuts when Cal Raleigh launched his walk-off home run off the Hit it Here Cafe in right field.

Folks were looking at me like they’d never seen a Mariners fan, like I was some endangered species. Rather than eye-rolling at my antics, I had strangers coming up and congratulating me on the Mariners making the playoffs.

I then proceeded to spend the rest of the night watching every imaginable replay of Raleigh’s homer. What a night. I still get chills thinking about it, so much so that I had to rewatch the replay while writing this.

Game of the Year: Mariners vs. Blue Jays, Game 2 of AL Wild Card

If I’m being honest, my favorite game of the Mariners season was the walk-off win against the Braves on Sept. 11. Julio’s game-tying missile to left field and Eugenio Suárez’s walk-off blast two batters later send T-Mobile Park into a tizzy.

But you can’t compare that with the stakes of a playoff game, and the Mariners overcoming an 8-1 deficit in order to beat the Blue Jays and move onto the ALDS.

J.P. Crawford’s bases-clearing double, Adam Frazier’s go-ahead RBI double and George Kirby closing the door in the ninth inning will be lasting memories for all Mariners fans.

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