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Tears Fall in Vallarta With the Loss of Clay Huntington
Pvnn Staff - PVNN
June 2, 2011
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Clay, at the head of the table for breakfast at Fredy's El Tucan Restaurant, Old Town Vallarta. Clockwise: Bob, Carol, Ingrid, Terry and Cheryl (daughter).

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - The condolences of the PVNN staff go out to Clay's family, Cheryl, Ron, Mike and Janelle, for their loss, and all the fans and friends that have loved him for so many years. Puerto Vallarta was lucky to have him as a frequent visitor.

From John McGrath of the News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington:

Clay Huntington, the sports and civic icon whose contributions ranged from wooing Triple-A baseball to Tacoma in 1960 to the formation of the Tacoma Athletic Commission, died yesterday at Allenmore Hospital. He was 89.

“It’s a sad day for our community,” said Tacoma sports historian Marc Blau. “When you think of how many people Clay touched, it’s amazing. He had a hand in politics, sports, broadcasting, civic affairs, you name it. And while there might be somebody who didn’t like him, I can’t think of one.”

Although Huntington had been hospitalized intermittently over the past seven weeks, his death surprised his family and friends.

“I’m in shock,” said Huntington’s son Ron, who had seen his father in the hospital on Tuesday afternoon before leaving for Canada on a business trip. “I expected him to make a full recovery, because he remained sharp as a tack. But he started hemorrhaging Tuesday night – he needed two units of blood – and the doctors were doing tests to determine the cause when he went into cardiac arrest.”

Said Blau, who oversees the State of Washington Sports Hall of Fame, which Huntington founded in 1960: “We had an induction ceremony Saturday night at Safeco Field for John Olerud, Edgar Martinez and the late Emmett Watson, our three new members. It hurt Clay deeply that he was unable to be there in person, because the Hall of Fame was one of his babies. When I stopped by the hospital Sunday to tell him how the Mariners rolled out the red carpet, he wanted to know everything. He was very alert.”

Born in Vancouver, B.C., on April 21, 1922, Huntington moved to Tacoma with his family when he was 5 months old. Huntington’s grandfather, Samuel Adams Huntington, was an early influence. A journalist and sports-facilities promoter, Samuel Adams Huntington helped lead the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce’s effort toward the construction of one of Tacoma’s first baseball parks, at 12th and I streets, in 1910.

Clay Huntington’s interest in broadcasting began as a child, “at the age of 10 or 11,” he recalled in “Playground to the Pros: An Illustrated History of Sports in Tacoma-Pierce County.”

“The neighborhood gang would play games in a vacant lot that we converted into a football and baseball field, and we attached a hoop to an old barn at the end of the lot for basketball. When I wasn’t playing, I’d climb up into a tree and sit on the branches overlooking the field and practice my play-by-play.”

By the time the former Lincoln High School student was 19, in the fall of 1941, he was conducting radio interviews on KTBI. His first guests were Vic and LaVerne Martineau, local baseball players.

Huntington would remain in the broadcasting industry for the next seven decades, working behind the microphone on radio and TV and, later, at KLAY, the Lakewood radio station he owned since 1991.

Between 1946 and 1951, Huntington was the voice of the Class A Tacoma Tigers of the Western International League. (A signature call: “Two out, two on, two in – deuces prevail!”)

During the 1950s, Huntington and Rod Belcher re-created wire accounts of big league baseball games for a 14-station radio network in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

“When I was growing up, every kid in Tacoma knew Clay,” former broadcaster and longtime sports public-relations fixture Doug McArthur once said. “When he wasn’t working on the radio, he was handing out a trophy at some all-star game, or organizing an event with the Tacoma Athletic Commission.”

Huntington’s role in the creation of the TAC was typically astute. A high school student interested in organizing a benefit football game on behalf of former Lincoln star Billy Sewell – then on duty with the 2nd Bomber Command in Spokane – Huntington presented his proposal to Tacoma mayor Harry Cain.

Although the exhibition game fell through, Huntington’s proposal paved the way for the Tacoma War Athletic Commission, which begat the Tacoma Athletic Commission.

In 1960, Huntington answered another call to civic duty by leading the effort to build Cheney Stadium, a crucial step toward relocating the Pacific Coast League’s Phoenix Giants to the South Puget Sound.

“Not to say this in a bragging way,” Huntington said in a 1999 interview, “but I was instrumental in getting Cheney Stadium built – exactly 50 years after my grandfather helped put up a ballpark.”

Warm, accommodating and naturally inquisitive, Huntington’s charm rubbed off on everybody from casual acquaintances at the ballpark to national celebrities. He managed to persuade the likes of Henry Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Arnold Palmer, Joe Namath and Frank Leahy to attend state Sports Hall of Fame banquets as honored guests.

“One of the things I admired about him,” said Ron Huntington, “was his ability to make friends. Wherever he went, he was the brightest light in the room.”

Even during his hospitalization, Huntington remained a bright light.

“He’d reach out his hand and look you in the eye, then ask if you were OK,” said Blau. “He’d just make you feel better. I finally told him, ‘Clay, you don’t understand, I didn’t come here to feel better. I came here to make you feel better.’ ”

In addition to his son Ron, Huntington is survived by his daughter, Cheryl. Huntington’s youngest son, Mark, died in 1996 after a long illness.

“Losing a child is so awfully tough,” Huntington said in 1999. “You always picture yourself going first. That’s why I’m still working. I try to keep busy. I try to keep my mind on other things.”

A favorite diversion was baseball. Until he fell ill in April, Huntington made frequent trips to Safeco Field. Forever the broadcaster, he watched games from the press box.

“He loved baseball, but even more than that, he loved the people involved,” Huntington’s son-in-law, Mike Franco, said Wednesday. “The highlight of his day was when a coach – usually somebody I never heard of, but who had been through Tacoma at one time or another – would be with the visiting team at Safeco Field. He’d go to clubhouse and say hi and talk about the old days.

“He was very consistent that way. The people around the game put a smile on his face. It was like a warm blanket for him.”

The Rainiers will pay tribute to Clay Huntington tonight, before the team’s 7:05 game against Reno. The flag at Cheney Stadium will be flown at half staff, Huntington’s initials will be etched into the infield dirt behind second base, and a video tribute will be followed by a moment of silence.

In a statement released Wednesday by the Tacoma Rainiers, Alyson Jones, director of the team’s media development and events, wrote: “You did not have to know Clay Huntington well to know how lucky you were to have him around. He was one of the most gracious and genuine men that the Tacoma baseball family has ever known. As one of our founders, it’s a sad day for the franchise but a great time to reflect and celebrate Clay and his accomplishments.”

Clay was a frequent visitor to Puerto Vallarta and a property owner in Old Town, where he loved to visit the local restaurants and keep all of us, who were lucky enough to know him, entertained with the stories of his life's accomplishments.

+ Wexico

In closing, those of us in Vallarta who will live with the memory of Clay in our hearts, choose not to say goodbye, but "see you later!"

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