Photo: Mac McDermott congratulates the finalists for the V Award.
BY CAROLYN LaWELL
WEST SACRAMENTO, California | Eric Kockinis remembers watching his older sister, Vicki, dive to catch balls, slide on her side and jump right back up. Game after game, she would lay out to make sure balls stayed in the infield.
“She was tremendous,” says her mother, Ethel. “She was a shortstop. She could run like a deer.”
Her work ethic was unrivaled, her sister, Denise Budmark, chimes in. “She was an outstanding female athlete before women did a lot of that. There was a time when women didn’t compete much. They didn’t have teams like they do now.”
Vicki was one of the top softball players Sacramento ever saw. She played at a local high school, then moved on to play at Sacramento State, where she also played basketball. In the 1970s and ’80s, she played on seven softball teams that advanced to national tournaments. Her accomplishments were validated by her induction to the Greater Sacramento Softball Association Hall of Fame.
"I don’t sleep well at night. It’s just something that’s happened since Vicki died." — Mac McDermott
She was independent and strong. Ten days after she received a bone marrow transplant at Stanford University, she was back on a stationary bike. Hours after that ride, she died of a heart attack. It had been 14 months since she was originally diagnosed with bone cancer. She was 53.
“That gives you an idea of how fast a person can be taken from you,” says her husband, Mac McDermott. “It wore her out.”
Every year, her family and friends fill up two rows at Raley Field to watch a River Cats game and remember Vicki. Today, they sit along the first base line. They stare right at the shortstop.
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McDermott was married to Vicki for decades. He still lives in the area with their daughter, their son-in-law and their grandson.
He also lives with two large binders stuffed with names, teams and statistics that are collecting dust on a table in his bedroom. He has spreadsheets stored on their computer. He has a list that dates back 128 years and includes every baseball player who has lived in Sacramento or played high school, junior college or college baseball in the city and gone on to play in the Majors.
McDermott is an area historian who has traced high school football stars and their stats back to 1947, basketball to the 1950s and other sports that have popped up in Sacramento high schools from the ‘70s to today. He opens the binders and spreadsheets when he needs to update an entry or when someone calls asking if a name or a number are somewhere in his research. But few have ever seen probably the largest database to archive Sacramento athletics.
“I’ve just collected this stuff for years,” McDermott says. “I have nothing to do with it. I’m not Internet-savvy enough to build a website, so I’ve just collected it all to myself in print or put together some kind of a chart and stored it away on my computer, just looking for people to basically give it to.”
McDermott started his run as a historian during his 37 years with the Sacramento Bee and has focused on it more during the years since Vicki died. He covered prep sports for almost 40 years and the River Cats since their arrival 12 years ago. In his spare time, he often visited the Bee’s microfilm files, picked a year, pulled out the reel and flipped through the paper, starting with the sports section and scrolling through a page at a time. To build his baseball list, he took the Baseball Encyclopedia with him on family camping trips with Vicki and their three children. He started at the front of the book and combed through the pages in search of Sacramento high schools.
“You spot something that catches your attention and you start from there,” he says. “All of a sudden, you realize how far back you’ve gone and in what directions.”
He does most of his research at night now, when the rest of his family is asleep. He often spends four hours, sometimes longer, typing names into search engines, scrolling through results and seeing if statistics have been updated.
“I don’t sleep well at night,” he says. “It’s just something that’s happened since Vicki died. I lost the ability to sleep because I stayed up at night when my wife was sick.
“I was just worried about her.”
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McDermott has kept himself busy the last few years. He gave the River Cats the idea to host a high school all-star showcase where former Major League players coach the young athletes for a game. He gave them the idea to host the All-City athletic awards, now in their fourth year. On a Sunday morning before a River Cats game, more than 400 high schoolers representing 23 different sports sat in the stands with their parents, classmates and rivals. One sport at a time, they climbed on top of the dugout, shook the right hand of Dan Vistica, the River Cats executive vice president and CFO, and received a moment of recognition.
Just before the national anthem and the first pitch, 10 of the top athletes in the city — five girls and five boys — stand in a line along the backstop. River Cats general manager Jeff Savage presents one athlete — who played football and wrestled — with the Art Savage Award, named for the late owner of the River Cats, the man who brought baseball back to Sacramento before cancer took him at 58.
Then, with his family watching from the seats, Kockinis hands a girls’ track standout a crystal vase, the “V” Award named in his sister’s memory. The back of his River Cats jersey stretches and the 11 comes in full view. Other members of the family wear the same number as they watch from behind the net.
"The River Cats give me something to do. I think that’s what has helped the most. It probably helps me more than it helps them." McDermott
That was Vicki’s number.
McDermott retired from the newspaper not long after Vicki died. He turned more to his binders and spreadsheets.
He needed to do something. He wanted to do something with high school athletics, wanted to do something that kept alive Vicki’s spirit and her love for sports. So he turned to the River Cats and asked if he could start the award and a scholarship fund. Baseball, after all, has always been a part of his life. He was a pitcher at Sacramento State and had moved to the coaching staff when he met Vicki. He still says she was a better player than he was.
He helps organize the all-star showcase and the All-City awards. But his goal now is to establish a baseball museum somewhere at Raley Field — to build something meaningful from the data and clippings he has collected over the years, to give him a reason to keep opening the spreadsheets and dusting off the binders.
“The River Cats give me something to do,” he says. “I think that’s what has helped the most.
“It probably helps me more than it helps them.”
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