HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: 6-year-old mutton buster steals the show at rodeo

Patti Smith (left) and the Houston Rodeo crowd got a treat when Marlie McDonald won the mutton busting. abc13.com

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Let me preface this by saying you can’t really prepare for interviewing five- and six-year-olds. Especially at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

The cowboys and cowgirls are easy. You have day sheets and background notes. You know the world champions, the contenders and the up-and-comers. You have a feel for the sport, the events and you know that, no matter what happens, you’re as ready as you can be for the night to unfold. Actually, you’re ready 20 nights in a row.

But mutton bustin’? That’s a whole different story.

We have a list of those tiny riders, their ages, what they want to be when they grow up and their favorite rodeo food. Honestly, most of my interviews are grins, shrugs, a few no ma-ams or yes sirs and an occasional hands-up, raise-the-roof celebrations for the big screens.

Most say very little or nothing. It’s like pulling teeth. And, if they do talk, you hear “Oh, I practice on my dad” or “I practice on my dog.” You think it’s the funniest thing ever when they do say it.

But then you get someone like Marlie McDonald.

The six-year-old with tangles of red curls and a personality as big as NRG Stadium brought down the house on opening night of the 2018 rodeo.

She held on for dear life and fought to win the first mutton bustin’ event of this year’s Rodeo Houston. Then, in the blink of an eye, she out-headlined headliner Garth Brooks.

The next day, she went viral.

I saw her with her red hair and thought she was the cutest little thing. And that’s the comment I made to start the interview – “Oh, look at you and your red hair.’’

I felt a bond because we both have red hair. Marlie wanted none of it.

She had her answer prepared. She went on about her dad and how she did what her parents told her –“I just hold on really tight."

She just took the interview from there. She was so caught up in the moment, so excited. Usually when the kids look up at the big screen and see themselves talking and they get distracted so I try to keep them from looking up.

You could tell Marlie saw herself and got a kick out of it. It fired her up and she kept going and going. I knew she wanted to be a spy so when I asked her what she wanted to be. The crowd loved it when she blurted out – a spy.

Then I asked her what part of being a spy was so interesting and her answer was a homerun with the crowd.

"Like, where you get to fight for the world,’’ she said. “And the bad guys...where you get to fight them."

There were 70,000-plus in there for Garth and the whole place went nuts. She stole the show. Garth was supposed to be the big entertainment, but I think Marlie was the hit of the night.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this spunky little girl had always been a fighter. Her mother Natalie was 34 weeks pregnant when Marlie was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Four days after she was born, doctors operated and removed the tumor and Marlie underwent two years of chemotherapy.

She’s now considered a long-term survivor and goes once a year for checkups.

The full story – not just the mutton busting champion and budding spy with curls -- went viral. My mother was in Florida and she saw it on the local news.

What’s really kind of cool is you see these kids and it makes you realize everyone has a story, I saw her and I thought here is this adorable little red-headed kid with these curls everywhere. She’s very precocious and has this big, giant personality.

Then you hear the rest of the story.

Her parents said they never knew if there would be a day when she could do something like she did Tuesday. That makes Marlie’s story all the more special.

And to hear her dad talking about what a blessing she is to the family and the big plans God has for her . . . It just really puts things into perspective.

You get caught up in the daily grind of the rodeo – it’s like Groundhog Day 20 days over and over and over again – and then you get stopped dead in your tracks.

There are some cool stories every rodeo, but I don’t think anyone has ever struck a chord the way Marlie has. She took – not only Houston – but the whole country by storm. She just won everyone’s hearts.

The other cool thing? She’ll be back for the final night of the rodeo where you’ve got the best of the best for the kids’ mutton busting. And the headliner that night? She’ll be the lead-in to Garth Brooks once again.

And honestly, I’m really hoping that Marlie wins the championship so I get to interview her again.



 

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The losing streak continues

Mariners get walk-off win over short-staffed Astros

Alex De Goti had an impressive debut. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

After a brutal homestand capped off by losing five players to the IL for health and safety protocols, the once 5-1 Astros brought their now 6-6 record to T-Mobile park in Seattle to try and right the ship. They'd have to do it with new and young players in the lineup using the "next man up" mentality to get some wins against the first-place Mariners.

Though the young bats would work themselves into a lead most of the night, Houston's bullpen wouldn't be able to hold the Mariners down, with Seattle ultimately walking things off in the ninth.

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 6-7, fourth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Anthony Misiewicz (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (0-1)

After a quiet start, Houston gets three in the fifth

After cruising through the Astros through the first four innings, allowing only a walk over that span, Houston was able to put up a big inning against Yusei Kikuchi in the top of the fifth. Carlos Correa notched the first hit of the night, followed by a walk by Taylor Jones to put two on base.



That brought Alex De Goti, making his major-league debut, to the plate and, in his second career at-bat, would get his first hit and RBI, bringing in Correa from second on a single. A second run would come on the same play on a throwing error, then Chaz McCormick made it a three-run inning with an RBI-double, putting Houston out front 3-0.

Urquidy comes an out shy of a quality start

Meanwhile, Jose Urquidy was doing well through five innings. On track for a much-needed quality start, the Mariners would tag him in the bottom of the sixth, getting three-straight hits to bring in two runs to lead off the frame and leaving a runner on second base with no outs.

Urquidy would rebound to get the next two batters on strikeouts, but at 90 pitches and with a left-handed hitter up next, Dusty Baker would bring in lefty Brooks Raley to try and get out of the inning with the one-run lead intact. Raley would do his job, putting Uruidy's line final: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 90 P.

Teams trade two-run seventh innings

The young bats for Houston struck again in the top of the seventh, with Jones and De Goti leading it off with back-to-back singles before Jason Castro would load the bases with a walk. With two outs, Aledmys Diaz would push the lead back to three with a two-RBI single, making it 5-2.

With Raley out after facing his one batter, next out of Houston's bullpen was Bryan Abreu to help maintain Houston's lead. Instead, he would give up two runs on two hits and a walk while getting just two outs before Baker moved on to Blake Taylor, who would get the last out of the seventh with Houston hanging on to a one-run lead at 5-4.

Mariners get the walk-off win

Taylor remained in the game in the bottom of the eighth, and after getting an out, would allow a game-tying solo home run to Evan White before injuring himself trying to field an infield single. Ryne Stanek entered and finished off the eighth, sending the tie game to the ninth.

After Houston came up empty in the top half, Stanek remained in the game in the bottom of the ninth, attempting to force extras. Back-to-back walks ended Stanek's night, with the Astros hoping Ryan Pressly could bail them out. He couldn't, though, giving up the walk-off hit as the Mariners would take the opener, 6-5.

Up Next: Game two of this three-game set will start an hour earlier on Saturday, with first pitch at 8:10 PM Central. Zack Greinke (1-1, 4.08 ERA) will try to rebound from a poor start his last time out for the Astros, while the Mariners will hand the ball to Chris Flexen (1-0, 4.50 ERA).

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