FROM MY SEAT: Fun With Numbers 

I love sports. And I love numbers, the universal language of sports. This being my 200th column, I thought I’d honor nine athletes — and their uniform numbers — who have made this weekly venture such a pleasure since February 2002.

 

10Stubby Clapp. Why the Memphis Redbirds haven’t retired this folk hero’s number yet is beyond me. Still the Redbirds’ career leader in games (425), hits (418), and runs (258), Stubby would be worth the honor for his moniker and pre-game back flips alone. He was the spark for the 2000 Pacific Coast League champions and made the inaugural season at AutoZone Park unforgettable. As for his number, it happens to match the one I wore as an outfielder for the Northfield (VT) High School Marauders (1985-87).

 

20 DeAngelo Williams. So he’s the greatest player ever to wear shoulder pads at the University of Memphis. Sure, he’s rushed for more yardage than any college player not named Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams, or Tony Dorsett. And yes, the 57 touchdowns are impressive. But it’s unlikely we’ll see again this kind of talent combined with the humility and appreciation for team (and community) Williams displayed, and all with that prize-winning smile.

 

23Anthony Rice. The Tiger basketball program has suited up some special players since John Calipari’s arrival in 2000, and you could name a few with more skills than Rice. But you couldn’t find a better example of a college player if you spent the next 200 weeks. I’ve listened to countless post-game remarks from Calipari, and very seldom did Rice’s name come up, positive or negative. But when I talked to the coach near the end of Rice’s final season last winter, he said Rice is the example he uses when teaching newcomers to the program. Having played more games than any other Tiger (134), Rice remains quite an example.

 

7Dayton O’Brien. Yes, I’ve covered some soccer. During my interview with O’Brien last spring (for a story in Memphis magazine), I heard the word “sir” a record 37 times. The 2004 C-USA Offensive Player of the Year (and second-team All-America), O’Brien practiced his craft way outside the local spotlight, but managed to lead Memphis to the 2004 NCAA tournament (only the second such appearance for the Tigers) and delivered more assists than any Tiger in history. At the Mike Rose Soccer Complex, O’Brien is the one we should be calling “sir.”

 

18Danny Wimprine. The hardest part of this gig is juggling a journalist’s objective standard with being a fan (which I remain and will as long as my editors share out this space). After Wimprine’s last home game at the Liberty Bowl (a dramatic win over Southern Miss in November 2004), I managed to shake the record-setting quarterback’s hand as he left the field, and thanked him for all he did to turn Tommy West’s program around. No, he wasn’t DeAngelo Williams. But it’ll be some time before another Tiger passes for 10,000 yards.

 

41Scott Seabol. Want to know the worst three words in the life of a pro baseball player? “Career minor leaguer.” Until the summer of ‘05, Seabol had spent nine years in professional baseball, all of them except one at-bat — one at-bat! — in the minors. He hit 31 homers for the 2004 Memphis Redbirds and has hit more over his three years at AutoZone Park (56) than any other player. Which made his promotion to St. Louis last May, on the heels of an 18-game hitting streak, all the sweeter. Seabol made his first big-league start on his 30th birthday (May 17th), then helped the Cardinals beat the fabled New York Yankees at Busch Stadium with a 7th-inning, pinch-hit, 2-run homer on June 12th. He hit .219 in 105 precious at-bats for St. Louis.

 

45Wesley Smith. A three-time all-conference selection, Smith has started at safety in all 36 games he’s dressed out for at the U of M. (He’s one of only three Tiger defenders to start every game this season alone.) Recent history has the Memphis offense carrying the program, and rightfully so. But Smith has been a consistently terrific player in a defensive secondary that desperately needs his sideline-to-sideline strength. When a big play comes up for the Memphis defensive unit, Smith’s number is the one I find. He’ll be the best returning player for the Tigers in 2006.

 

5 John Gall. I’m behind anyone who played his college ball at Stanford (my sister’s alma mater). Despite struggling to find a home with his glove (he’s small for a first-baseman, slow for an outfielder), Gall has been a steady hitter at the Triple-A level and finally received his first big-league promotion last summer (his two-run double for St. Louis beat the Florida Marlins on August 2nd). Over his three years as a Memphis Redbird, Gall has moved near the top of the franchise record book for games (2nd), hits (2nd), homers (2nd), and RBIs (1st).

 

31Shane Battier. He happens to wear my lucky number (ever since I received my seventh-grade football jersey). Battier seems to have become a stereotype of sorts. “Good role player, but never an All-Star. Nice leader, but never a difference-maker.” Well, horse feathers. For a city welcoming big-league sports for the first time, Battier was a flag-bearing godsend. Remember, he addressed a packed Pyramid before playing his first regular-season game. During his rookie campaign (2001-02), I asked Battier to name the three people — living or dead — he’d like to invite to dinner. (Typical answers are God, Michael Jordan, and “my mom,” in no particular order.) Battier’s response: Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King, and Napoleon. Don’t ever let leadership become a stereotype.

Now for kicks, add up those numbers. And here’s to the next 200.

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