MY DISTRACTED EYE On April 2nd, the Memphis Grizzlies hosted the Phoenix Suns at The Pyramid while, a mere five-minute trolley ride south, the Memphis Redbirds opened their fifth season at AutoZone Park with an exhibition against the St. Louis Cardinals. Then on April 14th, the Grizzlies wrapped up the first winning season in franchise history by hosting Minnesota, concluding a midweek sportsday unlike any this city had seen before. The Redbirds -- that same day -- split a doubleheader with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. The congestion of big-time sports in Memphis has transformed water-cooler talk and cyber chatter into the kind of discussions that will consume a lunch hour, if not an entire afternoon. And it’s a phenomenon I find entirely healthy. The nature of my work has me staring at far too many headlines that squeeze my heart, force a lump into my throat . . . or simply make me turn away. I’m generally an optimistic sort, and I’ve been blessed on more levels than I can count. But these are not optimistic times. So thanks be to the sporting gods who have turned Memphis into a Mid-South mecca for fun and games. The Redbirds beat their parent club in that Friday night exhibition game . . . merely two days after the horrific images from Fallujah had even the most “resolute” hawks wondering where our country is going in Iraq. The Wednesday triple-header came the day after a rare presidential press conference, during which George W. Bush took care in defining “the civilized world” for the rest of us. ( Since that little session, I’m wondering all the more where our country is going in Iraq.) Why the juxtaposition of international matters with local sports? Because for at least one Memphian, the latter has become all the more critical as the former gains intensity. I have two young daughters who will inherit the world provided them by the likes of President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Coming to grips with that reality has been trying on levels I could not have imagined before I became a parent, or before September 11, 2001. I have sat up late at night with my wife, brainstorming about how exactly we might explain events of our daughters’ childhood . . . and wondering when they’ll be old enough to possibly process elements of struggle, conflict, and ideology that I have confounding difficulty with as an adult. So I turn to sports. I take my little girls to Sunday ballgames at AutoZone Park; I help them with who “the good guys” are in the Stanley Cup playoffs; I tutor my 4-year-old on her swing (with a wiffle ball, mind you) in our backyard; and I extol the Cardinal virtues of Stubby, Albert, Ozzie, and Stan the Man. And during the hours I spend on sports with Sofia and Elena . . . international crisis isn’t so much as on my radar screen. Again, thanks be to the sporting gods. There was a time when, on certain mornings, in certain moods, I’d dismiss the morning paper’s front page and head straight for the sports section to start my day. That time is long gone. It’s one thing to embrace distraction for cathartic purposes, another to lose touch -- even if for only a day -- with events that are changing our lives whether we recognize it or not. The sports page comes after the day’s real news, and I suppose that’s the way it should be. This is a wonderful time of year for sports fans. Baseball is gaining momentum, the NHL and NBA are playing games that count, horse racing’s big events are around the bend, and a few major tennis and golf tournaments have been thrown in for extra flavor. If you’re like me, you’ll embrace the distractions more than ever. And pray for a time when the relative importance of sports doesn’t seem so trivial.


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