Monday, December 17, 2007

FROM MY SEAT: 2007 Top 10 (Part 1)

Posted By on Mon, Dec 17, 2007 at 4:00 AM

It's time for my annual look at the 10 sporting events I attended this year that brought the biggest smiles.

10) UCF 2, Memphis 1 (October 28) -- Final score aside, this was a terrific double-overtime affair between the top two women's soccer teams in Conference USA. It happened to be the only loss the Tigers suffered at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex all season. Furthermore, it was a preview of the C-USA tournament championship, which was won by Memphis two weeks later. The U of M made its first appearance in the NCAA tournament, losing its opening-round game to finish the season at 17-4-1. It's a safe bet that coach Brooks Monaghan's team will appear on this list again next year.

9) Memphis 102, UT-Martin 71 (November 5) -- "A rare fall bloom." The Memphis Tiger basketball program's marketing metaphor for the arrival of freshman star Derrick Rose was too easy. And quite perfect. Witnessing Rose for the first time -- playing at a speed unfamiliar to most mortals -- was akin to sighting a comet, particularly with the knowledge that a year later he'll be wearing an NBA uniform. Better look now. Rose scored 17 points in his college debut, but had a game-high of "oohs," "ahhs," and bursts of audible disbelief from the crowd of 16,555 at FedExForum. The play I'll remember was Rose's second field goal, early in the first half, when he scorched along the baseline and elevated for a reverse layup. Somehow, the 19-year-old rookie seemed to move through the air faster than the other nine men on the court. (Is that possible?) Point guards aren't supposed to look so comfortable in the paint, among giants. One of John Calipari's challenges will be making sure Rose's teammates don't join the ranks of his admiring spectators.

8) Memphis 4, Omaha 2 (April 21) -- "I grew up a hockey player, and graduated a baseball player." On Stubby Clapp Night at AutoZone Park, the Redbirds retired the number worn between 1999 and 2002 by one backflipping second-sacker, Richard Clapp III. Made all the more appropriate during the franchise's 10th season in Memphis, a spotlight on the bullpen wall beyond centerfield illuminated Stubby's number 10 for posterity, just before a fireworks display and right after the Redbirds ended a four-game losing streak by beating the Royals. Tagg Bozied and Rico Washington connected for back-to-back homers to lead the Redbirds, and Mike Sillman was the winning pitcher despite only throwing a single pitch (one that induced a double play to end the fifth inning). The biggest cheers on this night, though, were saved for Stubby, who managed one more backflip -- in blue jeans, this time -- on his way to the microphone for his postgame speech.

7) Tucson 3, Memphis 2 (May 30) -- While the result was all too common for the 2007 Redbirds, it would be hard to match this Wednesday-afternoon "businessperson's special" at AutoZone Park. With the city schools closed for the summer, each of my two daughters joined me for the kind of ballpark outing normally reserved for summer Sundays. While there's little to remember from the pitcher's duel itself (Redbirds closer Brian Falkenborg lost the game on a wild pitch), our pregame family stroll through the team store was one for the scrapbooks, quite literally. For there, shining atop a table -- roped off for crowd control, folks -- was the 2006 World Series trophy. A pair of photo ops where my daughters' gleam was somehow matched by the hardware, and my smile was that of a boy at least a quarter-century younger. I can share the pictures with you.

6) St. Louis 5, Cleveland 1 (March 31) -- The inaugural Civil Rights Game at AutoZone Park was the right game at the right time in the right place. The brainchild of Redbirds president Dave Chase, the game -- presented under the Major League Baseball umbrella -- allowed two tradition-rich teams to play an exhibition in honor of the pioneers who integrated baseball and made it a game reflective of American (and now world) society. The Cardinals (a franchise that gave us labor legend Curt Flood) and the Indians (a franchise that broke the American League's color barrier with Larry Doby) played in uniforms styled in the tradition of the Negro Leagues. Better yet, Vera Clemente (Roberto's widow), Spike Lee, and the late Buck O'Neil were honored before the game with the first Beacon Awards. Throw in an Albert Pujols home run for the reigning world champs and the afternoon was quite perfect.

Check in next week for my top five.

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