FROM MY SEAT: Walls, and Then Some 

I had to say goodbye to a dear friend last week. A friend who, over the last nine years, has shaped my life — my entire family’s, really — in ways I’ll better measure several years from now. Funny thing is, my friend doesn’t even have a name. Sure, four clinical numbers and the name of the Central Gardens street on which she’s sat since 1922. But not the kind of name she deserves. So for the purposes of this recollection, I’ll simply call her Our Home.

I lived under the roof of Our Home longer than any other dwelling in my 37 years. And I can say without equivocation, the last quarter of my life so far lived has been the happiest any man could dream or script. My wife and I, you see, welcomed two little girls into our lives at Our Home. They learned to walk there, talk there, sing and dance there, even cheer the St. Louis Cardinals there. Which had me considering: just how many sports memories will I take with me from Our Home?

To begin with, I’ll remember the first nine years of Memphis Redbirds baseball. We were living in Our Home all of four months when the Redbirds took up residence at Tim McCarver Stadium. By my count, I’ve attended 213 Redbird games over the last nine seasons, and after every one, I’ve made a 10-minute drive back to Our Home, first from the Fairgrounds, then over the last seven years, from downtown’s AutoZone Park. “Little Mac” McEwing, Stubby’s flips, Ankiel’s curve, Albert’s homer, and more Sundays on a picnic blanket on the leftfield bluff than I can count. These were all celebrated at Our Home.

On a national level, the Redbirds’ parent club had its longest stretch of unbroken success since the 1940s during my time in Our Home. Sure, Mark McGwire’s pair of sensational seasons took our breath away (if only to have us wrestling our conscience a few years later). But five postseason trips in six years between 2000 and 2005 — with a sixth possible this fall — have made life in Cardinal Country particularly glorious over my family’s years at Out Home.

My parents met at the University of Tennessee, so you can say my DNA has a strain of orange. I watched the 1999 Fiesta Bowl at Our Home and saw the first UT team A.P. (after Peyton) upset the mighty Florida State Seminoles to win the school’s first outright national championship since 1951. By mere chance, I got to watch the Vols play LSU in the 2001 SEC Championship during a visit from my dad. The living room got a little gloomy that night, but it’s been said that watching a football game with your father is equivalent to three hugs and five I love yous (thanks, Darrell Harris).

Tommy West continues to build the kind of football program most Memphians felt out of reach before his arrival in 2001. While they have years — and many wins — to go before they achieve the kind of reputation UT has earned, my wife’s alma mater is currently the only team in the state to have reached a bowl game each of the last three seasons. I’ll be bragging someday about my afternoons and evenings in the Liberty Bowl press box, watching Danny Wimprine and DeAngelo Williams establish new standards for quarterback and tailback, respectively, at the U of M. But my first reflections on these twenty-first-century pioneers in shoulder pads took place, yep, at Our Home.

Memphis was, is, and will always be a basketball town. When we moved into Our Home, Tic Price had just begun his first year on the U of M bench. (Now, doesn’t THAT provide perspective on how long we were under that roof!) Three seasons and an ugly scandal later, John Calipari took over and Tiger Nation has yet to look back. Cal’s clubs have had their ups and downs, but for a sports journalist, his program is a hanging curveball. The stories actually dance across my keyboard.

And of course, the Grizzlies arrived in 2001, just when the local sports scene already seemed beyond a considerable, shoulder-sagging hump. Nice to have Our Home a 10-minute drive from an NBA arena.

There are certainly new memories to be made at my family’s new home. Isn’t this the foundation of uprooting — even if only across town — in the first place? But there will never be a baby crib at the new home. My dad will never walk through the front door of the new home. Sports? I can only cross my fingers and hope for as many smiles and goose bumps as I enjoyed over the last nine years at Our Home.

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