35 CANDLES I’m reaching a personal milestone this week. (We sportswriters love “milestones.” In what other medium do we ever read of such?) Come Thursday, I will be halfway to 70 years of age. After thanking my loving family for making the first half of my journey such bliss, I turn to the world of sports, and to the countless people, places, and events that have made my face so accustomed to smiling over the years. To recite my favorite sports moments or my favorite sporting affections would take more room than even cyberspace will allow. But I can start with a list of 35 such Memphis affections, can’t I? 1. AutoZone Park. I still pinch myself when I walk through the turnstiles. Best thing to happen to Memphis since Presley met Phillips. 2. The Redbirds. Devoted Cardinal fan moves to Memphis from New England. Visits Busch Stadium for first time at age 24. Five years later, Cards’ Triple- ®A affiliate settles in 10 minutes from front porch. 3. Memphis Tigers vs. Louisville Cardinals in The Pyramid. Say it ain’t so, Big East. 4. 1996 Kroger St. Jude at The Racquet Club of Memphis. I got to (quite literally) rub elbows with Pete Sampras. Never will we see another tennis player win 14 Slams. 5. DeAngelo Williams on third and short. 6. Larry Finch. Look up “hometown hero” in the dictionary. Get well, Larry. We love you. 7. Boxing on Beale. It’s smoky, smells of sweat and beer, and the chairs are uncomfortable. Best place to see a fight on the planet. 8. Memphis RiverKings premiere (November 7, 1992). Speaking of sweat and beer. Hockey in the Mid-South! Where have you gone, Derek Grant? 9. September 15, 2000. AutoZone Park. Now batting for Memphis, leftfielder Albert Pujols. 10. Stubby! Stubby!! Stubby!!! 11. Jerry West (huh?) calling the shots in Memphis (yes!). 12. Penny Hardaway in the open court, 1992 NCAAs. 13. Phil Cannon and the staff at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Best community handshake this city has to offer, year after year. 14. The champions hall at The Racquet Club. Borg, Connors, McEnroe . . . oh my. 15. A chat with Rolando Blackman at The Pyramid. You have your basketball heroes, I have mine. 16. Martha Woods in the U of M athletic office. (And you should see her behind the wheel of a stock car!) 17. A visit with Red Schoendienst in the AutoZone Park press box. Which ring is that you’re wearing, Red? “You know . . . I’ve got nine of Ôem.” 18. Not one, but two Presidents’ Cup-winning overtime goals at the DeSoto Civic Center for the RiverKings (scored by Michal Stastny in 2002, Kahlil Thomas in Ô03). 19. Race day at Memphis Motorsports Park. Disney could take merchandising lessons from NASCAR. 20. Batting practice at AZP. The season had ended, it was a Saturday morning, and we were cut short by rain. Still . . . unforgettable. 21. Photo-op with Garry Templeton at AutoZone Park. First player in baseball history with 100 hits from each side of the plate in the same season (1979). AND he brought Ozzie Smith to St. Louis. 22. Shyrone Chatman. Don’t forget this Tiger point guard (1997-01). He played with fire, played with class (and out of position). Best of all, he graduated. 23. John Calipari, postgame. Love him or otherwise, the passion he carries for coaching outshines the TV lights when he meets the local press. 24. Playing nine at Overton Park. If you can call what I do with a golf club “playing.” 25. Danny Wimprine and the U of M record book (passing section). 26. Memphis Grizzlies House at St. Jude. 70,000 square feet of reasons it’s wonderful to have an NBA team. 27. Tom Stocker. Could teach a few things to Wayne Hagin in St. Louis. 28. Joggers on the Bluff Walk. You won’t find a prettier urban jogging trail in the Western Hemisphere. 29. Retired Memphis Tiger jerseys in the Pyramid rafters. (As for those NIT banners . . . .) 30. Loren Roberts. Maybe not the best golfer without a major, but certainly the nicest. 31. Shane Battier. I’ve always considered the number 31 lucky . . . then this guy comes to town. 32. Local baseball historian John Guinozzo. Can’t recall the day Stan the Man played at Russwood? J.J.’s your guy. 33. Antonio Burks and his sweeping, one-handed drives to the hoop. A point guard with a finger roll? 34. Rockey the Redbird. My daughters’ third parent. 35. Dennis Freeland. Great sportswriters come and go, but friendships never die.


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