I like to give thanks this time of year for the little (and big) treasures from the local sports scene that have enriched life in Memphis.
• I'm grateful for two years of Stubby Clapp-led baseball teams at AutoZone Park. The Memphis Redbirds' 2017 championship club — 13-0 in extra-inning games —
felt over the top at times. The winning came so steadily, so "easily." Then 2018 happened and the Redbirds did it again. More than 60 players but one hugely popular manager with a clubhouse touch apparently borrowed from Casey Stengel. The back-to-back Pacific Coast League championships will forever be attached to the height-restricted back-to-back PCL Manager of the Year. Clapp is moving on to St. Louis, where he'll coach first base for the Cardinals. He managed to transform Memphis baseball both as a player and a manager, a total of three championships left behind in the record book.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
• I'm grateful for Jaren Jackson Jr. The day will come — I know it's hard to stomach — when the remaining members of the Memphis Grizzlies' Fab Four (Mike Conley and Marc Gasol) are no longer sprinting the floor at FedExForum. A franchise can fall into a post-superstar hangover in which roster comings-and-goings matter little to a fan base. (See the post-Kevin Garnett years in Minnesota.) "Triple J" (or "Trey J"?) may be the bridge to the next era for our NBA outfit. I've seen nothing not to like about the 19-year-old forward over the first month of his pro career. Here's hoping we get to see a playoff run (or two) with Conley, Gasol, and
• I'm grateful for Darrell Henderson on first down. And second and third. The numbers for the Memphis Tigers' junior tailback are silly: 1,521 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns with at least two games left to play. There will never be another DeAngelo Williams, but let it be said Henderson has been a nice reminder.
• I'm grateful for Coach Penny Hardaway. It's been a unique view. I'm of Hardaway's generation (two years older), so I've witnessed his rise to greatness as a player, his dormant years of early retirement, and now this year's resurrection as a city's cultural icon, all the while passing through my own life stages, however distant they are from the limelight. So I feel young whenever Hardaway is described as a new or rookie coach and I feel "seasoned" when I remember he's older today than Larry Finch was when Finch coached his final Tiger game. Most of all, I'm grateful to again be on a ride driven by Penny Hardaway. He's yet to disappoint.
• I'm grateful for plans to erect a statue of the great Larry Finch. This was overdue, but many of life's happiest developments are just so. Memphis recently endured a period of conflict over statues that divided segments of the community. We will soon be able to visit a statue (and park!) that I'm convinced will unify Memphians. For such a bronze idol we should all be grateful.
• I'm grateful to be married to an exceptional athlete. My beloved wife, Sharon, will run her first marathon on December 1st, not quite four months after her 50th birthday. She has become a local running star, whether she'll admit it or not. (She won the 2018 Race for the Cure women's division, all age groups.) I've witnessed her devotion to the cause, her daily training (well beyond my reach), and the joy she's taken through the agony of a last mile. You spend your working life admiring athletes from different circles, then find yourself cheering loudest for the person across the dinner table.
• As always, I'm grateful for Flyer readers. I hear from you year-round, appreciate your perspectives, counterpoints, and especially your passion for Memphis sports. The title of this column originated from my own devotion to fandom, to being part of the crowd that makes a sporting event — large or small — worthwhile. Thanks for keeping it alive these 17 years.