A countdown of the ten most memorable sporting events I attended in 2019.
10) Redbirds 4, Omaha 0 (August 24) — No team in the Pacific Coast League played better baseball over the last six weeks of the season than the Memphis Redbirds. In winning 30 of 39 games, a team that had been 21 games under .500 in mid-July climbed into playoff contention. On this Saturday night, 22-year-old lefty Genesis Cabrera showed the kind of stuff that fuel big-league aces. Over seven innings, Cabrera allowed but one hit and struck out 12 Storm Chasers. Most astounding, though: Cabrera struck out nine consecutive
Omaha batters, tying a Pacific Coast League record. Edmundo Sosa hit a two-run homer in the first inning for all the runs Cabrera and the Redbirds would need.
9) Nashville SC 2, 901 FC 0 (July 17) — Any contest between Memphis and Nashville is worth some rooting interest. On this Wednesday night at AutoZone Park — smack in the middle of baseball season — soccer was the fuel for discord between these Tennessee “sister cites” (yeah, right). Brandon Allen found the back of the net in the game’s eighth minute to give 901 FC the lead . . . only to have the goal disallowed (due to an offside call). Jimmy Ockford scored for Nashville just before halftime and Daniel Rios shortly after the break to give the bad guys the win. Even Penny Hardaway — the pregame celebrity guitar-smasher — couldn’t save the Bluff City on this hot summer night.
8) Redbirds 5, El Paso 3 (August 3) — Baseball can distract us in the best way, and on the hardest of days. This game was played merely hours after a shooter open fired in an El Paso Wal-Mart, killing 22 people. (And less than a week after two people were killed at a Wal-Mart in Southaven.) I attended the game with my older daughter, her last night with us before returning to New England to complete her summer job and resume college life. So it was special, even with hearts heavy. Suiting up for Memphis behind the plate was Cardinal great Yadier Molina (on a rehab assignment). Molina got the Redbirds on the board with a squeeze bunt in the fourth inning and John Nogowski broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run homer in the eighth to give Memphis the win. Genesis Cabrera pitched seven innings and struck out nine, a sign of hope, perhaps, for the Cardinals’ pitching future.
7) Golden State 118, Grizzlies 103 (March 27) — When a Memphis Grizzly scores his 11,734th point someday, this game will have less meaning. Until then, I like having been in FedExForum when Mike Conley became the franchise’s alltime leading scorer. This also served as a farewell, of sorts, to the Warriors’ dynasty, with Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, and Draymond Green all in the starting lineup. Durant hit 12 of 13 from the field for 28 points and Curry drained six three-pointers on his way to 28 himself. As for Conley, the last player to wear number 11 for the Grizzlies scored 22 points and handed out eight assists. Hard to imagine he’ll find the love in Utah he’ll know forever here in Memphis.
6) Tigers 97, South Carolina State 64 (November 5) — Forget the 12-game suspension and all the controversy. This was opening night for the most anticipated class of basketball players — particularly one James Wiseman — in at least a decade for the U of M. And Wiseman played like a legend in the making: 28 points (11 of 14 from the field), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in 22 minutes . . . without any evidence of a unicorn horn. The public announcement three days later that Wiseman would be ineligible (the whole season?) stole some thunder from his stunning debut. It’s left to those of us who were there to recount a college superstar’s impact, however brief it turns out to be.
Check back next week for the top five.