This week (and next): my countdown of the ten most memorable sporting events I attended this year.
10) Oklahoma City 8, Redbirds 1 (July 20) — This night at AutoZone Park was all about buzz. Having hinted at his retirement in March, former St. Louis Cardinal ace Chris Carpenter was again on the comeback trail, hoping to contribute to one more pennant race. His rehab start for Memphis followed an adequate outing with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. The 38-year-old Carpenter’s balky shoulder wouldn’t let him get through the fourth inning. (He gave up nine hits, four runs, and two walks in three-and-a-third.) Turns out it was the last professional start of Carp’s career, one that included two World Series championships and a Cy Young Award with St. Louis. “It wasn’t what I was looking for, I’ll tell you that much,” said Carpenter after the game. “My stuff wasn’t that sharp. I couldn’t get them off the ball, or make them swing and miss. Physically, I felt fine.” Carpenter is now exploring the possibilities of a front-office position with the club.
9) Grizzlies 103, Rockets 94 (March 29) — This game made my list before the first shot was taken. You see, the Grahamwood Elementary choir (featuring one Elena Murtaugh) sang the national anthem. They say a father can hear his daughter’s voice among hundreds of others when she sings. This is not true. But a father knows when to take pride in beauty (both visual and sonic). The home team was in control throughout, Zach Randolph leading the way with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Mike Conley added 15 points and 10 assists while Tony Allen outscored Houston star James Harden, 16-7. The celebrity on this night, though, was a 10-year-old girl.
8) Tigers 5, UConn 1 (October 27) — As the father of two soccer-playing daughters, I’ve come to know Mike Rose Soccer Complex as a destination for various levels of the planet’s most popular sport. The U of M women’s soccer team has given my family its share of thrills, many of them off the feet of Christabel Oduro, who played her last home game on this chilly afternoon. Oduro scored a second-half goal to tie the Tiger record for career goals (43 by Kylie Hayes), one she’d own herself (with 47) by season’s end. Oduro is in a category of greatness I’ve seen in only two other U of M athletes: Penny Hardaway and DeAngelo Williams.
7) Tigers 93, UCF 71 (February 13) — Two losses in November dropped Memphis out of the Top 25, until this night. Back in the realm of the nationally ranked (number 22), the U of M played its best game of the season, hammering a good UCF team, especially after halftime when they outscored the Knights, 51-35. Joe Jackson scored 21 points and had a season-high 10 assists. Geron Johnson flirted with the program’s fourth triple-double: 19 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists. And to this day, I think I saw D.J. Stephens make a right turn in midair on his way to yet another thunderous dunk. The win was number 15 in what became an 18-game winning streak, the Tigers completing an undefeated season in their Conference USA swan song.
6) Oklahoma City 14, Redbirds 10 (April 7) — Some sporting events take on significance only after a few weeks (or months) of reflection. This Sunday matinee at AutoZone Park was significant, personally, as my mom was visiting from Vermont and one my daughters joined us for a three-generation trip to the ballpark. David Freese — a hero for the 2009 Pacific Coast League champs and 2011 World Series champions — started at third base for the Redbirds as part of a brief rehab assignment. On the mound for Memphis was 22-year-old Michael Wacha, a highly touted righty making his Triple-A debut. Wacha pitched ... adequately. Four innings, two earned runs, four walks, no strikeouts. As the final score suggests, it was no day for pitchers. But a little over six months later Wacha would be named MVP of the National League Championship Series and win a World Series game at Fenway Park. As for Freese. ...
Check back next Monday for the top five.