Sports » Sports Feature

FROM MY SEAT: Don't Look Now, But...



• The Memphis Tiger football team is two wins from bowl eligibility, and with three of their remaining four games at home. Ask anyone other than coach Tommy West if he or she felt the 2007 squad would be fighting for a bowl berth after their 36-point loss at UCF on September 22nd and you’ll either see a head shake or know you’ve found a hopeless dreamer. The fact is, the first and most important step for West’s program to take toward national respect is to compete in Conference USA. Which means they have to beat the likes of Rice and Tulane, even on the road. Saturday’s win in New Orleans � on a last-minute touchdown pass by Tiger quarterback Martin Hankins � is precisely the kind of game Memphis is notorious for losing.

This Saturday at the Liberty Bowl the U of M will host the one team they trail in C-USA’s East Division. And they’ll be underdogs against the East Carolina Pirates. But consider these numbers: the Tigers have outperformed the Pirates in total offense (419 yards per game to 355) as well as total defense (428 yards allowed per game to 437). With a 1 pm kickoff and the home team playing for first place, Saturday’s attendance will say a lot about the Tigers’ hold on this region’s football attention. Mark this down: the team with the fewer turnovers wins.

• John Calipari isn’t the only University of Memphis coach recruiting well beyond the Mid-South region. Women’s soccer coach Brooks Monaghan is fielding a team this fall with players from 12 states and three countries. I saw a terrific match Sunday between the top two teams in Conference USA, the Tigers (now 12-3-1 overall) dropping a double-overtime affair to UCF at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex. With two regular-season games to play, Memphis is now 5-1-1 in C-USA play, trailing only the 6-1-1 Knights. Junior Kylie Hayes has already broken the 13-year-old program’s record for career goals with 34. Only four of Monaghan’s 30 players are seniors, so this is a team that should challenge for an NCAA tournament berth for years to come.

• A few observations from the 2007 World Series:

This year’s Series was the sixth straight to feature a former Memphis Redbird on the field. Adam Kennedy played for the Angels in 2002; Braden Looper pitched for the 2003 Marlins; Albert Pujols was among several former ’Birds who fell to Boston in 2004; Cliff Politte was in the bullpen for the 2005 White Sox; Yadier Molina and 11 other Cards won last year’s championship; and J.D. Drew played rightfield for the 2007 Red Sox.

• It’s a shame the country was denied seeing one of the hottest teams in baseball history take on the mighty Red Sox when the Series opened last week. Having won 21 of 22 games � a streak unmatched over the last 70 years � the Colorado Rockies had their sizzle turn to fizzle by an eight-day layoff between their sweep of Arizona in the National League Championship Series and Game 1 of the Fall Classic in Boston. It’s just not right to see a team penalized for dominating its opposition in earning a pennant.

So here’s the solution. When I’m general manager of a pennant winner someday, and my team has as many as three � let alone eight! � days off in October, there will be a roundup in our farm system. Twenty-five players � of my manager’s choice, based on our club’s scouting reports of the potential Series opponent � will report to our home stadium for a series of exhibitions. The teams will play daily, with free admission for fans. Concessions open with as much championship gear as we can sell. We’ll set up our starting rotation so our ace is on track for Game 1 of the Series, and these games will be played to win. Keeping score, strategy, platoons, bullpen activity, the works.

As simple as the notion seems, it’s a profound truth: to play baseball well, a team must play baseball games. The Rockies may as well have been playing in February when the World Series opened. And it showed.

• There’s a famous story of Marilyn Monroe returning from a tour of overseas performances at U.S. military bases. When she gets back, she tells her husband, Joe DiMaggio, “You’ve never heard such cheering!� The Yankee Clipper pauses a moment before replying, “Oh yes, dear, I have.�

In watching and reading media coverage of “Red Sox Nation� and its adoring relationship with Boston’s baseball team, one gets the impression that no such love affair can be found west of Fenway Park. That no fan base has such an appreciation for its team’s history, legends, successes and failures like those � primarily in New England � who cheer on Manny, Tek, and Big Papi. That no one has experienced the profound visceral joy of witnessing greatness in the home team’s uniform like that in Beantown.

I lived four years in Boston, but I’ve spent 38 as a member of Cardinal Nation. And yes, Boston, we have.

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