My Favorite Live Sports Memories
I saw in the news this morning that UTEP ended Memphis’s 64 game Conference USA winning streak. Why do I care? Because I was at the last game they had lost, in 2006, in Birmingham, against UAB, when Memphis was ranked number three in the country. Truly an awesome experience. No, UAB wasn’t big time, but they did make the NCAA tourney that year, and under Mike Anderson they played exciting ball. Nor is Bartow arena a classic of the game, but it was packed, and the crowd did get crazier and crazier as victory got closer. Just a great college sports experience.
That made me think of other great live sports experiences. So in no particular order . . .
Late September, 1990: The Mets are finishing a disappointing year, all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Still, tickets for the bleachers on what I think was a school night made for an exciting event. It even looked as if the Mets would win, until blowing a lead in the top of the ninth. Great, typical of the season, I though, fully expecting three quick outs in the bottom of the inning before the Cardinals would score to win in extras. As Lee Smith entered the game, my despair only grew. Impressive on television, the force with which he threw the ball was even more incredible live. Start of the inning, and up first is Darryl Strawberry. Power against power. Smith wound up and threw the heat. Strawberry did that front leg kick, extended his arms, and with the crack of the bat heard the entire stadium explode because there was no doubt where that ball was going. As he circled the bases we all celebrated with chants of “Daaaa-rryl, Daaaa-rryl.” The Straw was my absolute favorite player, which made the end of the 1990 season even worse, because everyone knew he would leave as a free agent after the year. He did. To the f’ing Dodgers. But not before giving me an all time memory.
Sometime in the spring of 2000, game six of the WPHL championship, the Shreveport Mudbugs lead the series 3-2. I really only remember two things about the game. One, we went with a decent size group, of which I think one other guy and myself were the only ones who cared about the game. Two, the ending. The game was in the Hirsch “coliseum.” Dirty, dark, small – a great place to watch a hockey game. Our seats were at an angle behind the net. Not great until it mattered. I think the score was 1-1 at the end of regulation. In OT, after a few minutes of tense back and forth action, one Mudbug – no idea who – had a clear shot and took it. He was directly across the ice from us. The only thing between was the net, meaning we had the best view in the house of the puck as it slipped past the goalie giving the Mudbugs the President’s Cup. Even the non-hockey fans went nuts. Sure it was minor league minor league hockey, but – as we sang along with Queen in the clichéd but genuine celebration – we were the champions.
Also the Mudbugs, in 2001. This one has nothing to do with the outcome. All I remember about that is the Mudbugs scored seven goals. They used to have placards that spelled “Frosty.” With each goal, one was turned over. Once you saw “Frosty,” everyone in attendance got a free frosty from Wendy’s. I remember getting one that night. Hence, I know they scored seven goals. Anyway, the reason this was a great memory is that one of my buddies worked for the team and thought it would be hilarious if he made sure I ended up on the ice for one of the goofy games they did between periods. Sure enough, Jenny and I competed in the sled race. Three couples took part in the race around the rink. One half sat in a saucer sled, the other half pulled. We kicked ass. But before we could claim our rightful prize, we were disqualified. Apparently it was against the rules to sling your sled into the legs of the other racers. What a rip.
I have plenty of other memories. (I’ve also won the dizzy bat race at a Captain’s game, for example.) Most of them involve either unimportant games, or insignificant events, or both. I suppose there’s some kind of lesson there. But I’m not the type to try to figure out what it is.