Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Erasing a Terrible Memory

Let's take a trip in the Wayback Machine, shall we? Strap yourselves in - it's going to be kind of a bumpy ride.

Where are we going, you ask? Well, to the worst sports day of my life: Sunday, October 1, 2006.

Does this day remind you of anything? It always does for me. This was the day I was tuck in a terrible nightmare and had no way to get out of it.

You see, I was, at this time, a co-anchor for a little, tiny (teensy-weensy, microscopic, et al) local sports talk show in my little, tiny (teensy-weensy, microscopic, et al) college town. It was led by two guys - both of whom lived in the state of Minnesota, and I was the third wheel. I didn't mind that at all, especially since they knew far more about sports than I did. I just put in my two cents where needed, and sometimes got into some fun heated debates.

One of the guys, Dan, was able to use his status as "anchor of a sports radio show" to contact the nearest pro sports teams like the Minnesota Twins, Timberwolves, Wild, and Vikings and get press credentials. He would often head north to "the Cities" to watch the games and get either interviews or sound bites with some pretty popular players. We'd then air the clips on our show near the end, hyping up the fact that we had indeed talked to these players. We weren't joking! Really! We wouldn't just focus on the local team, but also go across the hall to the visitors locker room and get interviews from there.

Sometimes I was able to accompany Dan on these little trips up to the Cities, and they were often a lot of fun. My first game was a Detroit Pistons game, and to sit on press row right next to the court and see those giants crush the T-Wolves (it was in the middle of their Eastern Conference championship streak). I attended a few Twins games as well. It was fun to get the giant press books for each team as well as eat the yummy spread laid out for the press.

Now that you know all of this, can you guess where I was on Sunday, October 1, 2006?

That's right - I was with Dan at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome to see the Twins play the White Sox.

Worst day of my sports life.

Dan had picked this game a few weeks earlier, not really knowing that this day would be so important to the Twins. I didn't realize it, either. I was too focused on celebrating the Tigers' playoff berth. All they had to do on either Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, OR Sunday was win. Just a couple of those games. Any of them. And they would win the division. And we could celebrate some more.

But even though the Twins, who were in second, lost on Wednesday, Friday, AND Saturday, they still had a chance to clinch the division because the Tigers kept LOSING. After they had clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday, they hadn't won a game since entering Sunday. If the Twins won and the Tigers lost, the Tigers would just be a wild card, even after leading the AL Central for most of the season. But if both teams won, the Tigers would clinch.

But that couldn't possibly happen, right? They were far better than that. After all, they had Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman, and Justin Verlander as their top three starters (probably in that order, for that year). They were having great years from Pudge Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen, and had a couple of breakout stars in Curtis Granderson and Joel Zumaya. This was a great team that had no possible chance of losing such an important game.

Dan and I found our spots in the Dome press box with a long stream of media who were wondering if the scenario of the Twins clinching could actually happen. Dan had brought his nice digital camera along just in case. Since we were media, we were allowed on the field before and after the game. I prayed he wouldn't have to use it.

The Tigers game started an hour early, since they were at Comerica Park. I was thrilled to see Detroit pull out to an early lead in the bottom of the third, when they scored five quick runs to add to their run already on the board. 1/3 of the game done, and they were up 6-0. But Kansas City struck right back in the next half-inning to make the lead just 6-3.

Meanwhile, the Twins game began. I was half paying attention to the real game, and half paying attention to the game on a computer screen. But the game at the Metrodome was a quick one, and in no time it was over 5-1. As a matter of fact, it was over before the Tigers game. A game that was getting too close for comfort...

By the end of the 7th inning in Detroit, the Tigers were winning 7-4. Jeremy Bonderman had pitched 4 1/3 innings, and Joel Zumaya had replaced him admirable. But in the 8th inning there was trouble. Fernando Rodney was on the mound and the Royals were finding runs. Rodney opened the 8th with a hit batter and a walk, and the Royals scored four runs to take the lead.

I was in nervous shock when I heard this news. The Twins game was nearing the end, but you could tell people around the stadium were watching the Around The League Scoreboard and seeing that something was happening in Detroit. When the Royals went up 8-7, you would have thought Joe Mauer had just hit a walkoff home run.

But the Tigers didn't quit. In the bottom of the 8th Matt Stairs homered to tie the game, but nothing else happened. As a matter of fact, nothing else happened for three innings after the 8th. Our closer, Todd Jones, had to pitch 2 2/3 innings to hold on, but playoff strategy suddenly came into effect. Who do we put in to replace Jones?

By the 11th inning the Twins game was finished, and to my utter horror, the Metrodome management decided to put the Tigers-Royals feed on the big screen. So now none of the Twins fans were leaving, and I was the lone Tiger fan in the place. Let me remind you, the Metrodome holds a ton of people, and even though it wasn't a sellout, it was sure close.

Kenny Rogers, a normal starter, ended up pitching the 11th and 12th innings, and one could only hope that our star pitcher would rise up to the occasion. But in the 12th the Royals put on two runs, with the fans of the Metrodome screaming in glee. I could only put my head in my hands.

I wanted to slink out of there as soon as possible, but there was no way my ride (Dan) wanted to go. He was planning how fast he could get down to the field to take pictures. Plus we were supposed to do the Show from the Dome, with our host Joel linking up from the studio. There was no way for me to leave. I was stuck.

The bottom of the 12th came in Detroit, and I was praying that we could somehow get some runs. Some dude named Jimmy Gobble was pitching for the Royals, and was facing our 9-1-2 batters. But even after a Craig Monroe walk with two outs, Sean Casey could only muster a groundout to first to end the game.

After it ended the Metrodome blew up. At least, that's how it felt for me. The Twins, who had been watching the game from the top of the dugout with the rest of the fans, leaped out onto the field in glee and merriment and joy. The fans soaked up the images of their Twins players slapping fives down the first and third base seats. Dan had scooted out from press row at the middle of the 12th inning and I could see him on the field clicking away as the players celebrated right next to him.

Quickly the rest of press row vacated their seats to go and get player interviews for their Championship stories that would air in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press and other papers and online sites. Local TV sports anchors would get soaked in champagne. But I just sat there, mostly by myself on press row, staring at a computer screen, wondering when the next inning would start so the Tigers could get back in the game.

Dan was tickled pink, and he wouldn't let my sullen mood sour his amazing experience on the field. I saw his pictures later - they really were incredible. And he set up the feed back to the studio, where Joel was waiting for us to start the Show. As a Twins fan, he was thrilled, but he did a good job being professional about it.  Needless to say, I spent the hour saying nothing - I was not a professional. Scratch that - I said one thing: "The Tigers blew it. That's it. They blew it." And that's all I said.

After the Show was done, Dan and I took the van back to the studio, and I said nothing. Even though the sun had set, I left my sunglasses on the whole way home. I helped Dan put stuff back in the studio, and then I drove back to campus.

But at that moment, I couldn't go back to my dorm room. I got my phone out and called my dad and cried. Like, a lot. If there had been other heartbreaking moments for my sports teams before October 1, 2006, I always had the fortune of turning off the game and doing something else. In this instance, I was in a nightmare from which I couldn't wake up. It had really torn me up.

My dad was just as bummed as I was, but he listened and said that you had to have some sort of realism in your fandom. I realized that I had spent 2006 being shocked at how good the Tigers were playing, and had put them up on a pedestal that I thought they couldn't fall from - I was relying on my dream instead of on facts. From that point on, I would have to understand that sometimes they win, and sometimes they lose.

I did follow that advice later, in 2009. When the Tigers and Twins tied for first in the Central and had to play game 163, I didn't get excited about it. Actually, I was working during the game, so I didn't find out what happened till it was done. Well, I found out the score. I ignored everything else. To be honest, I don't know what exactly happened in that game. I just know the Tigers lost. I had a feeling in my gut that they would lose that game, and they did. But I wasn't heartbroken over it, like I had been three years ago. I wasn't going to call my dad and cry about it. I was going to move on.

Now let's take the Wayback Machine to Friday, September 16, 2011. Actually, in Detroit it was already Saturday. But I got to watch as closer Jose Valverde got Josh Willingham to ground out to third base, and the Tigers finally got to celebrate a Division Title. The champagne flowed, the players broke out the goggles, and the fans celebrated.

I was thrilled to bits not just because they won, but because they won in convincing fashion! There was no waiting for the final game of the season to sit nervously and wait for other games' outcomes. Instead, it was done 1 1/2 weeks before the season was done. The division was clinched. No one can take that away. And my terrible memory could finally be forgotten.

(By the way, in 2006 the Twins were swept in the Divisional series by Oakland, and the Tigers went all the way to the World Series. I guess that helped to erase the memory too.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Weekend for the Ages

I went into this weekend of sports with excitement. I am not a big supporter of the fall season, but the one thing that gets me through it is the fact that my weekends are filled with football. This weekend would be the first full weekend of football this season, with college football in its second week and the NFL opening up their season on Sunday (well, Thursday, but whatever).

Not only would there be a plethora of football, but the Detroit Tigers haven't lost a game since September began. They shocked the Chicago White Sox in a weekend series (culminating with an onslaught of Mark Buerhle and the Sox bullpen for all the nation to see on ESPN2), marched into Cleveland and swept the Indians in style, and then were coming back to Detroit to hopefully welcome the Minnesota Twins into the new House of Horrors.

Let's take a look at the weekend and see what happened:

Friday: Twins and Tigers -MLB
After a Verlander game, it's been a bit of a letdown lately with Brad Penny struggling right behind him. But on Friday the offense picked up the slack for Penny, who gave up four runs in the first but picked up the pace for the rest of the game. Alex Avila hit a three-run home run in the second and Ramon Santiago hit a two-run homer in the fourth to put the Tigers ahead for good.

Saturday: Twins and Tigers - MLB
This was one of FOX's afternoon games, but I was not able to watch it due to regional coverage of another game. But my dad was fortunate enough to go - albeit with a Twins fan - and he had a heck of a game to watch. Max Scherzer pitched seven innings and only gave up two runs, but it looked as if the Tigers weren't going to get ahead, because the Twins pulled into a tie in the sixth inning.

In the ninth though, defensive replacement Brandon Inge came up, and with nobody on, he smacked a Glen Perkins fastball into left field - the same area my dad was sitting in with his buddy. I was coming back from a concert when I got a text from my dad - all it said was, "Walkoff!" I have never seen a walkoff home run, so I was jealous and elated at the same time.

Saturday: Notre Dame and Michigan - College Football
When the game started, it looked as if all the Michigan hype was going to be for those new permanent stadium lights, and the Michigan team on the field was going to act as though the lights were off. I was able to watch this game on my computer, and when the game first started, I was getting the correct video but the audio from another game. So I went on to and picked up the Michigan audio feed with Frank Beckmann and Jim Brandstatter. The delay was noticeable, but I'd much rather hear those guys than Brent and Kirk. You'll have to let me know if they were leaning towards ND for most of the game.

Of course, "most of the game" didn't matter in the end. Even though I was tempted after multiple turnovers, stupid penalties, and embarrassing defensive series to turn off the game and pop in a movie, I kept it on. And when the fourth quarter began, I was glad I did.

Michigan managed to take a 24-7 deficit at the start of the quarter and roll four touchdowns down the field. From making up for fumbles to passes from QB Denard Robinson to taking advantage of missed coverage and getting from the UM 20 to the ND 16 and setting up for an unbelievable finish, they did it all. And all I could do was sit there and think, "Is this really going to happen for a third straight year? That's impossible!"

And then I saw Robinson lob a pass up to Roy Roundtree in the end zone, and Roundtree leaped over the defender and kept his foot in bounds, and I was in complete shock. It happened again! Notre Dame's turnovers (like the one in the red zone late in the fourth quarter) doomed their team into looking at a sea of maize beside themselves with joy long into the night. An evening that began with a walkoff ended with an amazing catch under the lights.

Sunday: Twins and Tigers - MLB
Thanks to who made this game the free game of the day on - and I managed to learn about it in time. I spent the majority of the game pining for another few runs, because I knew the Twins, even with their AAA club in the house, could easily tack on two runs and erase our first inning lead. But Doug Fister showed me a clutch performance that made me like him even more.

When Jose Valverde came into the ninth with a chance to break Todd Jones 11-year-old record of 42 saves in a season by a Tiger, I was very nervous. When Valverde walked Mauer, I was really nervous. I was not thrilled when Miguel Cabrera couldn't handle the ball and turn a double play to end the game. I was on the edge of my seat when Mauer scored to cut the lead by one. But when I saw who was coming up - some dude named Rene Tosoni - I felt a little better. And I think Valverde did, too, because he threw three straight pitches past him and was able to do his Potato Dance of Joy in front of the Tigers faithful.

Three straight sweeps. They're starting to make me look bad.

Sunday: Detroit and Tampa Bay - NFL
When I heard on Friday that Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount was tweeting that he'd be running over Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, I said to myself, "We better crush this team." 

But I wouldn't be able to watch it, due to regional coverage of another team. (I'm really starting to hate that.) I kept an eye on the score, and got a little frustrated when I saw a "6" on the Lions side. That's a number I'm used to, because it means the Lions couldn't get into the end zone and had to settle for their kicker Jason Hanson to kick a field goal. It seems to be how we used to score in previous seasons.

Fortunately for me, QB Matthew Stafford turned into the Matthew Stafford we were hoping for, throwing 24-for-33 with 305 yards and helping the Lions score three touchdowns in the second and third quarters to help shut down Tampa Bay. Even though the Bucs scored late in the fourth and attempted an onside kick, WR Calvin Johnson shut the door by catching the kick and avoiding an offensive attempt to tie it up.

Do you know this was the first time since September 30, 2007 that both the Tigers and the Lions won on the same day? Isn't that ridiculous? I hope and pray that this wonderful weekend of sports is not the only wonderful weekend of sports I will get this year. I don't want this to be the highlight of the fall season. If these teams can keep up this momentum (and the Wolverines can figure out their offense and defense), I'm thinking we all will be enjoying more than the changing of the leaves in the next few months.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Blurb: Track and Field Worlds

I got cable back. This was quite the wonderful happening for me. I called my large cable conglomerate (who shall remain nameless) to see about getting my Internet and phone moved. When they inquired about my cable, I told them I couldn't afford it. But they said they could get me the basic channels at no extra charge to my bill! So I decided to get it back.

Because I have those core channels back, I get my weekend sports back. College football, the NFL, MLB on Fox, golf, and tennis. Sure, I don't get the 24-hour sports channels, but most of the important events are aired on one of the four major networks.

One of the events that I was fortunate to view was the World Track and Field Championships on NBC. Usually, when NBC airs Olympic events, most people tend to ignore it. After all, it's not an Olympic year. Why should anybody care?

Well, considering I had a boring weekend ahead of me, I cared. The Championships aired from Friday August 26 through Sunday September 4. NBC only aired the Saturday and Sunday events from the two weekends, and only for 1 1/2 hours in the early afternoon, but I was in front of my TV.

I got to watch athletes that I remembered from the Olympics in 2008. A few of those athletes were not here this year - Jeremy Wariner, Lolo Jones, Stephanie Brown Trafton. But I did see a lot of familiar faces.

Allyson Felix, who ran the 200 in Beijing, ran the 200 (and got bronze) and she also ran the 400 this year and got silver! I hope she doubles again next year in London. Sanya Richards, who is now married and runs as Sanya Richards-Ross, competed in the 400 but did not medal this time around. Walter Dix is a speed runner who is probably our best bet for silver in London. I say silver because unless Usain Bolt of Jamaica gets disqualified (like he did this year in the 100m final), there really is no chance for anyone else to win the 100 or 200 meters.

While there were many familiar faces who repeated in their feats, I recognized many athletes from previous championships that won this year! Lashinda Demus competed in Berlin in 2009, but this year she won the 400m hurdles! Carmelita Jeter also competed in 2009 and won the 100m this year. Trey Hardee repeated as world champion in the decathlon.

And some new athletes who I saw this week made statements for themselves to be the frontrunners for London. Ashton Eaton won silver in the decathlon. Jenny Simpson won the 1500 meters. Jesse Williams won the men's high jump event.

If you're reading this and say, "I don't care," well, next year you'll come back and read this Blurb and go, "Hey, she mentioned this winner last year!" I'm keeping an eye out for the stars (and busts, too) of London, just for you!