December 26, 2007
Forget baseball's dirty laundry
In a perfect world, the perfect sports moment would look something like Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard Round the World" in 1951. The suspense. The ball disappearing into the disbelieving crowd. The announcer going insane.
Nothing like that captured my imagination this year, because this was not like any other year, especially in Baltimore. The most important things affecting sports happened off the field, and the one that is my favorite isn't going to be very original.
When Cal Ripken strode to the podium July 29 to acknowledge his induction into baseball's Hall of Fame, the only thing I could think of was the title of a great Don Henley song: "The End of the Innocence."
While Cal and Tony Gwynn were being applauded for their wholesome accomplishments, the rest of the sport was trying to wipe away the stain of the steroid era. That stain remains even after the recent release of George Mitchell's famous report on the scandal.
The induction of Ripken and Gwynn at Cooperstown wasn't the last true thing to happen in sports. It just felt like it at the time. -- Peter Schmuck
Turning back the clock
I've covered just about every Ravens game since they began play in Baltimore for the start of the 1996 season. I've always enjoyed watching middle linebacker Ray Lewis play because he is such a fierce competitor. But during the past three years, I've seen a gradual decline in skills, which is natural for a man who has played for 12 seasons, and with such recklessness.
I thought his best days were behind him. Then came Nov. 18 at home against the Cleveland Browns. Lewis was running sideline to sideline again, making tackles and smiling like a little child. He ran step for step across the middle with tight end Kellen Winslow, just as he did in his younger days against Eddie George. Lewis was involved in some fierce head-to-head collisions with his old friend, Cleveland running back Jamal Lewis, and they traded blows as in an old Ali-Frazier fight.
Lewis finished with a game-high 23 tackles that day. After the game, he quickly took a shower and put on his clothes. He started walking out of the locker room, declining to speak with reporters. I bumped into him on purpose just to slow him down for a few seconds. "Great game, 52," I told him. Lewis smiled, and then he winked. At least for one more Sunday, we both knew that he had slowed down the opponent that eventually beats everyone. For one day, Ray Lewis beat Father Time.
-- Mike Preston
King James' coronation
Sports for me have always been about the virtuosic moments when great athletes transcend our expectations of human capability.
So I'll never forget LeBron James scoring 48 points and demolishing the Detroit Pistons on May 31. I just happened to flip to the game during the third quarter, without much expectation of greatness or much concern over the eventual winner.
But as James hit shot after shot, often going one-on-five without help from his teammates, I filled my empty basement with whoops normally reserved for a crowded sports bar.
Who knows whether this will turn out to be true, but I felt I was catching the first signature moment of a player none of us will forget. It felt like watching Michael Jordan drop 63 on the Boston Celtics during the 1986 playoffs or Tiger Woods win the Masters by 12 strokes in 1997. And it didn't matter a bit that the Cavaliers went on to play dreadful basketball in the NBA Finals.
Only the very best give us those kinds of chills, and on that random night, LeBron James showed me he's one of them.
-- Childs Walker
Everyman has his day
Go ahead, if you like, and remember this year's U.S. Open at Oakmont as the major Tiger Woods let slip away. History certainly will. But I'll remember it differently. It was one of the few moments this year when sports got a shot of personality again.
Angel Cabrera, the then-37-year-old Argentinian, who shot 69 on the final day to snag the trophy, looks like he could be one of my uncles. He has a five o'clock shadow. He drinks beer. He waddles up the fairway with a cigarette in his hand. He isn't chiseled from hours in the gym or calmed by the soothing Zen teachings of a swing guru like Butch Harmon. Instead, he mashes the ball like a lumberjack swinging an ax and putts with the delicate touch of a world-class heart surgeon. And for one day, on a course that probably should have brought this South American Everyman to tears, Cabrera was king.
We need more Cabreras instead of another Woods. Phil Mickelson is supposed to be the antidote to all Woods' focus-group-tested perfection, but his wife is too pretty and he's too rich to really sell the role. Give me Cabrera, a former caddie and son of a laborer who doesn't speak much English and would look like an heirloom tomato stuffed in one of Woods' form-fitting Nike shirts.
"There are some players that have psychologists," Cabrera said after his victory with a shrug of the shoulders. "I smoke."
-- Kevin Van Valkenburg
Mount Hebron's girls lacrosse team wins just about all the time -- 94 percent of the time to be exact. Last season, it got to 103 wins in a row.
Of course, the inevitable had to happen sometime, and it did, at the worst possible moment. One win shy of the 104 that would have set a national record, the Vikings lost April 14 to West Genesee, a school from suburban Syracuse, N.Y.
That was a tough, emotional day for the Vikings. They didn't know it at the time, but it was the catalyst for another emotional day -- this one at the opposite end of the spectrum. A little more than a month later, the Vikings used everything they had learned that day to hurdle another obstacle and hold on to another streak.
They came from behind to beat North Harford, 7-6, for the state Class 3A-2A championship -- their 11th straight state title. It was one of the most exciting, memorable finals in tournament history, especially for the Vikings who usually win in a romp.
The Vikings players refused to let the loss to West Genesee define their season. Instead, they let the state title define much more about them than just how well they play lacrosse. After the game, they celebrated with abandon and deservedly so. They realized they had achieved something truly grand, and it was a lot of fun to watch.
-- Katherine Dunn
The rookies of summer
As the sun slips below the West Virginia mountains, a young girl walks out to home plate, microphone in hand, to sing the national anthem.
Fans rise to add their voices, the sound stretching far beyond the outfield wall. Along the foul lines, young men in brand-new uniforms -- some with bare heads bowed, others focused on the blank scoreboard -- fidget and toe the chalk, waiting for the words to signal the start of the workday.
"Play ball," the umpire shouts to the cheers of the crowd.
And another season begins for the Bluefield Orioles, Baltimore's Rookie-level squad. Ten weeks of hope and of dreams dashed. Most of these players won't last long. Only about one of six makes it to the top.
But for tonight, all is right with the world.
-- Candus Thomson
A fitting tribute
What Dunbar's football team did this year is nothing short of miraculous.
What I'll always remember from 2007 is after Dunbar's Class 1A state championship victory, when Tavon Austin, Sean Farr, Jonathan Perry, Tevin Brown, Keon Redhead and Michael McNeil took to the podium for the post-game news conference and said what the season meant to them.
It wasn't about the 24 straight victories, or Austin's assault on the high school record books, or even how easily the Poets beat their state title opponent. All they could talk about was winning one for late head coach Ben Eaton.
In today's sports landscape, rarely do athletes do anything that makes the public proud and believe sports can uplift and be special. What the young men at Dunbar accomplished this year proves that every once in a while, sports really can inspire.
-- Stefen Lovelace
Punchlines of scrimmage
Hospitals are dreary places to visit, but I bounded up the stairs at Good Samaritan as if headed for a free buffet. For three hours that November evening, I would sit with the patient in Room 618, savoring every malaprop and spoonerism uttered by Artie Donovan as we watched a Ravens game on TV.
Work assignments don't get any better.
Donovan didn't disappoint. At 83, and recovering from a broken leg, the crusty old Baltimore Colts great sat for hours, his swollen leg propped by a pillow, and spun knee-slapping yarns about the game's raucous past.
On TV, the Ravens got blown out by the Pittsburgh Steelers. That night, I knew I was the only soul in Baltimore who was sorry to see the game end.
"Thanks for coming to Good Martian Hospital," Donovan said as I left.
-- Mike Klingaman
Triumph and tragedy
There were two stories that obsessed me in 2007, when sports weren't as much fun because they were all about people like Barry Bonds and "Pacman" Jones, people who were tough to get behind. The stories I'll always remember were the remarkable rise from homelessness by Morgan State's Roderick Wolfe and the tragic death of UMBC volleyball recruit Maddie Bingaman.
Wolfe lost both parents to AIDS, lived most of his adolescent life in a transitory state, and spent his senior year of high school drifting from house to house, friend to relative, trouble to near-trouble. Somehow, from that wreck of his youth, he found himself. At Morgan, he became a student, a football player and someone to be emulated. It was against all odds, and it was as heartwarming as anything I've known. Where he goes from here is uncertain, but he has a chance to be special in some arena of life.
Bingaman had a wonderful future when she and her mother left their home near Austin, Texas, in August for a cross-country trip to UMBC, where Maddie received a Division I volleyball scholarship. They never made it to Maryland. A one-car accident outside Memphis, Tenn., ultimately took both their lives, and that accident goes unexplained even today. Tennessee police continue to investigate, but there seems little hope of closure for the Bingaman family.
Maddie was such a vibrant personality that even though she never made it to UMBC, her loss was traumatic on the Catonsville campus. That seems to me to be the greatest compliment about her short life, a confirmation her 18 years were extremely well lived.
-- Ken Murray
A terrible loss
It wasn't a great moment -- quite the opposite -- but it was memorable just the same. It was Nov. 26 and a group of reporters were encamped at Redskins Park in Virginia awaiting news on safety Sean Taylor, who had been shot inside his home.
Reporters are detached by training so as to be neutral, but everyone wished the best for the 24-year-old who lay in critical condition in a Miami hospital.
Just after dinner came word that Redskins vice president Vinny Cerrato would deliver an update on Taylor. The media leaned in close to the tiny telephone speaker and waited for Cerrato to begin.
Taylor, Cerrato said, "was responsive to the doctor's request to squeeze his hand and show facial expressions, so the doctors were very happy about that."
But the next morning Taylor was gone, and the media felt the blow as much as everyone else. There is no such thing as objectivity when a young man dies.
-- Jeff Barker
Honesty rules day
It's been said that true integrity is measured by what you do when no one is watching. In a year marked with performance-enhancing drugs and surreptitious filming and exam cheating, the moment of this year happened in May when Hayley Milbourn exhibited great integrity when no one was watching.
Milbourn, then a Roland Park Country School senior, was leading the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland tournament by five strokes with one hole to go, and was well on her way to her third straight title, when she noticed that the ball in her bag was not the one she had played.
Despite the fact that no one saw her, Milbourn turned herself in and was disqualified.
"I have a lot more golf to play," Milbourn said at the time. "This is not my last tournament in my life. It was just one tournament. It doesn't define the rest of my life. I have a pretty heavy conscience and that's what led me to make the decision I did. It's always good to do what your conscience tells you to do."
Would that Brian Roberts, Bill Belichick and any Florida State football player understood that lesson.
-- Milton Kent
History tends to focus on the winner and the loser. Candidate A wins the election, or the hometown team loses the championship. There's hardly time for context, which is too bad.
The highlight of 2007 was the week that preceded the lowlight: the buildup to the January playoff game between Colts and the Ravens.
The anticipation of that game -- the city-wide dialogue, the history lessons, the excitement -- made us all children again, gathered together on the sidewalk as we waited for the parade to come around the corner.
While I love a big game as much as the next guy, the week was mostly reaffirming in that it drew Baltimore together. We were all a part of the same discussion, and it was the only discussion worth having. It was a much-needed reminder that sport really does have the power to unite us.
The Colts won the game, and we --The Sun -- beat a tight deadline. I still remember sitting in a Federal Hill bar later that night. Everyone around me was in mourning -- still breathing, talking and hurting as one -- and all I could think was, "Wow, it was a hell of a fun week."
-- Rick Maese
Tiger up close
Often, memorable sports events have personal ties for sportswriters. At least they do for me.
I missed my then 9-year old son's birthday on the same afternoon that Tiger Woods won his first Masters in 1997. I also missed a chance to cover the World Cup and the British Open the following summer to watch my son win his first-ever heat at a swim meet. (Four years later, when informed of that decision, he said, "Are you an idiot?")
This year's memory was no different, and again, it involved Tiger.
My younger son has a passing interest in golf, which means that he watches only if Tiger is in the hunt. When the world's best golfer decided to bring his own tournament to Congressional Country Club in the Washington, D.C., suburbs near where we live, I bought a ticket for my 14-year-old and became a spectator.
It was early on a sticky summer morning and my son was half asleep, until Tiger walked by. Though he wasn't that close, my son's reaction was interesting. "It's like HD to the max," he said. We followed the crowds, strained to get a good look and waited for a chance to see him hit a shot close up.
It came on the ninth hole when Tiger put his second shot behind the elevated green. I grabbed my son and positioned him right behind the ropes where Tiger's ball had settled into deep rough. With the precision and creativity that has complemented his power and sheer talent, Tiger popped a chip to within a couple of feet. The par-saving putt was routine.
"That was pretty cool," my son said.
I didn't want to burst his bubble, but I've seen that kind of magic close up for more than a decade.
It never gets old.
-- Don Markus
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