Monday, December 28, 2009
The Sports List
The nice thing about writing a blog, rather than getting paid to write, is that I can write about whatever I want. And as I've said before, I love lists. So, today we have a list of my least and most favorite sports moments of the last decade (2000 - 2009). I'm going with my favorites rather than the best because I'm really only a fan of tennis and baseball, so I'd have no way of objectively ranking the best and worst of sports that I don't really watch.
If you aren't a sports fan, don't fret. I've only listed moments that in some way reveal something about me. So, look at this as more of a recap of significant moments of my decade, with sporting events as the back drop.
My Least Favorite Moments
4. Justine Henin defeats (pick just about anyone) 2001 - 2008 -- No real reason except that I can't stand her.
3. Elena Dementieva defeats Jennifer Capriati 2004 U.S. Open Semi-final -- This day was a disaster from the get-go. For the first (and only) time in my life, I had tickets to the U.S. Open women's semi-finals. And one of my favorite players was playing, with a really good chance to win the match.
For reasons that seem much more obvious in retrospect, I had given the other ticket to a drug-dealer friend of mine that I had met in Philly. (I'd like to give him a fake name, but I can't even remember his real name.) I spent the first half of the day trying to get a hold of him to see where/when we were going to meet. I suppose I could have just gone and waited for him there, but I'm pretty sure I was hoping he'd bring drugs and we could get high first. By the time I gave up on him and headed out to the National Tennis Center, the second semi-final (this one) was already well under way. I got there just in time to see that they had split sets and were early in the third. What I saw from that point on might have been the most painfully bad display of tennis I'd ever seen to that point. This was the third time Capriati made it to the semi-finals of the U.S. Open and the third time she was within one game of winning the match. Somehow, she managed to lose essentially the same match on three different occasions. Meanwhile, my friend not only never showed up for the match, but I never heard from him again. I have no idea whether he was arrested, died or just vanished the way drug dealers can sometime. All in all, it was a miserable day.
2. New York Yankees defeat Boston Red Sox Game 7, 2003 ALCS -- I'm not going to go into too much detail on this one. Let's just say that when the Red Sox blew a 3-run lead in the 8th inning, it ruined a wonderful night of doing cocaine and meeting Delta Burke (who was very sweet and hugged me).
1. Some guy defeats me 6-0, 2-0 (retired) 2005 NYC Liberty Open First round -- Here's some unsolicited advice for you. If you've been awake for three days, smoking crystal meth the entire time, do not try to play tennis. In a tournament. In July. When you haven't had a tennis racket in your hand for almost a year. I'm not sure the eight games I lasted even took 20 minutes, but I know that I looked and felt like I'd been playing for five and a half hours when I quit. The guy I was playing must have thought I was crazy because the match would have probably been over for real in about ten minutes, but I was seriously concerned that my heart might explode right there on the court. Not my finest hour for sure.
5. Philadelphia Phillies defeat Tampa Rays Game 5, 2008 World Series -- I guess I'm going to get shit for this moment being so low on the list since I'm from Philadelphia, but I have my reasons. I was at the sixth game of the 1980 World Series when the Phillies beat the Kansas City Royals for their first-ever championship. I still get chills thinking about that one. So, it's not like I'd never seen them win before. Plus, since I moved out of Philly, the futility of the Red Sox is what I really keyed in on.
Still, the Phils were the team I grew up with. The team I rooted for with my dad. When a team doesn't win for a long time and then they have a chance, the city seems totally transformed by hope. That was what Philadelphia felt like in October 2008. It's a not-very-well-kept secret that I think Philadelphians can sometimes be a negative bunch -- finding the cloud in every silver lining. So it was really nice to see them filled with optimism and faith. The weather didn't cooperate for me to be in Philly for the clinching moment (I was there for the beginning of game five, but had to return to NYC before it was completed two days later), but no matter. The entire series was a great "moment".
4. Venus Williams defeats Lindsay Davenport 2005 Wimbledon Final -- I was feeling like a kindred spirit with Venus in 2005. One of her sisters was killed at the end of 2003 (my father died in 2004) and she clearly was affected by it during all of 2004 and the beginning of 2005 (it took me a long time to recover as well).
I watched a match she played during the spring of 2005 and I thought, she looks more like her old self than she has in almost two years. Still, she was seeded 14th at Wimbledon and not given much of a chance to win. So, I was really happy when she got to the final, beating the defending champion to get there. I was also happy because she was playing Lindsay Davenport instead of her sister, whom she always seemed ambivalent about beating.
It ended up being arguably the best women's match of the decade. Venus fought off a match point in the second set and beat Davenport 4-6, 7-6, 9-7 to win her third Wimbledon and her first major title since 2001.
3. Jennifer Capriati defeats Martina Hingis 2001 Australian Open Final -- It was my birthday in 2001 and a couple of friends were staying with me so we could go to the circuit party in Philadelphia that weekend. Briefly, a circuit party is a huge gay dance event with lots of shirtless guys and even more drugs. We were going to head out to the opening party that Friday night, but I wanted to watch the Australian Open final first.
I had been a Jennifer Capriati fan since 1990, when she was the youngest player on the WTA tour. Most people have seen the mug shot and know all about her burn out (I never realized that had both a tennis and a pot connotation until now). Being as obsessive as I am, I had been keeping tabs on her comeback since 1996. Hardly anyone gave her any chance of getting back to the top ten, let alone win a major. Then she beat Monica Seles in the quarter-final and Lindsay Davenport in the semi-final. Still, Martina Hingis was the number one player in the world.
I've never really been able to tell this whole story before, but I guess I can now. I was watching the final in the second bedroom of my apartment and my friends were in the living room. When Capriati improbably won the first set, I called for them. "OK. You have to watch the second set with me. And every time Capriati hits a winner, we're going to do a bump of K [ketamine]." Well, I was completely whacked by the time match point came along, but I still remember that last backhand return of serve like I hit it myself. Capriati went on to win the French Open that year and the Australian Open again in 2002 to salvage what otherwise would have been a tragic waste of talent and opportunity.
2. Boston Red Sox defeat New York Yankees Game 4, 2004 ALCS -- I'm going to be honest. I gave up on this game as soon as Mariano Rivera took the mound in the 8th inning. Boston was already down three games to none in the series. Down by a run, with Rivera pitching, I figured it was over. Who cared? This friggin year sucked so bad already. Why should this be any different? I left wherever I was watching and started walking toward the subway in the village.
There is a Red Sox bar down there, so when I heard cheering as I walked by I was a little startled. I didn't have the energy to go in, but I stood outside and watched the replay of Dave Roberts stealing second. I thought how pathetic it was that they were cheering for a stolen base and I started to walk away. Bam, Bill Mueller singles and before I'm even out of earshot, the game is tied. Sweet. In case you don't know what happened from there, the Red Sox won that game in the 12th inning. Then, Rivera blew the save again in game five and the Red Sox won in the 14th inning. Then, they went back to New York and finished off the first-ever comeback from three games down by a baseball team.
1. Boston Red Sox defeat St. Louis Cardinals Game 4, 2004 World Series -- Here's where the "my favorite" part completely demolishes any objectivity. Any sportswriter will tell you that the 2004 Worlds Series was pretty anti-climactic after what happened in the ALCS (plus, the NLCS also went seven games). But ask any Red Sox fan which was better; it's no contest. I watched the Red Sox play for the first time in the 1975 World Series. For 29 years, I waited. I hoped. I cried. Seriously, I cried (1986 -- game six against the Mets). I had all but given up hope.
For me, though, this moment is beyond personal. 2004 had been a disaster right out of the gate. My father was already sick as the year began. Then it just got so much worse so quickly. When he died in April, I completely unraveled. I cried every day for six months. By the time October rolled around, I honestly thought I might never go through another day without crying. It was going to take a perfect storm of happy to even scratch the surface of my pain.
Obviously, the ALCS win over the Yankees was part of that. Having just ended a three-year relationship in the summer, I wasn't really in a dating mood. But I re-met this guy that my ex had introduced me to in a club a couple years before and there was something about him that I couldn't shake. We had gone out a couple times and he asked if I wanted to do something that night. Now, he's from a country that isn't really known for baseball, so I was a little apprehensive. In general, gay guys don't always react well when they find out they might have to take a backseat to a sporting event. This guy might not have even ever seen a baseball.
I took a chance and asked if he wanted to watch the game with me, explaining as best I could 86 years of failure and what might actually happen that night. I was surprised, but not completely delighted, when he said yes. He had no idea what a minefield he was walking into. If he in any way infringed on my enjoyment of the game, he was doomed.
Instead, exactly the opposite happened. I got up to get us drinks in about the third inning. As I was getting the ice, he called out (in his adorably fractured English), "Petr, come quick! Mueller is on base one." I can tell you for sure that I hadn't smiled that genuinely in all of 2004 before that moment.
When The Moment finally came and Doug Mientkiewicz squeezed the last out in the ninth inning, I just sat there stunned. It even took about two minutes for the tears to start rolling down my face. It was right about then that I realized Raf had disappeared. As I looked up, he walked into the living room with a bottle of champagne and two glasses. "I thought maybe you'd want this if they won." Perfect storm of happy.