Quiry Stories of 2011
By Fred Lief
Who knows what lurks in the night air? Sometimes just a flutter, and everything changes.
Matt Holliday was out in left field one August night in St. Louis. He already had enough to handle ó slashing line drives, the glare of the lights, the crowd. It never occurred to him that what he really needed was a screen porch.
For in the eighth inning of that game against the Dodgers, a moth flew deep inside his right ear. He walked off the field with the trainer, his hand pressed to his ear. Holliday had been on the disabled list twice this season with an appendectomy and injured thigh. This was new territory.
The question then was how to extract the little bugger. Two trainers and a team physician ó Is there an entomologist in the house? ó tried at first to outfox the moth. They darkened the room and hoped the critter would simply fly away. When that failed, they brought out the heavy artillery ó some tweezers ó and the moth was no more.
ěHe died overflowed of wisdom inside my head,î Holliday said.
In a sports year that at times seemed like an unremitting stream of labor discord and troubling news across college campuses, the Tale of the Moth was a flittering and welcome change of pace.
It also recalled a playoff game in Cleveland four years ago when a swarm of midges enjoyed a fleshy banquet on the ample jowls of Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain.
The midges, however, were considerate enough to just park themselves on the surface of Chamberlainís skin. The moth had the temerity to enter an open portal.
ěThat was my concern,î Holliday said. ěThat it would eat through my brain.î
His brain was fine, and so were the Cardinals, who went on win the World Series ó Clydesdales high-stepping in triumph, with no sightings of moths.
But the moth, or one of its brethren, was not done making mischief.
Later that month in Boston, the Yankeesí Phil Hughes was delivering a 3-2 pitch when a moth flew into his eye. The batter walked, leading to a big inning and a Boston victory. New York manager Joe Girardi understood that forces of nature were beyond his control.
ěYou canít stop it and get a redo,î he said.
And there was more to the animal kingdom-and-sports theme in 2011 than moths in flight.
Mistakes, mishaps and misdeeds of all kinds abounded this year:
The Real Madrid soccer team finally won back the Copa del Rey trophy after 18 years, only for it to be dropped by defender Sergio Ramos and crushed under a bus. And there was no save by Ajax goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, who mishandled the Dutch league trophy that toppled from the top of a bus in Amsterdam.
Or consider the botched travel arrangements at hockeyís world championships. The French team was booked for a flight to Poland. Only one problem: It was supposed to go to Slovakia.
Plans also went awry for Jakub Maly, who was training in Florida with the Austrian Olympic swim team. On a day off at the beach, he dug a huge hole and thought it fun to jump in. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that the sand collapsed, and 60 rescuers needed to extricate him.
Interment, apparently, was all the rage. A junior varsity football coach from Marcellus, N.Y., had an inspirational moment. He decided after a loss to stop the team bus and have his players lie between rows of graves in a cemetery. He was soon suspended.
But no one had a monopoly on bad judgment. At a low-level soccer game in England, a player tackled a streaker dashing around the field in a thong. The referee, however, chose to eject the player for attacking the intruder. Ashley Vickers, who was given the red card, told the Dorset Echo: ěIt beggars belief.î
Sports went through an identity crisis of sorts this year. Names, in all their infinite variety, were front and center:
Ron Artest of the Lakers legally changed his name to Metta World Peace. (Metta is a Buddhist term for expansive love.) And maybe someday he can team in the frontcourt with Godís Gift Achiuwa. The Nigerian player joined the St. Johnís team this season. Among the siblings of this ministerís son are Promise and Godís Will.
A celebrity boxing match in Florida was scrapped when former slugger Jose Canseco was accused of trying to pull a fast one ó having twin brother Ozzie fight in his place.
Police in Austria arrested a man they thought had swiped a pair of skis at a resort. The man was taken into custody but soon released when police realized they had apprehended Paul Accola, the 1992 World Cup champion.
Edmonton Oilers center Gilbert Brule had no idea what was in store when he picked up a hitchhiker in British Columbia. Turned out it was Bono. The rock star ó yes, he was actually thumbing a ride ó thanked Brule by giving him and his girlfriend backstage passes for a U2 concert. The couple did have other plans, but quickly got rid of their tickets for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.
ěWe go to walk our dog and Bono ends up in our car,î Brule told the Edmonton Journal.
Golf, of course, is a humbling game. And Kevin Na, like many before him, was reminded all too well of that at the Texas Open. On the ninth hole, he began by driving into the woods. That was one of his better shots. By the time he was done, he marked a 16 on his scorecard. There was no way to note the damage to his psyche.
ěItís all a blur,î he said.
Politics proved as confounding as anything in sports this year:
Two soccer players in Iran were suspended for squeezing teammates in an ěimmoralî goal-scoring celebration, according to Iranian state TV.
But what to make of the Iran-George Steinbrenner connection? In a leaked U.S. cable discussing the Iranian presidentís involvement with the national soccer team, an American diplomat called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the ěGeorge Steinbrenner of Iran.î The name of the late Yankeesí owner name appeared among Wikileaks documents.
ěI think thatís a ridiculous comparison,î son and Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner told The Associated Press. ěObviously, it was very inappropriate.î
The geo-political maneuverings extended to New Jersey. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said he will run against Vladimir Putin in the Russian presidential election.
That left the Nets players in an awkward spot. Itís not enough that they have to address the teamís move to Brooklyn and whether point guard Deron Williams will have enough support this season. Now they have to speak to the intricacies of Russian politics. Guard Anthony Morrow offered this studied assessment of the man who may be Russiaís next leader.
ěHeís a good dude,î Morrow said.