Bugs, youth and resolve marked 2007

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They came off the lake and out of the night. Swarms of flying critters descended with a fury on the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees like a day of reckoning.

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San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds hits his 756th career home run off Washington Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik during the fifth inning of their Aug. 7 game in San Francisco. Three months later, Bonds was indicted on perjury and obstruction charges.  AP / File
AP / File
San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds hits his 756th career home run off Washington Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik during the fifth inning of their Aug. 7 game in San Francisco. Three months later, Bonds was indicted on perjury and obstruction charges.

The midges -- or Chironomus plumosus (Linnaeus) for those keeping score at home -- all but exterminated the Yankees' hopes of reaching the World Series.

The bugs feasted on the ample jowls of Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain as if they had lucked into a seven-course banquet of human flesh. Derek Jeter flailed his arms at shortstop, swatting at the pests. Catcher Jorge Posada visited the mound with insect repellant. After the playoff game, a 2-1 win in 11 innings by Cleveland, entomologists weighed in with commentary.

Yes, strange things were in the air in 2007, unpredictable gusts and shifting currents blowing across sports.

Maybe this whirlwind by Lake Erie, like some Biblical plague of locusts, was foreshadowed a month earlier in Cincinnati.

Gabe Gross of the Milwaukee Brewers inexplicably broke for third base on a steal. Brewers manager Ned Yost, it turned out, had a mosquito bite and started scratching. Third-base coach Nick Leyva misread the gesticulations for the steal sign.

"I looked up," Yost said, "and saw Gabe coming and thought, 'What the heck is going on.' "

A lot of people wondered that very thing when they heard about Ryan Boatwright. He's a basketball star from Aurora, Ill., and Southern Cal coach Tim Floyd offered him a scholarship. Nothing unusual there. But Boatwright had yet to decide where he's going to high school. He's 14 years old.

"Hmmm," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "I'm not good enough to evaluate that far ahead. Someday I might."

Youth -- and we're talking really young -- was also served on the Nebraska-Kearney women's basketball team. Coach Carol Russell was a few minutes late for a game, but please forgive her: She gave birth five hours earlier.

"I usually stand up for the whole game," she said after the 108-75 loss to North Dakota. "But I didn't have the energy."

She was not the only pregnant woman with grit. Colleen Pavelka had doctors induce early labor because her husband, a rabid Chicago Bears fan, had tickets to the NFC title game. Dad did his part, though. He was there for delivery in his "Monsters of the Midway" shirt.

Bears fans clearly are a hearty breed. Scott Wiese, an office-supply store worker, made a bar bet in Decatur, Ill. If his team lost the Super Bowl, he'd change his name to whoever led Indianapolis to victory. Well, the Colts won and Wiese began legal proceedings to become Peyton Manning.

"I think I represent all Bears fans," he said. "Not that I'm saying they're all idiots like me."

No idiot, Matt White. He's a journeyman pitcher trying to make it in the Dodger organization. A few years ago, he bought 50 acres of land in Massachusetts from his aunt for $50,000. While poking around the property, he found stone ledges in the ground. Now he's sitting not on a gold mine but a quarry that could yield more than $2 billion worth of rocks.

"I'm just a small-town guy trying to get to the big leagues," the left-hander said. "It's beyond comprehension."

Food and drink were assuredly on the menu in sports this year.

The English soccer power Chelsea warned that fans could be barred from games if they persist in throwing celery on the field. The fans have been singing obscene songs about celery for years, but club officials had enough once the veggies went airborne.

For Jonathan Papelbon's bulldog, the cuisine of choice was rawhide. The Red Sox closer had the ball from the last out of the World Series in his Mississippi home. Then Boss got hold of it.

"He tore that thing to pieces," Papelbon told the Hattiesburg American . "Nobody knows that. I'll keep what's left of it."

As for the drink, a Nebraska veterinarian was accused of injecting horses with vodka before races at Fonner Park. The charges were dropped, and all that was left unclear was whether the horses preferred the vodka with tonic and lime.

Elsewhere in the judicial system, Mike Tyson served a one-day sentence in Arizona for DUI. The former heavyweight champion ate sloppy joes and read the book American Gangster .

And in 2007 there was a lesson to be learned about perseverance in the face of utter defeat.

At the Asian Winter Games, Kazakhstan beat Thailand, 52-1, in ice hockey. Until the Thais scored in the third period, their highlight came when defenseman Terani Harnarujchai checked a linesman into the boards. Thailand coach Michael Rolanti assessed the wreckage and took heart.

"I think it was a good game for us," he said, "because we did not give up."

Year devoid of rhyme and reason

This was one crazy year. Where to begin?

Whatever the game just no way to win.

Each turn in the road brought trouble again

like some wreck on the course at Watkins Glen.

Sports found itself at one sorry junction:

Look left, there's doping; look right, dysfunction.

Then look straight ahead and what is in sight?

Some drunken linemen in a strip club fight.

Baseball? That's steroids, and what have you got?

George Mitchell batting in the cleanup spot.

His report said baseball failed to get it.

He then named names like Clemens and Pettitte.

Football? More reruns of Law & Order ,

complete with videotape recorder,

and Vick scrambling far, far from the pocket --

out of the game, now part of the docket.

Hoops? David Stern playing Eliot Ness.

Cycling? One vast pharmaceutical mess.

Tennis? A backhand, a slice and a lob,

with whispers of fixes, ties to the mob.

Justice? Well, there's one that's thrown for a loss,

if Duke is the school and the game's lacrosse.

NASCAR? Old-fashioned family trauma:

Junior and stepmom, a psychodrama.

Pacman and Marion? Please hold the groans.

Not a good year to keep up with a Jones.

Bonds tied Aaron with one of his rockets.

Selig scowled, kept his hands in his pockets.

His grimace suggested infected gums

or stones in his kidneys, screws on his thumbs.

This was no glorious baseball summer.

(The home run ball was caught by a plumber.)

Then Bonds headed home while Selig had fled.

Bonds took a swing, put the record to bed.

A blessing by Aaron graced scoreboard screens.

(This ball was caught by a Mets fan from Queens.)

Three months later comes the real excitement:

Bonds is hit with a five-count indictment.

How fast it all went at the Tour de Floyd,

from champagne in Paris to null and void.

Stripped of his title, denied on appeal,

Floyd Landis insists he got a raw deal.

He railed at the lab; he called this a smear.

He talked and he talked. This lasted all year.

I'm clean, he declared, just let me explain:

I'm not shooting smack or snorting cocaine.

Why tests revealed a positive sample?

Can't say for sure, but here's an example:

Check my testosterone -- naturally high.

Or lack of hydration -- that could be why.

Or maybe Jack Daniel's? Maybe a beer?

A cortisone shot? It's all so unclear.

Something I ate? Or something I sipped on?

Or gamma rays from the planet Krypton?

This sports year, no question, came at a cost,

but don't write it off as hopelessly lost.

Forget the courts and the litigators --

make a case for the Gators,

and maybe it's time to negotiate

for Gardner-Webb and Appalachian State.

Or advocate for Roger Federer:

On he goes, betterer and betterer.

And for a little pleasant diversion,

let's turn to LeBron (the King James version)

or catch the singular Dirk Nowitzki,

polysyllabic Troy Tulowitzki,

with Dungy and Manning coming up big,

while Papelbon whirls to an Irish jig.

Hello, David Beckham; bye, Brian Leetch.

Nice work, Phil Mickelson, at Pebble Beach.

Looking for grace when the game's getting rough?

The Rutgers women are more than enough.

Or looking for heart and power and speed?

There goes Barbaro, a most noble steed.

The track is all clear and the day grows late.

Now the call to the post: 2008.


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