April 13, 2004
Suddenly, they star: sports trio
Perhaps we Americans read too much into sporting events, hoping to connect with players and teams that have only a tenuous connection to us and our lives. No wonder we are so often disappointed by these misbehaving millionaires.
In this age of cynicism, it's rare when the world of pro sports can actually lift our spirits.
But on this past weekend, we witnessed three athletes overcome great obstacles to achieve sublime moments. Consider:
- Golfer Phil Mickelson had made 46 previous attempts to win a major tournament. He was 0 for 46 in that run, and had inherited the dubious distinction of being the best player never to win a major. They say he wasn't cautious enough, that he played too aggresively to protect a lead.
That changed in a most dramatic way Sunday at Augusta, when Mickelson fired off five birdies en route to a 31 on the last nine holes of the Masters. The last birdie came on the last shot of the tournament, an 18-foot downhill putt that took a clockwise spin around the cup before dropping in. He won by being true to himself – going for broke.
The Masters' green jacket is now Mickelson's, replacing the monkey that had hung on his back his entire career.
- Meanwhile Sunday, at Yankee Stadium, a new phenom was emerging. A kid just off the minor league bus was having a sensational day at Yankee Stadium. His unlikely name: Bubba Crosby, the latest cult hero at the House That Ruth Built.
He made a circus catch by crashing into the center-field wall in the third inning, then stroked a Mantle-esque home run off the facade in right field in the fourth inning. The three-run tape-measure blast helped lead the Yankees to victory.
He makes just over $300,000 a year, chump change in the Yankee clubhouse, and he may not even stay with the big club. But he gets dirty in the field and wears his socks high like an old-timer. He plays the game for the reasons fans still watch it – because he and they love it, and both need each other. The national pastime needs more players like Bubba Crosby.
- When it comes to playing the game for fun, Tapit even has Bubba trumped.
Tapit is a gray 3-year-old colt who doesn't get to cash paychecks. Just a month ago, Tapit came out of the Florida Derby suffering from a severe lung infection. He fought his way back to health and started in Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby. Tapit broke from the gate and fell behind the entire field. He was 20 lengths behind the leaders when he made his move.
And he never quit, circling the field and running down the leaders to win it at the wire. He'll be a co-favorite in the Run for the Roses May 1.
All three athletes provided a reminder that sports can still elevate our spirit. It's the unlikely achievement that perches on our shoulder, telling each of us we can achieve what we have never done before.