It’s that time of year for sportswriters. A week after Santa does it, we make a list and check it twice to find out which stories from 2012 were, well, naughty or nice.
Only this time, let’s leave out the naughty. Negativity feels out of place around New Year’s Day. Thus, we’ll stick to the pleasant memories that stood out. A decade from now, the following likely still will bring smiles to the faces of those involved and witnesses thereof.
Carter made his 2009 spring training debut with a series of tape-measure shots into the desert as part of a hitting group that included Matt Holliday, conjuring visions of a two-headed monster in the middle of Oakland’s lineup for years to come.
Nobody knew it would take years for Carter, a powerful, hulking man not blessed with any discernible defensive skills, to “arrive.” But he did, finally, as part of a different two-headed monster, teaming with Brandon Moss (among others) to give the A’s much-needed production out of first base and occasionally DH.
Will Carter remain a force, or did he just catch fire like so many other A’s this year? Nobody knows, but that’s the point. More great drama.
Honorable mention to ... hell, everything else about the 2012 A’s. One of the greatest team stories of this generation.
No subjective list is without bias, and this is no exception. Having known Zito since his rookie season with the A’s, for whom I started a nine-season stint as Oakland’s MLB.com beat writer that very year, I’ve seen him go from winning a Cy Young Award at age 22 to being labeled the biggest free-agent bust in history after age 30.
Throughout his star-crossed career, however, several things remained the same: his work ethic, class and respect for the game — three qualities lacking in many modern athletes.
So it was with great pleasure that I watched him help save San Francisco’s season with that epic performance in Game 5 of the NLCS, then outpitch Tigers ace Justin Verlander to set the tone with a ?Game 1 victory at home in the World Series.
To see Zito swilling Champagne with his teammates in Detroit served as a reminder of why we love sports: unforeseeable drama lurks around every corner.
Honorable mention to Marco Scutaro’s scorching stretch drive, Hunter Pence’s preaching, Sergio Romo’s unmatched and infectious joy, and Matt Cain’s perfect game.
A story strikingly similar to Zito’s was provided by the much-maligned 49ers quarterback as the 2011 season wore on, but it was in January 2012 that Smith delivered his signature moments.
The long touchdown run against the New Orleans Saints, followed by his bullet to Vernon Davis for the game-winning score, were nothing short of inspiring. True, Smith reverted to his pre-2011 days a week later against the New York Giants, but nobody can ever take away that Saints game. It was the game that made it official: the 49ers, after a strange and too-long trip to irrelevancy, were back.
Honorable mention to Aldon Smith’s emergence as a flat-out beast and Colin Kaepernick’s Tom Brady-beating show in New England.
Pick a story line, any story line. It’s probably a juicy one, and it’s probably positive. For so many Bay Area basketball fans, their ungodly patience and loyalty appear to be on the brink of paying dividends in the form of a squad that makes playoff noise year in ?and out.
They are young, they are exciting and they play balls-to-the-wall hard far more often than not. Sure, you could say that about a few of their teams in the recent past, but you couldn’t say this:
They’re winning. Regularly. And they have the respect of the NBA as a whole.
Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to many more great stories in 2013.
Mychael Urban has covered Bay Area sports for more than 22 years as a contributor to Comcast SportsNet, CSNBayArea.com, KNBR, MLB.com, ESPN The Magazine and various newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @BigUrbSports. His website is UrbsUnchained.com.