Grit is Good
The Memphis sports landscape continues to glow, particularly on the hardwood.
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Following the club’s first losing season in five years (57-87 in 2012), the Memphis Redbirds were infused with four prospects ranked among the top 100 in minor-league baseball by Baseball America: outfielder Oscar Taveras (#3), pitchers Carlos Martinez (#38) and Michael Wacha (#76), and second baseman Kolten Wong (#84). After setting a single-season franchise record for strikeouts (160) in 2012 with Memphis, Shelby Miller found himself locked into the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals rotation and vying for Rookie of the Year consideration. All of which now have the Cardinals’ farm system atop those same Baseball America rankings.
Injuries and struggles among Cardinal pitchers resulted in no fewer than eight Redbird pitchers making their big-league debuts over the first three months of the 2013 campaign. One of those hurlers, John Gast, opened the season in Memphis with 32 consecutive scoreless innings, a franchise record that should last a while. (Wacha won his first game for the Cardinals three weeks before his 22nd birthday.) Down on the farm, Taveras suffered an ankle injury in mid-May that lingered well into the summer and kept him from putting up the kind of numbers that earned him Texas League Player of the Year honors in 2012. Wong was a consistent presence at the top of the Redbirds order, with a .316 batting average and six triples at the end of June.
With veteran first baseman Brock Peterson leading the Pacific Coast League in home runs (19), the Redbirds were contending for their division lead after three months of the season, though hovering around the .500 mark. If Martinez and Wacha remain in the rotation for the balance of the season, Memphis could return to the PCL playoffs for the first time since 2010. In other words, a healthy St. Louis Cardinals rotation means a healthy Memphis pennant race.
University of Memphis football under rookie coach Justin Fuente began in much the same way it ended under former coach Larry Porter. Nine games into Fuente’s first season on the sideline at the Liberty Bowl, the Tigers sported a record of 1-8 with blowout losses to programs that hardly awaken echoes: 41-7 at East Carolina, 44-13 at SMU. But over the team’s final three games as members of Conference USA, a long-suffering program turned the tables, demolishing Tulane (37-23), UAB (46-9), and Southern Miss (42-24) to finish the 2012 season 4-8 (one win shy of the total over the three previous seasons).
Among the Tigers returning to help build on the progress will be quarterback Jacob Karam, running back Brandon Hayes (577 yards as a junior), and a pair of defensive linemen with all-conference potential: Johnnie Farms and Martin Ifedi.
The Tigers will play seven home games this fall: Duke (Sept. 7), Arkansas State (Sept. 21), UCF (Oct. 5), SMU (Oct. 19), Cincinnati (Oct. 30), UT-Martin (Nov. 9), Temple (Nov. 30).