Manu Ginobili understood it was a night for basketball, not bats. That's bats as in Dracula, not Louisville Sluggers.
The San Antonio Spurs were at home against the Sacramento Kings on Halloween when the AT&T Center took on the look of a vampire’s cave. A bat let loose from the rafters — or perhaps the darkest chamber of a fan’s soul — began circling the court.
Ginobili, a star guard for the Spurs, had enough. And he didn’t need a clove of garlic or a crucifix. With a looping lunge of his left hand, he knocked the beast out of the air.
Mind you, this was not a creature with the wingspan of Dwight Howard. Ginobili carried the critter off the court in his palm while the crowd roared, the demons of the night denied.
Later – and no Transylvanian count admitted this on his Facebook page – Ginobili said he had to be vaccinated for rabies. He also urged people to “avoid contact with bats, skunks, raccoons, rats and animals like that.”
It was that kind of year in 2009, odd, unaccountable and possibly infectious. Cricket was played at the foot of Mount Everest, and camels raced along the River Thames. Sometimes a bat wandered onto the court. Sometimes a rabbi.
The New York Knicks were playing Maccabi Tel Aviv in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden when the visiting coach was ejected and refused to leave the floor.
Enter Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, with a flowing white beard and looking as if he were about to part the Red Sea. He strode across the court, hoping to quiet the ruckus, and see if coach Pini Gershon could stay in the game. But the rules, as ordained by the high priests of the NBA office, stipulate that Gershon must leave, and thus it came to pass.
Said Grossman: “I tried to make peace.”
Bats were not the only wildlife on the sports stage this year.
Gulls found a home at the Cleveland Indians’ ballpark. Their habitat became a matter of concern to more than ornithologists in June when Shin Soo Choo’s 10th-inning single hit a gull, allowing the winning run to score against Kansas City.
A Padres-Astros game in San Diego in July was delayed in the top of the ninth because of a swarm of bees. A beekeeper was summoned, and few were more thankful than the Padres’ Kyle Blanks. He’s allergic to bees and needed to vacate left field.
And sometimes the intruder on the playing field is a different sort of animal — a human. A women’s team handball coach in Austria resigned after inexplicably crashing into an opposing player to stop a possible score.
Gunnar Prokop, the coach of Hypo Niederoesterreich, said he will “go through this with a psychiatrist. … I still can’t understand why I’ve done this.”
If Prokop was a bit puzzled, imagine the initial response of the International Tennis Federation when its doping tribunal heard French player Richard Gasquet explain his positive drug test.
Gasquet said he ingested cocaine from a woman’s kiss at a Miami nightclub. But as it turned out, the intoxicating kiss defense had legs: Gasquet avoided a long ban, and the tribunal declared him “neither a cheat nor a user of drugs for recreational purposes.”
Not even royalty escaped the scourge of doping this year. A racehorse owned by Queen Elizabeth II failed a drug test after her debut race. And the crown price of Dubai was banned for 10 months after riding a horse that was doped in an endurance race.
Then there were the bodybuilders in Belgium. They were set to display their bulging triceps in a national competition when doping officials showed up. The bodybuilders fled.
“I have never seen anything like it, and hope never to see anything like it again,” doping official Hans Cooman said.
And for those wondering about the best place to store banned drugs, former star Tim Montgomery weighed in with advice from federal prison in Alabama. He told The Times of London he and former partner Marion Jones kept their steroids in the refrigerator, “next to the vegetables.”
The year began and ended with a clear statement on priorities once college football is the matter at hand.
In January, Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida asked that House votes — among them the Electoral College certification of the presidential election — be shifted so Florida and Oklahoma members could attend the BCS title game. Fast forward to December and the Alabama campus: The university called off classes from Jan. 6 to Jan. 8 so students and faculty could go to the national title game against Texas in Pasadena, Calif.
This year was also a very good one for lopsided scores. Eastern Kentucky defeated Kentucky State, 49-1, in the opener of a college baseball doubleheader on April Fools’ Day. The teams stopped after five innings and called off the second game.
That battering might have been relatively close compared to the girls high school basketball game in Texas between The Covenant School and Dallas Academy. Covenant, a private Christian school, showed little mercy (100-0). Later, its conscience stricken, the school sought a forfeit for its “shameful” performance and said “victory without honor is a great loss.”
The wailing extended across the Atlantic to English soccer. Wigan’s players were so humiliated by their 9-1 loss at Tottenham that they offered to refund the cost of tickets to their fans who traveled to the game.
Money also figured in the plans of a Detroit casino that ran a promotion in which Thomas Hearns played tic-tac-toe with a chicken. The former boxing champ, let the record show, won one round against the chicken, the other ending in a draw.
John Daly, slimmed down and thinking big in Australia, had a promotion in mind — himself. He mulled the possibility of a movie about his turbulent life in golf, and thought Matt Damon would be just right to play him. Daly, however, sensed problems elsewhere.
“Who is going to play all the ex-wives?” he asked.
It’s one more question to ponder in 2010, which, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, is the Year of the Tiger.