JOHN RIORDAN: Full moon gives lunatics a sporting chance

A few years ago, a Bantry friend nonchalantly pointed at the full moon as we hurtled towards his hometown and predicted a night of violence, destruction and half-eaten chicken suppers.

Apparently laying in store for us and our humble road trip were streets awash with blood and garlic mayo all courtesy of the malicious lunar cycle. It was ever thus, he swore.

The rest of us were sceptical but he delivered his doomsday prediction with such eerie calm that we gave him the benefit of the doubt and adjusted our smug city slicker attitudes accordingly. After he was inevitably proven somewhat right (it was a notch above the usual fair, there was a palpable edge that night) I decided to place stock in the ability of the moon to gravitationally extricate reason from our minds.

This past week, the full moon has inspired some strange and depressing activity in and around the diverse cast of characters which makes US sport such an astonishingly bountiful tragicomic play.

Not only was it full, it was super. It was closer than normal and athletes and spectators were all a little more unhinged as a result.

Most of us are fortunate enough not to be under a constant spotlight so whatever the moon does to us, it’s probably low key. But if you want it bad enough, you’ll probably get it. Like, for example, the lady in Denver who decided to stumble on to the court during an NBA play-off game between the Nuggets and the LA Lakers on Sunday night, all newborn-foal legs as she halfheartedly called for a pass before being scooped up by security.

It was an absurd attempt at invading the playing surface and it seemed quite comical until the inevitably dark back story emerged: Savannah McMillan-Christmas was of course known to officials at the Nuggets and had been banned for stalking former player Kenyon Martin.

Alcohol is a key ingredient to the eccentricity at Churchill Downs where Saturday’s 138th Kentucky Derby finished dramatically and unexpectedly, the favourite Bodemeister running out of steam after an aggressive start allowing the appropriately named I’ll Have Another to steal in on the final stretch. Around the outside rail, the usual glamour you associate with big horse racing occasions contrasts sharply with the ‘cheap seats’ of the infamous Kentucky Derby Infield where endless supplies of beer and good bourbon wash down mint juleps and champagne impersonators. It’s a heaving mass of humanity, a grand total of 165,000 lubricated souls on either side of the class divide, all of whom have reached breaking point by the time the race gets underway just after 6.30pm.

And as if to add spice to the occasion, Saturday was the Mexican version of St Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, a day when an entire nation is reduced to sombreros and bottles of corona. The winner, incidentally, was ridden by an anonymous young jockey from south of the border, 25-year-old Mario Gutierrez from Veracruz.

As the debris was being cleared away on Sunday, a mysterious turn of events was developing in the stables. The body of a track worker from Guatemala, 48-year-old Adan Fabian Perez, was found just a few barns away from the where the Derby winner was stabled. There were no suspects and no clues.

Much more high profile was the suicide last week of a former NFL star defensive player Junior Seau who shot himself in the chest, sending shockwaves around the game and far beyond. His family have given permission for his brain to be examined and it has obviously re-ignited an intense debate about the future of the game with former quarterback Kurt Warner saying (and then retracting) that he’d be unwilling to allow his children to continue playing the game.

In baseball, meanwhile, the big story of the weekend was not exactly a positive one either. Bryce Harper, a refreshingly arrogant 19-year-old outfielder who was recently promoted to the majors by the Washington Nationals, has taken his elevation to stardom in his stride. Easy for one who featured on the front cover of Sports Illustrated when still a 17-year-old school student.

Of course baseball doesn’t take kindly to upstarts and it fell to Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels to deliver a softener when Harper came up to bat on Sunday.

Hamels purposefully aimed the ball at the young hitter’s back causing his victim to writhe in pain before accepting his compensation, a free walk to first base.

“I was trying to hit him,” Hamels admitted to the media after the game. “Welcome to the big leagues,” he added smiling.

I respect your honesty Mr Hamels. I’m just resolving to steer clear of you next time the full moon brings you and the rest of the lunatics out to play.

* john.w.riordan@gmail.com Twitter: JohnWRiordan


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