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Moth caper tops year's oddities; Insects, animals led to chaotic scenes

Who knows what lurks in the night air? Sometimes just a flutter, and everything changes.

Matt Holliday was out in left field one August night in St. Louis. He already had enough to handle -- slashing line drives, the glare of the lights, the crowd. It never occurred to him that what he really needed was a screen porch.

For in the eighth inning of that game against the Dodgers, a moth flew deep inside his right ear. He walked off the field with the trainer, his hand pressed to his ear. Holliday had been on the disabled list twice this season with an appendectomy and injured thigh. This was new territory.

The question then was how to extract the little bugger. Two trainers and a team physician -- Is there an entomologist in the house? -- tried at first to outfox the moth. They darkened the room and hoped the critter would simply fly away. When that failed, they brought out the heavy artillery -- some tweezers -- and the moth was no more.

"He died overflowed of wisdom inside my head," Holliday said.

In a sports year that at times seemed like an unremitting stream of labor discord and troubling news across college campuses, the Tale of the Moth was a flittering and welcome change of pace.

It also recalled a playoff game in Cleveland four years ago when a swarm of midges enjoyed a fleshy banquet on the ample jowls of Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain.

The midges, however, were considerate enough to just park themselves on the surface of Chamberlain's skin. The moth had the temerity to enter an open portal.

"That was my concern," Holliday said. "That it would eat through my brain."

His brain was fine, and so were the Cardinals, who went on win the World Series -- Clydesdales high-stepping in triumph, with no sightings of moths.

But the moth, or one of its brethren, was not done making mischief.

Later that month in Boston, the Yankees' Phil Hughes was delivering a 3-2 pitch when a moth flew into his eye. The batter walked, leading to a big inning and a Boston victory. New York manager Joe Girardi understood that forces of nature were beyond his control.

"You can't stop it and get a redo," he said.

And there was more to the animal kingdom-and-sports theme in 2011 than moths in flight.

Belgian racing pigeons were swooped up for as much as $200,000 a bird by Chinese buyers. Paul the Octopus, the creature from the deep who predicted scores from soccer's 2010 World Cup, was memorialized in a German aquarium. And Danish cyclist Martin Lind was soaring at almost 40 mph in a race in Italy when he smacked into a herd of cattle that wandered on the course.

Mistakes, mishaps and misdeeds of all kinds abounded this year.

The Real Madrid soccer team finally won back the Copa del Rey trophy after 18 years, only for it to be dropped by defender Sergio Ramos and crushed under a bus. And there was no save by Ajax goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, who mishandled the Dutch league trophy that toppled from the top of a bus in Amsterdam.

Or consider the botched travel arrangements at hockey's world championships. The French team was booked for a flight to Poland. Only one problem: It was supposed to go to Slovakia.

Plans also went awry for Jakub Maly, who was training in Florida with the Austrian Olympic swim team. On a day off at the beach, he dug a huge hole and thought it fun to jump in. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that the sand collapsed, and 60 rescuers needed to extricate him.

Interment, apparently, was all the rage. A junior varsity football coach from Marcellus, N.Y., had an inspirational moment. He decided after a loss to stop the team bus and have his players lie between rows of graves in a cemetery. He was soon suspended.

But no one had a monopoly on bad judgment. At a low-level soccer game in England, a player tackled a streaker dashing around the field in a thong. The referee, however, chose to eject the player for attacking the intruder.

Sports went through an identity crisis of sorts this year. Names, in all their infinite variety, were front and center.

Ron Artest of the Lakers legally changed his name to Metta World Peace. (Metta is a Buddhist term for expansive love.) And maybe someday he can team in the frontcourt with former Erie Community College player God's Gift Achiuwa. The Nigerian player joined the St. John's team this season. Among the siblings of this minister's son are Promise and God's Will.

A celebrity boxing match in Florida was scrapped when former slugger Jose Canseco was accused of trying to pull a fast one -- having twin brother Ozzie fight in his place.

Edmonton Oilers center Gilbert Brule had no idea what was in store when he picked up a hitchhiker in British Columbia. Turned out it was Bono. The rock star -- yes, he was actually thumbing a ride -- thanked Brule by giving him and his girlfriend backstage passes for a U2 concert. The couple did have other plans, but quickly got rid of their tickets for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.

"We go to walk our dog and Bono ends up in our car," Brule told the Edmonton Journal.

Politics proved as confounding as anything in sports this year.

Two soccer players in Iran were suspended for squeezing teammates in an "immoral" goal-scoring celebration, according to Iranian TV.

But what to make of the Iran-George Steinbrenner connection? In a leaked U.S. cable discussing the Iranian president's involvement with the national soccer team, an American diplomat called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the "George Steinbrenner of Iran." The name of the late Yankees' owner name appeared among Wikileaks documents.

"I think that's a ridiculous comparison," son and Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner told The Associated Press. "Obviously, it was very inappropriate."