- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Like Jamie Moyer, Peter Parker, the Rolling Stones and the Houston Astros, I turned 50 years old in 2012. While I did not make history by becoming the oldest man to ever win a major league game, nor have another movie about my spider powers released, nor play a world concert tour, I feel reasonably certain I did enjoy this year more than Astros fans.
Actually, I did achieve a baseball record of sorts by setting a new low for sportswriter attire, which as anyone who has ever been in a major league press box can tell you, that is slipping under the absolute lowest of limbo bars.
I managed this accomplishment after an editor called me while I was on a bike ride to inform me that White Sox pitcher Philip Humber had a perfect game heading into the ninth inning against the Mariners. I didn’t have a credential, a notebook or even a pen, but a perfect game is a perfect game, so I raced to Safeco Field on my bike. I arrived just as Humber retired the final batter, fought my way through the crowd, worked my way to the clubhouse and interviewed the players in my sweaty Lycra bike shorts and bike jersey.
"That’s a good look," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.
Fortunately, there are no photos of this moment, perhaps the most embarrassing of my career other than nearly bouncing the ceremonial first pitch to the backstop before a Twins game.
Unfortunately, there are photos of me wearing even less.
I posed for that photo this summer for a series of pictures spoofing famous athlete body shots for espnW’s Body Issue. Rod Mar snapped the pictures, and in addition to paying for the photo session, ESPN should cover the cost for his ongoing post-traumatic stress counseling.
My favorite photo of that session was this one sending up the Sports Illustrated cover of Michael Phelps wearing his eight gold medals from Beijing.
We took that photo in June. Had we waited until August, we would have added several more donuts to reflect Phelps’ 2012 Olympics, in which he won four more gold medals and two silvers. The extra donuts also would have covered more of my pasty body.
The London Games were the 10th Olympics I’ve covered and among the most memorable. Along with seeing Phelps swim as if he had gills, I watched a 15-year-old girl fly, a man without legs run -- “I didn’t grow up thinking I had a disability," South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius said. “I grew up thinking I had different shoes" -- and, in perhaps the most amazing sight of all, history’s fastest man finish off another gold-medal sprint with a set of push-ups.
“That was for my friends," Usain Bolt said of the push-ups after his 200-meter victory. “They told me I should do push-ups because it would look good on TV."
How magical were the stories in London? Within earshot of Big Ben, Kerri Walsh Jennings won her third gold medal with Misty May-Treanor in beach volleyball while SHE WAS PREGNANT! Top that, Michael.
My favorite Olympic moment, however, was at the women’s cycling team pursuit.
As part of an interview in March, I went on a 20-mile ride with American cyclist Dotsie Bausch while listening to her extraordinary story. She is 39, worked as a runway model in New York, suffered through an eating disorder so severe her hair fell out and her 5-foot-9 body wasted to 90 pounds and eventually grew so depressed she tried to commit suicide. Yet Bausch found new life on a bicycle. More than a decade later, she and her teammates won silver at the Olympics. Moments after the silver medal was slipped around her neck, the velodrome speakers played “Hey Jude" while the camera focused on Paul McCartney, who joined the crowd in a spirited sing-along.
“This is completely surreal," Bausch told me minutes later. “I keep waiting for someone to pinch me."
I didn't do anything that amazing, but the Olympics did inspire me enough to run the marathon route, though I’m not sure the official course included ducking into the Blackfriar pub for a pint.
No major birthday anniversary is complete without checking off an item on your bucket list, and I did so by flying to Europe for the Olympics early so I could ride a bike up Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps. I am proud to say that not only did I reach the top of cycling’s iconic 14-kilometer, 3,700-foot climb in 1 hour, 18 minutes -- I absolutely soared past a man towing his infant in a baby trailer -- but the road was too steep for my wife’s rental car, which broke down after less than five kilometers.
My most memorable ride, however, was on a hot August afternoon in Montenegro on an extended post-Olympic trip. My wife and I were driving our rental car up a steep, winding road that rises several thousand feet feet above the Bay of Kotor. I had just told my wife I wanted to rent a bike and ride up this spectacular road the next day when we came across two cyclists at a viewpoint.
Their names were Sigi and Yuri and they were biking from Germany to Greece but Sigi had come down with food poisoning in Kotor the night before. He couldn’t finish the ride up the mountain side and was begging passing motorists for a ride. Either the motorists had no room for a bike in their car or had no interest in picking up two sweating bikers.
When Sigi asked whether we could give him a ride, I asked whether I could ride his bike while my wife drove him to the top. He immediately hopped in the car and I soon pedaled off with Yuri for one of the most beautiful, rewarding rides of my life. And we all made two new friends.
I still marvel at this amazing coincidence. What are the odds that a guy desperate to ride a bike up a mountain would come across a cyclist desperate for a car ride up that same mountain?
Riding up those mountains, however, pales in comparison to R.A. Dickey’s feat of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro back in January. Dickey majored in English at Tennessee and said he had wanted to climb the mountain ever since reading Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro."
He referenced a different book when we talked about the climb shortly after his return from Africa.
“The metaphor I used was I felt like Bilbo Baggins when he went up the Lonely Mountain," Dickey said. “I finally experienced what a hobbit felt. If you can do that at any point in your life, you’re doing pretty well."
Forget LeBron James, Phelps or anyone else; Dickey was the athlete of the year. Along with climbing Kilimanjaro, he had a brutally honest memoir, “Wherever I Wind Up," that became a national best seller, pitched in the All-Star Game, won 20 games and was awarded the Cy Young Award. Never mind “The Hobbit" -- Peter Jackson should make a movie about Dickey’s career.
The Mets traded Dickey to Toronto two weeks ago, which is just one more reason why I think I had a better year than the Mets, which were also born in 1962.
I am 50 years old, and I’ve now spent more than half that life writing about sports. Why devote so many years to writing about men and women running around in ridiculous clothing while chasing balls? That’s easy. Because athletes like Dickey, Bausch, Phelps and so many more keep me amazed, smiling, inspired and, most importantly of all, feeling young.
After all, Moyer still hasn’t officially retired.