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Time for a break

Lots of friends have been asking me what I'll do now that the baseball season has ended, and according to my whimsy, my answers have ranged from the down-at-the-heels affectation "prepare for the inner dirt track meet at Aqueduct" to the pseudo-intellectual "read a lot of Ha Jin." I have reminded everyone to listen to as much Graham Smith as they can stomach; eventually, it will sink in.

But baseball is still on the brain. Some quick notes, channeling Larry King, on the few hot stove jigs thus far:

• Mike Hargrove inherits an impossible position in Seattle: aging team in desperate need of pruning, tough division, no immediate prospects. Happily, his time in Baltimore has accustomed him to fourth place.

• Charlie Manuel will do well in Philadelphia, strictly because he's a necessary change of pace from the irrepressible, and finally intolerable Larry Bowa. In players like Jim Thome, Manuel has de facto managers in the clubhouse, a situation that suits his laissez-faire style.

• Can it really be true that Willie Randolph is the first non-white manager of either the Mets or Yankees? About freakin' time.

• Carlos Beltran deserves every penny he bleeds from the Yankees, Astros or, perhaps, Cubs; anyone who watched him tower over every aspect of the National League playoffs concedes this. The question: how soon will his contract, like that of Bernie Williams or Manny Ramirez, obsolesce?

Alas, I am undertaking one project fundamentally important to my mental health, a cleansing, if you will: I am purging my brain of all sports other than baseball -- going cold turkey.

This plan emerged only recently. I intended to give the NBA a chance, even sat down to watch the Knicks, my high-school sweetheart of a team, play their opener against Minnesota on Wednesday, but once I realized I'd be watching Nazr Mohammed and Tim Thomas, I bailed. And when I say "high school sweetheart," I mean, "pretty girl who never gave me the time of day," sort of like Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. All promise, no payoff. (Commiserating with old pal and future Supreme Court justice Jamal Greene the other day, we concluded the Knickerbockers lost their souls when they lost Charles Oakley.)

And more, on Thursday: I had soft-committed to the Heat-Cavaliers game on TNT, but as luck would have it, I tuned in at precisely the moment Shaq was subbed out for Michael Doleac. And then I realized that Survivor: Vanuatu was on, so my mind was made up.

I'll lie fallow for a winter; think of it not as an abdication, but more as the pause that refreshes. My priorities have been totally disrupted by eight-and-a-half months of baseball. I, like everyone else following the game, have become enslaved by the thousand miniature dramas of the season (Who will be the White Sox's fifth starter? had begun to assume the same urgency as How will the Israeli Parliament vote on Gaza?), and making the same emotional investment in, say, pro basketball (Without Shaq, whither the triangle? Without Daschle, whither Senate Dems?), would take me through the looking-glass, into an inverse psychic space where the trivial eclipses all else. No mas.

Who is Terrell Owens, anyway?