Spring training is for the old and the old at heart, for folks
who like things the way they were. The rich men in plaid sport
coats who used to own baseball teams understood this. Today a
go-go crowd runs the pastime, and the short season is changing
fast. For now, you can still play shuffleboard at Dodgertown, in
Vero Beach, Fla., the baseball oasis where the Dodgers have been
camping for 50 years. Who knows about tomorrow.
In Florida, where the state bird is the early bird, four teams
have moved to new digs, new complexes, this year. There's also
an expansion team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, making its debut in
the Grapefruit League. On top of that the Chicago White Sox this
year have departed Sarasota, Fla., for Tucson, winter home of
their owner, Jerry Reinsdorf. In other news from the Cactus
League, the Milwaukee Brewers have vacated their old house in
Chandler, Ariz., for a newer and shinier facility, and another
expansion team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, has joined the fold.
With all the moves this spring the Lords, wandering the deserts
in search of better leases, have made it obvious that even
preseason baseball is about revenue streams. See that cluster of
nice ladies on the first base side, holding up team umbrellas to
protect themselves from the midday sun? PROFIT CENTER.
Out with the old, that's baseball's new motto. For the past 17
years the Atlanta Braves and the Montreal Expos shared a
pleasant little ballpark called Municipal Stadium, in an actual
city, West Palm Beach, Fla. To be candid, nobody confused the
park for paradise. The water pressure in the visiting clubhouse
was NOT EXCELLENT. Contiguous to the stadium there were NO GOLF
COURSES. Some neighborhoods near the stadium were POPULATED BY
POOR PEOPLE. This year, the Expos went tony, moving 12 miles up
the road to Jupiter, where Burt Reynolds lives part time. The
Braves went mass-market, off to Disney World, where Goofy lives
By the end of last week all players were supposed to be at their
workstations--if they could find them. Old baseball fans were
similarly disoriented. On U.S. 1 in South Florida and on Country
Club Road in Tucson there were pilgrims in rental cars, fighting
the creases of their maps and muttering, "Got to be around here
The owners' assumption, of course, is that the fans of spring,
those codgers with nothing better to do, will always find their
way to the park, wherever it is. The map of spring training is
not sacred, but it is familiar. Change it too much, and you
alienate some of the game's most ardent fans. They're too polite
to revolt. Instead, they'll just disappear, stuck forever on a
suburban traffic circle somewhere, unable to find their exit.
Harry Caray (?-1998)
THE PARTY'S OVER
The time was five o'clock in the morning. The bars had closed in
Chicago. There was no more beer. This seemed to be a great
The two sportswriters from Boston and New York--O.K., I was the
one from Boston--stepped onto Rush Street, resigned to their
fate, ready for the sad walk back to their hotel. A small
miracle occurred. Harry Caray appeared.
Caray, the longtime Chicago Cubs announcer and Windy City
baseball institution who died last week at age 77 (or something
reasonably close to it; Harry was always coy about his age), was
surrounded by a group of 15, maybe 20 people who were acolytes,
fans, hangers-on, bystanders. He moved down the street as if he
were the Pope on a late-night mission to save late-night souls.
He talked in that loud and emphatic way of his, and the acolytes
talked back. There was a glow around the entire group.
"Harry," said the New York sportswriter, "is there any place
where we can get another beer?"
"No problem," Harry boomed. "Follow me."
We became part of the group. People joined. People left. We were
Harry's happy late-night congregation. Cabdrivers honked their
horns at Harry, at us. People waved and shouted. Harry shouted
back. We arrived at a bar on Rush, a few blocks from where we
started. Harry rapped on the window. The place was obviously
closed: waiters and waitresses mopping the floor, stools on top
of the bar. The owner came to the window to see the source of
the rapping. His face lit up like a Budweiser sign.
"Howyadoin'!" Harry shouted through the plate glass. "Any chance
of getting a beer here?"
The owner's smile grew larger. He hurried with the locks. He
motioned for a waitress to take some stools off the bar. He
opened the door as if this were his first day of business. Harry
pushed the two sportswriters inside.
"Have a good time," Harry said. "See you tomorrow." And he left.
With the acolytes. With the fans. With the excitement.
The owner's smile disappeared. He took the two sportswriters to
the bar, opened two beers and returned to work without saying a
word. The two sportswriters drank their beers in silence as the
waiters and waitresses continued to mop and the room filled with
the smell of disinfectant. Five minutes later, beers unfinished,
the sportswriters quietly left, nodding to the owner on the way
The feeling was a bit like the feeling now--Harry Caray, dead
this week. The night was not as much fun any more. The brass
band had moved along to someplace else. --Leigh Montville
Nolan the Greek
A RAZORBACK TALKS HOGWASH
Given the chance to put sneaker in mouth last week, Arkansas
basketball coach Nolan Richardson was up to the challenge. Asked
to describe the lackluster play of forward Sunday Adebayo,
Richardson had a simple, albeit unenlightened, explanation: "He
got married. He's not as aggressive and as hungry as he used to
A few days earlier, during an SEC coaches' teleconference,
Richardson offered the opinion that the SEC is blessed with
outstanding athletes. Pressed to theorize on exactly why,
Richardson said, "Let's face it. Where did most of the slave
ships stop? In the South." His remarks conjured up those made a
decade ago by Jimmy (the Greek) Snyder, whose ruminations on
genetics and American slavery ("The slave owner would breed his
big black with his big woman so he would have a big black kid")
got him canned from his job as a CBS prognosticator.
Richardson is married and black. Maybe that's why there wasn't
much reaction to his remarks. But he's also a guy who has
groused that racism has prevented him from getting the
professional respect he deserves.
The Olympics' Cruel Side
IT'S ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL
There's no swifter path from near fame to anonymity than to
arrive at the Olympics as an American gold medal hope and to
leave with something less than gold. Three days before the flame
was extinguished on Sunday in Nagano, 22-year-old U.S. slalom
skier Kristina (Koz) Koznick failed to deliver her anticipated
victory--she didn't come close, finishing ninth in the first of
two runs and missing a gate while trying to make up time on the
second--and thus will disappear for at least four years. By
March, the only Koz (or Cos) on anyone's radar screen will be
To U!S!A! U!S!A! fans, the Games have become nothing more than a
cruel star- and story-making machine. The pattern is
predictable: Athlete is introduced to the public--up close and
personal--wins gold medal, celebrates in front of the nation and
gets to do motivational talks and sports-drink ads. The athlete
who doesn't win is forgotten more quickly than Hammer.
It's not just that the Olympian who comes up short loses out on
financial opportunities. It's that the athlete's lifetime of
achievement is demeaned by a single day's failure. Dan Jansen
was the best male sprint speed skater in history, and people
made jokes about him because he kept slipping at the Games.
Given the tiny period of time in which an athlete must be
healthy and in peak form to earn Olympic gold, it's silly to
assume that the best athlete always wins at the Games; indeed,
reaching the Olympics as an odds-on favorite can be as
substantial an achievement as winning a gold medal.
Koznick has endured knee surgery, frostbitten toes and chronic
back pain to be among the best in the world. A Koz victory in
Nagano would have been a great story, but instead Koznick became
a nonstory, just another loser left clinging to her father as
tears rolled down her cheeks. "Kris was 10 years old when she
told me she wanted to go to the Olympics," said Koznick's
mother, Mary Jane Steneman. "I said, 'Well, somebody has to. Why
So all you kids out there, go for it. Bring home that gold. Or
don't come back.
Byline for the Ages
FRED RUSSELL'S BANNER CAREER
With the folding of the Nashville Banner last Friday,
sportswriting's most enduring byline has relocated. Fred
Russell, 91, who had spent his entire journalistic career--68
years--at the Banner, will take his once-a-week "Sidelines"
column to Nashville's morning paper, The Tennessean.
Talk about a guy who has seen it all. At spring training one
morning in the 1930s Russell interviewed Babe Ruth as Ruth
played bridge with Lou Gehrig. He helped an unknown football
coach he had befriended--a fellow named Paul Bryant--get an
assistant's job at Vanderbilt in '40. At a '54 party honoring
Russell for 25 years of service at the Banner the revelers
included Jack Dempsey, Red Grange and Bobby Jones. When
Tennessee-born Wilma Rudolph died in '94, Russell, who had
chronicled much of her career, including her Olympic triumphs in
'60, delivered a eulogy at her funeral.
Russell's last column appeared on Feb. 19, hammered out, as
usual, on his gray Royal manual typewriter. At the end of the
column Russell wrote this succinct farewell: "Today marks my
last column. Thanks for the memories." Russell's first column at
The Tennessean will appear on April 2.
"One of the luckiest things that can happen to a fellow is to
write sports," Russell once said. Sports is lucky to still have
Gauging the Waves
HE CALLS 'EM AND RIDES 'EM
Twenty years ago surf bums like Sean Collins had to get lucky to
catch the perfect wave. "Surf forecasting was like black magic,"
says Collins, now 45 and still chasing the big ones. So Collins
decided to make some magic of his own. He surveyed maritime
charts, culled ham-radio weather reports and slowly assembled a
mental map of distant seas. On trips to Baja California in the
early 1980s, he would string antenna wire over the cactus, print
satellite weather photos on his truck-mounted, first-generation
fax machine and tell his buddies which beach to hit the next day.
Today he is the world's leading surfcaster, the co-owner (along
with Jerry Arnold who is based in Melbourne, Fla.) of
Surfline/Wavetrak, a phone and fax service that reaches 1.5
million surfers a year. From his high-tech seaside headquarters
in Huntington Beach, Calif., Collins presides over a Web site
(www.surfline.com) that each month spits out 1.5 million pages
of forecasts, surfing news and killer photos. He and his five
meteorologists provide predictions to makers of surf films
(Point Break, Endless Summer II), surf-mad Hollywood types like
ER's Anthony Edwards and X-Files creator Chris Carter, and ad
execs for Nike and Anheuser-Busch (who call when they need tasty
waves for a commercial) as well as the general public.
Collins also advises many of the world's top big-wave riders, a
fraternity of maniacs who chase the 40- and 50-foot monsters.
His forecasting turned tragic three years ago when he told
Hawaiian big-wave man Mark Foo of a huge swell headed for Half
Moon Bay, Calif. Foo flew east, took on the waves of Pillar
Point and drowned. These days Collins makes a point to alert
lifeguards and public-works officials to storms that might bring
danger to their shores.
"I still get stoked for this job," says Collins, "but I really
enjoy my off days, because I only take a day off when I know the
surf will be great. There's nothing like going out and riding
Six Degrees of Success
LIKE A STORY FROM A MOVIE
In The Air Up There, a 1994 basketball flick starring Kevin
Bacon, a 6'9" Kenyan student named Charles Gitonga Maina played
Saleh, a member of the fictional Winabi tribe, who, when not
participating in odd tribal rituals, dunks with enough authority
to attract the interest of a college coach. The film wasn't
nearly as fascinating as Maina's real-life saga.
Now a junior center at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.,
Maina, 24, has led the Knights to a 21-6 record and probably a
spot in the Division II tournament. At week's end he was
averaging 11.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game.
Growing up in Nairobi, Maina played no organized basketball and
participated in only a few pickup games. On a lark one day, he
attended an Air audition during which talent scouts asked him to
dribble and shoot. "I was awkward and not very good," says
Maina. But he was good enough for director Paul Michael Glaser,
who offered him a role. For six months Maina worked on the film
and on his game, the latter with NBA great Bob McAdoo, the
movie's technical adviser.
With McAdoo's help Maina found his way to the States, playing at
Barton County College in Great Bend, Kans., and Miami-Dade
Community College before arriving at Lynn. "Charlie's one of the
best shot blockers I've ever seen," says Lynn coach Jeff Price,
"and he runs like a guard."
Maina hasn't decided whether he'd rather be the next Mutombo or
the next Brando. "I love the excitement, when you go out there
and work hard and sweat," says Maina. "I've found that in both
College Name War
O-NYMOSITY IN OHIO
Three years after Ohio University, located in Athens, registered
Ohio as an official trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark
Office, Ohio State filed a petition with that agency, saying
that Ohio shouldn't belong to any individual entity. The
recently-filed suit has little to do with on-the-field
competition since the Bobcats (enrollment 18,000) rarely face
the Buckeyes (enrollment 52,000). Rather, it has to do
Ohio State is being deprived of marketing opportunities because,
as it now stands, only Ohio University can use just plain Ohio
on uniforms and apparel. Granted, Ohio State still pulls in
about $2 million per year in trademark licensing revenue, some
$1.9 million more than Ohio University. But allowing anyone to
trademark Ohio, claims the Big Ten school, is wrong.
The smaller school has precedent on its side. Ohio U, founded in
1804, has been referred to as Ohio from the beginning. The
Columbus school (established in 1870) was first known as Ohio
Agricultural and Mechanical College and recognized as Ohio State
only after it was renamed as such in 1878. Further, schools such
as Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania have all registered names
without complaint from in-state rivals.
Ohio State also opposes Ohio's application to register a logo
that features an attacking Bobcat and a green and white Ohio.
Ohio University's compromise--that Ohio State can keep the name
Ohio Stadium and continue to perform the Script Ohio, its
renowned marching band formation--was turned down.
Ohio State's petition may not be heard for two or three years,
but weep not for the Buckeyes. Among their registered trademarks
are Ohio State, OSU, O' State and, yikes, the letter O.
--That somebody beam up skating commentator Scotty Hamilton so
we never again hear him scream, "TRIPLE LUTZ! DOUBLE TOE LOOP!"
--That Dante Bichette, who came to Rockies camp 44
weight-trained pounds heavier than last season, can lift his
newly buff arms high enough to catch a fly ball.
--That cyclist Lance Armstrong, back in action after a battle
with testicular cancer, gets up to speed in time for the '99
Tour de France.
First picks in NBA drafts (Derrick Coleman, Joe Smith and Allen
Iverson) on the roster of the Philadelphia 76ers, whose .327
winning percentage was the seventh worst in the NBA as of Sunday.
First picks on the rosters of the SuperSonics, Bulls and Jazz,
whose winning percentages were the top three in the NBA.
Pounds of sand in the fraternity-house room of Lehigh's
beach-loving guard Brett Eppehimer, the nation's fourth-leading
Dunks made through Sunday by ninth-ranked Princeton.
Dunks made by Pacific center Michael Olowokandi.
Members of the Florida Marlins World Series championship team
who didn't attend the White House celebration honoring the team.
Members of the Florida Marlins World Series championship team
who are no longer Marlins.
Percentage of black males at Maine (43 of 53) who play
WHICH QUARTERBACK WOULD YOU DRAFT FIRST?
If I'm spending millions on a player to build my franchise
around, I don't want potential; I want reality. Unlike Ryan
Leaf, Manning is a finished product, a grown-up with more
maturity than half the five-year veterans in the NFL. His arm is
nearly as strong as and more accurate than Leaf's, and he has
the quickest release since Dan Marino. I'd give the keys to
Manning and not sweat the quarterback position for 10 years.
OR RYAN LEAF
Give me the linebacker-sized Leaf, who at 6'5", 238 pounds is
more rugged, less susceptible to injury than the 6'5", 222-pound
Manning. Leaf is a better athlete, stronger of arm and more
fiery than Manning. To those who point out that he's also rawer,
I say: So what? No quarterback does squat until he's been in the
league at least three years. And to scouts cautioning that Leaf
is a "free spirit," spare me. You had the same line on Brett
Favre. --Austin Murphy
College hoops junkies took notice last week when the AP poll
underwent another face-lift. Duke regained the top spot after
North Carolina's 86-72 loss to N.C. State last Saturday. But
does all the jockeying during the regular season really matter?
Judging by how teams that finished the regular season ranked No.
1 have fared in the tournament over the last 20 years, being
tops in February isn't much of an omen of ultimate success in
No. 1 teams that won national titles 4
(Kentucky 1978, North Carolina '82, Duke '92, UCLA '95)
No. 1 teams that reached Final Four 11
No. 1 teams ousted by third round 7
National champs that were ranked 2nd 5
National champs ranked 3rd, 4th or 5th 3
National champs not in Top 5 8
Unranked national champs 2
(Villanova 1985, Kansas '88)
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
After the men's hockey team trashed two Olympic Village
apartments, USOC director of public relations Mike Moran said
his organization was "not embarrassed," that he doesn't "know
why we would be embarrassed" and that the USOC cannot be
"baby-sitters for professional athletes."
Fort Worth policeman, on the arrest of an Oklahoma City Blazers
player for using his stick to smash a hole in the goal judge's
booth during a Central Hockey League game: "It was highly
unusual but not unheard of."