THE RITES OF SPRING
The only ones who need preseason training are the fans
As an outfielder with the Yankees in the late 1970s, Lou Piniella
reported to every spring training overweight. One spring New York
owner George Steinbrenner, weary of watching Piniella sweat off
weight in a rubber jacket, hired former Ohio State running back
and 1955 Heisman Trophy winner Hopalong Cassady to whip Piniella
Cassady and Piniella met one morning at an outdoor fitness
course. Piniella was supposed to finish the course in less than
15 minutes. He didn't come close. "You ought to be embarrassed,"
Cassady said. "I'm nine years older than you, and I can finish in
time." Replied Piniella, "Go ahead." Cassady did, and failed.
"Every day after that," Piniella says, "Hop would try to finish
in time and never could. While he was running, I'd be sitting
reading The Wall Street Journal and drinking orange juice. At
least one of us got into shape."
The days when ballplayers were actually expected to train during
spring training are as long gone as dollar beers. For players and
managers, the concept of spring training is an anachronism that
faded around the time of big-cap bullpen carts. Ballplayers
report to camp these days buffed by winter workouts with personal
trainers. Competition for jobs is rare; general managers set the
bulk of their rosters in December. Occasionally a backup catcher
or a fifth starter is anointed in camp, but you don't need six
long weeks for that. Spring training easily could be cut in
half--as it was for one year, 1990, after that winter's lockout.
So why bother playing as many as 33 exhibition games per team?
Money, of course. Baseball has few ventures as successful as
spring training. The Yankees and the Diamondbacks will average
more fans per spring game than the Expos did for regular-season
home games last year. Snowbirds especially dig it. In Fort Myers,
Fla., where the Red Sox encamp, you rarely hear a boo--or an r.
("Get a hit, Nomah!")
Indeed, spring training may be one of the few things that
baseball gets right, which is why the fans don't seem to mind
that owners make a killing off it. Baseball is most idyllic in
March: sun-dappled day games, $10 seats close to the field,
autographs and smiles from ballplayers all come easily. The
humble ballparks don't bombard people with audio and visual
assaults as do major league stadiums. The young and fringe
players, unspoiled by baseball's excesses, hustle. Fans in
Dunedin, Fla., the Blue Jays' winter home, last week gave a
standing ovation to Mendy Lopez, a nonroster player from the
visiting Pirates, for his efforts to escape a rundown.
The more bloated the big leagues get, the more spring training
sparkles with its retro, minor league simplicity. Maybe the
players don't need six weeks of spring training anymore. The rest
of us do. --Tom Verducci
Sunny Retreats: Five Best Places to Watch Exhibition Games
Holman Stadium, Vero Beach, Fla. Roofless dugouts, Dodgertown's
50 years of tradition and an intimate, tree-studded layout.
Nowhere else in Florida comes close.
HoHoKam Park, Mesa, Ariz. Packed with knowledgeable, eternally
hopeful Cubs fans thrilled to be out of the snow.
Dunedin (Fla.) Stadium. The Blue Jays' updated facility still
has old-school charm. Every is seat near the field, and with low
exterior walls, it's the best stadium for catching rays.
Tucson Electric Park. Double your pleasure: Diamondbacks and
White Sox both play home games in this immaculate stadium.
Al Lang Field, St. Petersburg. Don't want to watch the Devil
Rays? Instead, take in the picturesque scene of sailboats
tacking on Tampa Bay beyond leftfield.
Even by boxing's standards, it was an eye-catching publicity
stunt. For his pay-per-view title bout against middleweight
champion Felix Trinidad last September, Bernard Hopkins wore a
temporary tattoo featuring the URL GoldenPalace.com across his
back. The online casino paid Hopkins $100,000 for the ad, which
the casino says has more than paid off in increased hits on its
website. For his part Hopkins says, "I'd put tattoos on my
forehead if they paid me."
Clearly, the final frontier for sports marketers--the human
body--is now open for business. Since its experiment with
Hopkins, GoldenPalace.com has tattooed more than two dozen
boxers with its name. Last spring the Lincoln (Neb.) Lightning,
an Arena Football 2 team, put tattoo logos on the midriffs of
its cheerleaders. Fans are also fair game: In November the Class
A Daytona Cubs announced a promotion in which any fan who got
the team's logo permanently tattooed on his body would receive a
lifetime pass to home games. Also, several unnamed players on
the women's tennis tour have reportedly said they'd be willing
to wear a tattooed endorsement for $1.5 million.
Predictably, tattoo ads have critics. In February the Nevada
Athletic Commission banned the practice, calling it "demeaning to
the sport" and distracting to judges. GoldenPalace.com challenged
the commission, and last week a Nevada District Court ruled in
favor of the casino, saying the ban violated a right to free
speech. The issue has bubbled over in the NBA as well. Last year,
when the Blazers' Rasheed Wallace considered a deal to wear a
temporary tattoo ad, the NBA quickly asserted that players are
prohibited from wearing ads anywhere but on their shoes. Wallace
turned down the ad, not because of the NBA but because, as his
agent, Bill Strickland, put it, it would have "detracted from the
integrity of his current body art."
Tattooed endorsements are likely to become an increasingly
thorny issue. None of the major pro leagues, including the NBA,
specifically addresses them in its regulations, and several
athletes have said they'd consider body art ads. "I'd do it for
the right price," says Heat forward Kendall Gill. "This is a
business. You've got to take advantage of your opportunities."
"Now that we have a legal precedent, we're going to push the
issue even more," says Hopkins's agent, Joe Lear, who's also
negotiating tattoo deals for tennis players, golfers and
racehorse owners. "For example, the side of the horse's neck is
a prime spot." --Albert Chen
Batters struck out by Riverview (Fla.) High junior Beth DiPietro
in a 1-0, 11-inning softball win over Gaither High, a
single-game U.S. high school record.
Length, in minutes, of a Condensed Games video package, which
purports to edit a major league game down to its essential
elements; the service will be produced this season by
RealNetworks and will be available on MLB.com.
Seconds that Major League Baseball has ordered to be shaved off
the 30-second music segments that blared before each at bat last
Minutes that last Friday night's Rockets-Warriors game in
Houston was delayed while a little brown bat buzzed around the
players on the court; a similar bat had swooped down from the
rafters during a Spurs-Warriors game in San Antonio earlier in
Sport? Not a Sport?
THIS WEEK: CELEBRITY BOXING MATCHES
SPORT "They're hitting each other. They climb into a ring and
mix it up." --Justin Hamilton, Florida basketball guard
NOT A SPORT "It's people embarrassing themselves for money."
--John Robinson, UNLV football coach
NOT A SPORT "It makes a mockery of boxing." --Jim Jackson, Heat
NOT A SPORT "Boxing is a sport in which people try to inflict
damage on each other. These people aren't prepared for that. I'm
very concerned." --Marc Ratner, executive director, Nevada
SPORT "The people who are competing in it want to win. They want
to perform well and not embarrass themselves on TV." --Linda
Frohlich, UNLV basketball forward
NOT A SPORT "That's strictly entertainment. It sounds like my
family on vacation." --Tommy Bowden, Clemson football coach
SPORT "I'm going with Tonya Harding [in her fight against Paula
Jones scheduled to air on March 13]. She's more physically fit
and more street. She puts hits out on people." --Eddie Robinson,
NOT A SPORT "But I'd like to have the advertising rights to the
bottoms of Jones's shoes. She might be the only boxer ever to
get knocked out while shadowboxing." --Pat Williams, Magic
senior vice president
NOT A SPORT "But it's going to get great ratings." --Mark
Madsen, Lakers forward
Why is pepper forbidden at ballparks?
The practice game of pepper--in which a hitter raps the ball to
fielders standing at close range, who then quickly feed the ball
back to the batter--is a staple drill at almost every level of
baseball, except the majors. "We play pepper all the time in the
minors, but up here nobody does it," says Giants rookie shortstop
Cody Ransom. That's likely due to the numerous no pepper signs
that are posted all around big league parks, signs that are so
conspicuous that many fans who have no idea what the drill is
know of the ban.
The prohibition, which dates back to the '50s, arose because
groundskeepers hated the way pepper tore up grass. These days,
teams have another reason for the ban: risk of fan injury. "Back
in the old days, if a fan got one in the face, he might ask you
to sign the ball," says veteran Tigers infielder Damion Easley.
"Now he'd want you to sign a check."
Although big leaguers say they love playing pepper--and some
occasionally sneak in a game--most note that today's tightly
scheduled practices leave little time for it. "The game's so
specialized, you've got drills and coaches for everything," says
the Giants' Jeff Kent. "There just isn't time for pepper."
Horse Racing Books
In real life Seabiscuit had no prominent offspring. In the
publishing world, however, Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand's
surprise bestseller about the charismatic thoroughbred who
captured a nation's imagination during the Depression, has sired
a slew of horse racing books. At least half a dozen works about
horses are due in the next four months, including: Jim Squires's
Horse of a Different Color, about how the author trained the
lightly regarded Monarchos into a Kentucky Derby winner; Nan
Mooney's My Racing Heart, a memoir based on the writer's
relationship with her grandmother, a passionate horse fan; and
Jason Levin's From the Desert to the Derby, a detailed look at
the thoroughbred racing empire of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al
Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai.
Like Seabiscuit, these books focus on the colorful people who
populate the sport. "Readers are looking for larger-than-life
characters who show both the glamour and underbelly of the horse
racing world," says Leigh Habber, an executive editor at Hyperion
and the editor of Elizabeth Mitchell's upcoming Three Strides
Before the Wire: The Dark and Beautiful World of Horse Racing.
Credit Hillenbrand for also proving that as a central character,
a horse can have as much gravity as a human protagonist. "Horse
racing had seemed like such an untouchable, intimidating sport,"
says HarperCollins's Kelli Martin, who edited Mooney's Heart.
"But like Hillenbrand, these authors are treating horses like
personal subjects. All these stories are really raw and really
With five counts of obstructing the law, former NBA player Jayson
Williams, after the Feb. 14 shooting death of limo driver Costas
Christofi at Williams's New Jersey estate (SI, March 11).
Prosecutors allege that Williams, who had already been accused of
second degree manslaughter for killing Christofi with a shotgun
blast, also tried to put Christofi's prints on the weapon to make
the shooting look like a suicide. Allegedly, Williams then told
some of his house guests to lie to police and he also tried to
dispose of his clothes. Williams's attorney didn't return SI's
By Trail Blazers management to the team's marketing staff, one
dollar for each ticket buyer an employee recommends. As part of
its Help Us Put Butts in Seats! drive, the Blazers wrote to the
employees urging them "to tell us the names of ... friends,
neighbors, family members or anyone else ripe for the selling."
By skeleton gold medalist Jim Shea, remarks he made while
addressing students at his alma mater, Conrad High in West
Hartford. Jim, seen here holding a photo of his grandfather Jack,
who was killed by a drunk driver in January, declared, "I'm not
saying don't drink. I drank a lot in this school. What I'm saying
is, don't die." He later issued a statement that said, "I do not
condone underage drinking. However, I refuse to ignore the
After jumping a fence to escape a Cincinnati slaughterhouse, a
1,200-pound cow. The animal spent 11 days on the lam before
falling in with a herd of bovine decoys set up by the Humane
Society. The cow was returned to the slaughterhouse, but former
Reds owner Marge Schott has offered to let it live on her farm.
Soccer is a game of artistry, and all artists need a muse. China
is so eager for inspiration in the World Cup finals--which begin
in Japan and South Korea on May 31--that a top modeling agency
is assembling what it calls a World Cup Beauties Guiding Support
Group. "The women must be beautiful, thoughtful, skilled and
taller than 165 centimeters [5'5"]," says Yuebo Li, of New Silk
Road Model Co. Other Cup-bound nations have adopted only a
single muse, including:
Who: Carolina Ardohain, 21, voted by readers of Ole magazine as
the "godmother" of Argentina's team
Resume: Known as Pampita (which means little country girl),
Ardohain models for Victoria's Secret and has appeared on the
cover of almost every Argentine magazine. She's also a reporter
on the entertainment show El Rayo.
Hobbies: Dancing, aerobics, fashion
Favorite Sport: Horseback riding
Who: Norika Fujiwara, 30, selected by the Japanese government to
be its Goodwill Ambassador to South Korea for the World Cup
Resume: After winning Miss Japan in 1992, Fujiwara became one of
her country's most popular actresses. Last year she performed
the voice of Princess Fiona in the Japanese version of Shrek.
Hobbies: Going to the gym, learning Korean
Favorite Sport: Basketball
Who: Yun Jin Kim, 28, appointed by South Korea to the popular
Goodwill Ambassador position
Resume: Kim, who emigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she
was 10, studied acting in high school and college. She returned
to South Korea in 1998 and landed the starring role in the
blockbuster spy flick Shiri.
Hobbies: Jazz dancing, horseback riding
Favorite sport: Taekwondo
Who: Natalia Oreiro, 24, is another "godmother," in this case for
Resume: The actress and singer is best known for her Latin pop
hit Tu Veneno. She stars as an orphaned maid in the Argentine
soap opera Muneca Brava and recently married Ricardo Mollo,
front man for the rock group Divididos.
Hobbies: Listening to music, traveling
Favorite sport: Swimming
Shaquille O'Neal is no Dean Martin. (Then again, Dino probably
couldn't post up David Robinson.) Nevertheless, Shaq (below
right) is set to become the nation's roastmaster general. The
Lakers center will host Shaquille O'Neal's All-Star Comedy
Roast, a series of TV specials in which O'Neal and a group of
athletes and entertainers will skewer sports stars. O'Neal came
up with the idea after he was roasted by the likes of Cedric the
Entertainer and Steve Harvey at last year's NBA All-Star
weekend. Shaq's first guest is Emmitt Smith (below left), who'll
endure a 90-minute roast on June 28 at Las Vegas's MGM Grand.
Profits from the pay-per-view show will go to charity. "I'm a
little nervous," says Smith, "but I don't think any of the
celebs on the dais will hit harder than the guys on the field."
...After the World Series last fall, Curt Schilling had his pick
of Hollywood offers. Schilling told his agent, Jeff Borris, the
only show he wanted to do was Everybody Loves Raymond. A few
phone calls later and Curt and his wife, Shonda, were invited to
appear in a special anniversary episode of Raymond. The show,
which will air on April 28, features celebs talking about how
they see aspects of their family lives reflected in the series.
Other guests include Mary Tyler Moore, Billy Bob Thornton and
Jon Voight.... Swedish tennis star Magnus Norman isn't much of a
partyer, so he was out of his element last week at the World
Music Awards in Monte Carlo. After he watched Alicia Keys and
Enrique Iglesias perform, producers invited Norman backstage.
Michael Bolton, an avid tennis fan, recognized Norman and
greeted him. Fellow Swede and Playboy Playmate Victoria
Silvstedt also approached Norman and promised she'd watch him
play when the men's tour got to L.A., where she lives. Silvstedt
then coyly asked if she should come wrapped in a Swedish flag or
paint her body blue and yellow. A flustered Norman replied, "Do
whatever comes naturally."
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Police arrested 81 bookies in Jaipur, India, for offering bets on
whether or not religious riots would erupt between Hindu and
Muslim factions in the region.
Marlins outfielder, on being a 42-year-old major leaguer: "I'm
only 32 in the Dominican Republic."