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Friday, May 2, 2008

Forbes ranks Man U as No. 1 team

LONDON (AP) -- Manchester United is the most valuable team in world soccer for a second straight season and likely to hold that position next year, according to Forbes magazine.

The Premier League club is worth $1.8 billion, a $347 million increase (24 percent) from last year's valuation, Forbes said Thursday.

Taking into account revenue growth, profitability and debt levels, Real Madrid remained second at $1.285 billion and Arsenal third at $1.2 billion.

United was among four English clubs in the top 10, with Liverpool the big mover on the list, going up from 11th last year to fourth despite the infighting between American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. Bayern Munich was fifth, followed by AC Milan, Barcelona, Chelsea, Juventus and Schalke.

David Beckham returned to the top of the richest soccer players list after his lucrative move to the Los Angeles Galaxy pushed Ronaldinho down to second place.

Beckham is worth $49 million, according to Forbes, followed by Ronaldinho at $33 million.

Manchester United plays Chelsea in the Champions League final on May 21 at Moscow.

"Advancing to the Champions League final will mean in excess of $45 million for Man U. and likely assures it of returning atop our list next year," Forbes associate editor Jack Gage said.

"Actually winning the Champions League final wouldn't have much of an immediate impact on the team, but would bolster its already sterling brand as it tries to further expand its fan base throughout Europe and Asia."

Forbes attributed United's increased value partly to the expansion of Old Trafford's capacity to 76,000 and higher ticket prices.

"That said, the club has collateralized a great deal of debt as part of the Glazer purchase against ticket sales, meaning the club won't see a chunk of that revenue until the debt is paid off," Gage said. "Debt on the books makes a team more expensive to buy, but Man U's status as a cash-generating powerhouse in the biggest league in Europe should support that debt with room to spare."

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Time to clip Formula 1's wings – then we'll really see Lewis Hamilton flying

All this aerodynamic gear is killing the Grand Prix spectacle, with cars unable to overtake and races decided on pit stops rather than driver skill.

‘The problem was graphically illustrated at Melbourne, with Kimi Raikkonen being held up behind Honda’s Reubens Barrichello for 19 laps despite the Ferrari being 1.5 seconds per lap faster...’

Wings are the problem. Not the seventies pop-rock supergroup created to continue to feed Paul McCartney’s over-bloated ego, but the aerodynamics package bolted to F1 cars – and they're ruining Formula 1.

Despite all of this year’s changes to the driver’s aids – taking away traction and launch control, stability programs etc, to make the racing more even – the F1 bosses have myopically neglected the one thing that would make the most difference.

The massive aerofoils that produce so much downforce that it is theoretically possible to drive an F1 car on the ceiling are the fundamental problem facing Formula 1 today. The hole punched through the air by a modern F1 car makes it all but impossible for a car following to overtake without the leading driver either conceding the position or making a mistake.

The turbulent air zone interrupts the airflow over the following car's wings, robbing it of its own downforce at the moment that it’s needed most – during cornering. This leads to understeering, slower corner speeds and prevents cars getting close enough to slipstream and then overtake on the straights.

The problem was graphically illustrated in the 2008 season opener at Melbourne, with Ferrari pilot Kimi Raikkonen being held up behind Honda’s Reubens Barrichello for 19 laps despite the Ferrari being 1.5 seconds per lap faster than Barrichello’s chariot. Lewis Hamilton suffered the same problem behind Mark Webber in Malaysia.

Although this is bad enough, it gets even worse. The disturbed air doesn’t flow through the car radiators properly, causing overheating and increased strain on the engine. Raikkonen’s engine blew up a few laps from the end of the race – coincidence? Probably not.

Australia’s former world champion Alan Jones has long advocated the return to slick tyres and reducing the amount of wing allowable to increase the competitiveness of the sport. Many other recently retired drivers have bemoaned the amount of technology that has decreased the downplayed the role of drivers and made the car the real star of F1.

The reputation of Formula 1 continues to take a battering. It is derisively referred to as slot car racing because it is so difficult to overtake. The races are interesting, but rarely exciting and there is something fundamentally wrong with races being decided on pit stop strategy and fuel loads. It should be about the combination of car and driver – that’s what we pay to see.

Having said that, F1 fans are divided into two distinctly different tribes. There are those who love the racing, with overtaking and crashes, who want to see the very best cars and drivers pitted against each other.

On the other hand, there are those who just want to see the pinnacle of automotive engineering in its native environment; they are there for the sights, sounds and smell of Formula 1. There is nothing quite like seeing a live F1 grand prix. It is a feast for the senses and the fact that there is a race thrown in is a bonus – but it’s not why they’re there. Wouldn’t it be nice to keep both groups happy?

Is F1 too predictable? Come on petrol heads, give us your view, either with a comment below or in your own Sportingo article.
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Ease on Down the Road: Fuel-Efficient Drivers

The Race Begins

On a summer Saturday in a Madison, Wisconsin, parking lot, about a dozen people stand around a red Honda Insight. They’re watching Wayne Gerdes prepare for his run in the inaugural Hybridfest MPG Challenge, a 20-mile race through the streets of the city. Wayne is the odds-on favorite to win the event, in which drivers compete to push automotive limits, not of speed and power–a desire those gathered here consider old-fashioned and wasteful–but for the unsexy title of World's Most Fuel-Efficient Driver.


Wayne is believed to be that driver, but he's nervous. All day, his fellow hypermilers (the term he invented to describe those obsessed with fuel efficiency) have been getting crazy-high miles-per-gallon readings, up to 100 mpg. For the race, Wayne has borrowed a friend's Insight. To decrease the car's mass, he has jettisoned everything not screwed down. The detritus–a pillow, towels, cleaning stuff, a tool kit–sits on a nearby blanket.

What can't be removed is Wayne himself. At six-foot-one and 210 pounds, he looks too big for the two-seater. ("I would love to lose 60 pounds," he says. "It would help my fuel economy.") And in Wayne's world, fuel efficiency is about the driver. He doesn't get high mileage by tinkering with engines, using funky fuels or, usually, driving a hybrid. He gets it by driving hyperconsciously.

Wayne takes out his wallet and keys, then takes off his shoes. "He's speeding," a voice says as he exits the lot doing maybe 15 mph. He makes a full loop on the lot's exit road to slow down so he won't have to brake for traffic. Wayne hates braking.

Two nights earlier, on a clammy 80-degree Chicago evening, I wait for Wayne at the airport. The car he's driving, a 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid, drifts over like a jellyfish to pick me up. Around Wayne, drivers in four lanes are accelerating hard, weaving erratically, grinding to a halt. To him, these are the driving habits of the ignorant and wasteful—which is to say, nearly all of us. Wayne's car glides to a stop as if it's run out of gas. He has stopped without braking.

The car is owned by his friend Terry Honaker, who, with his wife, Cathy, is along for the ride. Inside it's hotter and more humid than outside. As we take off–or, more accurately, as the vehicle rolls forward really slowly–I notice all four windows are closed and the air-conditioning is off.

We take the interstate to Wayne's house. The speed limit is 55, and most of the traffic is zipping past at 75 or so, but Wayne hovers around 50. He's riding the white line on the right side of the right-hand lane. "It’s called ridge-riding," he explains, using another term he invented. He ridge-rides to let people behind him know that he's moving slowly. The tactic is especially useful in the rain because it gets the wheels out of the road's puddly grooves. My back and butt, meanwhile, are starting to stick to the seat.

An SUV flies by. Wayne says, "That’s getting 10 to 13 miles per gallon climbing this hill. We're getting about 80." I'm thinking he drives like a 90-year-old in a mobile sweat lodge. Soon I'll see I'm wrong.

"Buckle up," he says. "This is the death turn." Death turn? At 50 mph?

Wayne shuts off the engine. Bearing down on an exit, he turns the wheel sharply to the right. The tires squeal, which is what they do when you take a 25 mph turn going 50. Cathy grabs my leg. I grab the door handle.

We glide for more than a mile with the engine off, past a gas station, through a green light (Wayne is always timing green lights) and around a mall, using momentum in a way that would make Isaac Newton proud.

"Are we going to attempt that at home?" Cathy asks Terry, a talkative man who has been silent since Wayne executed the death turn in his car.

"Not in this lifetime," he says.

Unlike most hypermilers, the world's most fuel-efficient driver doesn't own a hybrid. Wayne sold his own Insight two years ago and bought a 2005 Accord (he wanted the power mirrors, heated leather seats and state-of-the-art navigation system). He uses the Accord for the two-hour commute to his job as an operator at a nuclear power plant. His wife drives an Acura MDX, a seven-seater with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that bills itself as the Driver's SUV. Wayne also owns a Ford Ranger pickup, which he used to haul equipment when he had a landscaping business on the side.

The morning after I arrive, we pile into the truck for a supermarket run. Wayne starts it by releasing the emergency brake and shifting into neutral before jumping out and pushing the 3,300-pound vehicle down his sloping driveway with the engine off. He jumps in and, without braking, turns right, swerves around a dead skunk, then takes a left turn–again, no brakes–to a stop sign. Ahead, the light is red. "This is a long light," he says. "I'm screwed. We have to throw it away."

"Throw it away" is how Wayne describes what most of us do with gasoline. We throw it away when we accelerate fast, turn on the AC, leave heavy stuff in the trunk, drive with a roof rack, don’t change the oil, underinflate the tires, roll down the windows, or speed, brake or idle. Wayne hates to throw anything away.

Driving for a Good Cause

Even parking isn't routine with Wayne, as I learn when he chooses an isolated spot in the mall parking lot. "This is potential parking with a face-out," he says. Potential parking, he says, is when you park in a lot's highest point. That lets you rely on gravity, not the engine, to get going. A face-out is what it sounds like: facing out into the open lot. This lets a driver avoid backing up, braking, then moving forward. "Nobody uses it," he says, "but they darn well should."

Driving out, we come to the top of a small hill. Wayne says he's doing a forced auto stop, putting the car in neutral, turning off the engine and gliding. It's illegal in some places–you can lose your power brakes and steering–but it's a favorite hypermiling trick.

On the way home, a woman in a gray sedan zips around us to catch a green light, but she’s too late and has to slam on the brakes. "That made no sense," Wayne says. "She's sitting there with the car running and she's going to tear out of here." And that's what she does. (One study found that fast starts and hard stops cut travel time by just 4 percent–75 seconds on a half-hour trip.)

As we approach his subdivision, Wayne coasts down to 30 mph, then to 25, letting inertia do the brakes' job. Three cars are bunched behind him, and a guy in a Ford Explorer honks. "They can honk all day," Wayne says.

Wayne's driving obsession began after 9/11. Before then, he drove 75 miles per hour in the left-hand lane. In the wake of the attacks, he vowed to limit his reliance on Middle Eastern oil. As Wayne sees it, Al Qaeda got its operating funds from Western consumers buying Saudi oil: "If Osama bin Laden didn’t have money to burn, he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did. There was a direct relationship between our addiction to oil and the World Trade Center."

Wayne believes that if we all boosted our fuel economy by 25 percent (less than the 50 percent improvement he gets), we could halve the amount of Middle Eastern oil we import for our cars. That would be a boon to a broader economy and a step against global warming. "I'm not doing this just for myself," he says. "I'm doing this for my country and the world."

In 2002 Wayne bought a Toyota Corolla to replace his 1999 Nissan truck. Online he saw "guys in Priuses bragging about 44 mpg, and I was doing better in a Corolla." But it was his wife's SUV, with its fuel-consumption display showing mpg in real time, that inspired Wayne's zeal for fuel economy. He could see how little things–slight movements of his foot, uphill accelerations–affected fuel efficiency. He learned to wring 30 mpg from the MDX; most people get 18. If consumption displays were required in all cars sold in America, he decided, fuel use would drop by 20 percent.

On the road to Madison, I ask Wayne what it takes to be a hypermiler. "Foot control, hand-eye coordination and anticipation," he says. Like an athlete, Wayne senses action on the field–in his case, the road–before it unfolds.

Minutes later, he exclaims, "I forgot my ice vest." The vest, which he wears at work, is his secret weapon. "You can drive at 95 degrees with an ice vest, and it doesn't feel like 95." He expects his car to be warm during the challenge: "No electricity, no air, no fans."

The two dozen competitors begin driving the Hybridfest MPG Challenge course at about 9 a.m. Wayne expects his most serious rival will be Randall Burkhalter, the only driver ever to break one of Wayne's mpg records. The two met online at websites like cleanmpg.com and greenhybrid.com. After Burkhalter finishes his run, the best of the day at a 108.5 mpg average, Wayne congratulates him, calling him top dog.

Then a shout comes from the crowd. There's a new front-runner: 17-year-old Justin Fons, clocking 117.2 mpg. Justin says his father taught him to drive, but "the person I learned to drive efficiently from is Wayne Gerdes."

By the time Wayne finishes, it's after 5 p.m. With his head sticking out the window (his breath fogged the windshield, and he won't use the defroster), he honks to get a judge's attention. His fuel-consumption display reads 150 mpg–the highest possible. Then the car's owner switches the display to show liters per 100 kilometers (a higher limit). The reading: 180.91 mpg.

At that night's awards dinner, Wayne gets a subscription to Green Car Journal and a $25 gas card. For all we know, he's still using it.
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Ranger Wears Prada: Hockey Player to Intern at Vogue Magazine

avery
Sean Avery, the aggressive left-wing for the New York Rangers, will take his hockey bruises and his talent to a summer internship at Vogue.

Macho man and provocateur Sean Avery -- by some accounts the most hated player in the National Hockey League -- will be joining the estrogen-infused world of fashion as an unpaid intern at Vogue magazine.

Just last week, Avery helped the New York Rangers beat the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the NHL play-offs with his usual in-your-face tricks: agitation, verbal taunts and fighting.

In his 14 months as a Rangers left wing, Avery has tallied 212 penalty minutes, which makes many wonder if he can handle editorial collaboration and taking orders as an intern.

"We are going to have to see how far the Rangers go to determine when he will start, but he will certainly be here and get an internship with a variety of editors," Patrick O'Connell, director of communications for Vogue, told ABCNews.com. "I don't know if he'll be writing yet, but he will be doing regular tasks."

That means the stocky, 28-year-old athlete -- who is in the midst of the NHL playoffs --- will be "answering phones, working photo shoots, getting samples, contacting people, working the gamut," according to O'Connell.

The magazine internship is not without precedent. Matt Chatham, the starting linebacker for the New York Jets, was a writing intern at Esquire in 2004 and, according to one inside source, "was a really nice kid and did well."

Cavorting with Starlets

Avery, who makes $2 million a year with the Rangers and has cavorted with starlets since his days with the Los Angeles Kings, initiated the contact with Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

"He is ridiculously obsessed with fashion," Avery's publicist Nicole Chabot told ABCNews.com. "He loves it more than anything in the world. It's something he has always wanted to do."

Chabot admits Avery is an agitator in the "old-style" of hockey and a "blabber mouth," but off ice the player is "surprisingly articulate, creative and savvy," she said.

He's also charming, she noted. "There is not a woman that doesn't fall in love with him in five minutes."

Though his assignments are "evolving," Avery will go to Paris Fashion Week with international editor-at-large Hamish Bowles, according to Chabot.

Avery, who never earned a college degree because he was drafted into the NHL right after high school, has said he wants to be a fashion magazine editor.

Rangers' fans are well familiar with Avery's fashion sense. He may be the first hockey player ever to sport a pair of trendy glasses in the Rangers official yearbook.

"He is serious about learning the fashion industry and to that end, we are happy to give him a chance," said O'Connell. "He certainly has a demonstrated history. It makes sense."

Does it?

Avery is widely known for his brutal antics on the ice and was ranked second on the team last season in penalty minutes.

He is "what hockey people call an agitator," writes The New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten. "His job, which seems to have no analogue in sports -- or in any line of work, except maybe terrorism -- is to annoy his opponents so intensely that they cannot resist retaliating. He goads foes into losing their focus and, in theory, the game."

During the recent playoffs against the New Jersey Devils, he waved his stick in the face of goalie Martin Brodeur, later scoring for the Rangers and forcing the NHL to rewrite the penalty rules. Stick-waving is now "unsportsmanlike conduct."

Avery has been accused of bad-mouthing his native Canada, saying he liked the U.S. dollar better. He even allegedly ridiculed the Toronto Maple Leaf's forward Jason Blake, who has cancer, later suing the Canadian radio station that reported his remarks.

"He's an idiot," Pittsburgh Penguin Gary Roberts told The New Yorker after a tussle earlier this year, for which Roberts received four penalty minutes and Avery got none.

But Barry Melrose, hockey commentator and analyst for ESPN, challenges the notion that Avery can't get along and predicts the player will do well at Vogue.

"His team mates like him and so do the Rangers' fans," Melrose told ABCNews.com. "The fans of the other 29 teams don't like him, but is one of the most popular Rangers. Sean is a very smart kid -- a kid from (Ontario) Canada who's going to work for Vogue."

Linked to Lohan, Bush

Before signing with the Rangers as a free agent last year, Avery played for the Los Angeles Kings, displaying a flair for both fashion and celebrities. He has been linked to actresses Elisha Cuthbert and Mary Kate Olsen.

The New York Post's Page 6 column ran a photo of presidential daughter Barbara Bush, asking if she was dating an eligible Ranger after she'd been seen at playoffs. His publicist told ABCNews.com that Bush was actually at the game with Vogue editors.

When Lindsay Lohan turned up at Madison Square Garden for a game recently, gossip columnists speculated she had her eye on Avery. That too, was only a rumor, said Chabot.

"He spent a few years in L.A. dating supermodels and running around with the in crowd," said Melrose, former coach for the Kings. "When he came to New York he did the same things. And he's a sharp dresser on the cutting edge of everything. He's one of the NHL guys who dressed to the nines and always looks good."

"Don't forget that these agitators are the smartest guys on the team," said Melrose. "They don't do anything on the spur of the moment and I can guarantee he'll do great at Vogue."

New York's #16 was fourth in the plus/minus rating for the Rangers and tied for third in game-winning goals last season. With Avery in the line-up, the Rangers have recorded 50 wins, 20 losses and 16 ties in 86 games. His winning advantage is clear: In the 25 games he didn't play, the team record was 9-13-3.

"They say he's always had a flair for fashion and gifts to his girlfriends, like designer bags and gowns," said Tia Brown, executive editor of In Touch Weekly. "That is an extension of his personality. He is a young multi-millionaire with the opportunity to live out every facet of his dreams."

"Being an intern is far from the glory of a hockey star," she said. "But I doubt if he will do all the mediocre and menial tasks and will be better than most positions."

"I can't imagine it's a regular internship," said Brown. "Getting coffee for people, sorting out the clothes in the closet and making the runs to pick up the designers, filing, logging clothes: Can you imagine him going to Starbucks for the associate editor? All of those jobs are beneath him. It's an opportunity for him to see close up the fashion styles on the runway."

The internship is a "win, win," for both Avery and Vogue, according to Brown. Reality shows like "The Hills" -- the star interned at Teen Vogue -- and movies like, "The Devil Wears Prada," have glamorized the fashion industry. Avery's rough, athletic appeal gives new cache to Vogue.

'Hetero Male' at Vogue

"He raises the profile of the magazine and makes more people talk about it," she said. "This is something different for Vogue. They don't need the publicity, but it is a great opportunity to have a heterosexual male at a fashion magazine."

But, she concedes, Avery's motivation could be "calculating and manipulating" -- a way to take advantage of his celebrity.

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4 Star Football Players Who Became Famous for other Sports

iverson.jpg1. In the early 1990s, current Denver Nuggets NBA star Allen Iverson played myriad positions for Bethel High School’s football team in Hampton, Virginia. According to a local newspaper at the time, “Iverson the quarterback passed for 1,423 yards with 14 touchdowns. Iverson the runner gained 781 yards with 15 touchdowns. Iverson the kick returner scored five touchdowns, four on punts. Iverson the defensive back intercepted eight passes.”

cornhuskers.gif2. The only major league baseball player to have won a Gold Glove as both an infielder and an outfielder, Darin Erstad, was also the starting punter on the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team in 1994 and helped the team win the national championship.

lebronjames.jpg3. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James attended St. Vincent - St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio where he made First-Team All-State as a wide receiver in 2001. A mere three years later, he was named NBA Rookie of the Year.

jackie-robinson_alum.jpg4. While we all know about Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers debut in 1947, ending eighty years of baseball segregation, few are aware that Jackie also played basketball, tennis, track and field and was quite the quarterback for John Muir High School in Pasadena, CA.

Of course, there are many more professionals sports figures who played high school and/or college football before settling into another sport. Marlon Byrd, to name another. Why don’t we get a nice list going in the comments. Show off your smarts time!

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Eagles, looking to recover bonus money, sue Cowboys' Owens

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles sued their former wide receiver Terrell Owens for bonus money he has not repaid the team.

Terrell Owens

Owens

The suit for nearly $770,000 was filed in U.S. District Court on Monday. Owens lost in arbitration earlier this year, a ruling calling him to repay $1.7 million in bonuses the team paid him when he played in Philadelphia in 2004 and '05.

Neither the team nor Owens' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, returned phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The Eagles suspended Owens for conduct detrimental to the team midway through 2005, one year after he helped them get to the Super Bowl. Owens lost $965,000 in salary from the final five games of 2005 after the team withheld game checks.

He was released after that season and the Eagles now are trying to get back the remaining sum: $769,117.

Owens subsequently signed with the Dallas Cowboys for $25 million over three years.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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The Cup Stops Here

Perhaps among the most important pieces of male athletic gear, the protective cup hasn't changed much over the years. Inspired by a recent NHL hockey incident, The Score seeks to find out why

The NuttyBuddy Line: The final stage in protective athletic cup evolution? Photo by Nuttybuddy.com

When it comes to sports, Patrick Thorensen nearly redefined the term sacrifice. In successfully sliding across the ice to block a shot in a recent playoff game, the left wing for the Philadelphia Flyers came close to losing a testicle. Adding insult to the near ultimate injury, the Washington Capitals scored on a rebound while Thorensen rolled in agony (and grown men cried themselves to sleep). The 24-year old was rushed to the hospital and underwent two ultrasound tests to ensure there was no “rupture.”

So, while Thorensen has a dented cup to thank for his manhood, it begs the question: what more can science do to protect our cajones? A quick Google of ‘protective cups’ provides a range of sizes and colors available from $8 to $25, none differing greatly from the cups our fathers (and fathers' fathers?) have donned for years. With a tank of gas at $50, isn’t the male population willing to splurge a bit on reproductive life insurance?

Our search for the Perfect Cup began with Dr. Anthony Smith, the Chief of Urology at the University of New Mexico.

“The main thing is just to avoid the direct blow. If you get any sort of high speed impact, that’s going to cause trouble,” said Smith. “I think most of the cups people use for sports are pretty effective because I don’t see many athletes coming in with injuries that need to be dealt with.” (Tell that to Thorensen)

Hardly a beacon for change, we next reached out to XO Athletics, manufacturer of the Pro Cup ($14.95) that since its launch in 2002 has taken 60% of the market share. A flexible elastomer on the outside of the cup adds comfort without sacrificing protection in what XO calls the “first major redesign in 20 years.” Not quite what we envisioned, but certainly such revolutionary innovators are hard at work for the boys of future boys, right?

“The male form hasn’t changed in how many thousands of years? There’s really not many ways down there to protect a guy and protect him with some sense of comfort,” said XO President Jim Landi. “Its kind of like toilet paper, it’s still the same thing it was 150 years ago, it’s paper on roll. There’s not too many ways to skin the cat.”

Dejected yet determined, we turned to a budding leader in the protection market and a man amongst men, Mark Littell. A former MLB pitcher and inventor of the NuttyBuddy, Littell is so confident in his product that he’s taken 90 mph fastballs to his junk on national TV in an unparalleled, if not slightly disturbing, customer testimonial (see video below).

The NuttyBuddy (or Nutty for short) has a more anatomical shape that distributes the force of an impact to the pelvic area and provides a more contoured space “for testicle A and testicle B,” according to Littell. It’s only available online and in four sizes - "Hammer," "Boss," "Hog" and "Mongo" (We couldn’t make this up). The cup is polycarbonate lexan which Littell claims is four times the price of plastics used by competitors, yet still just $19.95.

Littell says the roomier shape of the Nutty is a key to both comfort and protection, citing more confining models' lack of space. ("That’s why [ball players] are constantly grabbing them”). More room results in a more natural fit, "the way that the Man upstairs made them," says Littell.

This might also help avoid complications from a condition we learned about from Dr. Smith and still can’t speak about in public. (Google "testicular torsion" if you dare).

“Some men are born with what’s called a Bell Clapper deformity where the testicle has a transverse lay. So what can tend to happen is that those testicles can be prone to twisting. We’ve seen patients with a direct blow where they can twist more easily.”

But I digress. Littell claims his device doesn’t need improvement and that with 50,000 sold and hundreds of testimonials, his design truly is “protecting the boys,” as nuttybuddy.com claims. So confident is he in the Nutty's design that a forthcoming law enforcement version will merely utilize bullet resistant material while maintaining the same geometry (and, yes, before you ask, he seriously plans on taking a bullet to prove it works)

So, is this it? Is this all we can offer to Thorensen and scores of men on their knees on playing fields across the country? Perhaps harder plastic with an individual cubbyhole, pelvic dispersion and flexible elastomers is enough. But the scientist in each of us wants more. So consider this a challenge to every engineer, designer, and frat boy to do more for that which means so much to us all. To design the inflatable gel system with a hydraulic pump and impact sensors. Because seriously, when shopping for a cup, is anybody really looking on the sale rack? If you build it, we will pay.

Finally, Littell in action:


Thanks, Deadspin, for posing the question.

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Rockets team that stole hearts shows up to keep series alive

Remember this team? Sure you do. This was the team that won 22 in a row at one point.

You remember those Rockets, don't you? They were built on energy, resilience and extraordinary defense.

They shared the ball and got scoring from up and down the roster. At times, they did a pretty good imitation of being the NBA's best team.

Those Rockets had someone named Tracy McGrady, and for about three months this season, he played the best basketball of his life. He did what great players are supposed to do. He made those around him better, and at winning time, he made winning plays.

Those Rockets got you interested in the NBA again. You told your friends to check them out.

Just when you thought you'd seen the last of those Rockets, they showed up again Tuesday night at Toyota Center. They were facing elimination, trailing a best-of-seven series 3-1 and pretty much written off. Funny thing is, they didn't write themselves off.

At their Monday practice, they were loose and confident. And that's how they played. Their 87th game of the season might have been their best as they torched the Utah Jazz 95-69 in front of a roaring crowd of 18,269.

It ended with the Rockets getting a standing ovation from fans who wanted them to know how much they appreciated their effort and heart.

"They outhustled us everywhere," Utah's Andrei Kirilenko said.

Now this series of elbows and body punches shifts back to Salt Lake City, where the Rockets will face another elimination game Friday night. If they win it, Game 7 will be Sunday at Toyota Center.

"We played a great game," Shane Battier said. "We played all together."

McGrady was brilliant. The Rockets got nice offensive games from a long list of players, but as always, everything that happened began with McGrady.

He went for 29 points, five rebounds and five assists. He was just about unstoppable, throwing in jumpers one moment, driving to the basket to make plays the next.

Coach Rick Adelman worried that he was leaning too much on McGrady. The Jazz were swarming him with two and three defenders. At times, he looked tired.

Adelman urged his team to share the ball the way it had during the 22-game winning streak and for others to play with confidence.

The Rockets did that Tuesday. They spread the court and were crisp with their passes and accurate with their shots.

Pressuring the Jazz

Adelman also challenged Utah's big men around the basket. He called plays for Luis Scola and Carl Landry and preached about being aggressive.

"Down 3-1, we had to try something different," Adelman said. "We have to be aggressive. If we're going to be a reactive team, we're going to lose. We have to go to our strengths."

Everything worked. Bobby Jackson, Scola, Rafer Alston and others made big baskets.

The Rockets broke it open at the start of the second quarter with their second group on the floor. Jackson made three huge baskets; Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes also contributed.

Bench? Yes, indeed. In the first half, the Rockets' bench outscored the Jazz's 18-0.

In the end, though, everything was about the defense. The Rockets challenged almost every shot and held the Jazz to 36.5 percent field-goal shooting.

This one had a different feel from the start. The Rockets played with a confidence they hadn't had in weeks. Once they got rolling, they barely resembled the team that had gotten so bogged down for much of this series.

"We did a good job moving the ball," Battier said. "Why we don't do it more often, I have no idea. We just played with a lot of energy. We've got smart players, and when we get good movement, we're going to get the ball to the open man."

One thing stuck out about Monday's practice. After more than seven months of basketball, after countless practices and flights and hotels, the Rockets were having fun.

"Look around," Alston said. "You see guys that don't want to leave. We enjoy one another's company."

Battier said the Rockets felt more pressure last year when they were up 2-0 on the Jazz than this year when they were down 3-1.

"Just a different group," he said.

Team exudes confidence

McGrady met the media in a resplendent white suit and a large smile.

"That," he said, "is one of the better defensive efforts we've had this year."

Confidence?

"We're a bunch of confident guys," he said. "We're a loosey-goosey group. It doesn't feel like we're behind 3-2."

Tuesday night, it once more felt like anything was possible. Those Rockets made you feel that way.

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The best-laid plans ... Shaq-to-the-Suns is latest NBA gamble to fizzle

Shaquille O'Neal and the Suns bowed out after winning only one playoff game.
Shaquille O'Neal and the Suns bowed out after winning only one playoff game.

The genius-moron dichotomy, offered from the start by Steve Kerr himself, will get plenty of play between now and October. The Phoenix general manager knew the sort of criticism he would face if the Suns, after his gutsy, in-season acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal, did no better (or possibly worse) in the playoffs post-Shaq than they had done in recent pre-Shaq years.

So Kerr preemptively bookended the best and the worst that figured to be said about his rookie GM season. (That's more genius than moron right there, actually.)

It spares us from worrying about Kerr's feelings now as we label his Feb. 6 trade with Miami as a failure. Or, in keeping with the Arizona capital's phonetics, a Phoenix phailure.

Now, does that mean Kerr was wrong to make the biggest, boldest move of the 2007-08 season? Nope. The Suns with Shawn Marion, and minus O'Neal, might have met a similar quick-exit fate from the postseason.

It's true that the Suns' record before the trade (34-14) was better than after (21-13). They might have finished higher than sixth in the conference standings, earning either home-court advantage in the opening round or a different first-round matchup. And yet, there was nothing in the Suns' style of play through the season's first three months that indicated any sort of stiffening, any extra dose of starch, in the way they defended. Likewise, there was nothing in the past umpteen NBA Finals to suggest that a team so vulnerable at that end of the court, and particularly in the middle, had any business harboring championship thoughts.

Getting O'Neal didn't work. But not getting him didn't look like it was going to work, either.

No, what Kerr gave the Suns, their fans and the rest of the NBA community was another failed experiment. In a league, frankly, that has a rich tradition of them. Every so often, such a maneuver pays off in instant gratification and a "Eureka!'' moment. Mostly, though, they do not.

Remember, it was Robert F. Kennedy who once said: "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.'' Don't think that statement doesn't have NBA implications, either. The man who quit his day job as postmaster general in 1968 to run RFK's presidential campaign was Larry O'Brien. They named the NBA championship trophy after him.

Here is a primer on 10 bold NBA experiments that didn't work, and five that did:

The failures ...

1. Shaq acquisition

It wasn't the "who'' that stymied this move, it was the "when.'' As in February, with O'Neal's arrival forcing Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni, point guard Steve Nash and the rest of them to downshift barely two months before the playoffs. The other "when'' that hurts? When the Suns try again next fall, O'Neal (now 36) and Nash (34) will be that much closer to their next birthdays.

2. Jason Kidd back to Dallas

This was failure 1A of this season, a somewhat smaller move for a smaller player whose impact was smaller, too. Kidd, like O'Neal in Miami, seemingly got rewarded for not doing the heavy lifting he was paid to do in New Jersey. Then, he made almost no difference in Dallas as a contender, except hobbling the Mavericks' Devin Harris-less future.

3. Barkley-Pippen-Olajuwon Rockets

It lasted for one lousy lockout season, a teaming of two former league MVPs and perhaps the greatest complementary player in NBA history. But bringing Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen into Hakeem Olajuwon's locker room in Houston proved to be more embarrassment than riches. A 31-19 season in 1999 fizzled in a first-round elimination against the Lakers. By October, Pippen had finagled a trade to Portland, but not before he and Barkley sniped like Joan Collins and Liz Taylor in a bad TV movie.

"For him to want to leave after one year, it disappointed me greatly,'' Barkley said, critical of Pippen. To which Michael Jordan's old sidekick retorted: "I probably should've listened to Michael a year ago when he said that Charles will never win a championship because he doesn't show any dedication.''

4. "Management Wins Championships"

Bulls general manager Jerry Krause built two NBA three-peat champions around Jordan, a player he inherited from Rod Thorn. Then Krause fell victim to hubris, figuring he could build another great team without Jordan. With the backing of owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Krause blew up the Jordan-Pippen-Phil Jackson Bulls and went with coach Tim Floyd, Toni Kukoc and a young Elton Brand. Then he swapped Brand for Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler, setting the Bulls' clock back even further. These days, admittedly with six rings in his safe deposit box, Krause is back where the Bulls found him, scouting baseball players.

5. Doug Moe/Paul Westhead Denver Experience

If the label on this one sounds like some psychedelic band from the '60s, it should: There was a throwback, addled feel to the Nuggets from 1981 through 1991. Over 11 seasons, built around offensive players such as David Thompson, Dan Issel, Alex English, Kiki Vandeweghe, Calvin Natt, Fat Lever and Michael Adams, they averaged at least 114.6 points and ranked fourth or higher in scoring. But in nine playoff appearances, the No D-enver club had a 24-37 record. By the time Westhead took over from Moe as coach, the style was failing spectacularly; the Nuggets averaged 119.9 in 1990-91 yet gave up 130.8. Of course, too much offense didn't stop Denver, all these years later, from building around Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson.

6. Twin Towers

It was all the rage, for about a minute and a half: Get yourself not one but two All-Star-caliber centers. This experiment was Houston's doing, thanks to consecutive No. 1 picks that delivered Ralph Sampson in 1983 and Olajuwon in 1984. You might have expected the Rockets, after Sampson averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds as a rookie, to draft for a different position like, oh shooting guard (Jordan?). But they didn't. The two big men (Sampson was technically the power forward) made it to the Finals in their second season together but by the third, Sampson was showing the brittleness that shortened his career. In their fourth, he was traded to Golden State.

"We didn't break up the Twin Towers,'' said Ray Patterson, Houston's GM at the time. "What we did was trade Ralph.'' Whatever you say, Ray.

7. McGinnis Meets Dr. J

George McGinnis was a scoring machine, a powerful 6-8 forward with Elgin Baylor moves from Indiana. From age 22 through 29, he averaged as much as 29.8 points and never less than 20 across three ABA seasons and four in the NBA. He jumped to the 76ers in 1975, but when his ABA rival Julius Erving arrived via trade a year later, there weren't enough basketballs for the two forwards ... and Doug Collins, World B. Free and Darryl Dawkins. The highlight for that crew was taking a 2-0 lead in the 1977 Finals against Portland, before losing the next four. In 1978, the 76ers broke the gridlock by sending McGinnis to Denver for defensive-minded Bobby Jones, a perfect fit for a team that won the 1983 championship.

The star-studded 2003-04 Lakers weren't able to close the deal.
The star-studded 2003-04 Lakers weren't able to close the deal.

8. Legends Tour

Three superstars are better than two and four are better than three, right? Look, no one expected Karl Malone and Gary Payton to be stars when they joined the Lakers for the 2003-04 season, but the future Hall of Famers were counted on as savvy vets who could caulk any gaps in L.A.'s goal of its fourth title in five seasons. Didn't work out that way: Payton chafed in Jackson's triangle offense, Malone got accused of flirting with Kobe Bryant's wife and the enmity between Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal overwhelmed what was supposed to be a ring season.

9. Manute, Shawn & Friends

This is more an indictment of Don Nelson, whose reputation as the NBA's mad scientist of coaches necessarily requires a few failed experiments. When he wasn't tinkering with small lineups, putting the ball into the hands of a "point forward'' or warping his offense with "iso'' plays to exploit illegal-defense rules, Nelson was going for the gimmick big man. Maybe it was all those years playing alongside Bill Russell, but Nellie kept searching for a game-changer, with Manute Bol and later Shawn Bradley brought in to anchor what passed for his defenses. And ultimately, to fail.

10. Isiah Thomas, Mastermind

Pick your venue, Thomas -- since his retirement from the Pistons -- has been one failed experiment after another. His stint with the Raptors, which had its highlights, ended badly. So did his ownership of the CBA. So did his stay in Indiana, followed by the recent unsavory seasons in New York. Now, under new president Donnie Walsh, Thomas is a consultant who is forbidden to consult with the players on the roster he assembled. It probably is worth noting here that Jordan's post-playing career hasn't been that much better than Thomas'.

And now, five-high profile moves that paid off:

1. The Big O in Milwaukee

Unlike the Suns with O'Neal, the Bucks acquired Oscar Robertson way back in April 1970, the day after they were eliminated from the East playoffs by New York. That gave them a whole summer, a full training camp and an entire regular season to blend a legendary veteran into an attack led by young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. At 32, Robertson posted the most modest stats of his career to that point -- 19.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 8.2 apg -- but gave Milwaukee just what it needed.

"Oscar could really be the floor leader and didn't have to score all the time,'' forward Bobby Dandridge said later. "It was a perfect marriage.''

The marriage lasted four years, with 66 victories and a championship in 1970-71 and another trip to the Finals.

2. Rodman Becomes Insuffera-Bull

He was from the hated Pistons, a nemesis who had cheap-shotted Pippen back in the Chicago-Detroit wars. Already, he was showing signs of the incorrigibility, even instability, that would lead to rainbow hair and wedding gowns. But Jordan and Pippen needed his help and vowed to keep the consummate rebounding overachiever in line. Enough, in fact, to set an NBA record of 72-10 in 1995-96, turn the Bulls into rock stars and win three more titles.

3. The Pearl Meets Clyde

This was what Stephon Marbury-Steve Francis drew comparisons to but never could be: a double-headed, superstar-driven backcourt in New York. Earl Monroe had been a playground legend and the Baltimore Bullets' primary scorer before he was traded to the Knicks in November 1971. Eventually, he would average more than 20 points a game again, deeper into the '70s. But it was during his first few seasons with New York's Walt Frazier that Monroe -- the alleged antithesis of the Knicks' one-for-all approach -- had his greatest success and enhanced his reputation. His shot totals and points dropped but New York went 21-12 in the playoffs in Monroe's first two seasons there and won a second title in 1973.

4. Rasheed Completes Pistons Puzzle

Rasheed Wallace, at the time the Pistons acquired him, was Vesuvius in a headband, ready to blow without notice and the presumed ringleader of a Portland team that made more news off the court than on it. The Blazers had unloaded Wallace to Atlanta on Feb. 9, 2004, after a run of three fast playoff exits and cranky fan feedback. Ten days later, Pistons exec Joe Dumars brought him in for the discounted price of mostly spare parts and contracts. Wallace's talent, unlike his reputation, was intact and he helped Detroit win the title that spring. As always, his teammates loved him and, with the winning, the Pistons fans did too. Detroit has gone three rounds or deeper in every playoff since.

5. Shaq In Wade's Fave Five

Tearing up a team that, rather surprisingly, had made the playoffs the year before with Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and rookie Dwyane Wade surely was a gamble. Especially since O'Neal -- the centerpiece of Pat Riley's trade with the Lakers -- had always demanded Batman status alongside first Penny Hardaway and then Kobe, but was starting to show some jowls under that cowl. But the big man got to Miami and deferred to Wade, a concession that put the former Marquette shooting guard at ease and allowed him to take over, most notably in the 2006 Finals.

Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005. His new book, The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Minnesota Twins, can be ordered here.

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Reports: Trainer says he passed FBI polygraph on Clemens

A Houston-area trainer who once employed Roger Clemens' stepsister says he took and passed a polygraph test administered by the FBI on Wednesday, according to media reports.

Shaun Kelley told reporters that he passed the test, which he said included questions of whether he knows Clemens and whether he's ever given the seven-time Cy Young Award winner performance-enhancing drugs.

The Justice Department is probing whether Clemens committed perjury when he told a congressional committee that he had never used performance-enhancing drugs.

"They asked me if I know Roger Clemens," Kelley said, according to KRIV-TV. "And I said no.

"They asked me if I've ever given him human growth hormone or performance-enhancing drugs and I said no. I passed it bro, trust me."

The FBI declined to comment on the report.

"It is our policy not to confirm nor deny an investigation," special agent Shauna Dunlap, a spokeswoman for the Houston FBI office, told the Houston Chronicle. "By the same token, we're not in the practice of confirming or denying investigative techniques."

Clemens' lawyer, Rusty Hardin, said Kelley's involvement in the story was "an example of the New York media having run wild wrongly," according to the Chronicle.

"We've tried to tell everybody all along that Roger said he didn't know Shaun and that Shaun Kelley said he didn't know Roger. At the end of the day, we're going to have confirmed that they didn't know each other," Hardin said, according to the report.

Kelley had publicly volunteered to take a polygraph after The New York Times reported March 7 that he was a potential interview subject as part of an IRS investigation into the sale of performance-enhancing drugs in the Houston area.

In its report, The Times said a former employee who spoke to federal agents said that Clemens was seen visiting Kelley's center in the past few years.

Kelley told The Times that Clemens was "an acquaintance," saying he met him "a couple" of times after initially saying they had met only once.

"I finally get to tell my side," Kelley said, according to the Chronicle. "Tonight is payday. Absolutely, it'd be fair to say there's closure to clearing my name. This is payday. I finally get to prove that the accusations made were false."

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Sports Films Celebrate American Brand of Perseverance

Inspiring movies assert that nice guys really can finish first

Baseball icon Jackie Robinson
Baseball icon Jackie Robinson starred as himself in the 1950 biographical film The Jackie Robinson Story. (© AP Images)

Washington -- Like a crucible, sports turns up the heat under its participants to burn off the dross -- not only of their athletic imperfections, but often of their character. For many years, American sports films have focused on the never-say-die spirit that emerges from the competitive fires as pure gold.

One classic example is Pride of the Yankees, the 1942 film biography of baseball’s legendary first baseman “Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig, whose Hall of Fame career was cut short by a debilitating -- and fatal -- nerve disease. Starring Gary Cooper, the film features Gehrig’s real-life New York Yankees teammates, including Babe Ruth. Gehrig says, in his well-known farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” The movie suggests that Gehrig’s bravery in the face of approaching death -- his conclusion, in effect, that “I might have been given a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for” -- is the stuff of which true American heroes are made.

Another genuine American hero’s life is depicted in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), in which Robinson, the first African-American Major League Baseball player, portrays himself. As the man who integrated professional baseball’s major leagues, Robinson encountered hostility as well as adulation. He had no training as an actor, yet his film performance is as understated and graceful as the life he led. By refusing to respond to the provocations of bigots, the courageous and unassuming Robinson changed the face of sports forever.

A very different kind of courage is displayed by Paul Newman in The Hustler (1961). As “Fast Eddie” Felson, a seedy, self-destructive pool shark, Newman longs to “play the game the way nobody’s ever played it before,” and he almost does -- except for the large, greasy obstacle of “Minnesota Fats,” played to perfection by Jackie Gleason. The Hustler chronicles Felson’s determination to defeat “Fats” and how, in the process, he realizes the emptiness of his soul. Felson is a 1960s anti-hero, bound up with existential anger, though in the end he finds the courage and strength to change his life.

The film Rocky (1976), centered on the character of a small-time boxer making it to the top, was the bicentennial blockbuster that become an icon of this medium, along with its many sequels. But films such as Breaking Away (1970) and The Bad News Bears (1976) represented the same spirit in more understated, and far more charming, ways. Both films are funny, sweet stories of bands of losers that seize an opportunity to prove themselves. In Breaking Away, a group of working-class youngsters defeats snooty, privileged college-boy cyclists, and in The Bad News Bears, an inept Little League baseball team under the dubious management of Walter Matthau (at his most sublimely sardonic) wins a tournament through nothing but determination and big hearts.

Seabiscuit
The exploits of legendary racehorse Seabiscuit (foreground) are vividly recreated in the 2003 film named for him. (© AP Images)

Robert Redford starred in the baseball epic The Natural (1984) as Roy Hobbs, an aging golden boy who still wants a shot at being “the best there ever was.” Hobbs has an arm of steel (he literally knocks the cover off the ball in one practice session) and can do no wrong on the field. Though he is tempted -- by the trappings of success, by bribes, by a woman -- he manages to remain the honorable man he was from the start. Barry Levinson directed The Natural with his characteristic gift for recapturing a time past, and the film’s incandescent imagery evokes the near-mythical status of baseball in 1930s America.

The All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League was founded in 1943 to engage a war-weary America and to maintain interest in the game while many male players were serving in the military. A League of Their Own (1992) is a fictionalized account of the league’s inception. With a strong cast (Geena Davis, Madonna and Tom Hanks as a drunken team manager) and a winsome script, this film puts the spotlight on the women who raised the nation’s spirits during the dark days of World War II.

Seabiscuit (2003) tells the true story of a long-shot thoroughbred racehorse that renewed the hopes of Americans during the bleak Great Depression of the 1930s. The scrappy Seabiscuit’s unexpected success showed that fortitude and pluck sometimes are more important than size and strength. His rise from underdog to racing legend is detailed in this joyous, deeply moving film.

Perhaps the quintessential film of this genre is Miracle (2004), the story of the 1980 U.S. men’s ice hockey team, which won the Olympic gold medal over the heavily favored Soviet team in a triumph that thrilled all of America. Head coach Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) says, “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones” -- that is, the ones with enough guts and tenacity to do the seemingly impossible.

Two films from 2005 were based on true-life stories of American mettle. The Greatest Game Ever Played, directed by Bill Paxton, tells the story of golfer Francis Ouimet, an amateur who -- against all odds -- won the 1913 U.S. Open championship. Cinderella Man, the Academy Award-nominated film directed by Ron Howard, stars Russell Crowe as boxing champion James J. Braddock, who pulled himself up from poverty during the Depression to become the heavyweight champion of the world. Inspired by the tender love of his wife (played by Renee Zellweger) and his resolve to make a better life for his children, Braddock became a symbol of hope for the common man.

The 2008 film Leatherheads, set in 1925, is the latest example of grit and heart in American sports movies. Dodge Connelly (played by George Clooney) is 45, broke and determined to see his ragtag team legitimize professional football. Leatherheads is a screwball comedy, but it teaches a valuable lesson about remaining true to one’s dreams through the rough-and-tumble arena of sports.

Baseball legend Leroy “Satchel” Paige once urged athletes never to give up and always to “find another way.” More often than not, the best U.S. sports films of the last 60 years have illuminated the American gift for “finding another way” around sometimes overwhelming obstacles -- or using the obstacles themselves as stepping stones to victory.

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Price for All-Star game tickets at Yankee Stadium skyrockets

NEW YORK (AP) -- Fans will pay starry prices for this year's All-Star game at Yankee Stadium.

Tickets will be priced at $150-$725 for the July 15 game, Major League Baseball announced Tuesday. That's up from $75-$285 for last year's game at San Francisco and $10-15 for box and reserved seats the last time the All-Stars were at Yankee Stadium, in 1977.

Tickets for the Home Run Derby and workout day on July 14 are $100-$650, an increase from $50-$225 last year. Tickets for the Futures game on July 13 are $50-225, up from $22.50-$125 last year.

Prices likely will decrease for the 2009 All-Star game, to be hosted by the Cardinals.

"They will be adjusted for St. Louis. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity -- instant memorabilia, instant memories," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. "The regular-season ticket prices in New York are substantially higher than they are in St. Louis."

Registration to buy two tickets each for the All-Star game and Derby began Tuesday on mlb.com, and a drawing will be held June 16. Winners must buy the tickets June 23.

"I wish I was playing in it," Hall of Famer Yogi Berra said at a Yankee Stadium news conference.

The All-Star game is coming to New York during the 84th and final season at Yankee Stadium. The team is scheduled to move next year into a $1.3 billion ballpark under construction across the street.

"The last season, it's only fitting that it's here," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "I hope I'm in it."

The Yankees plan to donate $7 million to local programs from All-Star activities, and co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner said his father, George, is excited about the July festivities.

"He's going to be very emotional, without a doubt," Hal Steinbrenner said. "This is a big deal."

One change to All-Star week will come during the Futures game, which will last nine innings instead of seven. The United States team will be largely comprised of the U.S. Olympic baseball team, DuPuy said.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Central Washington offers the ultimate act of sportsmanship

Western Oregon senior Sara Tucholsky had never hit a home run in her career. Central Washington senior Mallory Holtman was already her school's career leader in them. But when a twist of fate and a torn knee ligament brought them face to face with each other and face to face with the end of their playing days, they combined on a home run trot that celebrated the collective human spirit far more than individual athletic achievement.

Sara Tucholsky

Stephen Katin/WOU

Sara Tucholsky got a lift from the opposition in scoring her first homer.

Both schools compete as Division II softball programs in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Neither has ever reached the NCAA tournament at the Division II level. But when they arrived for Saturday's conference doubleheader at Central Washington's 300-seat stadium in Ellensburg, a small town 100 miles and a mountain range removed from Seattle, the hosts resided one game behind the visitors at the top of the conference standings. As was the case at dozens of other diamonds across the map, two largely anonymous groups prepared to play the most meaningful games of their seasons.

It was a typical Saturday of softball in April, right down to a few overzealous fans heckling an easy target, the diminutive Tucholsky, when she came to the plate in the top of the second inning of the second game with two runners on base and the game still scoreless after Western Oregon's 8-1 win in the first game of the afternoon.

"I just remember trying to block them out," Tucholsky said of the hecklers. "The first pitch I took, it was a strike. And then I really don't remember where the home run pitch was at all; [I] just remember hitting it, and I knew it was out."

A part-time starter in the outfield throughout her four years, Tucholsky had been caught in a numbers game this season on a deep roster that entered the weekend hitting better than .280 and having won nine games in a row. Prior to the pitch she sent over the center-field fence, she had just three hits in 34 at-bats this season. And in that respect, her hitting heroics would have made for a pleasing, if familiar, story line on their own: an unsung player steps up in one of her final games and lifts her team's postseason chances.

But it was what happened after an overly excited Tucholsky missed first base on her home run trot and reversed direction to tag the bag that proved unforgettable.

"Sara is small -- she's like 5-2, really tiny," Western Oregon coach Pam Knox said. "So you would never think that she would hit a home run. The score was 0-0, and Sara hit a shot over center field. And I'm coaching third and I'm high-fiving the other two runners that came by -- then all of a sudden, I look up, and I'm like, 'Where's Sara?' And I look over, and she's in a heap beyond first base."

While she was doubling back to tag first base, Tucholsky's right knee gave out. The two runners who had been on base already had crossed home plate, leaving her the only offensive player on the field of play, even as she lay crumpled in the dirt a few feet from first base and a long way from home plate. First-base coach Shannon Prochaska -- Tucholsky's teammate for three seasons and the only voice she later remembered hearing in the ensuing conversation -- checked to see whether she could crawl back to the base under her own power.

Rule clarification

As one of the umpires involved in the game between Central Washington and Western Oregon confirmed in an e-mail to ESPN.com, the rule in question was misinterpreted on the field after Tucholsky's injury and later clarified by the NCAA.

According to page 105, rule 8.5.3.2 of the NCAA softball rule book, "If an injury to a batter-runner or runner prevents her from proceeding to an awarded base, the ball is dead and the substitution can be made. The substitute must legally touch all awarded or missed bases not previously touched."

-- Graham Hays

As Knox explained, "It went through my mind, I thought, 'If I touch her, she's going to kill me.' It's her only home run in four years. I didn't want to take that from her, but at the same time, I was worried about her."

Umpires confirmed that the only option available under the rules was to replace Tucholsky at first base with a pinch runner and have the hit recorded as a two-run single instead of a three-run home run. Any assistance from coaches or trainers while she was an active runner would result in an out. So without any choice, Knox prepared to make the substitution, taking both the run and the memory from Tucholsky.

"And right then," Knox said, "I heard, 'Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?'"

The voice belonged to Holtman, a four-year starter who owns just about every major offensive record there is to claim in Central Washington's record book. She also is staring down a pair of knee surgeries as soon as the season ends. Her knees ache after every game, but having already used a redshirt season earlier in her career, and ready to move on to graduate school and coaching at Central, she put the operations on hold so as to avoid missing any of her final season. Now, with her own opportunity for a first postseason appearance very much hinging on the outcome of the game -- her final game at home -- she stepped up to help a player she knew only as an opponent for four years.

"Honestly, it's one of those things that I hope anyone would do it for me," Holtman said. "She hit the ball over her fence. She's a senior; it's her last year. … I don't know, it's just one of those things I guess that maybe because compared to everyone on the field at the time, I had been playing longer and knew we could touch her, it was my idea first. But I think anyone who knew that we could touch her would have offered to do it, just because it's the right thing to do. She was obviously in agony."

Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace lifted Tucholsky off the ground and supported her weight between them as they began a slow trip around the bases, stopping at each one so Tucholsky's left foot could secure her passage onward. Even with Tucholsky feeling the pain of what trainers subsequently came to believe was a torn ACL (she was scheduled for tests to confirm the injury on Monday), the surreal quality of perhaps the longest and most crowded home run trot in the game's history hit all three players.

"We all started to laugh at one point, I think when we touched the first base," Holtman said. "I don't know what it looked like to observers, but it was kind of funny because Liz and I were carrying her on both sides and we'd get to a base and gently, barely tap her left foot, and we'd all of a sudden start to get the giggles a little bit."

Accompanied by a standing ovation from the fans, they finally reached home plate and passed the home run hitter into the arms of her own teammates.

Then Holtman and Wallace returned to their positions and tried to win the game.

Liz Wallace, Sara, and Mallory Holtman

Blake Wolf

Sara Tucholsky got a lift from Central Washington's Liz Wallace, left, and Mallory Holtman.

Hollywood would have a difficult time deciding how such a script should end, whether to leave Tucholsky's home run as the decisive blow or reward the selfless actions of her opponents. Reality has less room for such philosophical quandaries. Central Washington did rally for two runs in the bottom of the second -- runs that might have tied the game had Knox been forced to replace Tucholsky -- but Western Oregon held on for a 4-2 win.

But unlike a movie, the credits didn't roll after the final out, and the story that continues has little to do with those final scores.

"It kept everything in perspective and the fact that we're never bigger than the game," Knox said of the experience. "It was such a lesson that we learned -- that it's not all about winning. And we forget that, because as coaches, we're always trying to get to the top. We forget that. But I will never, ever forget this moment. It's changed me, and I'm sure it's changed my players."

For her part, Holtman seems not altogether sure what all the fuss is about. She seems to genuinely believe that any player in her position on any field on any day would have done the same thing. Which helps explains why it did happen on that day and on that field.

And she appreciates the knowledge that while the results of Saturday's game and her senior season soon will fade into the dust and depth of old media guides and Internet archives, the story of what happened in her final game at home will live on far longer.

"I think that happening on Senior Day, it showed the character of our team," Holtman said. "Because granted I thought of it, but everyone else would have done it. It's something people will talk about for Senior Day. They won't talk about who got hits and what happened and who won; they'll talk about that. And it's kind of a nice way to go out, because it shows what our program is about and the kind of people we have here."

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.

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Baseball, Softball, Golf Among Seven Sports Under Consideration For 2016 Olympics

Baseball, Softball, Golf Among Seven Sports Under Consideration For 2016 Olympics

Softball and baseball, which were cut from the Olympic program for the 2012 London Games, will get a chance for reinstatement at the IOC assembly in Copenhagen, Denmark, in October 2009.

Golf, rugby, squash, karate and roller sports will also be considered for the two openings on the 2016 schedule. All five had failed to win admission into the London Olympics in 2005.

The International Olympic Committee has sent letters to the world governing bodies of the seven sports notifying them that they are on the list for consideration, IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said Friday.

Softball and baseball have been lobbying hard for a return to the Olympics since being voted off the program by the IOC in Singapore in 2005. Both sports will be played at this summer's Beijing Olympics but will be absent in London.

In Singapore, softball missed out by one vote and baseball by three. After they were dropped, the IOC then rejected golf and the four others hoping to get into the games, leaving London with only 26 sports rather than the usual 28.

Under a new formula approved last year, it will take a simple majority for a sport to be voted onto the program. Previously, a two-thirds majority was needed.

The sports program is fixed seven years in advance of each Olympics. The IOC will also select the 2016 host city during the Copenhagen session, with Chicago, Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro among the leading contenders.

The same 26 sports on the London program will be put forward for 2016 in Copenhagen. The IOC has set a ceiling of 28 sports, meaning there will be room for only one or two new additions.

Moreau said the IOC will send out questionnaires to the seven sports federations in December, with replies to be returned by March 2009. The IOC program commission will prepare a report assessing the seven sports in April 2009.

For the first time, leaders of the seven sports will make presentations to the IOC executive board in Lausanne, Switzerland, in June 2009. The executive board will then submit proposals to the full IOC in Copenhagen on which sports to include.

The procedure has been streamlined following widespread criticism of the arduous procedures at the IOC session in Singapore, where members voted individually on each of the 28 sports.

Softball, a women's sport in the Olympics, joined the games in Atlanta in 1996. Baseball debuted as a medal sport in Barcelona in 1992.

Golf, which was last played in the Olympics in 1904, got a boost earlier this month when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem endorsed the sport's bid to get back into the games.

Rugby, last played at the 1924 Olympics, has proposed a Sevens tournament rather than the traditional 15-a-side competition.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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