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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Six Crazy Concept Bikes You'll Never Ride

There's something about the bike, along with the chair, that draws designers. Despite being an almost perfect design already, the reworkings of the humble bicycle seem almost endless. Some are genuine improvements, such as the change from pedals fixed to the front wheel (Penny Farthing) to a rod or chain driving the rear wheel, and others are less so (low-riders, anyone?)

You wouldn't think that much more could be done to the basic diamond-framed, two-wheeled approach, but those designers can' stop fiddling. Here are some of the fruits of their labors.

Above: A bike with square wheels may look impractical, but it would actually be ridable -- on a highway that is surfaced with a series of inverted catenaries.

Photo: vrogy/Flickr

Pilen Concept
This one makes it into the list because it looks so cool. Based on 1930s Le Mans racing bikes, the Pilen Concept is designed by Eric Therner for Swedish company Pilen Bikes. Is might look retro, but hidden behind the styling is a lot of high-tech gear. LED lights are built in to the frame and the saddle is in two parts for independent shock absorption.

Oddly, despite having two brake levers, the Pilen doesn't seem to have a front brake. And the nonadjustable seat height could be a problem, too. But who cares when it looks this good?

Pilen Concept product page [Addi via Design Boom]

Cube Urban Street Concept
This bike, despite its looks, is a folder, squishing down to a backpack-sized collection of carbon fiber rods and tubes. You'll still need to find somewhere to put the wheels, but once that's done, you have another pretty theft-proof design. And it's just as well. Carrying a lock would probably treble the weight of the bike.

Cube's Collapsible Carbon Concept Cycle [Gadget Lab]

Cardboard Bike

The idea behind design student Phil Bridge's concept is that it is theft-proof: Nobody would steal a cardboard bike. And if they do, it'll only cost $30 to buy a new one. This isn't any old cardboard -- it's hexacomb cardboard, a tough material used in the packing industry which can be foil-faced for waterproofing.

Bridge says that the bike should last for around six months in normal use, and the non-card parts can simply be reused on the next one. We do wonder, though, how the high-stress components will do. I've been through plenty of cranks in the past, for example, and those were made of metal.

Design Student Produces $30 Cardboard Bike [Quickrelease via Bicycle Design]

Puma Bike
The Puma isn't a concept bike, since you can actually buy one, but it's definitely in the spirit of the weird and wonderful. It's Puma Bike is a single-geared bike with dual-disk brakes.

The central conceit is the cable replacing one section of the frame (the down tube), which renders it pretty much theft-proof. The idea is this: You remove the cable and use it to lock the (now-folded) bike. If a thief cuts the cable, he can't ride off on the bike. Simple and almost worthy of Alexander the Great in it's ingenuity (Alex was the Gordian knot guy).

While we've covered the Puma bike before (in its Glow-Rider guise) we've never tested one, so we can't confirm our fear that that cable-strung frame will be a little mushy and wobbly to ride. €1100 ($1700).

Puma Bike product page [Puma]

The Ride
Ellsworth Bicycle's "The Ride" is another bike you can actually purchase, if you've got the dough; but it deserves a place in this lineup for its crazy transmission. Instead of using a fixed number gears, The Ride's "continuously variable planetary drive" offers an infinitely variable drive ratio. As you twist a dial on the handlebar, it changes the angle between two steel plates in the hub, adjusting the torque. The design was first envisioned by Leonardo da Vinci in the 1490s, and it can be yours for a mere $3,000.

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Big Brown photo reveals loose shoe early in Belmont Stakes

A photo taken during the early stages of the Belmont Stakes has revealed Big Brown was running with a loose shoe as the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner attempted to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1979.

Michael Iavarone, a co-president of International Equine Acquisitions Holdings -- Big Brown's stable -- told Newsday that freelance photographer Russ Melton e-mailed him two close-up shots, which he opened late Saturday night.

Big Brown

Copyright Russ Melton

Big Brown's dislodged shoe, shown about 200 yards into the Belmont, may have "been like trying to run with a wobbly cleat."

The photos show a dislodged shoe on the horse's right hind hoof about 200 yards into the Belmont.

There was no evidence of injury to the hoof after the race, but Iavarone didn't think it could have been comfortable for the horse, who was wearing an acrylic patch on his left front hoof to compensate for a painful quarter crack.

"The picture shocked me," Iavarone said, according to the report. "When the shoe spread, a nail could have been pinching him. Or he could have been stepping on a hot nail, which would have been worse. I'm guessing the nail went back in but not in the same spot. Or it could have been a loose shoe, which would be like trying to run with a wobbly cleat."

"Any of those things would be significant for a horse running a mile and a half. The [deep] track was my original explanation. But now I'm thinking the shoe was dislodged during the race and incorrectly reset while he was running."

In an interview last week with the Thoroughbred Times, Greg Bennett, the primary veterinarian for Rick Dutrow, Big Brown's trainer, confirmed the horse had raced with a loose shoe but minimized the impact it might have had on the Belmont performance.

The bay colt was eased up by jockey Kent Desormeaux in the stretch, ending up last, beaten by eight other horses. Later physical examinations of Big Brown by Dutrow discovered nothing out of the ordinary. Blood tests also revealed nothing abnormal.

"It didn't seem to be any soundness issues with the horse," Bennett said, according to the Thoroughbred Times. "He did loosen [the right] hind shoe, but I don't know how much of a factor that was."

But Bennett said in the Newsday report the loose shoe could help explain Big Brown's abrupt fall from grace.

"When a shoe comes off, it does throw a horse out of balance, but it depends how traumatically it happens and at what stage of the race," Bennett told the paper. "A couple nails can loosen up, which can cause a lot of problems and affect a horse's performance.

Big Brown's stable will transition to a drug-free operation by the end of the year, according to IEAH co-president Michael Iavarone.

"I'm not sure how much of an issue it was with Big Brown. Sometimes horses feel it after the race and are sore, but I'm not aware of that with Big Brown."

Meanwhile, Iavarone said Monday the 50-plus horses owned by his stable will be drug free by the end of the year. That includes steroids and all other legal racing medications except for Lasix.

Iavarone said last week's Congressional hearing in which owners, veterinarians and industry officials expressed a strong desire to rid the sport of steroids led to the decision.

"You see that people that are influential in the game all want it," Iavarone told The Associated Press. "Hopefully we're the first of many [owners] to take the step, but you've got to show you really want it."

Dutrow created a stir before the Belmont when he told reporters he decided against giving the horse his monthly dose of stanozolol, a legal steroid sometimes sold under the brand name Winstrol. Some critics speculated Big Brown was suffering from steroid withdrawal during the race, a notion Iavarone dismisses.

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield -- the ranking Republican on the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection -- called the move a good sign, but doesn't expect to see other owners lining up behind IEAH.

"I'm confident there's not going to be a mass stampede by owners," Whitfield told the AP. "There are owners in some states who fear [by not taking the drugs] they would be less competitive."

Whether other owners come forward and take a similar stance might not matter. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium are pushing the 38 racing states to adopt a model rule that would ban all but four steroids considered therapeutic in nature.

I applaud anybody who can see the writing on the wall.

-- California Horse Racing Board chairman Robert Shapiro, on drug-free stables

Under the model rule, which could be in place in each of the states by the end of the year, horses that are administered one of the four approved steroids -- including stanozolol -- would be prohibited from racing for 30 days. Once they return to the track, they must test under the allowable threshold for the drug or the trainer and owner would be subject to penalties and fines.

"If they're not going to do it properly, it's going to be imposed upon them," said California Horse Racing Board chairman Robert Shapiro. "I applaud anybody who can see the writing on the wall."

The writing may not be enough. Whitfield isn't convinced the model rule is strong enough, citing the complicated rule-making process in each of the states and the inability to adopt uniform penalties.

"It sounds good to say X state has adopted a uniform rule, but when you look closer you see that they're not really consistent in any way," said Whitfield, who said the government is considering several options, including creating a national body to oversee the sport.

IEAH's position goes far beyond the model rule. When Big Brown heads to the starting gate for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic in Santa Anita in October, he'll be clean, or else.

"We're willing to forgo everything," Iavarone said, according to the AP. "If we win the Breeders' Cup and test for anything positive, even if it's legal, we're going to give up the purse."

A loss on the track would pale in comparison to the loss in the breeding shed.

IEAH sold Big Brown's breeding rights to Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky., for a reported $50 million. If he struggles in the summer and fall -- his next race is the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in August -- his stud fee will plummet and the stable's reputation could tumble.

It's a risk the man who grew up hopping the fence at Roosevelt Park in New York to watch the races is willing to take.

"We're trying to take a forward step to regain the public's confidence," Iavarone said. "It comes down to the public in this game. If the public doesn't show up, if the public doesn't bet on horse racing, they're going to stop betting. Is it the end-all, cure-all? I think it's a step in the right direction. I think if owners just agree to play the game the right way, this can only help."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Gang robbed football legend Pele

By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Pele (file photo)
Pele is regarded as possibly the world's greatest player

Former Brazilian football star Pele has been robbed by an armed gang while on his way to his seaside home.

As many as 10 people were reported to have been involved in the robbery, but Pele was unhurt in the incident.

He was on his way from the city of Sao Paulo to a house he owns on the coast when the robbery happened at the entrance of a tunnel.

The robbery took place earlier this month, but details have only just emerged.

Police say there is frequent traffic congestion in the area, and that gangs from a nearby favela (shanty town) often take advantage of this to stage robberies.

Robberies common

According to the newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo, Pele's car was surrounded by 10 armed men who took his gold necklace, a mobile phone and a watch.

Pele was in the passenger seat of his car. According to his spokesman, when the gang recognised the former player they gave the driver back some items they had taken from him.

The former Brazilian football star was not so lucky, as the gang then decided to flee on foot with his valuables.

Pele, who is said to have remained calm during the robbery, apparently believed the men were high on drugs.

The local police say they were not informed about the incident.

Robberies of cars stopped at traffic lights or in congestion are not uncommon in Brazil, and many wealthy families have resorted to buying bullet-proof cars as a form of protection.

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Physical causes likely at the root of "yips" on the golf green: study

Physical causes likely at the root of 'yips' on the golf green: study
- Dragana Kovacevic

Don't choke before you finish reading this article...A phenomenon familiar to many expert golfers known as the "yips" is shedding some insight into potential causes of the disorder.

Also known as golfer's cramp, the symptoms of the yips include sudden tremors, jerking or freezing while putting, but no pain or discomfort (if you discount the discomfort of lower performance.)

Focal dystonia
Traditionally, the disorder has been viewed as a psychological issue, prompted by performance anxiety that's so severe it makes putting nearly impossible in the most severe cases.

But research carried out by the Mayo Clinic over the past few years suggests that it may also be caused by focal dystonia - a disorder characterized by involuntary, rapid muscle movements.

"While pressure situations make the problem worse, it is difficult to imagine why good golfers would suddenly begin having the yips after years of successful performance if it was only a matter of anxiety or 'choking,'" says Aynsley Smith, Ph.D., Director of Sport Psychology and Sports Medicine Research at the Mayo Clinic.

"Although performance anxiety may cause the yips in many golfers, muscle and nervous system deterioration caused by prolonged overuse may be at the root of the problem for other players," says Smith. "This may explain why some get relief and play successfully by changing their grip or by switching to a longer putter."

A research trip most scientists only dream of
More recently, Mayo Clinic researcher Dr. Charles Adler, looking into possible causes, took his research on the green to better simulate the stress that appears to prompt or worsen the symptoms of yips.

Teaming-up with other Mayo colleagues and researchers at Arizona State University (ASU), the group looked at 24 golfers experiencing yips and 24 non-yips golfers as each performed common putting tasks.

Participants were outfitted with special gloves that contained sensors, providing researchers with relevant feedback, yielding insight into how and why dystonia strikes, as well as what possible treatments may help curtail the problem.

The researchers noted that the disorder translates into any profession or hobby that involves strenuous, repetitive movement, such as is witnessed with writer's cramp or musician's cramp.

The team hopes that research into possible treatments may soon yield potential therapies for other movement disorders.

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No more Pacman? Jones wants to drop nickname

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP)—No more “Pacman”?

That would be the preference of Adam Jones, the suspended Dallas Cowboys cornerback who has been known by the nickname throughout his life. He’d like to be called by his given name and make “Pacman” a thing of the past.

“There’s really just a lot of negativity behind it,” Jones said. “It’s just time for a change, man. I’m doing everything to make sure that I’m all right as a person, mentally and emotionally.”

Jones missed all the 2007 season with the Tennessee Titans while serving his NFL suspension that has not been completed lifted. The Cowboys acquired Jones from the Titans for draft picks in April.

While he was on the practice field with the Cowboys the last three weeks, Jones might have to wait until the week before Dallas’ Sept. 7 opener to find out if commissioner Roger Goodell will let him play during the regular season.

After speaking to about 60 kids at a basketball camp hosted by Dallas Mavericks forward Brandon Bass on Saturday, Jones expressed his desire to drop his nickname.

The kids at the camp called out “Pacman Jones! Pacman Jones!” after he spoke to them. But he signed autographs with his given name, not the nickname given to him by his mother when he was an infant.

“My mom is going to call me ‘Pacman.’ That is what it is. I can’t change that,” Jones said. “I’m not saying that my teammates won’t call me ‘Pacman’ on the field. But for the most part, I want to be Adam or Mr. Jones.”

Rosters handed out by the Cowboys during their mandatory minicamp last week listed No. 21 as “Pacman Jones,” based on what he had initially told team officials.

When Jones conducted his only extensive interview at the Cowboys’ facility June 4, the first week he was cleared by Goodell to practice with the team, he gave no indication that he planned to forsake his nickname.

Jones had told reporters that he’d talk Thursday after the end of minicamp, the last organized on-field sessions for Cowboys until they report July 24 to training camp in Oxnard, Calif. But there was no media access after coach Wade Phillips canceled the final scheduled practice and replaced it with family day activities.

Jones was suspended in April 2007 following an accumulation of arrests and legal problems, including his connection to a shooting at a Las Vegas strip club. He’s been arrested six times and involved in 12 incidents requiring police intervention since being drafted in the first round by Tennessee in 2005.

Meanwhile, Jone’s name has recently appeared in the news. A woman involved in the Las Vegas brawl was found dead last week behind a building in the Bronx, a borough of New York City. Officers found her unresponsive with injuries consistent with a fall.

The woman, 26-year-old Sadia Morrison, had pleaded no contest to a felony battery charge last year in Las Vegas. Jones pleaded no contest to a disorderly conduct charge in Las Vegas after police said he incited the melee.

Back in Tennessee, a foreclosure sale was published involving Jones’ home and 30 acres in a Nashville suburb. The home and land are scheduled to be sold Friday on the courthouse steps. Tax records show Jones purchased the property in July 2006 for $1.5 million, but he defaulted on the terms and conditions of a mortgage.

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Team Helly Hansen: No sleep until the finish line

Tarquin Cooper joins the adventurers who run, cycle, kayak and navigate all over Britain

I'd like to think Christopher Columbus, the explorer, would be proud. Just a few miles south of Weybridge, in the midst of Surrey's suburbia, I have discovered a swamp - a proper, dank, bug-infested swamp.

Cyclists at the Helly Hansen Adventure Races
Cyclists at last year's Helly Hansen Adventure Race

"Do you think they have any leeches here?" a doctor in the group asks. She is only half joking. It feels like we could be in the Amazon. Unfortunately I'm supposed to be in a car park, but my navigation skills are not up to much. I'm here to spend a day with Team Helly Hansen, one of Britain's top adventure racing teams, and explore this strange world where adventure meets extreme endurance.

Adventure racing might have been dreamt up by a masochist. Races are multi-discipline events in which mixed teams run, mountain-bike and kayak around remote locations, navigating between checkpoints with a map and compass and eating only the high-energy supplies they can carry on their backs.

Some races last a few hours and are shorter than a marathon; others last several days, have no stops for sleep and cover up to 600 miles. Additional elements can include climbing, canyoning, sea-kayaking and abseiling.

In the past few years, hundreds of these races have sprung up in Britain. "Triathlons and marathons are personal and you're perhaps trying for a personal best," says Jim Mee, managing director of Detail Events, which organises the biggest races in Britain.

"Adventure races are not based on pure physicality, they're also mentally engaging." And, claims Mee, anyone can get involved. "At our events, you get competitive triathletes and armchair adventurers who just want to give it a go."

Among the most popular events are the Rat Races, which take place in urban settings. At last year's London event, competitors ran and cycled around the capital, abseiled off Twickenham Stadium, canoed in the Thames and ate jellied eels.

For Howard Lowe, 32-year-old captain of Team Helly Hansen, part of the sport's appeal is that it takes participants to places they wouldn't normally visit. "How often do you see the sun rise on a mountain at 5am?" he asks.

In the past few years, events have led him to New Zealand, Canada, Slovenia and all the wildest parts of Britain. "One of my highlights was paddling from the Isle of Rum [in the west of Scotland] to the mainland last year. It was very rough, lots of water in your face. Then suddenly there was blue sky, we were in a sheltered spot and it felt like the South Pacific."

Alas, when I am put through my paces and capsize my kayak in the Thames, it feels more like the glacial Arctic, only less drinkable.

In a race, competitors don't stop between stages, and nor do I. As I get out of the water, Howard straps the kayak onto a makeshift trolley, then I run back to our base at Weybridge Health Club pulling it behind me.

Tough enough, but at the top end of the sport it's common for teams to not sleep for days on end and experience hallucinations - or "sleep monsters", as they are known in the community.

Can it really be fun? "In the face of adversity we have a good laugh," says team member Nicola MacLeod, 29, an Army doctor. "It's a laugh or cry thing."

She adds that adventure racing is a sport where women, who comprise a third of British racers, are just as good as men. "Women are known to have a higher pain threshold than men. We do well at sleep deprivation. We have that mental ability to carry on."

Lowe adds: "It's really satisfying to complete a journey as a team. It's funny but afterwards the pain quickly dies away and you only remember the fantastic parts."

In the space of a few hours I've paddled a glorious section of the Thames, ridden and run around some woods - and it has been great fun. Whether I've learnt enough to complete a full adventure race remains to be seen.


  • Light, multi-purpose clothing is essential and can mean the difference between discomfort and enjoyment, failure and success (
  • Learn to use a map and compass and practise in an area you know. Find an orienteering course at www.british
  • Choose your teammates carefully. You'll be working together when you're tired, hungry, cross and at very close quarters.

  • First-timers should try the Helly Hansen Adventure Challenge Series, starting on September 21 in Cannock Chase, Staffordshire. There are five race dates, ending on March 29, 2009 in Windermere, Lake District. The entry fee is £135 per team of three and there are discounts for group or series entries (
  • Another ideal starter race is the one-day Ace Race on July 12 in Bracknell Forest (
  • Find other races at www.sleep

  • Original here

    Worst NBA Draft Lottery Picks of All-Time

    Michael Olowokandi
    Michael Olowokandi has averaged 8.3 points per game for his career.
    v/Getty Images
    By Lang Whitaker,

    Once again, the NBA Draft is upon us, meaning GMs around the League will once again get a chance to show us that they know talent. And while picking later in the Draft gives teams a chance to gamble on players they think are underrated, teams selecting in the Lottery are expected to find sure things, guy who just can't miss. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. Here are my top five worst NBA Draft Lottery picks of all time.

    1. Darko Milicic: Darko's actually turned out to have a fair NBA career, recently signing a lucrative contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. Still, his production has never matched the expectations that came with him being drafted second overall in the 2003 NBA Draft ahead of players like Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, among many others.

    2. Michael Olowokandi: Snagged first overall in the 1998 Draft by the Clips, The Kandi Man never managed to make everything he touched satisfying and delicious.

    3. Kedrick Brown: The Celts selected this JuCo star 11th in the 2001 Draft, much higher than most experts had him projected (at least, those who had heard of him). He most recently played in the NBA's D-League.

    4. Kwame Brown: Drafted first overall in 2001 and endorsed by none other than Michael Jordan, NBA fans are still waiting for Brown's skills to catch up with his body.

    5. Robert Swift: It's still early to completely write Swift off, his career has been defined by injuries thus far. At least he's found a good tattoo parlor in Seattle to fill his downtime.

    Who is the worst NBA Draft Lottery pick of all-time? Let us know below…

    Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at

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    U.S. men's team announced, with high hopes of regaining gold

    CHICAGO -- MVP Kobe Bryant has a shot at another big prize after falling short of the NBA championship, and he'll have plenty of help along the way.

    LeBron James is there. Dwyane Wade, too.

    They will lead a U.S. Olympic basketball team that was announced Monday and hopes to capture the gold medal in Beijing in August after a third-place showing in Athens four years ago.

    The team already has "re-established itself" on an international level, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said during a news conference.

    The next step is to bring home the gold, and the U.S. will send a deep, versatile team to China. Carmelo Anthony and Jason Kidd were also among the 12 players chosen from a pool of 33. They were joined by the Detroit Pistons' Tayshaun Prince, along with Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Michael Redd and Deron Williams.

    "It was a very difficult selection process," Colangelo said. "When you have as many outstanding players as we have in this country -- to select a group of 12 is obviously going to leave out a number of outstanding people."

    The Pistons issued a statement from Prince in which he said he was "honored to be selected."

    "I take great pride in being given the opportunity to represent my country, and I strongly believe that with the team that has been assembled, the United States will be represented well," Prince said.

    The team was selected without a tryout. It will have a minicamp this week in Las Vegas and meet there July 20-25 to train and play an exhibition against Canada before heading overseas. The Americans open Olympic play against China on Aug. 10.

    Going For The Gold

    Tayshaun Prince was one of seven players named to the 12-man U.S. basketball roster who will get their first taste of Olympic experience. The roster, to be coached by Duke's Mike Krzyzewski:

    12 Talented Men
    Carmelo Anthony Jason Kidd
    Carlos Boozer Chris Paul
    Chris Bosh Tayshaun Prince
    Kobe Bryant Michael Redd
    Dwight Howard Dwyane Wade
    LeBron James Deron Williams
    Most Returning Olympians
    *1996 (6): Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, Mitch Richmond, David Robinson, John Stockton
    2008 (5): Anthony, Boozer, James, Kidd, Wade
    *1992 (4): Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Chris Mullin, Robinson
    * -- Won gold medal

    Although the Americans captured the gold at the Sydney Games in 2000, they no longer dominate international play as they once did. The talent gap has narrowed and many top players have chosen to not play for the national team in recent years.

    Now, the U.S. team appears loaded. Then again, the Americans went 5-3 in Athens and lost for the first time since NBA players started competing in 1992 even though they had James, Anthony, Wade and Tim Duncan. That group got routed by Puerto Rico before losing to Lithuania and Argentina, but this one is confident it will take the gold.

    "It's really the world's game. We think we're the best at playing that game," said coach Mike Krzyzewski, warning that "unless we show the respect to the rest of the world that it is the world's game" there will be no gold medal.

    Wade and Anthony said they didn't know what to expect in Athens.

    "I've always seen greatness in the Olympics, but that was never one of my dreams," Wade said. "I never really expected to be on the Olympic team, especially in my first year. I didn't have a clue what I was getting into. ... Now, we respect the game so much. We respect the team basketball that they play internationally so much."

    Anthony saw the 2004 Games as a chance to have "some of the best workouts in the summertime with the best players in the world" and went there thinking "the USA is supposed to win everything."

    "Going through that experience really helped me to learn the international game," Anthony said.

    He's part of a team that includes one of the best shooters (Redd) and defenders (Prince). There are role players and scorers, including the two biggest.

    Bryant will play in his first Olympics after winning his first MVP while leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the Finals. James averaged 30.0 points, just enough to beat Bryant for the scoring title.

    Those two, along with Anthony, Kidd and Dwight Howard, started for a team that went unbeaten in the Olympic qualifying tournament last year. Eight of the 12 players headed to Beijing played on that team and six played in the 2006 world championships.

    "We're a team already," Krzyzewski said. "The thing that this program has done is ... provide continuity and relationships. ... We'll hit the ground running."

    Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire withdrew from Olympic consideration, apparently concerned about pushing his body too hard after knee surgery in 2005 and 2006. So did Detroit's Chauncey Billups, who would have had a tough time making the team given the backcourt depth.

    Wade's season ended in March because of a sore left knee that had been bothering him since surgery in 2007. He started working out in his hometown Chicago in May, and James and Paul joined him to help sharpen his game. Colangelo visited recently and left convinced the 6-foot-4 guard was healthy.

    "This was to see how far along he had come in his rehab," Colangelo said. "That was the whole thing. Plus, I had a little conversation I wanted to have with him. We took care of that. I watched him work. I saw him do a few things in terms of explosiveness that showed me that he was pretty much back."

    Trainer Tim Grover has been working out with Wade. Colanagelo said Grover assured him the Miami Heat star will completely ready when the team gathers in Las Vegas next month.

    "I feel great," Wade said.

    And he'd feel even better with a gold medal dangling from his neck.

    Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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    Ensuring It Still Feels Like the Old Ball Game

    Chris Machian for The New York Times

    Lambert Bartak, the College World Series organist for more than 50 years, playing a 1935 Hammond organ at Rosenblatt Stadium.

    OMAHA — People always ask Lambert Bartak about the time an umpire tossed him from a baseball game, a dubious distinction for an organist.

    But that was just one song — a perfectly timed rendition of the Mickey Mouse Club theme (“M-I-C-K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E”) after a controversial call 20 years ago — among the countless ditties he has played in more than 50 years at Rosenblatt Stadium. Bartak, a vibrant 89, knows hundreds of songs by memory, or at least his fingers do. He remembers only a handful of the precise moments when a particular song was played.

    There was the time when the Kansas City Royals’ Class AAA affiliate, as part of some promotion, asked Bartak to play “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” — backward.

    “Buh, buh, buh,” Bartak said on Friday, trying to sound out the final three notes of the chorus in reverse order. Everyone, now: Game, ball, old ...

    “Oh, it’s a horrible-sounding thing backwards,” Bartak said.

    He sat, shoeless, in an enclosed booth, just a man and his weathered 1935 Hammond organ, alone and anonymous in their timeless endeavor. A ballpark organist is part of the unobtrusive background of baseball, or used to be, until most were quietly silenced by time and outsourced by recorded music.

    But after decades of playing largely behind the scenes — as an accordion accompaniment to Johnny Carson’s early magic shows (both spent childhoods in Norfolk, Neb.), as a studio musician for a radio station and as a ballpark organist here during the College World Series — Bartak can finally be seen as something more than a lithe-fingered provider of space-filling background music.

    He is a reminder of how ballparks used to sound, and feel, and how they increasingly do not.

    According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, organs gained a place at ballparks after the Chicago Cubs brought one to Wrigley Field for a game in 1941. It was instantly popular. In 1942, the Brooklyn Dodgers added a full-time organist at Ebbets Field.

    Other teams followed, and the trend peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. Their numbers have dwindled since. The Hall’s director of research, Tim Wiles, traced at least part of the beginning of the end to a change in ownership for the Mets after the 1979 season. The longtime organist Jane Jarvis was nudged out at Shea Stadium in favor of canned music. Teams wanted their music to rock, not reverberate.

    Most major league teams do not employ organists anymore. Even the Omaha Royals, Rosenblatt’s primary tenants, stopped using Bartak a few seasons ago. It is possible that none of the players on the eight teams that made this year’s College World Series have played in another stadium with an organist.

    The slow death of organ music may soon hit this event, where the organ still thrives as if there were no tomorrow, only yesterdays. A new stadium is planned for downtown Omaha in 2011, and Bartak doubts that there will be a spot reserved for an organist.

    Until then, he punctuates every third out with a three-chord coda, and fills part of the still air between innings with a three-song medley. He does not plan the song lists, relying simply on some indescribable intuition and the hundreds of song titles he has scrawled before him.

    Some are written on a yellow sheet from a legal pad. Some are on a manila folder. Some are on random scraps of paper. Some are on a Newsweek subscription card, the kind that spills from magazines.

    Inexplicably, Bartak has homemade sheet music for a few songs, including the national anthem and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The sheets are withered and yellowed, and the ink has run. Bartak does not glance at them.

    “I know them all,” he said. “It’s really just a crutch.”

    At one break between innings, his medley included “You Are My Sunshine,” “You Don’t Know Me” and something else vaguely familiar, which is the way most organ music sounds.

    “What else did I play?” Bartak said, repeating the question, trying to jog his short-term memory. “I don’t remember. I probably just made it up.”

    The organ at the stadium, the same one that has been there all along, is in need of a makeover. Its pale paint is cracked in spots, worn away in others. For years, it sat above the stands along the third-base line in a booth with a leaky roof and unmannered pigeons.

    Now it is well protected, almost like a museum piece, in a cramped glass-walled booth inside one end of Rosenblatt’s press box above the first-base side. The organ blocks Bartak’s view of home plate, and he waits for a raised arm from a man nearby who runs the stadium’s sound system to start playing.

    Bartak plays in his stocking feet, because it is easier to move about the pedals. A bowl of peanuts sits on the piano. A pillow is taped to the wall as a backrest, and another pillow makes the bench softer to sit on. Inside the bench is more music, some newspaper clippings, crossword puzzles, pretzels and M&Ms.

    For most of the game, Bartak’s playing causes no ruckus and barely garners attention in the stands. That is both the organ’s charm and its curse, depending on your appetite for distraction. But he is well known here, and receives warm applause when he is introduced before games.

    When the seventh-inning stretch arrives, the first few notes of “Ball Game,” as Bartak’s handwritten sheet music calls it, lifts more than 20,000 people to their feet and gets them singing. For a moment, the organ is not just part of the ambient sound, but is plugged into the fans.

    The video scoreboard shows Bartak playing, and he gives a wave and returns the applause when the song ends. The game continues and Bartak disappears into the background, waiting for the signal to play again.

    Original here

    Can Position Players Really Pitch?

    Have you ever been to a Major League Baseball game when all of a sudden the second baseman was called over to the mound to finish out an inning? Didn’t think so! This is a common practice in Youth Baseball Leagues, High School leagues, and sometimes Minor League games, but it never happens in MLB right? WRONG! The situation rarely takes place during an entire MLB season, but it does happen!!

    How often does it actually happen? Usually, it only happens in blowouts when a manager wants to save the other arms in the bullpen for another day. While it hasn’t happened yet this season (2008), six position players on four different teams toed the rubber at some point in 2007. Can you guess who they are?

    Jeff Cirillo - Arizona Diamondbacks
    Aaron Miles - St. Louis Cardinals
    Augie Ojeda - Arizona Diamondbacks
    Scott Spiezio - St. Louis Cardinals
    Josh Wilson - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
    Jason Wood - Florida Marlins

    Here is a list of position players who last pitched sorted by team: Recondite Baseball

    Apparently, Willie Randolph was considering using a position player (Ryan Church) to pitch in a drag against the Phillies in late April. The Mets have used position players in tough situations, but not since 1992. And according to Church he was not thrilled at the idea.

    Imagine the pressure of a younger, well-know, highly skilled player trying to hold his reputation after being unexpectedly moved to the mound in a tight situation. If players like Jeter and A-Rod were moved to the mound, fans could care less if they “got rocked” and lost the game anyway. Those trying to hold a position on the field after only being in the league for a few years would rather not make a debut on the mound in the heat of the moment.

    In baseball’s early years, baseball teams were smaller, and relief pitchers were relatively uncommon, with the starter normally remaining for the entire game unless he was either thoroughly ineffective or became injured; today, with a much greater emphasis on pitch count (100 being the “magic number” in general), over the course of a single game each team will frequently use from two to five pitchers.

    If a team empties the “pen” during a game or sequentially through the course of a week’s worth of games, a few position players must be designated to pitch in these tough situations. So the next time you attend a Major League Baseball game, do not be suprised if a pitcher is replaced by another player who you least expect because POSITION PLAYERS CAN REALLY PITCH!

    Original here