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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Anyone for Tennis? 7 Wimbledon Questions Answered

Ethan Trex

wimbledon-championship.jpgThe Championships, Wimbledon are in full swing at London’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. As Roger Federer and Venus Williams defend their singles titles at the only grass court Grand Slam tournament, we thought we’d answer some questions about the world’s oldest tennis championship.

How long has Wimbledon been around?
The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club hosted the first tournament in 1877. There was only a men’s draw that year, and Spencer Gore bested a field of 22 players to win the first title. Two hundred spectators shelled out a shilling apiece to watch Gore triumph in the finals. In 1884 the tournament expanded to include men’s doubles and ladies’ singles. Maud Watson beat out twelve other women to claim the inaugural ladies’ championship.

British players dominated Wimbledon early in its life; the first foreign champion didn’t come along until American May Sutton won the ladies’ championship in 1905. Since then, though, things haven’t been quite so rosy. There hasn’t been a British champion since Virginia Wade won the ladies’ draw in 1977, and since then no other British player has even made the finals.

The professional tennis version Wimbledon that we know has really only been around since 1968, though, since the field was closed to professionals for 90 years. After decades of amateur competition, Wimbledon first allowed professional players in 1968, when Rod Laver and Billie Jean King won the singles’ titles.

Why are the players wearing so much white?

Because they have to. The All England Club’s dress code dictates that players have to wear predominantly white clothing throughout the tournament, a rule unique to the Wimbledon among its Grand Slam brethren. The rule has predictably been the cause for some consternation among players, notably a young Andre Agassi, who didn’t like the suppression of his inimitable bright-colors-and-flowing-mullet style. Agassi went so far as to completely skip the tournament from 1988 to 1990, citing the dress code as part of his reason for anne-white.jpgstaying away, although pundits speculated his real hesitance had more to do with his game being ill-suited for grass courts.

Another dress code controversy sprung up last year when Tatiana Golovin took the court. Although her outfit was the prescribed white, she had on bright red underwear that showed on many shots. After a delay, the knickers were deemed short enough to be considered underwear and not part of her actual ensemble. American Anne White, on the other hand, didn’t get so lucky at the 1985 Championships. She started a match in a stunning all-white lycra body suit. When the match was later stopped due to darkness, she was told to wear more appropriate threads for the next day; she lost the third set in her more traditional duds.

Who’s been the most dominant at the Championships?
Hard to say for the gentlemen, although there are a lot of great choices. Roger Federer is gunning for his sixth straight title this year, which would break the Open-era Wimbledon record he currently shares with Bjorn Borg and tie the all-time record William Renshaw set between 1881 and 1886. For shear bulk, though, Federer will need two more titles to match Pete Sampras’ record of seven career Wimbledon championships.

Things are a lot clearer on the ladies’ side: Martina Navaratilova owned Wimbledon. Her nine singles titles are a record, as is her run of six straight between 1982 and 1987. Even more impressively, Navratilova added another seven ladies doubles titles and four mixed doubles titles. She was also ageless; her final mixed doubles title came in 2003, when she was 46 years old. Only Billie Jean King, who had six singles titles, 10 doubles titles, and four mixed wins can match Navratilova’s 20 combined Wimbledon championships.

wimbledon-strawberries.jpgWhat should a spectator munch on?
Wimbledon’s longtime favorite snack is strawberries and cream. In the tournament’s early days, strawberries were a very limited seasonal item with availability that happened to coincide with annual tennis event. As the years passed, strawberries and cream became a treasured part of the fan experience. According to one estimate, each year tournament spectators chomp through 27,000 kilos of strawberries and 7,000 liters of cream. Like everything else at Wimbledon, the snack is steeped in tradition: according to the New York Times, the berries are of the Elsanta variety and are picked the day before they’re served, and the accompanying cream must contain at least 48% butterfat.

What’s the story on the trophies?
The men’s trophy has been around since 1887; it’s a silver gilt cup with pineapple on top. Its inscription isn’t going to win any points for humility: “The All England Lawn Tennis Club Champion of the World.” Each gentlemen’s champion gets a 8-inch replica of the 18-inch trophy as a memento of his win.

The winner of the ladies’ singles draw gets a sterling silver salver, or flat tray, that’s known as the Venus Rosewater Dish. According to Wimbledon’s website, the trophy, which has been awarded since 1886, depicts various scenes from mythology, including a large central figure of Temperance and an outer ring of Minerva overlooking the seven Liberal Arts. Ladies’ champions receive a take-home replica of the Venus Rosewater Dish.

Of course, the champions don’t just win this hardware; they also get cash. This year, both the singles champions will pick up 750,000 pounds for their efforts.

What are the words above the players’ entrance to Centre Court?
Players take the court at the All England Club’s most famous court beneath an excerpt from Rudyard Kipling’s “If” that reads “If you can meet triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same…”

Do the players have to bow and curtsy to the Royal Box?
Not always. Until 2003, a rule required players to bow or curtsy to the royal family’s box upon entering or leaving Centre Court. In 2003 the rule was modified so that players only had to bow or curtsy if the Queen or Prince Charles happened to be making an appearance in the box that day. That ruling effectively meant no bowing or curtsying; when the rule went into effect, the Queen and Prince Charles hadn’t attended Wimbledon since 1977 and 1970, respectively. Interestingly, the rule was the brainchild of the president of the All England Club, who just happened to also be a member of the royal family, Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent.

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Has a footballer ever been arrested on the field of play?


Riot police took to the pitch in Nautico earlier this year, after Botafogo defender Andre Luis sparked a brawl. Photograph: Public domain

"Has a footballer ever been arrested on the field of play?" asks Phillip Brown.

In 2005, police swooped on the Quilmes defender Leandro Desábato at the final whistle of his team's 3-1 Copa Libertadores defeat to São Paulo. Desábato, it was alleged, had racially slandered opposition striker Grafite and was summarily hauled off to a local police station for questioning. "There's no need for all this chaos," complained the Quilmes coach Gustavo Alfaro after the game. "A football match should start and finish on the pitch. This has all been handled in the wrong way. It was an unnecessary spectacle [for the police] to come on to the field in front of 50,000 or 60,000 people when the player's pulse-rate is still high. He's just lost a game." Desábato was released on £2,000 bail after spending a night in the cells, but no charges were ever brought against him.

The Botafogo defender Andre Luis was also dragged off the field by riot police during a Brazilian championship match at Nautico in June 2008. Luis, sent off for a second booking, reacted furiously to the decision, antagonising opposition fans and sparking a free-for-all among the players. Officers eventually arrested the defender, but not before pepper-spraying his brawling team-mates and opponents. "Footballers are not bandits, and are not to be kicked and punched. This has to stop," raged the Botafogo president Bebeto de Freitas, who was also arrested. "The player was wrong, he will be punished and suspended. What is not acceptable is for him to have pepper in his face or be prodded in the back with a truncheon." Both Luis and De Freitas were released after questioning, although the player was subsequently handed a 12-match ban by the Court of Sports Justice.

Back in England, the Droylsden FC forward Paddi Wilson also felt the long arm of the law while he was warming up ahead of an FA Trophy tie against Ashton in 2002. Greater Manchester police arrived on the scene and was accompanied to the changing rooms for questioning, before being taken to the local nick. "Patrick Wilson was arrested on failing to appear in court in connection with outstanding road traffic offences," confirmed a spokesman for the force. Droylsden went on to win the game 2-1.

Any more for any more? Let us know at the usual address.

BRACE YOURSELVES

"At the end of last season Luca Toni scored two goals in four consecutive games: against Getafe in the Uefa Cup, Borussia Dortmund and Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga, and then two more against Dortmund in the German cup final," wrote Vazha Khutsishvili from Tbilisi, a month or two back. "Has anyone managed the same feat?"

Toni spent much of Euro 2008 helping people forget about his striking prowess in the Bundesliga, but his goalscoring streak isn't matched by many. Ben Fuggles reckons Yeovil Town's Howard Forinton deserves more than a passing mention for scoring six braces in seven games (including four in consecutive matches against Staines Town, Sutton United, Purfleet and Oxford City) as the Glovers romped to the title in the 1996-97 season in the Isthmian Premier.

If we go back 80-odd years, and allow for rather large gaps between the matches, William Ralph Dixie Dean scored two goals or more in five successive games for England in 1927: two goals against Wales in February; another brace against Scotland in April; a hat-trick against Belgium the following month; three more goals against Luxembourg in May; and a final brace against France two weeks later. A thank you to Paul Jason Haynes for that.

And Geoff Hooton also asks us to engage in a bit of time-travel. George Camsell went on an amazing scoring run for Middlesbrough in the old Second Division in 1926-27. In 12 consecutive league games, starting on October 16 and finishing on New Year's Day 1927, Camsell scoring run went: 1, 1, 1, 4, 1, 4, 1, 2, 4, 5, 2, 3 - a total of 29 goals. In fact, during that season Camsell scored 59 goals in 37 league games to set a new Football League record.

Is George Camsell's scoring streak the most prolific striking spell ever? Email us at knowledge@guardian.co.uk if you know someone who can beat it.

MOST CAPPED CAPTAINS (2)

Last week we suggested Gheorghe Hagi and Paolo Maldini as most capped opposing captains with a combined total of 234 in the Euro 2000 quarter-final between Romania and Italy.

But that mark was broken at this summer's tournament when Holland trounced the French in their Group C encounter a fortnight ago. Step forward skippers Lilian Thuram (winning his 141st, and penultimate, cap) and Edwin van der Sar (picking up his 127th), who therefore managed 268 caps between them. Thanks to Gouke van Drooge, Kiran Emrich and Sean O'Neill for the update.

KNOWLEDGE ARCHIVE

"Zambian Laughter Chilembe has played in Zimbabwe for Caps United FC, while I also know about Suprise Moriri from Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa," wrote Tinashe Mutsungi Shoko, back in those halcyon days of 2007. "But my favourite is one called Have-A-Look Dube playing for Njube Sundowns here in Zimbabwe! Any more strange/funny/good/ridiculous football names anyone can dredge up?"

"A quick look reveals some other odd-named players plying their trade in Zimbabwean football for Caps United," begins Mark Baker. "Givemore Manuella, Gift Makolonio and Method Mwanyazi are great names, but they pale into comparison beside Limited Chicafa and the outstandingly-named Danger Fourpence." Staying in Africa, there's also Stephen Sunny Sunday, who plays for Polideportivo Ejido, and South Africa's Naughty Mokoena and Tonic Chabalala. "Surely there can't be any stranger than Austrian side SC Schwanenstadt's marauding midfielder Osa Guobadia?" offers Andy Ferguson, who'll have to do better than that. "He has the name Ice Cream on the back of his shirt." More like it.

A very popular suggestion was Brazilian forward Creedence Clearwater Couto, whose parents were - fortunately - big fans of the American songsters, while there were also calls for former England internationals Harry Daft and Segar Bastard (who, incidentally, refereed an FA Cup final, played cricket for Essex and owned a racehorse).

However, it would be remiss of us to ignore Anthony Philip David Terry Frank Donald Stanley Gerry Gordon Stephen James Oatway - Charlie to his friends ("I'm named after the QPR 1972-73 promotion-winning team for those of you that have been on the moon all the time I've been at [Brighton]") - or three of our favourites: Australian keeper Norman Conquest, Seychelles star Johnny Moustache, and Congolese striker Bongo Christ.

Can you help?

"Does any top player have a more impressive collection of runners-up medals than Michael Ballack?" asks Tobin Dunn.

"The Uruguayan championship 2007-08 started on August 18 2007, and finished last Wednesday with Defensor Sporting crowned champions. Now, a mini-league with the top six teams will be played to see which teams will play the international competitions. It will end on July 20. That means the season will be 11 months and two days long. Which makes me wonder, has there ever been a longer season?" wonders Pablo Miguez.

Send your questions to knowledge@guardian.co.uk

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Gay runs wind-assisted 9.68 seconds

By Gene Cherry

EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) - World champion Tyson Gay ran the fastest 100 meters of all-time to win the American Olympic trials on Sunday, a wind-assisted 9.68 seconds.

The victory put Gay into his first U.S. Olympic team but the wind speed of 4.1 meters per second deprived the 25-year-old of a world record.

Only marks set with assisting winds of 2.0 meters per second or less can be considered for record purposes.

"The time really meant a lot because that's the time that (co-coach Jon) Drummond has been instilling in my head for a long time, that I could run 9.6," Gay told reporters.

"I didn't really care what the wind was."

Gay showed little emotion at the end of the race.

"But inside I was happy," he said.

Jamaican Usain Bolt holds the world record of 9.72 seconds. The previous best time under any conditions was a wind-assisted 9.69 seconds by Obadele Thompson of Barbados in 1996.

Gay, who ran a national record 9.77 seconds on Saturday, made a solid start and by 40 meters was in complete control of the race.

The double world champion will attempt to make the U.S. team in the 200 meters later this week with the first round on Friday.

Former collegiate champion Walter Dix finished second in 9.80 seconds with Darvis Patton third in 9.84 seconds. Both made the U.S. team.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

(For more Olympic stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing" here; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)

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Play Like You're an Olympian With This Gold-Standard Gear


By Mathew Honan

This August in Beijing, Olympic athletes will rely on the best gear in the world to perform at their peak. Here's the top tech, plus reviews of everything you'll need to have the hottest summer ever.

Photos: Thomas Hannich

Nike AeroFly

When 100-meter world record holder Asafa Powell takes off, he'll get extra lift from his AeroFly spikes. Instead of the usual stitched fabric panels, the uppers are strengthened with Nike's Flywire technology: criss-crossed cables woven from Vectran liquid-crystal polymer threads—the same stuff used in the Mars rovers' airbags. The cables resist stretching to retain lateral stiffness and conserve forward momentum. The aerodynamic skin covering the web is so light and thin you could be forgiven for thinking Powell's kicks have been painted on. Best yet, they weigh a mere 6.6 ounces.
$N/A, nike.com

Specialized Tarmac SL2

Here's the set of wheels that 2004 gold medalist Paolo Bettini will use to defend his road race title. The Tarmac SL2 is almost all carbon fiber—wheels, hubs, saddle, crankset, and frame with tubes that get wider or change shape as they approach the oversize ultra-rigid bottom bracket. What all that gets you is a bike that's stiffer than an Islay single malt served straight up—in fact, the company's stiffest racer ever—but still flexible enough to absorb the blacktop's worst bumps and ruts. Meanwhile, a shortened headtube lets Bettini stay in an aggressive but aerodynamic position on this 15.8-pound rocket. Va l'Italia!
$8,500, specialized.com

Adidas Magnus Moenia

Like any footballer, US Soccer star Natasha Kai wants the ball to go exactly where she intends; now more than ever, it will. This 14-panel ball reduces the number of places where three panels touch by more than half and reduces total seam length by 15 percent. The result is a much rounder ball, giving athletes more accuracy and control. The microdimpled outer skin, made of Adidas' proprietary PSC Texture, boosts both power transmission and swerve, so strikers can truly bend it like Beckham. It also lets goalies get a better grip—with Kai and the rest of the US women's team favored for gold on the pitch, they'll need it.
$130, adidas.com

Speedo LZR Racer

Michael Phelps moves like a marlin through the water and has six gold medals from Athens to prove it. But even the fastest fish can be caught, which is why Speedo developed the LZR Racer. Since the suit's February debut, Racer-fitted swimmers like Phelps have shattered almost 40 world records. Its secret is slick support. The fabrics have been wind-tunnel tested for surface drag, and the seams are all ultrasonically sealed—no stitching to disrupt water flow. And thanks to 3-D body scans of 400 elite athletes, the suit provides core support in the abdomen to make swimmers more streamlined and efficient. No wonder jealous competitors have called it "technological doping."
$550, speedo.com

Nike PreCool

To win the Olympic marathon, you've got to stay on pace and keep your cool—literally. Seventy-five percent of your body's energy expenditure goes to temperature regulation. In 2004, Deena Kastor's Nike-designed pre-race ice vest kept her core temperature under control before the event and helped her win the first US marathon medal in 20 years. Nike updated the vest for 2008, laying it out in a series of triangles to provide maximum contact with the skin. Each wedge has an ice chamber enclosed in an insulating layer that's coated with flexible aluminum to deflect Beijing's baking August heat.
$N/A, nike.com

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Extreme (and Deadly) Segway Polo


The Bay Area SEG Club will play their fourth anniversary Segway Polo match in exactly 10 days, and the world could be less excited. Although they think they have created a revolutionary sport that combines the triumphs with technology and traditional sports, after reading their 10-page rule book, I can see why such a creative concept has been ignored by enthusiast everywhere.

The official rules of the SEG club polo can be found here, if you even care to read them in the first place. Basically, you hit the ball with the stick. You are not allowed to run into other players. You are not allowed to hit them with your clubs. The player closest to the ball has a right away. The list of rules that only an overprotective soccer mom would condone is endless. If the sport wants to take a leap into the public eye, then they need to start adding some flare.

There are plenty of other sports that allow full contact on wheels. Murderball, for example, condones full contact between players that are situated in a wheel chair . . . which is less protection than the Segway. Look at Rollerball, NASCAR, or any of the other sports that embrace the notion of contact and the attention of TV viewers everywhere. Although a Segway is very expensive, it can always be repaired. Therefore, if Segway Polo is ever going to make its way into popular culture as a legitimate ‘sport’, then some rules need to be changed.

First of all, every “right of way” rule needs to be eliminated from competition. If the player doesn’t want his precious Segway to be scratched, then he simply doesn’t deserve the ball. The man willing to do the most damage shall be awarded on the field of play. And to help this sport celebrate the art of violence, I have made a couple of suggestions to the Bay Area SEG Club to help them out.

The Segways should be scythed to enable players to take out other opponent. They were acceptable on Roman chariots, which were considered modern Segways at the time. Also, the presence of a shield will encourage more ramming, as well as provide strategic protection to the vehicle. Spikes are encouraged for the coolness factor.

In terms of the playing field, we suggest the implementation of two sand traps and a water hazard, or vice versa. Alligators are optional. The presence of these hazards will make movement on the field more condensed, strategic, and give an incentive for more contact to either put someone in the hazards, or to keep oneself out.

Also, although we promote all contact, there has to be a name given for the act. Just as hockey has checking and the NFL has tackling, Segway Polo will have head thumping. The rules are explained below.

Finally, all forms of celebrations are acceptable . . . except this one.

With these modifications to the rules set forth by the Bay Area SEG Club, there is no doubt that it will become a national phenonom. The problem is finding the men and women with enough guts to ride a Seg in public, and be willing to kill each other in the process. Someone sign me up.

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Settlement translates to NBA basketball being played in Oklahoma City in 2008


Professional Basketball Club's Clay Bennett, National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett in March 2008. Photo/Mark Hancock

The City of Seattle and the Oklahoma City-based owners of the Seattle SuperSonics National Basketball Association franchise announced today they have reached a settlement that will allow the team to break their Key Arena lease and play their games in Oklahoma in November.

“We made it,” PBC owner Clay Bennett said in a press conference at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. “The NBA will be in Oklahoma City next season playing their games. The move begins tomorrow morning."

PBC will pay an initial $45 million to the City of Seattle and possibly another $30 million in five years. The contingency will not be paid if another NBA team settles in Seattle.

“It was a tough experience for all of us. I don’t feel victorious, I feel I am pleased there is certainty, what is behind us is behind us. I am tempered by all the work that is ahead,” Bennett said. “I am very happy for those of us in Oklahoma who wanted it. Now it is the Real McCoy.”

Another element of the settlement is that the franchise will not use the name Sonics or SuperSonics, the team logo or colors. Bennett said a new name, logo and colors will be announced soon.

Bennett said immediately there will be a data capture platform to take names for ticket holders in two ways: on the Web site SuperSonics.com with a link to NBA OKC (the temporary logo for the team) and a phone bank 1- 888-618-HOOP.

In April, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced the league approved the relocation application for the Sonics’ owners to move the team to Oklahoma City pending the outcome of litigation between the City of Seattle and the Oklahoma City-based Professional Basketball Club ownership.

Stern said the vote was 28-2 to approve the application with the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers’ representatives voting against the measure.

PBC announced its intention to purchase the team in July 2006. The NBA’s Board of Governors approved the $350 million sale Oct. 31, 2006. In November 2007, PBC President Clay Bennett informed the NBA Commissioner, David Stern, that the ownership group intended to relocate the team to Oklahoma City.

Stern said March 25 he would recommend the application be approved after visiting Oklahoma City. A group of representatives – three NBA team owners including the Los Angeles Lakers’ Jeanie Buss, the Indiana Pacers’ Herb Simon and the New Jersey Nets’ Lewis Katz -- looked and listened as city, state and business leaders presented their plan for hosting a professional team as officials visited Oklahoma City.

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Baron Davis Agrees to Become a Member of the Los Angeles Clippers

Wow! I heard that the Los Angeles Clippers was one of Baron Davis' preferred destinations if things didn't work out with the Golden State Warriors, but I never thought it would happen on the opening day of NBA free agency.

Reportedly, the deal will be worth $65 million over 5 years. Not a bad deal for a 29 year old point guard!

Although this is a verbal agreement and anything can happen over the next few days the Clippers are already potentially looking like a playoff bound team with the addition their draft pick Eric Gordon from Indiana and a healthy Shaun Livingston.

Elton Brand and Corey Maggette's future is still up in the air with both players opting out of their contracts, but it is almost certain that Maggette will not return. Brand on the other hand doesn't want to go anywhere, but if he does the Philadelphia 76ers are the only team that will be able to throw money at him.

As for the Warriors, Gilbert Arenas will be in their crosshairs after the huge loss of Baron Davis. The Washington Wizards will probably have more money to spend on the superstar Agent Zero, but just like Davis going to the Clippers, you just never know what can happen.

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Prison baseball team gives inmates a focus beyond their cells

Inmates of summer: A member of the San Quentin Giants swings for the fence, which is surrounded by guard towers, during a game against a club from Santa Monica, Calif.
frank kosa

The San Quentin Giants, one of the only prison teams in the nation to compete against outside clubs, play on a diamond surrounded by guard towers.

Correspondent Frank Kosa reports on the baseball team inside the walls of San Quentin State Prison in California.

As a baseball manager, Kent Philpott has to navigate many of the usual challenges on the diamond: player egos, varied skills at the plate, and uneven levels of motivation. But he also confronts a few unusual problems. When he benches someone or cuts them from the team, it's likely to be an armed robber, drug dealer, or murderer.

Firm though he is with them, Mr. Philpott relies on skills from his primary vocation when managing on the field – being a pastor. What's more, he may be the only one in baseball to lean so heavily on a coach, Stan Damas, who confesses that he knows nothing about game. Mr. Damas's expertise lies in handling people. "I have 21 players, all of whom think they should be starting," says Philpott. "Guys can get upset with me. Stan makes things right."

Philpott is the manager of the San Quentin Giants, a team made up of inmates from one of the nation's most widely known maximum-security state prisons. While many penitentiaries around the country have organized baseball teams, San Quentin's is the oldest and one of the only ones that competes against outside ball clubs.

To prison officials, organized sports is a way to keep inmates occupied and perhaps teach a few lessons on getting along with others. In this age of punitive attitudes about crime, no one is calling it rehabilitation, exactly. Some conservatives and victims' rights groups, in fact, think that any kind of recreation for inmates – especially America's pastime – isn't appropriate for prisoners, especially those who committed a violent crime. But it helps prison authorities battle one of the biggest worries behind bars – idleness. "It keeps tensions down, increasing the safety and security of everyone, including employees," says Marie Griffin, a criminologist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Philpott, a volunteer coach at the prison, sees even bigger benefits. "These guys learn to deal with losing, they learn to cooperate, build people up, and become team players," he says.

There is no shortage of inmates wanting to be on the team. More than 50 tried out for the club this year – 21 of whom made it. Some just love baseball. All prefer sitting in a dugout to a cell. "It's a privilege to play," says starting pitcher and team captain Chris Rich. Mr. Rich was a star pitcher for St. John's University in New York in 1979, with great expectations for the big leagues when an injury crushed his hopes. Seventeen years later, in a troubled marriage and destitute, he killed his wife – for which a court sentenced him to 26 years to life.

Now in his 13th year in prison, the 6-foot-8-inch man known as "stretch" is soft-spoken and humble. "I'm thankful for every game," he says.

• • •

The visiting team for today's game is the Santa Monica Suns, who have journeyed from southern California. Just to get to the baseball field in the prison, the team must cross the upper yard, a cement promenade that is delicately poised between heaven and man's darkest impulses. Heaven is represented on the north side by tidy houses of worship for the inmates – three chapels, and a native American spiritual office.

Darkness rises up to the south side with a forbidding three-story building called the "Adjustment Center." "It houses the worst of our worst," says Lt. Sam Robinson, a San Quentin spokesman. "Serial killers, validated gang members, and the like." It is also where condemned inmates are housed when they first arrive, allowing them to "adjust" to the idea that they won't be leaving alive. No other path to a baseball field anywhere may be quite so sobering.

The diamond is on the lower yard – a sprawling, but confined, recreation area that teems with life on a Saturday morning. Unlike your typical field, this one is surrounded by guard towers and a chain-link fence. The outfield grass was donated (along with a good deal of equipment) by the San Francisco Giants, after whom the team is named. Geese wander the outfield, the only creatures that seem to come and go at will.

On the edge of center field sits a sweat lodge where native American inmates pray, paying little attention to the occasional home run ball that bounces into their sacred space. The field offers no corporate box seats, no stands, no seats. Nevertheless, inmates stake claims on preferred spots to stand and watch – this apparently being the incarcerated version of season ticket holders.

The Giants practice once a week and host a visiting team once or twice a week as well. They play about 35 games a season.

As befits an institution that has been allowed baseball since the 1920s, the Giants play serious ball: They've lost only three games so far this season leading into their matchup with the Suns, who are visiting San Quentin for the first time. Consequently, the Suns players are as anticipatory about the game as the inmates are about swapping their prison shoes for rubber cleats. "It sounded different, very exciting and intriguing," says Paul Rosenblum, the team's catcher.

• • •

When the crack of the first bat, the atmosphere suddenly becomes focused, competitive, and ... remarkably ordinary. It could be a game going on anywhere. For a brief period, the playing field seems level for inmate and visitor alike.

The Giants jump out to a quick lead behind power hitters Aslan Petty and Kenny Stallings. After four innings, the Giants look to be running away with it: The score is 11-0.

Philpott passes along a message to the opposing coach: We're not going to let up. It's not the way we play. He just wants to let him know.

Philpott is a fit man, now in his 13th year with the team. On the outside, he is the pastor of a Baptist church in nearby Mill Valley, the coach of a high school baseball team, the host of a TV show, and an author. One chapter in a book he wrote on small churches is entitled, "Your pastor leads a complicated life."

He gets considerable help with the prison team from five other coaches, all volunteers. This includes Mr. Damas, a former cop who is in charge of making sure everyone keeps things in perspective. "Players get especially upset when they are tagged out at third," he says.

By the eighth inning, the Suns rally and pull within two runs of the Giants, 13 to 11. Philpott is worried. His closing pitcher, however, shuts down the Suns in the ninth and preserves a win.

The Giants line up to high-five their opponents, thanking each player for coming. Then, they exit the field and return to life as inmates.

"The games mean so much to the guys," says Philpott. "Parts of it will be remembered for years."

Ely Sala, a skilled hitter with five years remaining on his attempted murder sentence, certainly revels in his moments on the diamond. "It takes your mind off the time," he says.

The visitors pack up, retrace their steps across the walkway, and dissolve into the outside world. Many of them are moved by the experience. "I've played in a lot of places, in high school and college, but never imagined myself playing in a place like that," says Ernie Johnson, the Suns pitcher. "You're in the middle of a prison yard, and the only prison in California with a gas chamber."

The game was "uplifting," adds Mr. Rosenblum. "But I also felt profound despair because we were able to walk away, and some of those guys will never leave."

Philpott believes the baseball team has an impact on the men, and he enjoys the intensity of the work. He once did cell-to-cell ministry for 15 years. But he almost never met the same inmate twice. "This," he says about managing, "is very similar to pastoring a church: You are intimately involved in the lives of people. There is nothing superficial about it."

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Strange day ends with Bonds' 756th HR ball in Cooperstown


NEW YORK (AP) -- Now branded with an asterisk, the ball Barry Bonds launched for his record 756th home run nearly a year ago landed Tuesday night in the Hall of Fame.

The souvenir arrived in Cooperstown, N.Y., after a strange day of back-and-forth statements between its owner, fashion designer Marc Ecko, and the shrine.

"We are very happy to receive the baseball as a donation, and not as a loan," Hall spokesman Brad Horn said. "We look forward to adding this ball to our permanent collections."

A driver walked up the front steps of the Hall, handing over the ball and a letter from Ecko saying it was an unconditional donation. Horn said the ball will be displayed after the museum documents it -- that process usually takes weeks, rather than months.

Bonds broke Hank Aaron's career homer record on Aug. 7. Yet not since Boston first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz caught the last out of the 2004 World Series had a Hall-bound ball caused so much commotion.

Ecko paid $752,467 for the prize in an online auction in September. Soon after, he asked fans to vote in an Internet poll on what he should do with the ball.

The winner: Brand it with an asterisk, to reflect the steroid allegations surrounding Bonds, and give it to the Hall.

The ball indeed was marked, with the six-pronged asterisk dye-cut into the cowhide, from stitch-to-stitch where "Major League Baseball" is printed.

Bonds called Ecko an "idiot" when the designer announced plans to hold the vote. The slugger later said he would boycott the Hall if it displayed the ball with an asterisk.

After months of discussions, the Hall said earlier Tuesday that talks with Ecko had "unfortunately reached an impasse."

"The owner's previous commitment to unconditionally donate the baseball has changed to a loan. As a result, the Hall of Fame will not be able to accept the baseball," the Hall said.

Ecko later responded.

"I am surprised that the Hall issued a statement that said they would no longer accept the Barry Bonds' 756th home run baseball. We had been in communication with them just this morning and the Hall did not mention that they would change their position and no longer accept the ball," he said.

"Based on the Hall of Fame's previous statements that they would both accept and display the ball, the only open issue we were talking about was the Hall's recent indication of discomfort in displaying it and addressing the controversy surrounding the record."

Nearly all of the Hall's 35,000-plus artifacts were given on a permanent basis. The Hall does make exceptions, especially when it has nothing else to illustrate a story -- Willie Mays loaned the glove he used to make his famous, over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series.

Bonds donated the batting helmets he wore when he hit his 755th and 756th home runs.

Bonds finished the season with 762 home runs. The San Francisco Giants did not offer him a contract for this year, and he hasn't gotten an offer to play for another team.

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

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Back-and-forth talks over Bonds HR ball ends with ball in Hall of Fame

NEW YORK -- Now branded with an asterisk, the ball Barry Bonds launched for his record 756th home run nearly a year ago landed Tuesday night in the Hall of Fame.
The souvenir arrived in Cooperstown, N.Y., after a strange day of back-and-forth statements between its owner, fashion designer Marc Ecko, and the shrine.

"We are very happy to receive the baseball as a donation, and not as a loan," Hall spokesman Brad Horn said. "We look forward to adding this ball to our permanent collections."

A driver walked up the front steps of the Hall, handing over the ball and a letter from Ecko saying it was an unconditional donation. Horn said the ball will be displayed after the museum documents it -- that process usually takes weeks, rather than months.

Bonds broke Hank Aaron's career homer record on Aug. 7. Yet not since Boston first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz caught the last out of the 2004 World Series had a Hall-bound ball caused so much commotion.

Ecko paid $752,467 for the prize in an online auction in September. Soon after, he asked fans to vote in an Internet poll on what he should do with the ball.

#756

National Baseball Hall of Fame

After much haggling, the ball Barry Bonds hit for homer No. 756, now branded with an asterisk, will be a fixture in the Hall of Fame.

The winner: Brand it with an asterisk, to reflect the steroid allegations surrounding Bonds, and give it to the Hall.

The ball indeed was marked, with the five-pronged asterisk dye-cut into the cowhide, from stitch-to-stitch where "Major League Baseball" is printed.

Bonds called Ecko an "idiot" when the designer announced plans to hold the vote. The slugger later said he would boycott the Hall if it displayed the ball with an asterisk.

After months of discussions, the Hall said earlier Tuesday that talks with Ecko had "unfortunately reached an impasse."

"The owner's previous commitment to unconditionally donate the baseball has changed to a loan. As a result, the Hall of Fame will not be able to accept the baseball," the Hall said.

Ecko later responded.

"I am surprised that the Hall issued a statement that said they would no longer accept the Barry Bonds' 756th home run baseball. We had been in communication with them just this morning and the Hall did not mention that they would change their position and no longer accept the ball," he said.

"Based on the Hall of Fame's previous statements that they would both accept and display the ball, the only open issue we were talking about was the Hall's recent indication of discomfort in displaying it and addressing the controversy surrounding the record."

Nearly all of the Hall's 35,000-plus artifacts were given on a permanent basis. The Hall does make exceptions, especially when it has nothing else to illustrate a story -- Willie Mays loaned the glove he used to make his famous, over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series.

Bonds donated the batting helmets he wore when he hit his 755th and 756th home runs.

Bonds finished the season with 762 home runs. The San Francisco Giants did not offer him a contract for this year, and he hasn't gotten an offer to play for another team.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

Original here