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Monday, September 15, 2008

Murderball muscles into Paralympics

Chinese wheelchair rugby coach Wen Yan, left, prepares her players for today's competition against Team USA.

Chinese wheelchair rugby coach Wen Yan, left, prepares her players for today's competition against Team USA.

BEIJING — Zhang Wenli hit rock bottom, quite literally, in 1994. Diving into shallow water, she broke her neck and became a quadriplegic, unable to walk and with reduced use of her arms. For the next 12 years, the former sports teacher felt trapped at home in eastern China — and useless.

That is, until a violent sport — and its gung-ho American stars — changed her life.

Today, Zhang lines up against her heroes as Team China plays Team USA, the gold-medal favorites, in the opening battle of Murderball, aka wheelchair rugby, a clashing contact sport set to take the Paralympic Games by storm — and smash stereotypes about people with disabilities.

The sport, invented in Canada in the late 1970s by a group of quadriplegic athletes who wanted an alternative to wheelchair basketball, hit the headlines with the 2005 U.S. documentary Murderball.

The award-winner at the Sundance Film Festival showed audiences what wheelchair users can do and helped push the game globally into the fastest-growing wheelchair sport. Men and women can play on the same team in the game, which shows how sport and cinema can transcend language barriers. Nineteen countries field national teams.

China is among the newcomers to the sport. When the country started to build a team from scratch in 2006, scouts in Zhang's eastern province of Shandong asked her to try out.

"I doubted I could play, the game seemed so fierce," she remembers. Then she watched Murderball. And again, and again.

"I've seen it dozens of times. I don't understand what they are saying, as my English is poor, but I can feel the atmosphere and understand the lead athlete's situation," says Zhang, 40, speaking in Mandarin. "They are saying, 'We are not patients or victims, we are independent athletes.' And now I am representing my country."

China has screened the film for its squad multiple times, team official Xin Yue says. "They love it. Many of our athletes did not think they could ever be independent and so strong in their bodies," he says.

Coach Wen Yan, 57, who sports a long ponytail and a longer history as a soldier and basketball coach to the military, says wheelchair rugby has been key to rebuilding the spirits and lives of her players.

"In just a few seconds, these people became disabled by serious accidents," she says. "Afterward, they felt depressed. They often underestimated themselves and felt inferior. But now, after training, they have recovered and wear a bright smile. We expect to come in last of the eight teams at this tournament, but we will show our spirit and enjoy the experience."

Cui Maoshan was depressed and hospital-bound in southwest Yunnan province when officials from China's federation for disabled people visited him last year. He broke his neck in 2006 in a fall at a building site. He had never heard of rugby, known as "olive ball" in China, let alone the wheelchair version.

Cui will play for his country in today's game after a year of full-time training. "I am not depressed now, but feel great and proud," he says. His only regret is that his wife and two children, back in their home village, have never seen him play. The cost of traveling to Beijing is too high, but he expects them to watch on television.

Mark Zupan, the U.S. team captain and tattooed Texan whose life, including his love life, is documented in Murderball, is delighted with the response to the film.

Murderball "bridges so many gaps that it doesn't matter what language you speak. The film brings disability to the forefront," says Zupan, 32, of Austin, who was disabled from an auto accident at 18. "Ten minutes into the film, you don't see the wheelchairs, you just see athletes."

Beijing student Zhang Peng, a volunteer at the wheelchair rugby training venue, agrees. "I used to think disabled people were a bit mysterious, and I had little contact with them. But once I saw them playing, I didn't think they were disabled at all. The game is so exciting. They are just like able-bodied people. I realize they are just like us and want equal treatment, not sympathy," he says.

Zhang, the only female player on Team China's 12-person roster, wants a photo with Zupan after today's game. "I worship him," she says.

Zupan warns that she will get no leniency on the court because she's a woman. "Girl or guy, if you're in my way, get out, or I'll move you out of the way," he says. There'll be trash-talking, too, he warns.

Zhang is unfazed. "I won't understand if any foreign player insults me. On the court, no one considers me a woman. The intensity and excitement is the charm of rugby," she says. "It will shock people that quadriplegics can play such an exciting game. That's what I hope the Paralympics will bring to China."

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A way of life for Alaskans on ice skates

Donna Cooley, right, has a 12-year-old who plays hockey and houses a player for the Alaska Avalanche, an amateur team in Wasilla.
(Jim Wilson/The New York Times)
By Kim Severson

WASILLA, Alaska: Like many parents here in the communities near Anchorage, Sarah Palin raised her older children in hockey rinks.

Powered on white mochas and an aerobics class or two, Palin, now the governor of Alaska and the Republican nominee for vice president, would drive to rinks at all hours, children in tow. She sometimes ran the scoreboard, let hockey players from other cities sleep on the floor of her home and got involved in the management of her eldest son's teams.

But last Friday night, two longtime and once promising young players — Palin's eldest, Track, and her soon to be son-in-law, Levi Johnston — were absent from the hockey arena in Wasilla as the coaches made the final cuts for the new season of the area's elite amateur team, the Alaska Avalanche.

Track Palin, 19, is being deployed this week to Iraq with the army, after separating his shoulder and abruptly giving up on a hockey career last year. Johnston, 18, who is about to become a father, has dropped out of Wasilla High School and also quit hockey.

"He just lost his way," said Dan Johnston, who is a second cousin to Johnston and a hockey parent himself.

Although hockey players enjoy a reputation as rowdy partiers at many high schools, the sport often keeps children here on the straight and narrow, much the way football and basketball do in other places. When Dan Johnston sold raffle tickets for his son's team, his sales slogan was, "Help keep the kids on the ice and off the streets."

But hockey can also be a roiling pressure cooker, full of big expectations and even bigger disappointments, especially across south-central Alaska where the sport is highly competitive and many parents harbor hopes that their children might get a college scholarship and maybe even make it to the National Hockey League.

If football dominates Friday nights in rural Texas, hockey dominates here.

"All of us basically raise our kids here from August to March," said Donna Cooley, who has an out-of-town Avalanche player as a boarder and a 12-year-old son who plays. "We call the kids 'rink rats,' and we all miss each other when the season ends."

To understand hockey in Alaska is to understand something about the Palin family dynamic: Athletic drive seems to be as much a family trait as churchgoing and salmon fishing.

Palin's father was a popular cross-country coach. She was a high school basketball star who married Todd Palin, a high school jock who has remained an athlete as an adult. Palin is a four-time winner of the Iron Dog snowmobile race, something akin to Nascar elsewhere in terms of its local celebrity.

Wasilla's four-year-old sports complex, where the Avalanche and other teams play, is a $15 million legacy from the days when Palin was mayor. The house that Sarah built — named after one of her best friends who died in a plane crash — was secured with a sales tax increase. And even before Track Palin was in elementary school, his parents had him on skates.

In more rural parts of the state, where gyms instead of hockey rinks were built with the rush of oil money in the 1980s, basketball is the favored sport. But in and around Anchorage, particularly in wealthier high schools, hockey is everything.

With $400 skates, $150 sticks and hundreds of dollars more for pads and gloves, outfitting a skater can cost well over $1,000. Add in ice time, league fees and the cost of travel in and out of this state, and some families with elite high school players can spend $15,000 a year.

Parents with especially talented skaters or with enough money or both often do what the Palins eventually did with Track Palin: Write a check and send him to hockey development programs out of state. Housed with teammates, the boys go to local high schools and play on sponsored teams intended to attract attention from college recruiters.

In 2006, the year Palin was elected governor, Steve Lowe snatched up Track Palin for a slot on the developmental AAA team he coaches in Kalamazoo, Michigan Lowe liked that Palin, a forward, was extremely focused and aggressive on the ice. If he could manage his temper a little and improve his shooting, it was clear that Palin could have secured a college scholarship and maybe a chance at the pros, he said.

The temper was a longstanding problem. Hockey is a raw sport, but Palin pushed the limits and often got kicked out of games in Wasilla and at least once in Michigan. The parents who had watched him grow up on the ice said he was popular with his teammates and generally a pretty good student. But on the ice, he was an animal.

Curt Menard, a longtime family friend, said he would often sit next to Palin's parents to watch their grandson play. If Menard arrived after the game started, he said, he would ask if he was too late to catch him.

"Track has a temper so sometimes you'd only see him half the game," Menard said. "Get there late and he'd already be out."

Whatever his behavior on the ice, Palin's parents did not meddle, Lowe said.

"There are some hockey moms who live their dream through their son," he said. "Sarah wasn't like that. She pretty much loved to watch her son and was engulfed with his level of play, but she let me coach."

Meanwhile, Levi Johnston was following the path set by Track Palin and other recent Wasilla High School students. He was part of a generation of players who were finally getting enough skill to challenge the teams from better-off schools in South Anchorage. Although people here say the Palins and Johnstons were not particularly close, the families became connected in part by hockey.

Adele Morgan, a longtime friend of Palin's, said that she would ask her what was going on between Johnston and Palin's eldest daughter, Bristol, and that Palin would say they were just friends. But people at the hockey rink said they had been dating for well over a year.

Last week, Palin announced that Bristol Palin, 17, was five months pregnant and that she and Johnston were engaged to be married.

Johnston was considered a very good player, though not as good as Palin. He was tough, playing the last game of Wasilla High School's season in February, while a junior, with a cracked tibia.

Dan Johnston, the second cousin, said Levi Johnston felt pressure to perform in the rink and clashed with his father over hockey several times. "He threw all his gear in the burn pile once," Dan Johnston said.

In the end, hockey did not work for Levi Johnston. His grades slipped, he left school and he quit playing altogether.

The dream for Track Palin unraveled, too, starting when he separated his shoulder in Michigan. By March 2007, he was back with his family and that spring graduated from Wasilla High School. He had shoulder surgery, and the Avalanche offered him a playing slot, said the team's general manager, Jamie Smith.

But that summer, Smith said, Track Palin called him and said that his shoulder was not better and that he was going to enlist in the army instead.

Palin 's coach in Michigan, Lowe, said he thought the shoulder was fine.

"He talked to me about that," Lowe said. "I said, 'Are you sure, Track?' He said, 'They want me to play, coach, but this is what I want to do.' "

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Brigham Young blowout of UCLA is one for the books

Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel reacts after the Bruins fumbled for the second time in the second quarter Saturday against Brigham Young.

Just about everything that can go wrong for the Bruins does as BYU quarterback Max Hall passes for seven touchdowns in UCLA's worst loss since 1929.
PROVO, Utah -- Relentlessly optimistic ran into harsh reality Saturday.

There may come a day when the football monopoly in Los Angeles is over, but for now UCLA has enough trouble passing "Go."

An embarrassing 59-0 loss to Brigham Young was a big indication of that, and left first-year Coach Rick Neuheisel offering up his favorite catch phrase in a different light.

"We're going to test 'relentlessly optimistic,' " Neuheisel said after UCLA's worst loss since 1929. "But we knew it would be tested."

It was Saturday.

Tested and failed.

Brigham Young's Max Hall passed for six touchdowns and UCLA turned the ball over three times and had a field-goal attempt blocked.

And that was only in the first half.

By the time the 18th-ranked Cougars (3-0) had put on the finishing touches at LaVell Edwards Stadium, Hall had a school-record-tying seven touchdown passes, and the Bruins had quite a long must-improve-on-this list.

"We have to really work on the faults we had in this game," defensive end Korey Bosworth said. "This game is past, it's over, we can't dwell on it."

It was hardly the ideal bounce the Bruins (1-1) needed heading into conference play next week against Arizona. UCLA coaches and players will dissect the game film over the next couple of days, but they were already certain what they were going to see.

"A butt whoopin'. We got our butts whooped," linebacker Reggie Carter said. "I'm going home, go to sleep, and tomorrow forget about it. It will be on my mind a little bit because we'll have to watch film. After that, we have to get ready for Arizona."

Saturday's game was a chance for UCLA to show that its 27-24 season-opening upset over Tennessee was more than an anomaly. Instead, the Bruins showed that they haven't improved much since taking a 44-6 drubbing at Utah last season.

That game was the harbinger for a disappointing season that cost Karl Dorrell his job.

Neuheisel arrived and has preached relentless optimism in his first season.

There was little of that to be found in the rubble of the Bruins' worst defeat since losing to USC, 76-0, 79 years ago.

"We always strive on trying to keep people out of the end zone and that didn't happen today in any stretch of the imagination," defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. "It was a very humbling experience."

The message written on the board in the Bruins' locker room afterward read: "Adversity builds character."

There was plenty to build on.

The defense was picked apart by Hall. The offense gained nine yards rushing and turned the ball over three times. The special teams lost a fumble and had a field-goal attempt blocked.

Other than that, it was a perfectly executed game . . . by BYU.

The Cougars, whose 13-game winning streak is the longest in the nation, are eyeballing a Bowl Championship Series bowl game and could ill-afford a slip-up.

"I think we're one of the best teams in the nation," said receiver Austin Collie, who had 10 receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns. "Those that don't believe it, I think we proved it today."

The Cougars certainly made a strong case for themselves.

Hall's day was done with six minutes left in the third quarter. The Bruins' was over before that, when BYU scored 35 second-quarter points.

Hall, who completed 27 of 35 passes for 271 yards, wasted little time getting started. He completed all six of his passes on an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the Cougars' first possession. He directed an 80-yard drive for a 14-0 lead on BYU's third possession.

UCLA managed to get into BYU territory early in the second quarter when Kevin Craft completed a 10-yard pass to Corey Harkey. But the Bruins went to ruins immediately.

Craft was sacked on the next play, taking a 10-yard loss. He then lost a fumble on the play after that. On the play after that, Hall went to Collie for a 37-yard touchdown. The rest was a blur for UCLA.

Raymond Carter fumbled on the next possession. Hall threw a touchdown pass.

Terrence Austin fumbled the ensuing kickoff return. Hall threw a touchdown pass.

The pain was repetitive.

"It should hurt, it should sting," Neuheisel said. "It should be a better motivator for next week. At some point, you do have to let it go."

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Kimbo Slice and Ken Shamrock Go Toe-to-Toe in EliteXC Conference Call

By Troy Rogers

On October 4, CBS will be playing host to a clash of the MMA titans as heavyweight phenom Kimbo Slice will be squaring off against the legendary Ken Shamrock in the third installment of "CBS EliteXC Saturday Night Fights", which will be broadcast live from the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. In what's sure to be an explosive battle, fight fans will see one of the most pivotal dream matches in the sport's history.

With the fight less than one month away, The Deadbolt sat it on the media conference call while both fighters took questions from the press and went toe-to-toe over the phone. Here's a look at what both Kimbo and Shamrock had to say while tensions ran high.

What is your strategy for defeating Kimbo Slice?

KEN SHAMROCK: I can sit here and explain to you all day long what I’m going to do differently and how I’m going to do this and how I’m going to do that, but it’s irrelevant. What matters to me is that I get into the ring and I get it done. And that’s going to be the difference. In any of the other fights I’ve gone into, the attitude I have, no matter what happens from here on out, I’m going to go in there and get it done!

What do you say to some of the critics out there that are saying you’re being served up as a stepping stone for Kimbo?

SHAMROCK: I am. This is absolutely what this is and I am absolutely taking this as an insult to me and I am going to smash it back in their faces.

Let’s say you are successful, what happens to Ken Shamrock from there?

SHAMROCK: Well, I guess there is no tomorrow, because I haven’t really thought about it.

Do you see Ken Shamrock being served up as a stepping stone to you?

KIMBO SLICE: I mean in a way it’s an insult to me, too, you know, considering his accomplishments and everything like that. I just hope Ken trains his ass off because I’m coming to fight, man, and I’m coming on to win and he’s old. The way I train, and me and my camp, losing is not an option and he’s really gonna have to be Superman if he wants to beat me.

How much did the exposure of your last fight, and also the fact that you won it, how much did that change your life and what have you been up to since we last saw you?

KIMBO: A fight is a fight. I didn’t go into that fight with the intention of knocking this guy out in the first round. I went into this fight with the intention of trying my best to win the fight in the third round, that was the game plan. I’m training harder, more harder than before.

You said you’re going to put Kimbo’s lights out, does that mean you’re going for the knockout rather than the submission?

SHAMROCK: I’m gonna go for everything, because in my opinion from everything that I saw of Kimbo - The only time he’s ever knocked anybody out is when they started to get tired, okay! So I don’t respect his power, I don’t respect his grappling ability, I’m gonna go in there and I’m gonna whip his ass. That’s what I’m gonna do. Whether it’s a punch or whether it’s a throw or lock or submission, it don’t matter to me, because whatever is there I’m gonna take.

KIMBO: Hey, was Bo Cantrell tired after 19 seconds? Was Tank tired after 42 seconds? [laughs]

SHAMROCK: You know what? Keep counting your record.

KIMBO: Keep counting your losses, buddy.

SHAMROCK: Yeah, that’s your problem, dude. Better look to the future.

KIMBO: I am whupping your ass.

SHAMROCK: Because it’s going to end October 4th.

KIMBO: Alright, Ken.

Ken is known as somebody who is a master of the submission from his early submission days in King of Pancrease and all of that. What have you done to your training to improve your ground game if it ends up on the ground and Ken decides to go for a submission?

KIMBO: You will see on October 4th. I learn a lot every time I come to training camp. You know, I’m still a rookie at it. I have the heart of a giant and the will-power of ten men - with that in mind, and the training I have and the trainers I have, Ken is going to be like my birthday cake. I’m going to eat him, eat him up.

The grappling area is one in which you’re going to have an obvious advantage in both the technique and experience and all of that. What is the likelihood you’re going to want to get this fight to the ground given your background?

SHAMROCK: Well, kind of the way I see it is I’m going to go out there [and] I’m going to be too fast for him. I hit hard and he can feel my punches, some leg kicks. He’s going to get tired and I don’t even have to take the guy down, he’s going to fall down.

KIMBO: I’m going to give you a shot. I’m going to give you a chin shot.

SHAMROCK: You guys heard that. Everybody heard that.

KIMBO: I’m giving you that, buddy.

SHAMROCK: See, and that’s why I’m the veteran and you’re the rookie, because you’re an idiot!

Do you think that this is going to be the fight that will make him a complete fighter?

KIMBO: Every fight makes you a complete fighter, so every dog has his day. Everything that’s up must come down, you know what I’m saying? I’m prepared for a lot of shit, but losing is not an option. And if it happens ,I’ll learn from it and come back from it. So I’m ready for a fight. I’m actually ready for a fight.

Do you feel that fighting someone like Ken Shamrock is a thrill or a step up for you or just another fight?

KIMBO: Man, I’m honored to fight Ken Shamrock. I’m telling you. I’m bragging about it. I’m excited about it. Like I said first, of the respect I got for a legendary fighter like Ken Shamrock, there’s a lot of respect coming. To lose to Ken Shamrock, to me is not a bad thing. But to kick his ass is an even better thing. Either way I look at it positive. I look at it in a good way.

Do you respect Kimbo Slice’s climb from being a street fighter to a big popular MMA fighter?

SHAMROCK: No. At this particular time I have no respect for him at all.

KIMBO: And that’s why you’re an idiot.

SHAMROCK: Well, I guess we’ll find that out won’t we Jabrony.

Does it piss you off, all of the attention that Kimbo gets?

SHAMROCK: No. I think that anybody who comes from where he’s come from and going to where he’s at, to grab that and do everything he’s done up to this point, more power to him, man. Don’t hate the hater - appreciate. He’s getting all of this. What man in his right mind would turn it away? Hey, he’s getting the opportunities and he’s seizing them, more power to him. The only thing I don’t like is he’s in the ring against me, that’s why I want to beat him down.

Are you fired up about getting the opportunity to beat him down on CBS?

SHAMROCK: Absolutely. I think it’s a great opportunity to get on TV and be able to fight. And all of these people get to turn the TV on and it doesn’t cost them a dime. I think that’s great, give back to the fans.

Would it have benefitted your career to get a few more fights before taking on someone of Ken’s pedigree?

KIMBO: You know, I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me, dude. I have not turned down one name. I have not said, ‘No, I don’t want to fight this guy, I’ll fight that guy.’ My job is they line them up and I knock them down. That’s what it’s all about, man. If you don’t want to take on one name, if you don’t want to take on that name, then that says about you as a fighter that you’re not ready for what you’re doing. You don’t have the love for what you’re doing. I’ll fight anybody.

Ken, what do you have left to prove after such an accomplished career?

SHAMROCK: How about, just because I love to fight? I love to beat people up and Kimbo has grown very, very fast, came off of the internet and is billed as the world’s dangerous guy. That’s where I came from. This guy’s coming from the same spot that I came from and he’s trying to take my territory. And I’m getting the time to go in there and beat him down and take back what’s mine. You gotta know I’m going to take this fight. It is all about pride.

What’s it like fighting the student of a guy that you fought so memorably so many years ago?

SHAMROCK: Obviously, I don’t like it. For one, he knows everything I do. He knows me inside and out. And so if there was something that is going to able to give him an edge, I guess you’d say it would be Bas Rutten. We’ve been friends for a very long time, he’s knows everything I do. He knows how to escape me. But I’ve got a few surprises for Bas and Kimbo.

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Cubs' Zambrano earns no-hitter against Houston

Associated Press

MILWAUKEE – Carlos Zambrano pitched the first no-hitter for the Chicago Cubs in 36 years, returning from a recent bout of rotator cuff soreness to shut down the Houston Astros 5-0 Sunday night in a game relocated because of Hurricane Ike.

Zambrano stopped a Houston team that had not played since Thursday. The storm forced baseball to move two games from Texas to Miller Park, home of the Brewers, and the Astros flew hours before they took the field.

Zambrano, known for his emotional displays on the mound, kept himself in control until striking out Darin Erstad to finish off his first start since Sept. 2.

The big right-hander dropped to his knees and pointed to the sky with both hands after getting Erstad to swing and miss. Zambrano (14-5) was immediately mobbed on the mound by his teammates.

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The crowd of 23,441 – mostly Cubs fans – erupted in a wild ovation after chanting "Let's go Z!" throughout the final inning.

Zambrano struck out a season-high 10 and walked one in the Cubs' first no-hitter since Milt Pappas pitched one against San Diego in 1972.

This was the second no-hitter in the majors this season – Boston's Jon Lester did it against Kansas City at Fenway Park on May 19.

The Astros only once came close to a hit. David Newhan lined a drive that first baseman Derrek Lee jumped to catch to end the fifth inning.

Zambrano helped himself, too, by charging off the mound and across the first-base line to catch Hunter Pence's foul pop for the second out in the eighth.

Zambrano began the ninth by getting Humberto Quintero to ground out on one pitch – it was his 100th of the game. After pinch-hitter Jose Castillo also grounded out, Erstad chased a full-count pitch low-and-away for Zambrano's first shutout since 2004.

With his jersey untucked, Zambrano paraded triumphantly through a series of interviews in front of the Cubs dugout, then waved to the still-cheering crowd as he walked down the steps.

Coming into the game, Cubs manager Lou Piniella said he wanted to limit the 27-year-old Venezuelan ace to 100 pitches in his return to the rotation – and Zambrano managed to come close, even while pulling off the no-hitter. Zambrano threw 110 pitches, 73 for strikes.

The win could be yet another sign of good things to come for the NL Central-leading Cubs, whose fans have gotten used to doing more crying than cheering in September during 100 years' worth of World Series frustration.

The Cubs took a 71/2-game lead in the NL Central over the fading Brewers, who were swept in a day-night doubleheader by the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Astros fell two games back of the Brewers and Phillies, who are tied in the wild-card race. Houston had won six in a row and 14 of 15.

Zambrano didn't allow a baserunner until he walked Michael Bourn in the fourth inning.

He allowed only one more baserunner the rest of the night, hitting Pence in the back with two outs in the fifth.

Zambrano also made an offensive contribution in the Cubs' four-run third inning, singling and then chugging home from first on Lee's double. The Cubs chased Randy Wolf (10-12) in the third, his shortest outing of the season.

It was the first complete game for Zambrano since June 16, 2007, at home against the Padres. He hadn't thrown a shutout since April 7, 2004, a two-hitter at home against the Rockies.

Alfonso Soriano led off the game with a home run, his 28th of the year.

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Why We Still Watch Baseball

By Chuck Klosterman

Wrigley Field Scoreboard

Warren Wimmer/

Baseball is a turgid game that no longer reflects society. It fails to attract the best U.S. athletes and doesn't translate to television. It should be a dead sport. But it's not. Baseball still feels interesting, and it still captures the casual fan's attention every autumn. So what is the secret to its undying success? What is its quiet advantage? Some would argue tradition. I would argue it's the scoring system.

Forced to watch soccer all summer, I figured out why baseball games still feel compelling, even when nothing seems to be happening: Baseball has -- by far -- the best scoring system in all of sport. It makes uninteresting contests exciting, because it a) doesn't have a concept of time and b) distributes runs in unorthodox increments.

Here is what happens in (seemingly) every soccer game on the planet: Two teams are battling 0-0. It's compelling. But then the slightly stronger team scores one goal and the lesser squad immediately starts pressing; they replace a defender with an attacker, and the superior team scores again. Now it's 2-0 and the game is over. The lead seems insurmountable. Football has a similar problem -- because it requires a change of possession after every offensive touchdown, a team trailing late in the game is forced to take unusual risks to make up the deficit (even if that deficit is tiny). Football teams have to radically change their style of play when the game matters most. Basketball has so much scoring, and in such small increments, that hoops can feel meaningless. Intentional fouls become the lone option for desperate underdogs. But baseball has it right. Imagine a 3-0 game in the bottom of the ninth inning: The leading team is clearly in control. But if the leadoff hitter gets a bloop single, the pressure immediately reverts to the pitcher -- now, if the next guy gets on base, the game has the potential to be reinvented with one swing. The fact that you can instantly score a variable number of runs (in a game in which scoring is rare) keeps baseball fascinating. That's why we care about the drama, even when it isn't there.

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Sources: Cuban out

Multiple sources tell Chi-ball that Mark Cuban is out in his bid to buy the Chicago Cubs.

Here is what we are hearing:

Cuban was reported to have bid 1.3 billion. We have been told Cuban’s actual bid was 1 bil. There was an offer to include 300 million in advertising to WGN, owned by the Tribune. That is how the 1.3 figure came about.

Tom Ricketts is now far and away the “leader in the clubhouse”. His bid is not only sufficient, but sources believe he is much more likely to be approved than a Cuban bid.

Cuban was contacted by local businessman and bidder Jim Anixter’s son to engage Cuban in partnership after Anixter’s bid failed, to give Cuban the local ties to Chicago he lacked.

It is believed by these sources that Zell has used Cuban all along to increase the bidding. The orchestration could have gone as far as inviting Cuban to sit next to Sam Zell’s right-hand man Gerry Spector at a Cubs game in the Tribune seats. A source is quoted as saying “If Mark Cuban didn’t exist, Sam Zell would have made someone like him up, he was a dream come true.”"Cuban is not only out of it, he was never in it.”

The source went on to say that the John Canning group was a favorite of the commissioner’s office but wouldn’t meet the price Ricketts and Cuban went to. The major league owners group however, intimated to Zell they would never approve Cuban. The fact is Jerry Reinsdorf still has great influence over the majority of baseball’s owners.

Here is some info on Ricketts:

Job: Chief Executive of Incapital LLC, a Chicago investment bank that packages corporate bonds for retail investors.
Age: 42
Residence: Wilmette
Education: University of Chicago, BA, MBA
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Diary entry may offer proof that baseball came from England

LONDON (AP) -- Baseball is as American as ... tea and crumpets?

That may be case, according to a diary uncovered in southern England last year but only now being made public.

Julian Pooley, the manager of the Surrey History Centre, said Thursday he has authenticated a reference to baseball in a diary by English lawyer William Bray dating back to 1755 -- about 50 years before what was previously believed to have been the first known reference to what became the American pastime.

"I know his handwriting very well," Pooley told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, adding he believed the game wasn't very common at the time. "He printed it to show it was new to him. He doesn't mention baseball again. It was something that seemed special."

Bray wrote that he played the game with both men and women on the day after Easter, a traditional holiday in England.

"He was about 18 or 19 (at the time of the diary entry)," Pooley said. "He was a very social man. He enjoyed sports."

The entry reads:

"Easter Monday 31 March 1755

"Went to Stoke Ch. This morning. After Dinner Went to Miss Jeale's to play at Base Ball with her, the 3 Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Flutter, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Ford & H. Parsons & Jelly. Drank Tea and stayed till 8."

Baseball has long been thought to have been an American invention, with roots in the British games of rounders and cricket.

The first recorded competitive baseball game took place in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1846 between the Alexander Cartwright's Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York and the New York Nine. The first professional team played in 1869 and the first professional league started two years later.

Bray, who died in 1832, kept a diary for much of his life and wrote a history of Surrey. He also transcribed and published the diary and writings of English writer John Evelyn.

Pooley said he first became aware of Bray's reference in July 2007 after local historian Tricia St. John Barry notified Major League Baseball to say she found a notation of the game that predated their own findings.

"She said, `... I've got a reference in a diary I found in the shed,"' Pooley said.

Pooley said St. John Barry only told MLB about the diary after researchers came to England last year working on a movie by Major League Baseball Advanced Media called "Base Ball Discovered," which examines the origins of the sport.

"She didn't realize its significance (before that)," Pooley said.

The movie is to be shown next week at the Baseball Film Festival in Cooperstown, New York, the home of the sport's Hall of Fame.

"While filming our documentary in England, we met Tricia, who responded to a BBC piece on our film crew being in country, looking at the roots of baseball," said on its Web site. "This discovery places William Bray in a new role of importance and provides insight into baseball's beginnings."

The Surrey History Centre said there is a reference to baseball that came earlier than Bray's, but it appears in a fictional book by John Newberry called "A Little Pretty Pocket-Book." Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey" also refers to baseball. It was written in 1798 but not published until 1817.

"It is a game steeped in history and now Surrey County Council's History Centre and an inquisitive local historian have provided the earliest manuscript proof that the game the Americans gave to the world came from England," said Helyn Clack, an executive member for safer and stronger communities at Surrey County Council.

A copy of the diary is to go on display at Surrey History Centre on Saturday.

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

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