February 16, 2010

 Bill Plaschke, of the LA Times, wrote about Seth Wescott, a 33-year old US Olympic snowboarder.                                                                                                                   
“He lunged forward, dived ahead, twisting his body and board down the snowy banks of Cypress Mountain, skidding into gold.

And then Seth Wescott reached back.

Back to a grandfather who taught him about patriotism, a father who taught him about strength, an heirloom that will connect them forever.

Did you see the size of that American flag Wescott draped around his chilled body after winning his second consecutive gold medal in the men’s snowboard cross Monday?

It’s not just big. It’s three generations big. It’s family big.

It’s the flag that was given to his grandfather Ben as a reward for service in the Army during World War II.

It’s the flag that was handed down to his father, Jim, upon Ben’s death 22 years ago.

It’s the flag that Jim brought to Seth after the victory four years ago in Turin, Italy, the old man leaping over a barrier and rushing past the cops to give the kid a piece of his past.

It’s the flag that Seth packed for this Olympic trip, part of his equipment now, as important as a board or helmet, the itinerary for his dream.

“I brought it, I boxed it, I carried it here myself,” he said. “I told my dad I’m going to need it at the finish line . . . it was a pretty powerful moment.”

Then imagine the intensity of pulling it out of that box late Monday afternoon after coming back from last place in the four-man championship race to literally leap past Canada’s Mike Robertson three jumps from the finish and slide to victory by less than a board.

Imagine dozens of Canadian flags being flapped by the roaring crowd at the finish line in anticipation of a local gold. Imagine them all suddenly stopping,
dwarfed by the thick whip-whip-whip of Wescott’s giant Stars and Stripes.

Said Seth: “Pretty amazing.”

Said his father, fighting back tears: “That flag now means more than it meant to my father, it means more than it meant to me. That flag is now a link to our
entire family.”

Sometimes that’s how it works here, you know? Even amid million-dollar athletes competing for 15 commercial-packed minutes of fame, sometimes the Olympics really are still about a country and a flag and a family.

A gray Monday filled with scraggly hair and torn blue jeans was one of those times, a funky sport showing that even cool dudes can dig their roots.

When asked where he won the race, Wescott said he had no idea. When asked how it felt to pass Robertson on that late jump, he seemed unaware it even
happened then.

When asked about his family and his flag, well, that was different.

“I ran into them on the way into the venue,” he said excitedly. “So much of our competitive lives is away and traveling, to be able to compete in front of them is amazing.”

They all climbed over barriers once again to hug them. They all talked their way past guards to sit in the back row of the news conference.

Maybe it’s because, at age 33, Wescott becomes the oldest Olympian to medal in snowboard, and with that experience comes perspective.

“He understands the importance of family and what it can do for you,” said his sister, Sarah.

Maybe it’s because he’s so laid-back, he doesn’t ride hard every race. Teammate Graham Watanabe calls him “an enigma.”

“My grandfather, my father, my brother, they are all such sweet, gentle men,” Sarah said.

Or maybe he acts nonchalant because if he seriously examined his situation Monday — last place with less than a minute to make it up — he would go crazy.

I mean, it looked as if he were done. Even after he took advantage of U.S. teammate Nate Holland’s race-ending skid, even after he passed France’s Tony Ramoin on a leap, it looked as if he were done.

Watching the giant TV screen from the bottom of the hill, several thousand Canadian fans thought he was done, their cowbells and horns blaring as their
countrymen opened up a seemingly big lead and then — whoosh! — Wescott leaped past him and slid to that flag.

“In this sport, it’s never over,” reminded Holland, who finished fourth. “[Seth] has the ability to realize he is in fourth place and understand what he needs to do to get into first.”

In this game, that is the measure of a champion, the guy who can win with snow on his butt and a lump in his throat.

That was Wescott, apparently never realizing he was inches away from ignominy, always figuring he was just moments away from victory.

“You look at him in fourth place — and you can see where that gold medal is,” Holland said.

You could look at Seth Wescott afterward and you could see where his heart was, in a flag strong enough to twice protect a winter champion, a flag big
enough for three.”

Bob Klapisch, of The Record (Hackensack, NJ) wrote about the contract negotiations between The Yankees and Derek Jeter along with Mariano Rivera.
That’ll be a tough job.
“It’s all but impossible to get Yankees officials to talk about new contracts for Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, the free agents-to-be who aren’t going
anywhere after their deals expire in November. The captain and the closer will sign expensive, long-term extensions this winter and finish their careers in the Bronx. Make book on that.
The only variable is when the Steinbrenners want to sit down with Jeter and Rivera and ask the burning question: how much will it take?
The Yankees intend to have this conversation later, not sooner, because no one gets head starts on contracts. That’s team policy and senior officials say
they’re not about to create a precedent, not even for two of New York’s biggest stars.
The Yankees will give you a million reasons for making Jeter and Rivera wait, not the least compelling of which is, there’s no downside to procrastinating. It’s not like either player is going to walk off in a huff. Besides, economic times are lean, even for the Yankees, evidenced by the way they snuffed out Johnny Damon’s career in pinstripes.
One team insider said, “these are definitely not the good old days” when George Steinbrenner would write checks without remorse. Damon is history because the Yankees wouldn’t go over $200 million on their 2010 payroll. When the leftfielder and his agent, Scott Boras, tried calling the Yankees’ bluff, they found themselves staring at the wide-open space called unemployment.
This isn’t to say Jeter and Rivera will run up against the same corporate wall. To the contrary, they’re both going to get handsome raises over their respective $21 million and $15 million deals. As one insider said recently, “There’s not going to be any haggling with these guys.”
The Yankees recognize there’s no way to win a public relations war with these two, Jeter especially. There won’t be any replay of the Damon takedown,
when they openly pointed out how Damon’s value had diminished since 2006 When he first arrived in the Bronx, Damon was an offensive threat who could
be trusted in center field. But in the four years he played in pinstripes, Damon morphed into a 36-year-old, below-average defender whose arm was a liability even in left field.
Again, there’s not much of a counterclaim the Yankees can make against Jeter and Rivera. So what’s the point of waiting? Why not open negotiations before spring training, conclude them before opening day and avoid a long summer of uncertainty?
Although he would never say so publicly, Jeter wants nothing more than to be paid now, in the wake of his comeback season. Not only did he raise his
average by 34 points, he finished with a .986 fielding percentage, tying a career best. Additionally, Jeter’s Ultimate Zone Rating (the controversial defense metric), which had plummeted to minus-15.3 in 2007, rebounded to a career-high 6.6 in 2009.
Rivera brings similar ammunition to the negotiating table: although Joe Nathan and Brian Fuentes both finished with more regular-season saves, the Yankees’ closer outperformed (and outlasted) both in October. Rivera also stranded 91.8 baserunners last year, the highest percentage of his career.
The Yankees’ response to this will be — we know they’re great, that’s why they’ll both get new deals when the time is right. It’s all about policy, is what
we’ll be reminded. But wasn’t it also the Bombers’ promise to let Alex Rodriguez walk once he opted out of his contract in 2008?
Those were the rules, team officials said. Until it was time to break the rules.
Obviously, the Yankees can rewrite the business plan any time they choose and no one will complain. Really, who’s going to object to Jeter and Rivera having their contracts torn up after the team’s first championship in almost a decade?
The two have earned the right for special dispensation. They’ve certainly earned a pass from the questions that’ll build to a crescendo as they get closer to November. If nothing else, starting the talks early will give both sides a chance to do a little recon.
Jeter, who turns 36 in June, will almost certainly be looking for a deal that’ll take him to his 42nd birthday. He’ll have every right to ask for that, too, given the Yankees’ willingness to extend A-Rod for 10 more years when he was 32.
Maybe Rivera will find out the Yankees are worried about the subtle drop-off in velocity in his cut-fastball. The major leagues’ most deadly pitch, once
clocked at 94-96 mph, is more like 91-93 mph these days. Maybe that’ll mean something when Rivera asks for three more years. Maybe the Yankees come
back to him and say, two tops.
All the more reason for the Yankees to find out what it’ll take to make Jeter and Rivera happy. Our guess is that Jeter will ask for six years, but will ultimately have to live with four. He won’t get A-Rod’s $32 million annual salary, but will be boosted from $21 million to $25 million.
Rivera, who says he’d like to pitch for five more years, will get another two from the Bombers. Already making top-scale money for a closer, Rivera’s raise should get him $17 million per.
The Yankees might as well get their books squared away now, because they’ll need to know what’s left in the ATM for next winter’s real hunt — the one for
Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee. That’ll make the Jeter-Rivera negotiations look like calisthenics.”


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