Bob Molinaro of HamptonRoads.com talked about pre-season workouts in the NFL.
“When Albert Haynesworth failed to appear at a recent Redskins minicamp and was fined $10,000 by the team, the media were all over the story.
Seems to me, though, they neglected to address one salient point.
The squabble between Haynesworth and management will come to a head later this summer, but a more relevant, timely debate is why NFL teams hold
mandatory minicamps in the first place.
Or why voluntary (wink, wink) Organized Team Activities – OTAs – have become such an integral part of the NFL’s winter and spring itinerary.
NFL teams don’t need these make-work sessions. Little if anything that goes on at minicamps and OTAs carries over to the regular season.
Think of it this way: if not a single team conducted organized offseason workouts, it would have the same effect as every team holding them.
The alleged benefits of this group training – player fitness, cohesion, morale building- aren’t what’s really behind the winter and spring workouts. They’re held because coaches are control freaks, and control freaks can’t go too long without demonstrating their authority over players.
Another thing offseason workouts do is to create publicity. Without minicamps and OTAs, the NFL wouldn’t be in the news as often in May and June. The NFL is clever that way. Minicamps are good photo ops. As dull as they are, they can create a few more talking points for a fan culture that can’t get enough pro football.
Mostly, though, they’re a vehicle that allows coaches to exercise more and more control over their players’ lives.
Players can expect no sympathy from the public, of course. Fans don’t find anything wrong with the current system because most always side with
management – the people responsible for exorbitant ticket prices, rip-off parking fees and overpriced merchandise. Fans are funny that way.
Like management, most fans believe that for the kind of money they make, NFL players should show up whenever the coach wants them to.
Recently, though, Roger Goodell suggested that alterations in the offseason programs might be in order.
“I think we’re going to have to have some guidelines and restrictions on what can be done and can’t be done in the offseason,” the commissioner said.
But there already are guidelines and restrictions in place. Teams routinely ignore them.
Coaches’ wants usually supersede league restrictions. It’s rare when a team is punished for breaking the rules, though the Baltimore Ravens had their wrists slapped this month for violating league policy about the intensity of their OTA practices.
As a result, the Ravens were stripped of their final week of voluntary offseason workouts. No great loss.
Goodell noted that the approach to so-called voluntary workouts might have to change because “there’s a lot of pressure from teammates and coaches.”
His comments reflect reality. But they might also suggest an ulterior motive.
In an attempt to win approval for an 18-game regular-season schedule, Goodell might hope to curry favor with the players by returning to them some of their free time.
Goodell wants to cut the exhibition schedule in half – from four games to two – a move favored by the players and almost everyone else.
But the sticking point in negotiations between the league and union probably will be those two additional regular-season games.
Then, too, with the collective bargaining agreement expiring in March, Goodell’s support for an 18-game season could be a negotiating chip that the league can remove from the table in exchange for considerations from the union.
At the moment, Goodell appears sympathetic to the players’ desire for more control over their offseason schedules. Or he might be setting a trap.”

Tom Robinson, of the same website gave us,
“And so the United States has flamed out, but the World Cup grinds on for, what, another two, three months down there in South Africa?
Ha. That of course is just a little humor from a soccer dweeb. Very little. Everyone knows the beautiful game’s beautiful competition actually unfolds for nearly two weeks more, till July 11, by which time I hope to be past my depression over the U.S. side’s unfortunate exit from the pitch and on the way to acceptance.
Seriously, double-darn those pesky Ghanaians for booting our boys back to reality for a second consecutive World Cup season and making us notice how
stupidly hot it is outside.
The good part of it, though, for some of us who dip a toe into footy-land once a quadrennium pretty much because everyone else is doing it, is we can get our lives back, to borrow the dear wish of BP’s poor beleaguered Tony “Gusher Boy” Hayward.
But now that we can stop paying attention
and let Germany and those other guys scrap and swoon for the coveted cup, I’ve got to admit I’ll miss a few things about the tournament.
Like, and I hope you don’t think I’m nuts, but every game I watched I heard this really weird buzzing noise coming from the seats. Yeah, buzzing, like a bunch of bees or something. Did you hear it too, or was it just me? It makes me wonder, since I never saw anything in the media on it, whether it was some kind of African instrument or what-not. Never mind. Time for a hearing test, most likely.
The stretcher crew that scrambled onto the pitch, scraped together the tortured remains of another writhing world-class athlete – most had been pierced through the chest with arrows from close range, I believe – patched them back up in seconds, zip zap, and somehow sent them back into play. Miracle workers, those people. Bless you.
Bumbling referees who made baseball’s Weepin’ Jim Joyce look like Lady Justice, with a mustache. Better yet, all-powerful, bumbling referees who were not required to explain how they did not see balls cross goal lines, why they waved off goals and what they consider to be offsides relative to what the rest of the world considers to be offsides. Koman Coulibaly, you’re buying a ticket in 2014, that’s all I’m sayin’.
The genuine, soccer-nation accents of the broadcasters and analysts, particularly the British and Irish ones. I swear, I’d pay a buck to hear them read a sandwich menu. And such class! At one point in the USA-Ghana game, the wonderful play-by-play man described a pass, so very properly, as being “not of sufficient quality.” Dude. You make me want to be a better man.
Fan shots of Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger seated together. What but the World Cup could bring those two cultural icons together? It beats Seinfeld and Lady
GaGa at a Mets game, that’s for sure. It got me wondering, for some reason, who’s older, Clinton or Jagger? You’re right; Jagger will be 67 in July (Clinton’s 64 in August). Wait a minute. If Jagger’s 67 that means I’m… oh my…
Sepp Blatter, i.e. the ridiculously named man behind FIFA’s iron curtain. Bud Selig without the charisma and oratory skills. FIFA is beyond reproach because Blatter (hahahaha) says it is. Video replay at the World Cup to help the bumbling referees? Nope. Whatever. It’s somebody else’s problem now.
Last one out, shut off that crazy noise.”

Tom Robinson of HamptonRoads.com said that Stephen Strasburg SHOULD be an All-Star and provided reasons for his thinking.

“The discussion has heated up in the media and is bubbling toward a boil: Should Washington Nationals rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg be named to the National League All-Star team?
Allow me to join what I hope is a growing chorus by shouting “Absolutely.” “Positively.” And “NL All-Star manager Charlie Manuel, of the Phillies, should be decommissioned if he ignores the Strasasaurus.”
Come on, people. Sending Strasburg to the big event in Anaheim, Calif., on July 13 for the National League side shouldn’t even be debatable.
I know he’s thrown only 25 1/3 innings to date for a bad team. Like a lot of the things being lobbed up against Strasburg, it doesn’t matter.
Strasburg has created one of his sport’s all-time splashiest entrances that, yes, has lived up to every burst of hype. And that’s why he should be an All-Star despite a big-league tenure that began June 8.
He has struck out 41 hitters, the most for a pitcher in his first four games, and has 1.78 ERA. His first start – a 14-strikeout effort over seven innings against
Pittsburgh – is among history’s three or four greatest pitching debuts.
Strasburg has won two of his four starts, took a no-decision in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox, and last week absorbed his first loss only because his
team’s impotent offense was blanked 1-zip by Kansas City.
And so far, according to a stat I saw in the Washington Post, batters have failed to even touch the ball on more than 41 percent, a league-leading number, of their flailings at Strasburg’s 100-mph fastballs and 90-mph changeups.
This is a game that’s supposed to be about stars? Then Strasburg, 21, has to be there. Remember, the starting lineups, minus the pitcher, are determined by
fans stuffing ballot boxes – i.e. it’s a popularity contest. So who in the last month’s been more popular than Strasburg?
Fans want to see him pitch, and that will translate into big broadcast numbers when Strasburg works his inning – two, probably not – in Anaheim.
They will clamor after him on the autograph lines.
And don’t forget, although I wish we could, baseball a while back ridiculously set this game up to determine which league gets home-field advantage in the
World Series.
In that case, how could Manuel, whose Phillies are trying to return to the Series for a third straight year, not slobber over having two or three innings covered by Strasburg and Colorado’s crazy-dominant Ubaldo Jimenez (13-1, 1.60 ERA)?
The fact is, designating Strasburg as one of the 13 NL All-Star hurlers makes so much sense, on so many levels, that tradition-bound “baseball” almost
certainly will fight the tide rather than roll with it.
Baseball always does this kind of thing, and it is constantly infuriating.
Baseball will say Strasburg, who has been quiet and unassuming and talks in the media only when spoken to – and then only about his most recent start – hasn’t yet paid enough dues to be handed an All-Star berth.
Time hasn’t allowed him to give the game sufficient reverence. He is so good, and he has come crashing onto the scene so brilliantly, that he should somehow have to pay for it. Baseball’s cob-webbed mentality actually promotes this.
It’s silly. Same for the argument that a borderline-deserving veteran, one perhaps who has labored for All-Star consideration, could be bumped from the roster for the sake of a one-month rookie.
You know what? Life’s a…. um, life’s tough.
Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker was asked last week whether Strasburg should be an All-Star despite his minimal service time. “In my opinion, not yet,” he said.
And so comes another example of baseball’s fossilized, unwritten codes of “respect” when, as an industry, it really ought to be passing out hats and horns. To have a talent and an eyeball magnet like Strasburg is something to be celebrated, and not just in Washington either, instead of tempered.
Fortunately, as the Post story notes, there is one potential saving grace for Strasburg-files should Manuel be cowed by his sport’s maddening reluctance to promote individuals as aggressively as other pro sports do.
Five players from each league are nominated for a final vote that allows fans to choose one each for the AL and the NL teams.
Should Manuel go old-school or scaredy cat and force the phenom onto that ballot – he would be put on that ballot, right, baseball? – stuffing the box for him should be encouraged.
In fact, it would be the second-best thing to happen to baseball this season next to, yep, the arrival of Stephen Strasburg.”

Barbara Barker of Newsday gives this update on the “Baby Yanks”.
“The act of fathers playing catch with sons is one of the most hallowed rituals of baseball, one of the most revered building blocks of the game.
But what if a kid doesn’t have a father? Or his father is too busy working to play ball? Or his family is simply too overwhelmed with day-to-day life to pay much attention to a kid’s baseball dreams?
“If you love baseball and you want to work hard and stay away from trouble, it doesn’t matter where you come from,” coach Ray Negron told members of his Long Island summer league team at a recent practice at Bay Shore High School. “That is what this team is all about.”
This team is Hank’s Baby Yanks, an 18-and-under summer league team of 18 kids who play at Baseball Heaven in Yaphank. The Baby Yanks are funded by
Yankees co-owner Hank Steinbrenner with various Yankees players, including A.J. Burnett and Robinson Cano, kicking in some money for travel and extras.
Many of the players are from single-parent homes. Some have been involved with gangs and one is a teenage parent. Most would not be able to afford to play on a team at this level without an assist from the Yankees.
“Baseball is just a steppingstone for these young kids who will hopefully turn into successful men in whatever field they choose,” Hank Steinbrenner said in an e-mail to Newsday. “I’m glad that the Yankees and I are able to play a small role in the development of these young kids. My dad always believed in second chances, and a second chance is what these individuals are getting.”
And it’s quite a second chance. This is no ordinary youth baseball team. In January, Hank’s Baby Yanks traveled to Tampa, Fla., to play at the Yankees’
training facility in front of pro scouts. Last month, they got to attend batting practice before a Yankees game against the Orioles and talk to manager Joe
Girardi and many of the players. There is some talk that later this season, the team might play at Yankee Stadium while the Yankees are on the road.
Negron, a special assistant for the Yankees who organizes many charity and community events, is quick to tell his players that his father wasn’t a part of his life when he was growing up in the South Bronx. “George Steinbrenner, baseball and the Yankees saved my life,” Negron said.
It’s a message that Jonathan Smith, a 17-year-old from Bay Shore, can relate to. Having lost both his parents, Smith lives with his grandmother. He doesn’t
remember his father, who died when he was a baby, but he and his mother were extremely close. He was devastated when she died of a heart attack when he was 14.
“Ray came from nothing to something, and I understand where he’s coming from,” Smith said. “I’ve gone through so much that a lot of people said there was no hope for me. But baseball is my dream; it’s what I live for. When I was little, I used to practice in the backyard all by myself. That’s how much I loved it. I know to make this dream happen, I have to work at it.”
The player who is closest to making his dream happen is Leonel Vinas, 18, the team’s star pitcher. Vinas moved from the Dominican Republic to Freeport as a teenager with his brother Mariano, who is an outfielder on the team. Vinas opened the season by striking out 18 in a 5-0 win over the Long Island Giants, and last weekend he threw privately for the Rangers and the Indians.
Said Vinas: “What I like about this team is everyone comes from different places and backgrounds, but it doesn’t matter because we all have the same dream.
We all love baseball and we all want to make it.”

Sally Jenkins wrote in the DC Post about John Wall and the draft.
“An hour before his life changed stood on stage in the empty Madison Square Garden theater and rehearsed the impending moment. He and the other projected NBA first-round picks posed for a photo op and received some last instructions. “Big smiles gentlemen,” someone said. Wall obliged. He smoothed his palms over the new suit picked out by his mother, hunched his shoulders and straightened his sleeves. Then he checked his wristwatch, big and gleaming as a sundial.
A half hour before his life changed, Wall sat at a circular table in the waiting area, joined hands with his mother and his sisters, and bent his head to pray.
When the moment came, as staged as it was, it still packed an emotional wallop. A silly charade prevented from announcing their pick beforehand, and even sillier was the five minutes they spent “on the clock.” Nevertheless, when Commissioner David Stern finally declared Wall the overall No. 1 draft choice, the 19-year-old former trouble child leaped to his feet as if electrified. He buttoned the suit-coat that Frances Pulley had chosen for him — chocolate with
pinstripes, and a striped tie of robins egg blue with blue handkerchief — and leaned over and hugged her. He clapped a Wizards cap on his head and strode on to the big stage, misty-eyed. “You were waiting for this, weren’t you?” Stern murmured to him.
That’s when it all changed. You could feel the sudden acceleration as Wall power-walked into stardom. A security escort materialized out of nowhere and hustled him behind a velvet rope to the ESPN set. A blinding bank of TV cameras filmed him as he was ushered through the back halls of the Garden to a news conference. Fans stampeded after him, with a gathering intensity. A girl squealed. “Oh, I touched his hand!”
Whatever happens to Wall from now on, he will always have the undiluted joy of this night — a night when he was perfectly balanced between past and future.
The old struggle was over and everything ahead remained unwritten and undone. The longer march of his pro career would not start until tomorrow. There were no disappointments yet, no cynicism, he wasn’t yet spoiled by success or embittered by personal failure. There was just a 19-year-old boy, hurrying to a magnificent manhood.
“I can’t even — words can’t even explain right now,” he said.
Strange as it may sound, there was a sense that Wall’s draft night was as much the end of something as the beginning. It was, of course, the triumphant conclusion to a lousy childhood.
It was the compensation for years of growing up with his father doomed in prison, his mother working so many jobs that the only time he saw her was “taking me to school, and picked up in the afternoon, that was it. As a kid, 10 and 11 years old, you want to see your family, spend time, didn’t really have it.” It was a balm for the mutinous, angry years when no one could control him, until his mother sat him down and told him, “Change your attitude or you’ll never be nothing.”
If nothing else, the No. 1 pick affirmed Wall’s ability to turn negatives into positives. It was final proof that he had channeled all of his old volatility into explosive ambition. It was a personal reversal as surprising as one of those explosive crossover moves of his on the court.
“As soon as somebody says something negative, I want to build off it,” he says. “I don’t let it get to my head.”
That is among Wall’s most promising characteristics — and the thing that Wizards fans may come to appreciate about him. A franchise that won just 26 games can use a point guard and a leader who knows how to reverse fortunes.
But as much as we’d like to think the Wizards have done their due diligence, the fact is that 19-year-olds are inherently unpredictable. No top draft choice is a sure thing; if Wall comes with soaring promise, he also comes with some uncertainties, from his jump shot to his defense to his old demons. There are a lot of unanswered questions. Can he carry a franchise on such slim, young shoulders? Will he eclipse his lousy childhood with a responsible adulthood? Will his
sudden wealth, a Reebok deal worth a reported $25 million over five years, his own shoe, and the highlight mix tapes make him self-satisfied and complacent?
Maturity is not a science. The Wizards can’t really know how he will develop on the floor. But Wall seems pretty clear about the kind of person and player he would like to become. “I got the will to win,” he said earlier this week. “I’ve got good character. I’m a winner off the court. I’ll do anything I can for the team and in the community.” He exhibits an interesting fear of failure, and a personal, interior accountability. “My biggest concern? Going there and being a bum.
You don’t want to be a draft pick that should have did something but never did nothing.”
Perhaps most reassuring was the fact that, in the midst of the greatest evening of his young life, even as he stepped beyond the velvet rope and into his future, Wall exhibited gratitude. He kept saying thank you to everybody “Thank you all for coming here,” he said to no one in particular. Someone offered congratulations.
“Thank you for saying congratulations,” he said.”

Dan Shaughnessy, of the Boston Globe, wrote about an earlier time whose issues are still in today’s headlines.

“Perhaps you saw “The Great Debaters’’ after the movie was released in 2007. Based on a true story, the film traced the inspiring journey of a debate team at predominately black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, in the 1930s. Coached by a visionary teacher, the students overcome major obstacles and wind up coming to Cambridge to take on and beat mighty Harvard.
Great stuff. But I was dismayed when I learned that in real life, Wiley actually bested the University of Southern California. Not Harvard.
I was reminded of this recently when I took in “Johnny Baseball,’’ a musical extended through July 11 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. Here, too, the creators took liberties with the facts, seeking a perfect story rather than a true one.
“Johnny Baseball’’ is a fun-filled, breezy show that sends you into the streets with a bounce in your step. It ably demonstrates the century-old love affair between this region and its baseball team, but the take-home message is serious and uncomfortable: The Red Sox, for the majority of the 20th century, was a racist organization. The Sox were the last major league team to integrate their roster, with Pumpsie Green in 1959. The team didn’t win for 86 years and deserved bad luck because owner Tom Yawkey and his minions did not want black ballplayers.
And this, of course, is the real curse of the Red Sox. It was never about Babe Ruth and the Curse of the Bambino. It was really the Curse of Jackie Robinson.
OK, here’s the self-indulgent part of this critique. I wrote “The Curse of the Bambino’’ in 1990. The book chronicled all the rotten, frustrating things that happened to the Red Sox after they sold the Babe to the Yankees in 1920.
The book included a couple of thousand words on the institutional racism that was an integral component of the Sox identity during the Thomas Yawkey years (Yawkey bought the team in 1934 and died in 1976).
There was nothing scientific or serious about the Curse of the Bambino. It was simple superstition over substance. The Sox sold Ruth and never won again.
Now we have a legion of Al Gore-like know-it-alls, scolding us with the inconvienent truths regarding the real reason the Sox didn’t win: It’s because they didn’t sign Jackie Robinson after his Fenway tryout in 1945. It’s because they passed on Willie Mays when he was scouted while playing for the Birmingham Black Barons. It’s because Yawkey hired a bunch of racists.
All of the above is true. But no one can really say why the Sox didn’t win for 86 years. A curse can’t be quantified or compared. That’s what makes it a curse.
If you want to believe it’s Ruth, you believe. If you want to believe it’s racism, you believe (though the Curse of Jackie doesn’t explain the Sox not winning from 1920 to 1947 when every team was all-white). Most likely, it was Boston’s lack of a good closer, and slow-footed Sox teams that were built to bash at Fenway, then fizzled on the road. The Sox didn’t win because they weren’t good enough.
“Johnny Baseball’’ is a terrific show. Much of it is true to baseball. Actor Burke Moses does a hilarious impersonation of Babe Ruth’s 1920s high-speed newsreel home-run trot. Batters choke up appropriately, like batters of that era. None of the ballplayer/actors has the awkward motion of Anthony Perkins trying to play Jimmy Piersall in “Fear Strikes Out.’’ The writers (Richard Dresser, Willie Reale) playfully poke fun at Worcester. The estimable Janet Marie
Smith (the Sox architect who recently rebuilt Fenway) is cited in the credits, which explains why the Fenway colors and set ring true. The Greek chorus of Sox fans singing “Eighty-Six Years’’ (with lyrics asking “Why does God hate us?’’) is hilarious.
But I walked out of the theater bothered by the unnecessary blending of fact and fiction. I fear that most of the ART patrons now believe that Mays tried out for the Red Sox at Fenway in 1948 and was sent packing by a racist general manager named Joe Cronin.
It never happened. Robinson and two other black players did try out at Fenway in 1945. It was a sham. That episode is mentioned in “Johnny Baseball,’’ but the scene we see has Mays at Fenway in 1948, and a posse of Yawkey’s drunken “baseball men’’ turning him away.
Mays, one of the greatest ballplayers who ever lived, was scouted by the Red Sox when he played for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1949. The Sox passed, and ultimately the New York Giants signed him. Cronin did not sign Mays, but he never saw him try out at Fenway. Cronin passed away in 1984 and can’t defend himself, and family members who still live in New England are saddled with this unflattering portrait.
“Johnny Baseball’’ also gives us Yawkey as a bloated bigot, ice cubes forever clinking in his tumbler of vodka. If everything we see in “Johnny Baseball’’
really happened, Yawkey’s name should be erased from the Hall of Fame, from Yawkey Way (connecting Brookline Avenue and Boylston Street, it used to be Jersey Street), and from the Dana-Farber buildings. You would not allow your son to play “Yawkey League’’ baseball.
The “Johnny Baseball’’ playbill features an author’s note that states, “Willie Mays did not try out at Fenway Park in 1948 or ever. . . . For dramatic purposes we have Willie Mays trying out at Fenway Park in 1948.’’
Reached by phone yesterday, Dresser explained that the writing team wanted to put the play’s fictional character Tim Wyatt, an aspiring ballplayer, in a scene with Mays. “We knew it was one of the liberties one takes to make things clear in a dramatic story,’’ he said. “We felt that the truth of the situation was that the Red Sox passed on Willie Mays. That was the larger point we wanted to make. We compressed those things in the service of telling the story.’’
Sorry. That’s not OK.
There was institutional racism at Fenway Park. The Red Sox did bring Jackie Robinson to Fenway for a sham of a tryout in 1945. And the Sox were the last major league team to field a black player.
That should be enough. Just like beating USC in debate should be enough.
It doesn’t always have to be Harvard.”

Bill Plaschke of the LA Times talked about some American World Cup aims.

“The United States is giddy, grateful, gushing over soccer.

The president of the U.S. Soccer Federation says, “I think this has got to be the greatest win in U.S. soccer history.”

The goalkeeper pitches a shutout and says, “This is big, big news…. People in America have to understand this is huge.”

Landon Donovan scores a goal and says, “It’s like a dream.”

All of this after Wednesday’s World Cup victory against Algeria?

No, all of this eight years ago after a second-round World Cup victory against Mexico.

You see, we’ve been here before. But, this being soccer, we just don’t act like it.

I am as thrilled as anyone about Donovan’s extra-time goal to beat Algeria and give the U.S. its first group victory in World Cup history. I screamed. I jumped.
It was cool.

But I just can’t understand why everyone is tearfully acting as if it were another Miracle on Ice. I can’t understand why we continually diminish soccer — and thus inhibit its growth — by continually setting its expectations so low in the face of opposing evidence so thick.

The miracle is that, after six consecutive World Cup appearances including that final-eight showing in 2002, we still go crazy over early World Cup success.

The miracle is that, in a country where you can’t leave your home on a Saturday morning without encountering at least one child wearing a baggy soccer uniform and clutching a juice box, we’re still acting as if soccer is some newfangled cult activity.

This miracle is that, even against a team that did not score a goal in three World Cup games and has never advanced past the group stage, we insist on
celebrating like the underdog.

I loved the video that showed different parts of America cheering Donovan’s goal, but shouldn’t that rejoicing have been filled with more relief? We should
have won that game because we were clearly the better team. We should advance to the round of 16 because, well, we’re the 14th-ranked team in the world.

I suspect that one reason U.S. soccer does not become a superpower is because, as fans, we don’t demand it. We don’t pressure a losing coach like a
Southeastern Conference football crowd. We don’t push a struggling player like a New York baseball crowd. We blister an NBA coach for ripping a referee, yet we allow soccer players to fire away.

We give soccer excuses it doesn’t need, then shower it with praise for a job it hasn’t finished. We treat American soccer like a precocious prodigy instead of a burgeoning powerhouse. The youth soccer movement in this country is at least 30 years old, Major League Soccer is 15 years old — isn’t it time for everyone to grow up?

Landon Donovan has been this team’s leader for, like, forever, so he should be expected to be in the middle of the winning goal. Tim Howard is one of the
best goalkeepers in the world; he should be expected to stop shots. More than 3 million kids playsoccer in this country, we should be able to find a dozen or
so to beat a nation that can’t match our soccer program in funding or accomplishment.

This is not an anti-soccer column. On the contrary, it may be the most pro-soccer column you will read this week.

I respect the sport. My children played it. My university won a national championship in it. I respect soccer too much to compromise its potential by accepting the old stereotypes that drag it down.

Our best athletes play other sports? Somehow the U.S ski team can figure out a way to beat the Austrians, and the U.S. swim team can beat the Australians,
and there aren’t any tight ends in either sport. Our children don’t grow up with the sport as in other countries? Um, who do you think coined the phrase “soccer mom”?

I know, I know, I’m an uneducated hack, I don’t understand the evolution of the world’s most beautiful game, soccer is different, soccer needs time, blah, blah, blah. I do know this. In any other national team sport, if one of our teams is good enough to reach the world’s final eight in 2002, we would expect nothing less eight years later.

Which brings me to Saturday’s second-round game against Ghana. Despite what you may read, the only Cinderella here is the other team.

The U.S. is ranked 18 places higher in the world than Ghana. The U.S. has six consecutive World Cup appearances; this is only Ghana’s second. Despite a
loss to the Black Stars four years ago, the U.S. is light-years ahead of Ghana in age, experience and funding. This is not a gift game. This is a must-win game.

Now, if the U.S. team can win two more times and make the Final Four for the first time? Well, that’s something. That’s progress. That’s an awakening. That’s
big-boy soccer.

Until then, don’t just cheer for their success, but demand that success, and stop treating them like children.”

Ron Borges of  the Boston Herald looked at the impact of that win over Algeria.

“Judging by the first two weeks of World Cup broadcasts, the most overused word in soccer is not futbol. It’s nil.
Generally, nil is not what you’re looking for when it comes to sports, but in soccer it’s too often what you get. Yet, this morning, it is the precisely appropriate word for the likely long-term effect the United States’ 1-nil victory over Algeria yesterday will have on the future growth of American soccer.
Nil.
Sure, it was satisfying to finally see Landon Donovan kick an object smaller than a basketball into a goal bigger than the state of Vermont for the win in the 91st minute in South Africa, but the breathless way ex-Revolution pitch man Alexi Lalas talked about it, you would have thought the United States had just won something of note.
It’s true the win was the United States’ first World Cup victory in eight years. It’s great that it allowed the U.S. national team to finish atop its first-round group for the first time since the original World Cup in 1930, even if it did win only one game by, of course, the score of 1-nil.
It was better still that the Americans advanced into the 16-team knockout round because now that the World Cup has become an elimination tournament many more of us may watch Saturday when the U.S. squares off against Ghana.
We’ll holler when the referees foul up U.S. chances again, even if we don’t understand how they did it. But let’s be real here. Who did it beat to advance?
Algeria?
No disrespect to my Algerian friends. But, truth be told, beating Algeria to declare yourself a soccer power is like beating Peru to become a military power. It doesn’t count for nil, but what’s the word for next to nil? Nyet?
Algeria, after all, was consistently nil throughout the tournament. It failed to score a single goal in three games, apparently concentrating its efforts on withering defense. Hey, it almost worked – with a little help from a Belgian referee who redefined the offside rule, preventing a 2-nil win and what would have been talk of an offensive explosion.
Interest will not be nil when the United States faces Ghana, but interest in soccer in America is like interest in curling in the States. We may get up for it every four years, but as a steady diet? We have nil interest in that.
This reality has been proven many times over. It was even proven after the United States won the women’s World Cup in a dramatic shootout. That
tournament created stars and a new women’s league. Where are they now?
That doesn’t mean no one is excited about what just happened in South Africa. ESPN.com soccer commentator David Hirshey wrote after the United States win: “Make no mistake, June 23, 2010, will go down as one of the defining dates in American soccer. People in the rest of the world can deride the standard of the U.S. game all they want, but now they do so at their own peril. More importantly, the 1-0 victory over Algeria plants the sport’s flag even deeper in the consciousness of U.S. fans who were ready to go back to work had the Americans lost and not advanced.”
Not to rain on the parade, but Donovan & Co. beat Algeria, after all, not Brazil. If getting through to the Round of 16 was all it took for the average American sports fan to finally embrace soccer and begin calling it “the beautiful game!” or something like that, why didn’t it happened when the U.S. got to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup? You remember, don’t you?
This is, of course, a matter of perspective. Ian Darke, the veteran BBC commentator on the ESPN broadcast of the U.S.-Algeria game, called Donovan’s goal, “breathtakingly exciting.”
We’d call it a tap-in, being as how he was standing all alone six feet from the goal when the rebound came right to him. But “beathtakingly exciting?”
The chance of the majority of America’s sports fans seeing it that way was, well, nil.”

Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe looked at the first two rounds of the NBA’s draft and said:
“It was always going to be John Wall, and who among us would be surprised if we were to learn somewhere down the road that the clincher was watching Rajon Rondo in the playoffs?
I say that because Wall, like Rondo, like Steve Nash, like Chris Paul, and like Derrick Rose, is a one-man fast break. Get him out on the open floor, and you have someone who can take it coast-to-coast against any retreating defense. That outweighed any worries about his expertise in the half court (where he has turned it over a bit too much), and, in the end, is why the Washington Wizards made him the first pick of the 2010 NBA draft.
Is he as good an all-around player as Evan Turner, whom the 76ers took at No. 2? Probably not. The 6-foot-7-inch Turner was the darling of league purists, a polished, poised, versatile inside-out threat who, because we a re a sports society that always cries out for comparisons, has been continually likened to Portland’s Brandon Roy. Turner is a safe, solid pick. Wall is a sexy pick. The Wizards, who were last truly relevant in the Jimmy Carter administration, need sexy. Actually, they need everything. Wall makes sense for them.
So there was no surprise here. The fun started with the third pick.
The question was simple: who would bite on DeMarcus Cousins?
On paper, the answer should have been “Everybody.’’ Cousins is 6-11, rugged, very clever inside, and clearly the best rebounder of the bunch. He also got better as the season progressed, not a surprising development since he is just a kid, albeit a feisty one.
And that was part of the problem. Cousins was a highly demonstrative player who had run-ins with coach John Calipari (who downplays them now),
referees, and, frankly, himself. The second warning flag was conditioning. It was a major part of every preseason Kentucky analysis and it was a major topic as he went through the predraft process. It did not help his image, or his chances of going in the top two or three, when he was officially weighed at 290-plus when his desired playing weight is about 270.
The final issue was that there was a standard of comparison, Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors, another large young man with similar skills. The two, in fact, have been in competition in some form for a long time.
Favors did not carry the baggage Cousins did, and when the New Jersey Nets went to bat in the third spot they opted for Favors.
Cousins had to wait until the fifth pick to hear commissioner David Stern announce his name, as Sacramento’s pick. Minnesota had No. 4, and it decided on another nice, safe pick, Syracuse forward Wesley Johnson. He is a 6-7 transfer from Iowa State who had one of the great all-around seasons in Syracuse history, and that’s saying something when you’re discussing one of the great programs of the last 35 years.
So Cousins went fifth, and his college coach says Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Minnesota had better take heed. “He’s the kind of kid who will never forget who passed him up,’’ John Calipari told ESPN this week. “When he’s 35, and in the league 15 years, he’ll always remember who passed him by and he will want to drop 50 on them.’’
Wall and Cousins were two of a record-five Kentucky players taken in the first 29 picks. Kentucky is the fourth school to have at least four first-round picks, the others being, not surprisingly, Duke, North Carolina, and Connecticut. The other Wildcat selections were forward Patrick Patterson, guard Eric Bledsoe, and backup center Daniel Orton. Patterson went to Houston at No. 14, Bledsoe will wind up with the Clippers after being taken by Oklahoma City at No. 18, and Orton is a noted shot-blocker who went to Orlando at No. 29.
There is usually much tittering about so-and-so “sliding’’ to the point where a team could take him and begin babbling about how “we never thought he’d be there.’’ (Exhibit A: Paul Pierce in 1998). But there didn’t seem to be any such example in this draft. It was a very formful process. You might arch an eyebrow about Butler’s Gordon Hayward going to Utah at No. 9, but no one saw him going much lower than 14. And if anyone in this draft was born to play for Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz, it was Gordon Hayward. He probably knows their plays already.
There have been two great trends in recent drafts. One is the rise of the international player. Last year there were six in the first round. This year the only European/Latin American/South American/African/Asian player taken in the first round was Kevin Seraphin, a 6-9 French product selected by Chicago on behalf of Washington at No. 17.
The other trend is to treat four-year players as if they had a communicable disease. The previous low spot to find the first senior taken was No. 12, in both 2002 and 2008. But things reached a new low this year when Clemson’s Trevor Booker, a 6-7 forward, was taken by Minnesota at No. 23.
All in all, it’s a utilitarian draft, not a glamour draft. There might be some nice rotation players in here somewhere, but for sizzle it pretty much begins and ends with John Wall. For vengeance, there will always be Mr. Cousins.”

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle wrote about things he liked and disliked about the US Open.

Everything I know about golf I learned this week at the U.S. Open. And with luck, I’ll forget it all by Tuesday:

Nobody can play it.

If the nine hottest golfers in the world, with all their fancy clubs and caddies and trainers and massage therapists, can play 18 holes Sunday and only one
of them can break par, what chance do the rest of us slobs have?

“The cream rises!”

That’s what one fan yelled from the bleachers behind the third green Sunday when Tiger Woods curled home a putt for one of the gutsiest scrambling pars of the tournament. Everyone could feel it: Here comes Tiger! He’s got momentum!

BP oil also rises.

Woods bogeyed the next hole, and five of the next nine.

Historical knowledge is overrated.

On Thursday, I asked Graeme McDowell, two shots off the lead, if he had given any thought to the illustrious company he would join (Jack Nicklaus, Tom
Watson, Tom Kite, Woods) if he were to win the Open at Pebble Beach.

He said, “I couldn’t even name one, apart from Tiger Woods, obviously. You know, I’m not a massive golf historian.”

Coincidentally, none of those guys knew who Graeme McDowell was.

Not all great golfers are robots.

This guy McDowell is an absolutely charming and engaging fellow: glib, funny, humble, bright, emotional, thoughtful.

When someone asked him a crazy-long question at the winner’s news conference, he said with a smile, “That’s like one of my answers – kind of long-winded.”

He did not pout or whine once during his four rounds.

I sat in on three of his media chats, enough to know that McDowell does not carry a single cliche in his bag.

Nobody sucks up like golf fans.

You might have thought the reception for Woods by the galleries would have been a mixed bag, and you would have been correct. It was love mixed with weeping adoration.

When Woods walked onto the first tee Sunday, one fan harked back to the previous day, to Woods’ approach shot on the last hole.

“That was a fantastic shot on 18, buddy!” the fan yelled.

Buddy?

When you mobilize a security army to protect Tiger Woods, don’t forget to mix in a fighter plane.

An airplane flew over the course Sunday trailing a sign: “Tiger, are you my daddy?”

Who knew Elin had a pilot’s license?

Golfers are easier to root for if they have nicknames. Lefty, Tiger, Big Easy …

How about Slammin’ Graemey McDowell?

When you’re ready, you’re ready.

McDowell said Thursday, “If I get a sniff Sunday, I’ll certainly be ready for it. … I’m going to be relaxed and disciplined and try to keep control of my emotions and see where that leaves me Sunday afternoon.”

We should pay more attention when an intelligent-sounding man tells us he can win a tournament, even if we haven’t heard of the fellow.

McDowell told the media Thursday that he played the AT&T three times, thus learning Pebble; that he came early to this event to prepare; and, “Between myself and my caddie, I really think we’re very good at putting a game plan together. We’re very sensible, we’re pretty good strategizers when
it comes to that kind of stuff.”

Players are not allowed to run off the course in the middle of the final round, glue on a fake mustache and hitchhike out of town along 17-Mile Drive.

Because if they were, Dustin Johnson would have done so Sunday after the third-round leader went triple-bogey/double-bogey/bogey on Nos. 2, 3 and 4.

It’s hard to be easy.

Ernie Els, the Big Easy, refused to stop for the standard quickie news conference after Sunday’s round. Had Els shot 1-over on the back nine, he would have won his third U.S. Open.

He shot 4-over on the backside. Bye, Big Queasy.

Ain’t no mulligans.

Woods said, “I was telling Steve (caddie Williams), we made three mental mistakes today. The only thing it cost us was a chance to win the U.S. Open.”

A guess what his three mistakes were: Awoke. Got out of bed. Dragged a comb across his head.

Keep your ball below the hole.

That was the mantra of the week, because if you leave yourself downhill putts on the super-fast greens, your rear end is poa annua. The difference between an uphill putt and a downhill putt was the difference between climbing Mount Everest and falling off of it.

A torrid affair cannot be rekindled.

Woods and Pebble Beach once shared a special love, when he won the U.S. Open in 2000 by a preposterous 15 strokes. There are two chances Woods will ever again play the Pebble Beach AT&T Pro-Am – slim, and kiss my poa annua.

It is what it is.

Woods said this repeatedly. It’s a handy phrase that fits every occasion and situation, and says nothing. Somebody needed to ask Woods, “What is it that is?”

The new champion really likes his trophy.

“I don’t think I’ve put down (the silver cup) since they gave it to me,” McDowell said an hour after his win.

Well, they didn’t give it to him. He took it.”

Tom Robinson of HamptonRoads.com talked about the greedy NFL owners.

“The logical, sensible and reasonable thing for the NFL to do is to eliminate 2 of 4 preseason games while keeping the regular season at 16 games. Except we know that, when it comes to bankable – as in revenue – logical, sensible and reasonable stand no chance.
As it stands, NFL franchises get 10 home dates a year to shovel the gold into the vault. To expect them to voluntarily reduce the size of their shovel, for the sake of something silly like the health and safety of the human resources who produce that gold, is, unfortunately, laughable.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady surely knows this despite his recent comment to The Associated Press: “The long-term impact this game has on our bodies is well-documented.”
Sure it is, which doesn’t change the fact that 18 regular season performances are coming. The idea has been floated too often by management during the
drum-beating of collective bargaining discussions to believe it’s not going to happen.
They present two more full-speed chances, then, for life-altering concussions and other lasting ills in a game where collisions change lives weekly. Two more opportunities to damage exhausted bodies before throwing them into the unforgiving cauldron of playoff football.
What’s to like about that plan, except nothing?
I dread the idea, as I suspect most reasonable pro football fans do, but shame on me for mentioning the “R” word again. It has no place at this table.
“I don’t believe it’s a good thing,” said Chesapeake’s Chris Crocker, a safety for the Cincinnati Bengals who is about to enter his eighth season. “I think it’s
motivated by television contracts; more games, more money to be generated from them.”
How much of that money will go to the abused players will have to be worked out in the bargaining process. So, too, will the possible expansion of roster sizes and practice squads in order to meet a more intensive labor schedule.
“I know for sure from a player’s standpoint, we just want to get rid of some of the preseason games in general,” Crocker said.
Of course they do. Practice games are charades as unwatchable for fans as they are unnecessary for players, most of who must stay in top shape year-round because they’re strong-armed into attending a slew of “voluntary” workouts.
Practice games are blatant licenses for franchises, which exploit every advantage, to calculatedly rob consumer bases invested far too emotionally into a business relationship.
I’d love to see the players tell the owners what to do with their two additional bone-breakers. But they probably won’t have the chance before they’re locked out by owners, who are guaranteed TV money in any case, seeking to change the financial status quo.
“There’s definitely going to be a lockout,” Crocker said. “It will happen, there’s no doubt in my mind. That’s (the owners’) leverage. They have all the chips.”
Even so, ram-rodding two more dangerous games onto the schedule would be a boorish, and foolish, display of that muscle.”

Norman Chad posted this explanation on the DC Post.
“On another 100-degree day in the desert, I am taking the temperature of America while sitting in the Rio Casino sports and race book. Yes, Sin City has been devastated by tough times, but the gambling economy, my friends, never dries up completely.
With a bank of 32 screens in front of me, I am again reminded that Sports Nation is controlled by two entities: Television (lately ESPN) and gambling
Where there is a will, there is a way. And where there is a line, there is a wager.
By late morning here, a half-dozen racetracks already are in action, and by late afternoon there will be a dozen baseball games from back East, plus golf and soccer filling the room.
It is Wall Street, minus the inside trading; trust me, Gordon Gekko would go bust within one year of betting the ponies. The house is the only one with an
edge — you never see a sports book downsize, do you? Sure, once on “Seinfeld” that bookie buddy of Kramer’s didn’t have money to pay Jerry for his winning Knicks bet, but in real life, real bookies shop at Benetton and drive Cadillac Escalades.
You can bet on what’s happening today or what might happen six months from now. In either case, you are pinning your financial future on athletic
performance of which you have no control. Frankly, you have a better chance of scaling Mount Everest in a Hyundai than you do of beating the game.
Still, with the odds against us, we can’t stop trying to buck them. Heck, if I were a betting man, I would’ve taken Slovenia +250 on the money line last week against the United States — that means, for a $100 wager, I would’ve won $250 if the Slovenes beat the Americans in the World Cup. But I had one
extraordinarily bad betting week many, many years ago, and now I only gamble on marriage.
Ah, but my gaming misery doesn’t stop others from flooding into sports books such as the Rio.
(Kicking it up a notch is chef Emeril Lagasse, who opened Lagasse Stadium — a sports book-sports bar-dining emporium — last year at the Palazzo here on
the Strip. Let’s say you’re visiting from Pittsburgh and plunk down $50 on your beloved Pirates — while watching them get beat, 9-2, on one of 100
high-definition screens, you now can enjoy Ahi Tuna Melt with Creole Tomato Glaze. Note: Bring cash for your losing bets and two credit cards for your bill.)
A sports and race book is like a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, without the introductions. Everyone just goes about his business and no one cares what you’re doing. At the Rio, the sports book is just across from the thrice-daily buffet, which now offers a $39.99 “all-day pass.” Considering that cocktail waitresses come by every few minutes offering free drinks and bathrooms are nearby, realistically — if you bring a change of clothes and a razor — you likely could spend up to a week in the sports book without having to leave.
Sports books remain one of my favorite people-watching venues in the world, comparing favorably with a Parisian sidewalk cafe or the Venice Beach
boardwalk. The human condition is on display, in its rawest form. You bet, you watch, you win or lose; you emote. Rinse and repeat.
After a race finished at Derby Lane greyhound track in St. Petersburg, Fla., an older gentleman to my left waved his right hand dismissively and grumbled,
“That [expletive] dog couldn’t win a three-legged race with Carl Lewis.”
I had nearly moved away when this misfit sat down next to me — because he was smoking a cigarette, though I could’ve sworn we were in a non-smoking
section — but after he uttered his somewhat brilliant, somewhat nonsensical canine pearl, I stuck around to hear more. Alas, all he did over the next half-hour was cough and crumple losing tickets.
Which, happily, recalled for me one of my favorite gambling tales:
There’s a fellow who bets football every weekend, and for three straight months he loses every weekend. He’s a bookie’s dream. Then, when football season ends, the bookie — fearful of losing his best customer — tells him he can bet hockey. “Hockey?!?” the man exclaims. “What do I know about hockey?”

Ask The Slouch

Q. Have you ever thought about being referred to by a single name, just like a Brazilian soccer player? (Radu Marinescu; Fairfax)
A. If you saw the e-mails I’m getting from angry readers of late, you’d know I am already referred to by a single name.

Q. How many John Feinstein books do you have to stand on to change a light bulb? (James Gould; Marina del Rey; Calif.)
A. None — Feinstein will just keep writing in the dark.

Q. So is Slovenia now your Team of Destiny? (Michael Stone; Indianapolis)
A. Team of Destiny? It’s my Nation of Destiny — I’ve got a time share in Portoroz.

Q. With Texas staying put, any chance the Pacific-10 lures LeBron? (Chris Cutone; Gibsonia, Pa.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash.

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel gave us this profile of the problems being experienced by college BB coaches, who’ve been using free labor for a long time.

“John Wall will celebrate one of the greatest moments of his young life Thursday night.

Barring a change of heart from the Washington Wizards, David Stern will walk to the podium at the Theater at Madison Square Garden and announce the
University of Kentucky point guard as the top overall pick in the NBA draft. Wall will rise from his seat, hug loved ones and step out onto the stage, where
he’ll don a Wizards cap and pose for pictures with Stern.

Forgive college coaches if they don’t rejoice.

Thursday will be the fifth draft in which the NBA’s so-called one-and-done rule has been in effect, and most college coaches dislike the minimum-age
requirement. Put into effect in 2006, it states that players must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year and be at least one year removed from their high-school class’ graduation to be eligible for the draft.

“It was a rule that I don’t think makes a whole lot of sense,” Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan said.

Yet the NBA’s age minimum has had an undeniable effect on college basketball. Without it, some high-school stars such as Greg Oden and Derrick Rose might have bypassed college entirely. Instead, Oden led Ohio State to the 2007 Final Four, and Rose led Memphis to the 2008 Final Four.

Then, Oden and Rose left the college stage days after their freshmen seasons ended.

NBA teams have selected 26 one-and-done players in the draft since 2006 — including Oden and Rose, who became the top overall picks. Wall will become the third one-and-doner to be selected first overall in the last four years.

“I think in terms of overall quality of play and building a program and sustaining a program and academic accountability and success of a program, it’s hard to do that when you’ve got guys coming to college with the expectation of playing only one year or maybe two years,” said Jim Haney, the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The NBA describes its age minimum as a business decision. League executives say having youngsters play at least one season of college basketball or one year in Europe (as Brandon Jennings did) or one year in the D-League gives teams a better opportunity to evaluate potential draft picks.

Indeed, Leon Smith, the 29th overall pick in 1999, played a total of 15 NBA regular-season games. Kwame Brown, the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft straight out of high school, never became a force. Ousmane Cisse, picked 47th in ’01, never played an NBA game.

“You can imagine that a first-round draft pick in particular is about as valuable an asset as a team has,” said Joel Litvin, the NBA’s president of league and basketball operations. “Spending it on somebody who a team has only seen play against high-school talent raises the risk profile.”

Still, from 1995 — the year Kevin Garnett was drafted out of Farragut Academy — through 2005, NBA teams drafted 38 players who had just finished their senior years of high school. Thirty of those players have gone on to play in at least 200 regular-season NBA games.

Many of the college coaches’ concerns revolve around academics.

Players who leave school in bad academic standing after one season hurt the program’s academic progress rate and jeopardize scholarships.

“I’ve been fortunate at Florida that our guys have hung in there and they’ve finished up school,” Donovan said. “But you get some kids sometimes and the
season ends in the middle of March, and they’ve declared. All of a sudden, they just pick up and they forget about school and they’re not eligible to come back. It’s points against you. Really, a lot of this stuff you have no control over.”

Donovan and the NABC would like to see the NBA scrap the one-and-done rule and instead adopt an eligibility requirement similar to Major League
Baseball’s. Such a rule would permit players to go into the draft right out of high school, but it would prevent college players from being drafted until after their junior seasons.

Any change to the NBA’s minimum-age requirement would have to be made in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association. The current
collective bargaining agreement runs through June 30, 2011, unless the league invokes an option to extend the agreement by one year.

Litvin wouldn’t comment on the league’s plans in its talks with the union.

But he did add, “Suffice to say we are pleased with this rule. We think it’s been a good thing for our teams and that’s who we negotiate for.”

Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald talked about all the sports stars who have and haven’t appeared in Boston.

“As New England sports fans, we have seen the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Peyton Manning, Sidney Crosby and LeBron James pass through the region.
We have seen Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski. A couple of months back, at the Agganis Arena, we saw a couple of tennis oldtimers named John McEnroe
and Bjorn Borg battle each other.
For better or worse, we have seen Ben Rothlisberger and Tiger Woods and, when he played against Boston College during his Virginia Tech days, Michael Vick.
Manny Ramirez came back, this time as a Dodger. Roger Clemens came back, this time as a ticket-holder.
That’s the beauty of being a big league sports town: We get to see all the stars.
Imagine the surprise, then, when one of the nation’s best-known sports stars revealed yesterday that she – that’s right, she – had never even been to Boston until last month.
“I went to Boston for the first time actually during the end of May,” internationally known racecar driver Danica Patrick said during a conference call. “I know that it’s very intense for its sports.”
That’s right, the Danica Patrick. Racecar driver . . . model .. . advertising spokeswoman . . . sometimes actress. She is famous enough to have appeared in one of those “This is SportsCenter” commercials, talented enough to have been named rookie of the year for the 2005 Indy 500, attractive enough to have been in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition.
And now, finally, she’s bringing her game to New England. Patrick, the biggest name in racing, will participate in Saturday’s New England 200 at the New
Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H..
This woman knows how the game is played, and we’re not just talking about auto racing. As she fielded questions from throughout the United States, she
showed a talent for customizing her answers in accordance with whatever city the questioner happened to call home. She was asked about returning to
Michigan International Speedway in August.
“It’s always good to have a visual of the track,” she said. “Having been there and seeing the place and knowing what it’s like and how the track surface is and everything, I think it’s a really nice thing for me to have that going into the weekend.”
Someone from Milwaukee asked if there are any courses at which she’s looking to race.
“Hmm, well, the one coming up being Loudon, I’m excited because it’s a lot like Milwaukee, I heard, and I have always enjoyed going to Milwaukee over the last, well, unfortunately not this year but for seven years previously,” she said. “So it’s good to get that feel of a nice flat track and a short track. So that one.”
She was asked about returning to Illinois, where she grew up.
“I shouldn’t forget Chicago,” she said. “I look forward to it. I love the city of Chicago. It’s such a great city. I was just there last week for a couple of days.”
Boston?
“I was cheering for the Celtics. I was,” she said of the C’s doomed showdown against the Lakers in the NBA Finals. “I know that’s not a popular answer with
my friends in LA, but I met Ray Allen a couple of years ago at the ESPY Awards. He was just a nice guy. I was kind of cheering for them.”
OK.
So let’s get to Loudon, N.H. Turns out Patrick is actually nervous about her upcoming appearance, because “it’s new and there’s so much to learn about the way a race goes, how the race kind of plays out normally, and the yellow flags and the pit stops and how the car changes over a fuel run and how the tires change. And there’s just so much that I’m unfamiliar with.
“That makes me nervous because I care and I want to do well,” Patrick said. “And I’m not going to know it all the first time I go there, but I hope to do a
good job. I know that people will be watching and I want to put on a good show for the fans. I want to give them a reason to cheer for me.”
What we’re saying here is this: If you happen to have a bucket list of famous sports figures you want to see before moving on to the big adios, and if Danica Patrick happens to be on your list, then this weekend is for you.

Bob Ryan wrote about Manute Bol, THE MAN in the Boston Globe.

“He didn’t know how to hold a pencil.
This is Manute Bol we’re talking about. He was a Dinka tribesman from southern Sudan who had been brought to America, as if in a hokey movie, to play a strange game in which 10 people in skimpy outfits ran around and bounced a ball, with the object to put the ball through an orange ring. But to play for an American college he needed to be educated in English as a second language, and that was an interesting proposition since in his previous life, one that revolved around cows, there never had been a need to hold a writing implement.
Manute Bol was, without doubt, the most unlikely player in the 64-year history of the National Basketball Association.
There have been other Africans, but none who came from as far away from Western civilization as this sweet, humble, humorous, and, above all, generous man who died Saturday of kidney failure at age 47 in Charlottesville, Va.
“He was the Golden Fleece,’’ says Leigh Montville, his biographer. “He was the Great Unknown, the Great Game Changer, the Great Everything. He was
Sidd Finch. But he was real.’’
The story was too improbable to make up. “In 1979 he had never heard of basketball,’’ Montville points out. “Six years later he was in the NBA.’’
All that mattered was that he was 7 feet 7 inches. As basketball people are fond of saying, you can’t teach height.
Montville is the former Globe and Sports Illustrated writer and columnist, as well as the man who authored acclaimed biographies of Ted Williams and Babe Ruth, which might suggest that he only deals in the perceived big stories. But he always has had a fascination with the offbeat, and so he was the perfectly logical person to tackle the subject of Bol, which he did in his wonderful 1993 biography “Manute: The Center of Two Worlds.’’
“Of all the books I’ve done,’’ Montville says, “the one I enjoyed the most was Manute’s. For one thing, it’s the only one that got me to Khartoum.’’
Ah, Khartoum. “I was staying in a Best Western,’’ Montville points out, “which sounds fine. But it was under martial law, and things were locked up by 10:30
at night. There were dirt roads. Someone said it was like Dodge City. And when it got dark, dogs took over the city. And then you had the 16-year-old kids with AK 47s.’’
But for Manute Bol, who had spent his entire life doing what Dinka tribesmen did, his first trip to Khartoum was like going to Vegas.
How he got there, and why, is all detailed in the book. Last time I checked, Amazon was offering eight new copies and 60 used ones (hint, hint). Basketball junkies will not be surprised to learn that a central figure in the story was our old friend, Kevin Mackey, or that his cohort was a Runyonesque figure named Don Feeley, who was Mackey’s Mackey, if you will. The ubiquitous Leo Papile is likewise front and center, which actually makes this a Boston story. I’ll just leave you hanging by saying that it all started with a photograph.
Bol’s American saga included stops at the University of Bridgeport and a summer with the Rhode Island Gulls of the United States Basketball League, said Gulls located in Newport. After two years at Bridgeport he entered the NBA in 1985 as a second-round pick of the Washington Bullets (believe me, I’m condensing), for whom he led the league in blocked shots as a rookie. His offense was laughably rudimentary, but the Bullets were quite willing to live with that.
Early that first season I went to Washington to do a piece on Boston College star Michael Adams. Manute must have blocked 117 shots that day, or
something close to it. Afterward, Bullets general manager Bob Ferry said to me, “Manute Bol [bleeps] up a game as much as anyone I’ve ever seen.’’
The game I’ll never forget took place March 26, 1987, when he led the Bullets to victory over the Celtics by blocking 12 shots and grabbing 17 rebounds. In the first quarter he had the quinella, blocking the starting five. I repeat: in the first quarter. Said Washington coach Kevin Loughery, “He has the greatest
defensive effect of anybody since Bill Russell. You are often positive he can’t get your shot, but he does, because he doesn’t even have to jump.’’ I know I
never saw anyone else ever get Kevin McHale’s turnaround.
His offense remained primitive in part, as Montville explains, because he suffered from a deformity that left his fingers in a curled position. “He was 7-7, but he could not palm a basketball,’’ Montville explains. “He had to dunk with two hands.’’ That he later was turned into something of a 3-point shooter by Don Nelson only adds to the saga.
As endearing a personality as he was, the man was pretty high maintenance, as well as offensively challenged, and the Bullets sent him to Golden State after three years. He led the league in blocked shots for a second time in 1988-89, but the Warriors dealt him to Philadelphia two years later.
“Nobody really ever got the payoff, did they?’’ Montville says. “Mackey never did. He never played for him at Cleveland State. Bruce Webster at Bridgeport
was going to schedule up big-time if Manute had stayed for another year, so he didn’t. You can’t say the Bullets or Warriors did.’’
Bol earned a little over $5 million in the NBA, and a great deal of it went back to his people. He spent his entire post-NBA life trying to aid the plight of his
countrymen. Then, as now, Sudan was engaged in a brutal civil war. In the end, he was a person of such stature that both sides wished to exploit him.
Some people wonder how he lasted 10 years and 653 games (including postseason) when there wasn’t a whole lot more than 200 pounds stretched onto that 7-7 body, but Montville says Manute offered an explanation: milk.
“He said to me, ‘It’s all in the milk,’ ’’ Montville explains. “ ‘You people drink this two-percent, this pasteurized stuff.’ Then he told me about this summer
ritual, the Toc, when you spend the whole summer drinking milk straight from the cow. It’s a contest to see who can fatten up the most. He said the real cow’s milk gives you strong bones, and that’s why he didn’t get hurt despite the fact he was so skinny.’’
Interesting frame of reference, eh? The NBA has never had another like it.”

The French- FE!
John Leicester, an AP Sports Columnist, wrote about the latest French Revolution.                                                                                                                                    
“It would be easy to tritely argue that the full-blown insurrection by France’s World Cup players shows that the long-admired French spirit of revolution is
alive, well and refusing to practice free kicks in a field in South Africa.
But these rebellious Bleus aren’t hungry peasants clamoring for morsels of brioche and a modicum of justice, they’re multimillionaires blessed with fantasy lives many of their fans would give their left legs for.
And unforgivably, they’re acting like spoiled brats.
Refusing to train. Cursing out their coach. Sulking en masse on their team bus, curtains drawn. Having fits in view of television cameras.
“Everyone in the whole world is mocking us now,” winger Franck Ribery says. “I’m furious, because we’re not playing football anymore.”
The shame of it. Forget about medals for services to la Belle France. Monsieur Sarkozy, please make a note: This lot deserve the Legion of Dishonor.
How sad.
The glorious days of 1998 when France fell head over heels in love with its multi-ethnic World Cup-winning team of “Blacks, Blancs, Beurs” — blacks, whites and Arabs — feel so far away now.
Twelve years ago, in the footballers’ faces flashed up in lights on the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris, France saw itself and loved what it saw. One nation, one people, united behind Zinedine Zidane.
Now, the French are one nation united in disillusion with Les Bleus. One reason why this drawn-out, crockery-hurling divorce with the team has hurt so much for the French is that the love of 1998 felt so good.”

Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald senses that there are changes coming to the Celtics.

“A little more than three years ago, Celtics coach Doc Rivers invited his newly assembled Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen over to his Back Bay apartment for what the trio assumed was nothing more than an X’s and O’s breakfast meeting.
Instead, Rivers took the three men for a ride on one of the Duck Boats to give them an idea what happens around here when a team rises above the competition and wins a championship. The three players and their coach climbed aboard a Duck Boat for the dress rehearsal of what would become a parade to celebrate Banner No. 17 a year later.
Away they went. In many ways, this was when Pierce, Allen and Garnett became the Big Three.
And now it is time for Doc Rivers to get on the phone and get that Duck Boat back over to the house. And then Doc needs to ask Pierce, Allen and Garnett to come on over and step aboard.
Only this time, they should ride off into the sunset.
The Big Three is gone. It is yesterday’s news, a thing of the past, along with the Esposito-Hodge-Cashman Bruins] line and the Lynn-Rice-Evans Red Sox outfield.
That’s because the Celtics are now Rajon Rondo’s team.
It is time. Put Rondo on the cover of next season’s media guide. Make him the go-to guy, the face of the franchise. While it is true that Rondo is, as Garnett has called him, a young’in, just 24 years old and with just four seasons of NBA experience, he is a star on the rise, as opposed to Pierce, Allen and Garnett, who are stars on the back nine.
No disrespect intended. It’s a simple case of birth certificates Allen, who turns 35 next month, is a veteran of 14 NBA seasons. Garnett, 34, just finished his 15th season. Pierce, the team captain, turns 33 in October. His has 12 NBA seasons on his resume.
Without these three men, the Celtics would not have won a championship two years ago. Witness what happened last year, when, without Garnett, the C’s were eliminated by Orlando. And though all three men had some spotty performances in this spring’s postseason, notably Allen in Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers, the C’s wouldn’t have made it that far without them Allen is a free agent, and may not be back. But even if he were to return in some capacity, it would be an uncomfortable fit to continue calling him, Pierce and Garnett the Big Three. As a trio, they simply aren’t that big any more.
And if Allen does not return next season, here’s hoping the Celtics marketing people do not fall into the trap of adding Rondo to Pierce and Garnett and then calling them the Big Three. The Three Stooges tried something along those lines when Shemp replaced Curly, and with disastrous results. It just wasn’t the same.
Pardon the bad rhyme, but Big Threes don’t grow on trees. Back in the 1980s, the Celtics had the original Big Three in Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Two decades later, when Garnett and Allen were added to Pierce, nobody objected when they were anointed a new Big Three.
But let’s stop right there. Don’t take a young star on the rise and toss him in with two veterans and then call them something they are not. Look, Pierce can still be the captain – surely nobody has a problem with Jason Varitek remaining captain of the Red Sox even as he settles into a new life as backup catcher. And Garnett can continue his pregame ritual of pounding his head into the padding under the basket. He can continue to cuss his way up and
down the court. With victory at hand, he can continue to be mesmerized as he stares up at the Jumbotron as those kids from the 1970s swing to “You Should Be Dancing.”
It’s just that we need to have an understanding. From this point on, Rajon Rondo is the band leader. He may never be a great shooter, and it would be really nice if he spent the summer practicing free throws, but already he is a great player. As he gains experience, he gains wisdom. And never let it be forgotten that much of that wisdom was acquired during his apprenticeship under Pierce, Allen and Garnett.
From the perspective of management, Rondo is the kind of supremely gifted player around whom a championship team can be built. To the rest of us, it’s much simpler: He’s enormously fun to watch.
Thank you, Big Three, for your contributions to Boston sports history, Banner No. 17 and a brave run at No. 18. You never, ever will be forgotten.
And the three men are welcome to return – as individual players, but not as a Big Three.
Let the Rajon Rondo Era begin.”

Jerry Crowe of the LA Times wrote about John Wooden’s first All-American at UCLA.
“John Wooden’s first All-American at UCLA never played a minute in the NBA. He was neither a prized recruit nor a prolific scorer, and as a shooter, he wasn’t much.

George Stanich, however, ranked among the most versatile athletes to ever play for Wooden.

An Olympic bronze medalist in the high jump before he met Wooden, Stanich later was a minor league pitcher. In between, he was a two-time All-Pacific Coast Conference guard who helped UCLA reach the NCAA tournament for the first time and Wooden to win the first two of his 19 conference championships.

“It was,” Stanich says of his days on campus at the midpoint of the 20th century, “a beautiful time in my life.”

Later, during his tenure as basketball coach at El Camino College, Stanich again played a key role in helping shape UCLA’s run of NCAA titles, recommending to Wooden an unheralded but wondrous athlete not unlike himself: Keith Erickson.

“Of all the men that I’ve met,” Erickson says, “George Stanich is as close to John Wooden as I’ve ever known.”

The list of All-Americans produced by Wooden, of course, includes familiar names such as Willie Naulls, Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Lew Alcindor, Mike Warren, Lucius Allen, Sidney Wicks, Bill Walton, Henry Bibby, Keith Wilkes and Dave Meyers.

The silver-haired Stanich, 81, predated them all.

He even predated Wooden at UCLA, arriving in Westwood from Sacramento City College in 1947, a year before Wooden was hired away from Indiana State.

Under Wilbur Johns in the 1947-48 season, with the 6-foot-3 Stanich starting at center and his 5-7 older brother John leading the Bruins in scoring, UCLA played a deliberate, methodical style while struggling to a 12-13 record.

A short time later, Wooden put the Bruins through a week of spring drills, permissible at the time, and was aghast.

“I felt that my Indiana State team could have named the score against them,” he wrote in “They Call Me Coach,” his 1972 autobiography. “I was shattered. Had I known how to abort the agreement in an honorable manner, I would have done so and gone to Minnesota or … back to Indiana State.”

Quoted in 1973’s “The Wizard of Westwood,” written by former Times reporters Dwight Chapin and Jeff Prugh, Wooden was even more direct, calling the Bruins a “pitiful … motley crew like I had in physical education classes back at Indiana State.”

Stanich, reminded of Wooden’s initial impression, smiles during an interview in the cramped kitchen of his Gardena home.

“Well,” he says of the late coach, “he hadn’t seen me yet.”

He’s only teasing, he notes, but his words ring true.

In the spring of 1948, Stanich was busy pitching for the Bruins baseball team — among the right-hander’s victories, he says, was a 2-0 shutout against USC, the College World Series champion — and high jumping for the track team.

He didn’t meet Wooden until the following school year, by which time he’d won a bronze medal at the London Games.

Initially, he was wary.

“When Coach got there, he moved me to guard,” Stanich says, “and I hated this because when you’re a center, you always pick up some garbage, and who doesn’t like to score?

“At guard,” he adds, laughing, “you’ve got to work too hard.”

Work was a recurring theme.

“One of the biggest things he believed in was conditioning, and that’s hard work,” Stanich says. “Deep down in my gut and in my heart, I was so happy he worked us that hard, but outwardly everybody resisted that. He was tough.”

Wooden’s demanding ways paid dividends for a team that was picked to finish last in the PCC Southern Division.

A running, hustling group that rarely seemed to tire, UCLA surprisingly won the division title that season, Wooden later calling it “my most satisfying year of coaching.”

A season later, the Bruins repeated and, for the first time in school history, qualified for the NCAA tournament.

Stanich, who averaged fewer than 10 points a game during his three seasons while making about 25% of his shots, left his mark as a rebounder and defender.

Says Hall of Famer Bill Sharman, an All-American and two-time all-conference pick at USC in the same seasons Stanich was honored: “He was probably the toughest player I had to play against. He was faster and quicker and stronger than me.”

In 1950, Stanich was drafted by the Rochester Royals of the fledgling NBA, winners of the league championship a year later, but signed a minor league baseball contract instead.

“Baseball was where the money was,” he says, “but things didn’t work out. I got my head knocked off. They got to me, and they got to me good. The harder I tried, the worse it got.”

By 1954, after two seasons in the minors and two years in the Navy, Stanich had quit playing and gone into coaching.

A father of three UCLA graduates — son John was a middle-distance runner on the Bruins team that won the 1987 NCAA track championship —Stanich lives within walking distance of El Camino, where he coached and taught for 37 years.

He and wife Valerie have been married almost 58 years.

In retrospect, he wishes he’d given the NBA a chance.

His shooting may have been suspect, he notes, “but I had the ability to jump and I had the ability to scrap.”

“I love the World Cup. And I love America – it’s my hometown! But I would not love to see America win the World Cup,” wrote Norman Chad.
Frankly, we don’t need another feather in our already overstuffed cap. And considering soccer is the world’s game – and most of the world is at odds with
America at any given moment – I think it might be a nice idea for Uncle Sam, in an effort to promote world harmony, to lay down in South Africa.
Now, in all likelihood, the U.S. is not going to be in a position to win the World Cup. But on the off-chance that Landon Donovan and friends have thoughts
of reprising that Miracle-on-Ice thing – actually, “Miracle-on-the Pitch” doesn’t have the same ring to it – I must implore my fellow Americans to tank.
Seriously.
The smart play, diplomatically, would be to lose with grace.
Americans are a pretty xenophobic lot when, in truth, we’re the ones who provoke an intense dislike. Most of the world does not threaten us; rather, most of the world is terrified by us. We’re a little too big, a little too rich and a little too powerful and, every once in a while, we muscle up and flex our military might in foreign lands.
There is much fear and loathing of America elsewhere. We seldom imagine what it would be like if the Army boot were on the other foot.
Imagine if, say, Sweden decided to invade North Dakota. Might you not think, “Whoa, what is their problem?” With tanks rolling into Bismarck, wouldn’t you – at a minimum – boycott Swedish meatballs and Swedish massage?
Outside of American borders, others are tired of us dictating our way of life, tired of us exporting Adam Sandler everywhere, tired of us winning.  I empathize, and this time around, I’m willing to root for the others.
(Column Intermission: At the World Series of Poker, I again tried my hand at the $10,000 stud hi-low championship. At this event, you’re either a
“who’s who” or a “who’s not” – I trust you can figure where I stood. My Day 1 table included Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey and Men “The Master” Nguyen. Those
chaps have a combined 25 World Series bracelets; I’ve got a pocket watch. I finished 106th in a field of 178, busting out on Day 2 at precisely 3:36 p.m.
PDT, just in time to catch the tail end of “Oprah.”)
So, yes, I’m rooting for the other guy in South Africa as long as the other guy is not England.
What, like I don’t have bad memories over the Stamp Act of 1765?
Of course I still hold a grudge against the English. We were forever under the thumb of their colonial rule. They virtually invented taxation without
representation. And those blokes insist on preserving constitutional monarchy – a system that makes the BCS looks sensible – plus the food stinks.
Not to mention, there’s a basic difference between the game there and here. In England, soccer players get knighted; in the U.S., they get Business Select
tickets on Southwest.
Thus, on Saturday, I draped myself in red, white and blue for the epic U.S.-England match.  It felt like a day of reckoning; then again, any time ESPN is on hand of late, it seems apocalyptic – I wasn’t sure if I was about to witness a soccer game or the end of the world.
The Americans somehow managed a 1-1 draw – thanks to a gift goal Edward Scissorhands could’ve stopped – and now face red-hot Slovenia Friday in their next Group C match.
I’m with Slovenia, baby!
Slovenia is an underdog you can get behind. This is a land the size of New Jersey, the least populous of the 32 nations competing, and it qualified for the World Cup by upsetting Russia – yeah,  that  Russia – 1-0.
More compellingly, Slovenia is a modern-day, American-style success story. We broke away from British rule and declared independence in 1776; Slovenia broke away and declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
They are us – only younger, poorer and without any Applebee’s.
So let freedom ring elsewhere in the world this week: Slovenia 1, United States 0. Look at it as another victory for democracy.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Chick-fil-A’s new spicy chicken sandwich was introduced last week. Were you first in line? (Jason Kirk; Spokane, Wash.)
A. No disrespect to Chick-fil-A, but I would walk 10 miles through a desert dust storm with a keg of PBR strapped to my back for two pieces of Popeye’s
fried chicken.

Q. When you made your debut, did you have as much media coverage as Stephen Strasburg? (David Burns; Castleton, N.Y.)
A. I was born into virtual anonymity and debuted writing to an audience of one.

Q. Has David Stern banned your ex-wives from having a free-agent summit? (Dave Strukel; Toledo, Ohio)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. Rather than divorce, did you ever consider conference realignment? (Mark A. Sparacino; Franklin, Wis.)
A. My pain is your gain. Again.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail asktheslo…@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash.”

David Lennon of NY Newsday described Wally Backman’s first step up the Mets’ ladder.

“Only Wally Backman could be accused of getting thrown out of a game before the season has even begun.
As Backman waited to get started as manager of the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones, who open their season tonight with a visit to the Staten Island Yankees, the former Met became an Internet celebrity for an on-field tirade that many people mistakenly believed occurred this month.
Actually, it was 2007, when Backman was manager of the independent South Georgia Peanuts. The recently released video, which is part of a documentary, was a Web sensation for a couple of days. He laughs about it now, but he obviously was furious that day, when an argument with an umpire escalated into his dumping bats and balls onto the field.
What’s lost amid the tempest, however, was that Backman’s fuse was lit after he came to the defense of one of his players. That’s something he describes as
the foundation of any success he’s had as a manager.
Given Backman’s tumultuous past, the Mets will watch him closely in Brooklyn, the pride of the team’s farm system. But he promises to lead the Cyclones with the same fire that made him a beloved figure on the Mets’ immortal ’86 squad and that he’s shown at every level since then.
“I’m not going to say that I’m going to change,” he said this week in a telephone interview. “Most of the time, you’re protecting your players. Am I going to throw bats and balls? No, I’m not going to do that kind of stuff. People perceive me in different ways. Have I got thrown out of games? Absolutely. Am I still going to get thrown out of games? Without a question.
“But 99 percent of the time, it’s protecting your players. They know that if something happens, I’ve got their back, I’m very capable of yelling and screaming at an umpire and getting thrown out of a game, but it’s over with just as fast. Very, very seldom will you see me get thrown out of a game without a player being ejected first.”
For Backman, it’s all about the bond between the manager and his team, a philosophy that the Braves’ Bobby Cox used as the glue for 14 straight division titles.
Cox’s players – past and present – always speak glowingly of him, and Backman seems to make a similar impact. The Marlins’ Dan Uggla, who played under Backman for Class A Lancaster, told ESPNNewYork.com that he “would have run through a brick wall for him.” But in building that communication,
especially at the lower levels, there’s a lot of tough love involved, too.
“I try to earn the trust of my players,” Backman said. “I’m going to get — off when we lose, but I don’t take it to any extreme. There’s times when I’m going to chew some butt once in a while, and it’s all for a good reason. I’m not going to yell and scream just because we lost a game. It really depends on how they go about their business. And they learn pretty quickly what my expectations are.”
The Mets’ expectations for Backman aren’t as clearly defined. When he was hired in November, his name was added to the list of possible replacements for Jerry Manuel, who is in the final year of his contract. But club officials insisted they would not consider such a move before Backman completes a full year with Brooklyn – sort of a probationary period. And with the recent surge under Manuel, there’s no longer a pressing need for candidates to replace him.
In the meantime, Backman will focus on his two primary goals for the Cyclones: development and, above all else, winning.
“One of the things that I do is I take losses personally,” Backman said. “And I try to instill that in my players: take it personal. This is your job. You’re paid X amount of dollars to do whatever you can do, and I expect at least 100 percent on the field. I think the only reason you play a professional sport is to win a championship. And if you look at it any other way, that’s not the guy I want playing for me.”