Our Daily Dread: Why we need to keep baseball alive in the ‘have-not’ innercity, and maybe not worry about so much of the ‘haves’ of the burbs


AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Seattle Central Little League player second baseman Nestor Berdua-Ortega waits in the dugout to take the field before their game against Lancaster Recreation Little League from Lancaster, Pa., in South Williamsport, Pa., during the 2009 Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree.

By Genaro C. Armas
The Associated Press

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Leaning against a dugout wall at Lamade Stadium, 12-year-old Evell Nelson’s eyes lit up as he thought about the future.

An early season tournament for urban Little League programs from around the country didn’t satisfy the slugger from Seattle.

“We all want to come back here to play in the Little League World Series,” the third baseman said.

Once considered a weakness of Little League Baseball, inner-city and urban organizations such as the Seattle Central league are growing — a bright spot for a youth program that, overall, has seen a 13 percent decline in participation over the past decade.


As Little League looks for ways to reverse declines, mainly in suburban and rural areas, leaders view the “Urban Initiative” program as an avenue to get more children — especially minorities and the poor — to pick up a glove and ball.

Little League boasts that the 9-year-old program has helped nearly 1,100 leagues and 3,900 teams, which amounts to about to 50,000 players.

Little League does not track how many of the assisted leagues are still in operation, or are not with Little League but still playing baseball. For instance, a local league could choose to join another organization such as the Babe Ruth League.

But officials say the majority of Urban Initiative-assisted programs are still with Little League. Through the program, leagues can apply for grants to help with costs such as equipment and field renovations.

“The point of the Urban Initiative (is) these kids, living in some pretty tough parts of the country, are really just being denied the opportunity,” said Little League president Stephen Keener, his eyes darting across the field watching plays during the Memorial Day weekend tournament for urban teams.

“A lot of the rural, suburban programs, kids may not choose to play for a number of reasons. Many of these kids don’t have the choice, because no program existed for them.”

Corporate donations and grants fund the program. Eligible leagues get “assistance packages” that help local volunteers.

Over the years, Bank of America has provided more than $500,000 for field renovations. American Honda has given $100,000 annually for equipment and uniforms. A $1 million grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation has helped build new fields.

It’s unclear how the recession will affect future funding, though Urban Initiative director Demiko Ervin said he remained confident the program would keep going.

A $5,000 grant from Little League went to help pay for equipment for the Seattle Central league. Government grants helped pay for new batting cages that cost $60,000.

All for an organization that Seattle Central league president Steve Orser said was nearly defunct a decade ago after the program had “lost its direction.”

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The Dancin’ Coach

Aaron Levine, the Calabasas native, ESPN “Dream Job” contestant and these days the sports director/anchor at TV station Q13 Fox in Seattle, popped over a copy of a story he put together recently that he calls one of his all-time favorites. It’s about a Senior Little League coach that … well, the video speaks for itself:

Here’s a link to the story as well (linked here)

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The Media Learning Curve: More post-it-up notes


You can’t contain all of Bill Walton’s comments in one newspaper media column (today’s is linked here), so we’ll try to control the rest of it as he continues resting up for a return someday to TV land:

Q: Are the NBA Finals a letdown if it’s not Kobe vs. LeBron?
Walton: You have to win the games. The Lakers are prohibitive favorites to get there and Orlando has shown they’re a better team. Can Dwight Howard be that guy, when things aren’t going well, who can change the direction of the game? LeBron, like Kobe, has separated himself from the crowd on an historical level. He commands appointment viewing by himself. And sadly, he’s been playing by himself through no fault of his own. He’s not a selfish individual. This is a team game and the conglomerate attack of Orlando has taken on the one-man show in Cleveland. All we want is great NBA basketball.

More stuff to make note of (that isn’t made up):

== ESPN acknowledged that it has told about 100 employees that they will have their jobs cut. It is part of a downsizing plan announced by ESPN CEO George Bodenheimer in January, when he told employees they’d cut about 200 jobs, leaving about 100 vacant positions unfilled. ESPN employs about 5,400 people worldwide, with 3,400 in Bristol, Conn.

== Lee Corso is recovering from a minor stroke but should return to ESPN by the time the college football season begins for “College GameDay,” according to the network. The 73-year-old had a blockage to a small artery and suffered no permanent damage, calling it “a small bump in the road” and a “not so fast, my friend, in my game of life.”

== Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire are part of both NBC and Versus coverage of the Detroit-Pittsburgh Stanley Cup finals starting Saturday (Channel 4, 5 p.m.). NBC has Games 1, 2 (Sunday) and 5, 6 and 7; Versus gets Games 3 and 4 (at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday).

== CBS College Sports launches a two-part series “Go Pro Or Go Home” (today, 3 p.m.) where 16 of the top college women’s beach volleyball players try to land a spot on the AVP tour (it already happened last month in Riverside). The second episode airs Thursday, June 4. The competitors inlcuded Emily Day (Loyola Marymount) and Jessica Fine (UCLA).

== Fox Soccer Channel will cover all of the Iran National Team’s games in the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup starting Saturday, June 6 against North Korea. Behooz Afrakhan, an Iranian-American sports journalist, will provide the commentary in Farsi on a SAP feed.

== ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU have up to 55 games from the NCAA baseball championships starting today and ending June 24. ESPN and ESPN2 combine to cover all the College World Series from Omaha, Neb. (June 13-24), including the best-of-three final. For coverage of the teams on ESPN.com and Facebook, the network gave flip cameras to UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton, Georgia, Florida State, Texas, LSU, North Carolina and Arizona State. Of the four regional games today, San Diego State — with pitcher Stephen Strasburg (13-0, 1.24 ERA) — faces Virginia today (4 p.m., ESPNU) at Irvine. Defending champion Fresno State meets Irvine at 8 p.m. ESPN game analysts include former MLB and college players Morgan Ensberg (who won wit USC in 1998), Robin Ventura (Oklahoma State), Kyle Peterson (Stanford), Phil Nevin (Cal State Fullerton) and Keith Moreland (Texas).



From The Onion Sports (linked here):

Manny Ramirez To David Ortiz: ‘Road Trip’

An excerpt:

SOMEWHERE ALONG I-65 — Best buddies Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, both of whom find themselves at professional crossroads and both desperately wanting to rekindle their friendship, decided on Sunday that a soul-searching road trip was the key to resolving their personal problems.

“I called David and I said, ‘David! Hey, David! It’s Manny. Road trip, man! Let’s do this!’ And he said, ‘Okay,’ and now he is with me in the car here,” Ramirez told reporters in a cell phone interview while driving on the interstate.

According to sources, Ramirez pulled up to Ortiz’s Weston, MA home last Sunday, a selection of Tom Petty hits blaring from the stereo of his faded red 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible. After embracing each other, a visibly somber Ortiz told Ramirez, “I don’t know what’s going on with me, man. I’m not hitting the baseball.” Ortiz then threw his battered duffel bag in the car’s backseat and asked Ramirez where they were headed.
Ramirez responded, “Just get in.”

The trip reportedly culminated with Ramirez taking Ortiz to a batting cage in St. George, UT. Though Ortiz missed the first several balls, Ramirez told Ortiz that he knew he could do it, and that even if they were no longer teammates, they would always be best friends. Ortiz then began hitting ball after ball, the last five of which hit the “home run” net.

During a tender moment at the Grand Canyon later that night, tourists said that while seated on the hood of their car, Ortiz placed a blanket around a shivering Ramirez and told him, “You’re my best friend, man. You’re my best friend.”

The car’s hood then caved in, sending both players into a fit of hysterical laughter.

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Obama left bobbing outside the L.A. harbor … sorry Single-A baseball team


The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — President Barack Obama bobbleheads that are supposed to be given away at a minor-league baseball game apparently haven’t gotten the nod from customs officials.

The West Virginia Power Class A baseball team said Thursday that 1,000 of the figures have been held up at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection warehouse in Los Angeles
since May 20. A U.S. Customs spokeswoman in Los Angeles said she didn’t have more information on why they were stalled.

The bobbleheads are a likeness of Obama in his high school basketball uniform and
are part of Saturday’s theme of fitness and healthy lifestyles.

It’s unclear when the bobbleheads will be released, but it’s unlikely they’ll arrive in time for the giveaway, said Kristin Call, director of marketing for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ South Atlantic League affiliate.

Fans will be given vouchers to pick up the bobbleheads once they arrive, Call said.

Call said a company produced the figures overseas but wasn’t sure in what country.

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Coming Friday: We’re not stuttering here, Walton speaks

Yes, William Theodore Walton is alive, and somewhat kicking, just not on ESPN (or ABC) coverage of the NBA playoffs because of his back surgery from last February and subsequent recovery and therapy.

He had the same kind of back problems during last year’s NBA Finals and only able to join the ABC coverage during the finals — as a special guest — while watching son Luke compete with the Lakers against the Celtics.

He gave us some time this morning to break down the NBA playoffs to date — more specfically, why the Lakers need to exploit their big-man advantage against the Nuggets and whatever team they end up against in the Finals. And why dirty play uglifies the NBA.

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