The Hoffarth HOF tour of Cooperstown IV: Don’t be so leery of the people you run into

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If was just another summer’s day, the odds would not have been all that great of running into former Dodgers pitcher Tim Leary at the Syracuse Airport waiting for the same JetBlue ride to JFK in New York City en route to a trip back to L.A.

But because the National Baseball Hall of Fame staged its second annual Baseball Classic on Father’s Day, bringing Hall of Famers such as Harmon Killebrew, Bob Feller, Gary Carter and Phil Niekro together for an exhibition against other former big-leaguers, Leary was one of the participants recruited to both pitch an inning and even take some cuts.

Anyone who remembers the Dodgers’ charge to the 1988 World Series title knows Leary won 17 games that season (second on the staff to Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser) and even collected a walk-off, game-winning RBI as a pinch hitter.

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Leary said he is preparing an application for the Cal State Northridge head coaching job, which came open a couple of weeks ago. Steve Rousey was relieved of his duties by athletic director Rick Mazzuto in early June after eight seasons.

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but because it’s a Division I program, and in one of the toughest conferences in the country, plus one of the best locations baseball-wise, there’s a huge upside to being there,” said Leary. “I’d love to help make this a desination point for baseball — from a facility to camps and clinics.”

Leary’s coaching history includes his role as the pitching coach at his alma mater, UCLA, under Gary Adams from 1996 to 2000 (going to the College World Series in 1997), then returning for Adams’ last year in 2004. Leary has been privately coaching since then and working in the insurance business.

Drafted as a junior out of UCLA in 1979 by the New York Mets — No. 2 overall, in a class that included first-rounders Andy Van Slyke, Tim Wallach and Steve Howe – Leary pitched professionally until 1994, spending time with the Brewers, Dodgers (’87-’89), Reds, Yankees, Mariners and Rangers. His .221 career batting average (.269 in ’88 when he won the Silver Slugger) may be more impressive in his 14 seasons than winning 78 games — in ’88, he had nine complete games and six shutouts in a 17-11 record with a 2.91 ERA.

Both an All-American pitcher and an Academic All-American in the same year (1979), Leary went back to UCLA to graduate in 1987 with a degree in economics. He finds that background helps tremendously functioning in today’s amateur baseball circles.

“Fundraising is paramount in this environment, and the UCLA model we used was way ahead of the curve in funding amateur sports,” said the 51-year-old based in Santa Monica, who is in the process of forming a non-profit organization that will also help fund youth sports. “That’s just the way it is these days.”

Among the players Leary coached at UCLA were eventual big-league pitcher Jim Parque, the former Crescenta Valley High standout who played on Bruins teams with current major leaguers Chase Utley, Garrett Atkins and Troy Glaus. Toronto Blue Jays reliever Casey Janssen, a 2004 fourth-round pick out of UCLA, is another of Leary’s former students.

The deadline to apply for the CSUN job is July 9, and Mazzuto appears to want to fill the job by the end of the month. (If you’re interested in applying, here’s the link to the app). Mazzuto said the school has “generated a significant number of resumes” to form what he believes is “a quality pool of applicants” that will be reviewed next week. The week after that, candidates will be invited on campus for interviews.

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The Hoffarth HOF tour of Cooperstown II: Pour it on

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The wait help at the Doubleday Cafe on Main Street in Cooperstown wear T-shirts with this on the back: “It’s a drinking town with a baseball problem.” Not original, but we get the point.

Because beer goes together with baseball like baseball goes together with beer, two non-horsehide-related side trips while you’re in the hamlet to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame must be to patronize the two local breweries that make and bottle their own brands.

We batted .500 on the mission.

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First stop, Ommegang, off CR33, about five miles south of the Hall. The Belgium-style brewery that produces much of the high-end selections you’ll find at the local pubs and super markets is also a great spot for summer concerts. Coming up: Lyle Lovett, out on the grassy area behind the brewery that’s perfectly set up as an amphitheatre.

The first thing we noted about the Ommegang tour we received — we must also note, we’re in with the marketing director, so it helped a little bit to get some extra cheese and the Whalen’s horse radish and garlic soaked pickles with the tasting — was the smell. Something like the Wrigley Field concourse on a warm, summer day.

Yes, warm beer. In a good way. Not as a recycled beer way.

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It’s a product of the environment. The giant stainless steel vats hooked up by hoses and filters and yeast and hops and grains emit the scent of beer before it’s cold. It’s boiled, cooked and heated, even to a point where a giant white mesh bag of spices are dropped into the tank to seep into the mix, much like a tea bag.

The brands we took a special liking to at Ommegang (available online at ommegang.com) range from the wheat light Wittle (5.1 percent alcohol), to Hennepin (7.7 percent, with a real ginger kick), to Ommegang Abby Ale (8.5 percent), which takes the shape of the brand that is created by Trappist monks, to Rare Vos amber ale (6.5 percent), to Three Philosophers (9.8 percent). Some of this goes excellent with chocolate, it’s that rich. Most of it can be used for baking, steaming into muscles and fish, incorporated into cheese spreads. The Duval (pronounced dooo-vul) brand is also popular.

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Because it’s close proximity up the two-lane road from the local 22-strong Little League fields, and the city is able draw many by hosting tournaments for the kids aged 9-to-12, and there seem to be rainouts once and awhile in the hot and humid area, the Ommegang brewery becomes a great escape for coaches caught in delays. Just head for the “Brouwerszaal” sign and all is good on the patio.

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The discussion will soon turn toward “premature hopping” and why there isn’t a killer brew created for Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew.

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Second stop: The local store to find the Cooperstown Brewing Company’s collection.

The actual site of this brewery and bottling company is more of a Mickey Mantle drive — at least eight miles from the Hall, in Milford. But for collectors of beer who want a taste of Cooperstown to take home, this digs well into the batters box and allows the souvenir shoppers to be satisfied — all the way to the bottle cap.

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(A design so popular that one of the local Main Street collectors stores offer a cap, smashed down and with a magnet on the back as a $2 impulse buy at the counter)

Unfortunately, we didn’t allow enough time to make it out to the site. But we found our first bottle in the Doubleday Cafe and took a liking to its somewhat pedestrian taste and flavor.

Over at the local stores, it’s packaged well — you can get an eight-bottle mix of all the different kinds. From the bottom of the six-pack box, we’re able to find out that Cooperstown Brewing Company was founded in 1994 in Cooperstown, “an area rich in tradition in beer making.”

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Hop farming was big in this area from the 1820s to the end of the century. The Cooperstown Brewery’s great grandfather’s hop far was three miles north of the Milford brewery location.

“We use the finest two-row English barley, select West Coast hops and yeast from Ringwood, England,” they say.

The tours at the site are five times a day on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

As you can see from the lables on their brew, it’s perfect for collectors, with names like “Nine Man Ale,” “Benchwarmers, “Old Slugger” and “Strike Out.”

On the company’s official website (linked here), you can even see pictures of the fuggle hop used in “Old Slugger.” The company store also has bottle wrenches, pub supplies and tap handles. As well as the T-shirts and beer you can have shipped home.

You need more? Check out each site for a better grasp of what you can find. Then consider engaging in a game of beer baseball (linked here).

Knock ‘em down and knock it out.

Previous Cooperstown Tour posts:
== The second on Dodgers and Angels memorabilia (linked here)
== The first (linked here)

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Play it foward: June 28-July 4 on your sports calendar

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Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

TODAY

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College World Series final, Game 1: UCLA vs. South Carolina, 4:30 p.m., ESPN:

Uh, coach, my strike zone is up here … Oh, my, Omaha: A UCLA-USC best-of-three matchup for the title must make Erin Andrews feel like she’s back at Williamsport talking to 12-year-olds with mustaches. FYI to EA: UCLA coach John Savage has the Hollywood connections. Andrews’ contract with ESPN ends on July 1, so she’ll have LeBron James status in the TV world after this assignment. “I’m in a situation where I’m not talking to people about that,” Andrews said earlier in the CWS. Pitching has got the Bruins this far, but defensive gems, like this one by center fielder Beau Amaral in Friday’s game against TCU, make a huge difference now. Game 2 is Tuesday, and a tie-breaking Game 3 is Wednesday. With Mike Patrick, Orel Hershiser, Robin Ventura, Erin Andrews and Kyle Peterson. And no more Nomar Garciaparra. Game 2 is Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., and a tie-breaking Game 3 is Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.

MLB: Dodgers at San Francisco, 7:15 p.m., Channel 9:

Now that all that drama’s over — Dodgers-Red Sox, Dodgers-Angels, Dodgers-Yankees — we dial it down a notch with one of the greatest rivalries in all of baseball. The Dodgers took two out of three against San Francisco back in April, losing 9-0 to Tim Lincecom, who’s missing this series. The Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley, out since June 12 with a strained groin, should be ready to retake his spot in the rotation, facing Barry Zito.

MLB: Washington at Atlanta, 4 p.m., ESPN2:

Yup, it’s Strasburg. Or as they now say in D.C., Stras-mas.

TUESDAY

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MLB: Angels vs. Texas, Angel Stadium, 7 p.m., FSW:

The crowd reaction in the top of the first upon seeing Big Daddy Vladdy Guerrero in a Rangers uniform? Ask us again in a couple of weeks when he’s representing Texas in the All-Star Game at Angel Stadium.

MLB: Dodgers at San Francisco, 7:15 p.m., Channel 9:

Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff, both rejected by Tampa Bay, have been recent pickups by the Giants in a quest to inject some offense into their lineup. And it’s worked. Check the standings.

FIFA World Cup: Paraguay vs. Japan, 7 a.m., ESPN; Spain vs. Portugal, 11:30 a.m., ESPN:

We miss the 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls and the trips to the fridge for the Heineken-and-rum mixed drinks we invented by accident. Not really.

WNBA: Sparks vs. New York, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime:

Just another opportunity for L.A. major Villaraigosa to take advantage of free Staples Center tickets. There’s a seat on the bench next to the injured Candace Parker with his name on it.

WEDNESDAY

MLB: Angels vs. Texas, Angel Stadium, 7 p.m., FSW:

It’s Joe Saunders bobblehead night, but his turn in the rotation isn’t until the next series against K.C.

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MLB: Dodgers at San Francisco, 12:45 p.m., Prime:

The other night on “Jeopardy!,” the $1,200 clue, under the category “It’s in Argentina,” the answer: “Any very large person, like pitcher Ed Halicki.” The trick is to create a word from scrambling the letters around in the word “Argentina.” A contestant buzzes in: “What is a Giant?” Of course, but not just because was 6-foot-7 and went 53-65 for San Francisco from 1973-80 before finishing with the Angels. He also threw a no-hitter for the Giants in 1975. It was the last Giants’ franchise no-no until Jonathan Sanchez threw one last July. Long story longer, Sanchez throws against the Dodgers today. Meanwhile, Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla has an 11-4 mark in 22 games when pitching in the daytime since the start of the 2007 season.

THURSDAY

MLB: Angels vs. Texas, Angel Stadium, 7 p.m., FSW:

By this date, Nolan Ryan may find out if he’s able to buy the Rangers. Why not. When he pitched for the Angels, he owned them anyway.

WNBA: Sparks vs. San Antonio, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.:

Thanks, but no thanks.

FRIDAY

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FIFA World Cup: Ghana vs. Uruguay, 11:30 a.m., ESPN:

“The hardest thing in soccer is to score a goal,” ESPN analyst John Harkes mentioned during overtime in last Saturday’s U.S.-Ghana knockout contest. Less than a minute later, a fast guy with a red shirt split the defense and blasted the ball past American goalie Tim Howard to put the African nation into the next round. Can the U.S. and South Korea play their way back through the loser’s bracket?

MLB: Dodgers at Arizona, 6:40 p.m., Prime:

Get to the D-backs bullpen, and any team has a fighting chance. Edwin Jackson, who threw a no-hitter last week against Tampa Bay, won’t mark an apparence in this series.

MLB: Angels vs. Kansas City, Angel Stadium, 7 p.m. FSW:

A three-game set with the Royals really isn’t getting us pumped up. We’ll try. This is really where you need a Rex Hudler to help sell it.

WNBA: Sparks vs. Seattle, Staples Center, 2 p.m., ESPN2:

A daylight game seems nice, but not indoors on Fourth of July weekend. This one begs for natural lighting.

SATURDAY

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Cycling: Tour de France, 8:30 a.m., Versus:

You’re still the man, Lance. No you are. No you are. Day 1 of 23, from Rotterdam, Netherlands, it’s the 97th edition of the great bike race. Armstrong, perhaps able to pick up his eighth victory, is really using this as a training run for the New York Marathon.

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Wimbledon: Women’s final, 6 a.m., Channel 4:

Having seen defending champ Serena Williams skim past Maria Sharapova in the fourth round, we like what we’re looking at to see her back in the title match.

FIFA World Cup: Argentina vs. Germany, 7 a.m., ESPN; Paraguay/Japan vs. Spain/Portugal, 11:30 a.m., ESPN:

The refs will decide these. Sorry, just a hunch.

NASCAR: Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, 4:30 p.m., TNT:

Danica Patrick’s chance to make an impact here? Zero.

MLS: Chivas USA vs. Philadelphia, Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m.:

They give Chivas a Saturday night game for their own fireworks show. Appropriately against Philly.

MLB: Dodgers at Arizona, 6:40 p.m., Prime; Angels vs. Kansas City, Angel Stadium, 6 p.m., Channel 13:

Since when should a couple of baseball games be listed so low on the schedule on a Fourth of July weekend? Too much other stuff apparently.

SUNDAY

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Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, 9 a.m., ESPN:

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What did we learn from the 2009 event over at Coney Island? You are what you eat. Three-time champ Joey Chestnut isn’t dogging it. He inhaled a record 68 in 10 minutes, 3 1/2 more than former six-time champ Kobayashi. Overlooked in this whole mess: Someone named Patrick Bertoletti fired down 55 — in years consumed 55, which prior to 2007, would have given him the victory. That’s how far Chestnut and Kobayashi have raised the barf, er, bar. If you miss it live, it’s regurgitated, er, repeated, at 10 a.m.

MLB: All Star selection, 9 a.m., TBS:

Andre Either supporters have it Tivo’d. Same for Strasburg.

MLB: Dodgers at Arizona, 1:10 p.m., Channel 9:

Does Billingsley have enough to make two quality starts in one week? Both on the road?

MLB: Angels vs. Kansas City, Angel Stadium, 5:15 p.m., ESPN:

A prime-time slot for the Angels before they’re sent away again (four in Chicago, three in Oakland) as workers prep the park for the upcoming All-Star Game. And no U2 interruptions.

Wimbledon: Men’s final, 6 a.m., Channel 4:

Everything equal, we’d rather watch John Isner and Nicolas Mahut fight it out on Centre Court. With Andy Roddick supplying the orange slices on changeovers.

MLS: Galaxy vs. Seattle, Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m.:

At least Donovan and Buddle should be on hand for the annual Galaxy fireworks show. We’ll take a Piccolo Pete, a couple boxes of sparklers and a Golden Shower. Here’s our coupon.

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Forever’s a long time … can we just get Pete Carroll back in SoCal for the summer?

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The upcoming release of his new book, “Win Forever: Win, Work and Play Like a Champion” (linked here)” puts former USC head football coach Pete Carroll on a nation-wide signing-and-apparence gig that will include at least one stop in Orange County and the South Bay next month.

Barnes & Noble in Huntington Beach has him locked in for 7 p.m. on Friday, July 16; he’s then set to appear at the Borders in Torrance on Monday, July 19 at 7 p.m. In both places, he’s scheduled to talk and sign copies of his books.

Prior to that, he’ll be in New York and New Jersey — it’s touted as the former New York Jets coach comes back — on July 13-14, and on July 15, he’s at Warwick’s book store in La Jolla. The tour for the current Seattle Seahawks coach goes to Bellevue, Wash., on July 22.

The book, which lists endorsements from former President Bill Clinton, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, Jets QB Mark Sanchez, new Seahawks boss Paul Allen and the late John Wooden, will be released July 13.

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What else has Carroll still rooted somewhat in L.A.? He’s launched what’s called the “Win Forever Academy,” and according to its website (linked here), there’s three camps launching events on Monday at the Home Depot Center — one for players from 5th to 8th grade (sold out), another for 9th to 12th graders and even one for song girls (3rd to 12th grade, headed up by USC song girl coach Lori Nelson).

The camps will give each “a chance to develop the mental and physical skills necessary to be an elite competitor … (it will be) an unforgettable experience.”

Aside from that, Carroll’s “A Better L.A.” plans a July 4 celebration outside the Coliseum (linked here) starting at 5 p.m. with fireworks at 9 p.m.

Although if a few USC alums show up at one of his booksignings locally next month, expect more fireworks.

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The Hoffarth HOF tour of Cooperstown II: Weeding out the stuff that is Dodgers versus Angels and the interesting overlaps

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A collection of items that reflect the storied history of the Dodgers versus what’s there to compare for the Angels is understandably lopsided on the scoreboard. The Los Angeles/California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim may have had the most name changes as they play in season No. 50 this year, but you can name far more Dodgers facts, figures and players going back to Brooklyn and the late 1800s than the late Jimmie Reese would have cared to remember.

As the Dodgers and Angels finish their final Freeway Series match tonight — the Angels’ dominance has been well established — consider that if you were to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame today to see how the two were represented, this is among what you could experience:

Continue reading

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The Hoffarth HOF tour of Cooperstown I: Getting there

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“Standing proudly along Main Street in the quaint and attractive village of Cooperstown, New York, is an imposing red brick Colonial-era structure that is as American as the game of baseball. The building, however, is more than just a landmark. For this is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. To the millions who have visited it, it is a source of enchantment and sentiment; the history and memories it houses are as permanent as its bricks and mortar.”

– Bert Sugar, opening his 2009 book, “Bert Sugar’s Baseball Hall of Fame, A Living History of America’s Greatest Game.”

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“The perfect tribute to the game’s history is located in the perfect setting for it. (Cooperstown) may not, in fact, be the place where the game magically emerged from the primordial soup of the other bat-and-ball games that preceded it, it plays the part of baseball’s Garden of Eden perfectly … Unlike (Disneyland), which may find over-hyped, over-crowded and over-commercialized, the museum in sleepy little Cooperstown always delivers a satisfying, enriching and altogether mesmerizing experience.”

– Josh Pahigian, from his 2008 book, “101 Baseball Places To See Before You Strike Out.” Cooperstown is listed at No. 1.

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“How much time you spend at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum depends on the depth of your interest in baseball history. Two hours is the minimum, though you could just as easily spend two days. Plan your trip accordingly.”

– Robert Santelli in “The Baseball Fan’s Bucket List: 162 Things You Must See, Do, Get & Experience Before You Die,” published in 2010. Cooperstown is No. 2 on the book’s list, after “Taking A Baseball Road Trip.”

It’s been on our bucket list for years, but without the incentive to truly make it happen.

Father’s Day, 2010, was good enough. The second annual Classic Game, featuring Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Ozzie Smith, Harmon Killebrew, Goose Gossage, Phil Niekro, Rollie Fingers and Gary Carter participating in a seven-inning exhibition game that included former big leaguers Bill Madlock, Jeff Kent (wearing his Giants uniform), Bert Campaneris, Tim Leary (in his Dodgers uniform) and many others whose names weren’t all that well known but somehow have MLB experience.

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The chance to celebrate a college graduation was another good excuse. And a good friend who just moved to the actual place — population about 2,000 — made for a better accommodations than any of the bed-and-breakfast places on or around Lake Ostego.

There’s magic, definitely. We hope to just capture some of it with our camera, words and experiences to coax you into finally deciding that it’s worth mapping out, despite its not-so-easy MapQuest directions in finding it.

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How to get to Cooperstown? Practice, of course.

But for us mere mortals looking for the essence of a game that has grown beyond Abner Doubleday’s wildest dreams — whether or not he actually gave birth to the sport is part of its charm — simplifying everything makes it easier to understand its lure.

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We picked a flight from LAX to JFK in New York City (a red eye) so that the second flight to Syracuse was early enough to get the rental car and drive the extra hour back East on Interstate 90 and a half past Utica, over the Erie Canal and south on the 80/28 until you hit Nirvana. Many also go from NYC to Albany and head West, which seems a bit more natural. The true road-trippers fly into Boston, go West nearly two hours to Springfield for the National Basketball Hall of Fame, then another two-plus hours to Cooperstown.

More to come from our recent three-plus day visit … on Dodgers and Angels items on exhibit, on what kind of signs you need to navigate through the city, and an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the archives.

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Bird’s Eye View of Cooperstown, 1890, by L.R. Burleigh. From HistoryCooperative.org (linked here)

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Before you can fully digest this Laker title, we want you worrying about it all blowing up

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The cover of this week’s June 28 Sports Illustrated will have Kobe Bryant – he of the five-time NBA championships and two-time NBA Finals MVP awards — having to answer the question: What’s next?

Bryant, making his 15th appearance on the SI cover (tied for 10th most of all time, for what that’s worth), needs Phil Jackson if he wants a sixth ring and a three-peat, senior writer Lee Jenkins writes.

“As the clock ticked down on (Game 7), every Laker stood except Jackson. Finally, he rose and ambled to midcourt, exchanging a few embraces. Usually when a coach wins a title he can’t get an inch of personal space. But the 64-year-old Jackson stood alone for a solid 10 seconds, staring into the upper bowl, savoring what he had wrought. He recognizes, even after 11 of these things, that each one could be his last. Jackson has said that he’ll decide this week whether to return to the Lakers. ‘I think this is it,’ (daughter) Chelsea says. ‘I think he’s done now.’ ”

Jackson also tells Jenkins:

“I’m reticent to use this analysis, but you talk to guys who come back from the war and they miss being in the war. They go back and re-enlist because they miss that total immersion of life.”

Also: The issue includes a story by Selena Roberts on Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, which asks him about his knowledge of what brought down USC’s football program before he left it:

“Listen, what we know now is different from what we knew then. Reggie Bush wasn’t Reggie Bush when he was a sophomore (in 2004). Now you look back — the second pick in the draft, a Super Bowl champion — but he was competing for a job as a sophomore. People ask, ‘Why wouldn’t you have known this or that; why didn’t you anticipate this or foresee that?’ He wasn’t that Reggie Bush then.”

OK with that answer?

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No Jon Lovitz in the Dodgers’ Hollywood Stars Night? He’s not “Hung” enough. Yet.

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Although the biggest headliner for the 52nd annual Hollywood Stars game at Dodger Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 7 could turn out to be Stephen Strashburg – he may draw the start for the Washington Nationals against the Dodgers in the “real” game later that night — the team seems to be intent on getting some of its A-list celebs back on the field.

While Dodger fans have been used to seeing more the likes of James Van Der Beek, Carlos Mencia and Tony Danza as the headliners in recent years, so far committed to this year’s contest are Billy Crystal, Joe Mantegna, Jon Hamm, Rob Reiner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin James, Jack Black, Garry Marshall, Thomas Jane and Sean Astin.

Even better: They’ve ditched the softball format and are going back to the hardball game from years ago.

Maybe that’ll get Jon Lovitz to actually pay for a ticket and watch from his baseline box seats.

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Interesting, the team lists Jane for his role in the HBO series “Hung,” rather than playing the part of Mickey Mantle in Crystal’s movie “61*.”

In Hollywood, you’ve got to ID these people as they’re known to the crowd, and not the baseball establishment. James, obviously, is a well “Hung” star.

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Playing catchup on the world: Tonight’s viewing suggestions

More on the Cooperstown collection of photos, memories and mysteries in the coming days. Landed back in L.A. a few hours ago and in the process of reassembling things.

Two things about the Tuesday night TV land adventures:

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== “The Two Escobars,” part of ESPN’s “30 For 30″ documentary series, directed and producted by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, debuting today at 6 p.m. on ESPN (right after the “World Cup Primetime” show).

We caught this at a special ESPN Zone screening a few weeks back and still get chills thinking about it. On June 22, 1994 U.S.-Columbia World Cup game at the Rose Bowl — exactly 16 years ago — Columbian captain Andres Escobar had the own-goal that led to the U.S. victory. And led to his demise when he returned home.

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It also effectively cut the countries’ ties with the sport of football. Columbia hasn’t been back to a World Cup since that time when drug lords were the chief financiers of keeping not just the local players from defecting to stronger countries, but also buying other players to play for Columbia’s team. The sport was known as “narco-soccer” in the underworld, with drug baron Pablo Escobar (no relation to Andres) starting the business model for how this would operate, and thrive, through fear and death and execution.

“A triumph … few movies have better documented both the good and bad of sports,” said a reviewer for The Associated Press, after the doc was presented at the recent Tribeca Film Festival, Cannes and the Los Angeles Film Festival.

You not only get to hear what happened leading to Andres Escobar’s death — he went out to a night club and got into an argument with some drunks who shot him in his car — but how the country reacted to it, starting with his sister, Maria, teammates, friends and coaches. The conclusion seems to be: If Pablo Escobar were alive, Andres Escobar would be as well. They were killed by the same people.

It’s a new way to think of how a soccer game ends with a shootout.

The doc (linked here) repeats Saturday at 7 p.m. on ESPN Classic and July 1 at 10:30 p.m. on ESPN2. There are three more showing later in July.

Also if you missed it, the “30 For 30″ documentary called “June 17, 1994,” about what happened in sports the day the O.J. Simpson freeway chase occured, reairs on June 30 at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

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== Episode No. 159 of “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” airs at 10 p.m. on HBO, looking back on the perfect game from the Oakland A’s Dallas Braden (with Frank Deford), a feature on Welsh rugby national team member Gareth Thomas and his life now as an openly gay man, a report on racism that still exists in professional soccer (from Gumbel) and a feature on how Brownsville, Tex., has become the place for young chess champions to thrive (from Mary Carillo).

Gumbel closes the show with this commentary:

“Finally tonight, a few words about this year’s World Cup. I confess that I love everything about it, particularly, those aspects that many Americans are whining about.

“Where the game is concerned, I love that they have running time and don’t compromise the flow for the sake of TV commercials. I love that the referees don’t stop the action to let replays warp their beautiful game and I love that their announcers, unlike Americans, don’t feel the need to characterize everything that’s surprising as also unbelievable.

“As for the players, I love how they mimic NBA stars and go down dramatically, as if they have been shot whenever they are fouled. I love the single names: Ronaldo, Kaka, Drogba — all of which sound a lot more elegant than Manny, Pudge and Big Baby. And, I love the national pride that is shown each game. It’s real and it’s genuine, the kind the Olympics tries to force on us every four years.

“Off the field, I love how the crowds never stoop to something as silly as ‘the wave.’ I love the purity of their sidelines — no hangers on, no mascots and best of all, no cheerleaders. I even love the vuvuzelas. Yes, they are noisy, but they are preferable to the deafening din of the weekly Billy Bob 500, or the phony piped in efforts at U.S. arenas, where choreographed chants of ‘dee-fense’ pass for originality.

“Lastly, I love that at the World Cup, there are sporting people representing cultures from all over the world and befitting grownups, not a one of them seems obsessed with what conference Texas plays in, whether Brett Favre ever comes back, or where LeBron James ultimately goes. At least we’ve one pocket of sanity, if only for two more weeks.”

About as sane as how soccer used to be in Columbia.

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Yo, stretch: There’s a sports hook to “Grown Ups”

You saw them enough of them during the NBA Finals — Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Kevin James, going improv about basketball-related stuff, wearing the home-team jerseys — trying to pitch their new movie, “Grown Ups,” to anyone who finds comedy material in basketball.

Because funny sells.

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There is a basketball foundation to the movie that finally hits theatres Friday, albeit a stretch. These are five grown-ups who played on a church-league hoop team long ago and won a championship. They’re reconnecting after attending their coach’s funeral. And, before you know it, they’re being challenged to play together again to defend their honor.

That’s about as much as they’ll stretch it.

Sandler said originally it was going to be a high school team that they played on together, but it was easier to sell it to the audience as a group of smaller kids as players.

“Sixth grade was a big time in my childhood,” said Sandler.

They seem to have convinced their female co-stars that they’ve got game. During a recent press junket in Agoura Hills, actress Maria Bello, who plays Sally Lemonsoff, the wife of James’ Eric Lemonsoff (and has a breast-feeding scene, according to the trailer above), said she thought Sandler was by far the best baller of the group.

“I think he could be a professional,” she said. “He almost beat my 9-year-old.”

Sandler’s wife in the movie, played by Salma Hayak, probably does not concur.

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There’s enough of a sports slant that Mark Ellis was hired as the “sports coordinator” for this, based on his work in “Just Wright,” “Tooth Fairy,” “We Are Marshall,” “The Benchwarmers,” “Semi-Pro,” “The Longest Yard,” “Coach Carter,” “Miracle,” “Mr. 3000,” “Varsity Blues,” “Summer Catch,” “The Rookie,” “The Water Boy,” “Jerry Maguire” and “Any Given Sunday.” To name a few.

Ellis’ assistant on this one was former UCLA and Clippers guard Pooh Richardson, who, according to Spade, taught the stand-ins the plays that would be run on the court, then had the actors replicate it for their scenes.

“And then I’d do it wrong, and they’d say, ‘Dude, were you watching?’” said Spade.

Dan Patrick has a role in the film: Norby the Ride Guy. Can’t explain more than that, except that he is at a water park.

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One more sports angle to this: Director Dennis Dugan admits that when they were filming “Grown Ups” last year, his son, Kelly Dugan, the former Notre Dame High of Sherman Oaks switch-hitting outfielder, was drafted in the second round of the 2009 selection. The first pick of the Philadelphia Phillies, 75th overall, got a $485,000 signing bonus, bypassing a chance to play at Pepperdine.

Kelly held a press conference and signed his contract on the set that day back in Boston while the cast wore Phillies’ hats. He played in the Phillies’ Gulf Coast rookie-league team last season.

“He’s in (high Single-A) Clearwater now and going up to Pennsylvania (at Double-A Reading) or New Jersey (Double-A Reading) soon, the next level up, doing great, batting about .310 now and figuring out the pro game,” said Dennis Dugan. “(Being a baseball dad) is the best. It’s kind of the same as like casting in Hollywood. You can prove your worth there with actual statistics.

“Their philosophy is to train their No. 1 pick to be a major leaguer no matter how long it takes. If he’s hit by a pitch, they’ll sit him down for a week. He’s had a groin strain, they want him to be the real deal and will be very careful with him.”

Maybe when Kelly Dugan moves up in the chain, the MLB Network scoutniks will figure out what Dennis Dugan is all about (linked here).

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