Play It Forward: April 1-7 on your sports calendar: The MLB launch, the Final Four, Lakers-Clippers, Kings-Ducks, Santa Anita Derby … need anything else?

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

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)


MLB: Dodgers vs. San Francisco, Dodger Stadium:
Monday at 1 p.m., Prime, ESPN
Tuesday at 7 p.m. , Prime
Wednesday at 7 p.m., Channel 9, ESPN2:
They’ve carved a new “LA” logo into the center field grass, re calibrated the scoreboards, upgraded the concession stands, set up kid-friendly areas and . . . oh, right, spent a Ravine-load of cash on a roster upgrades. So now we’ve got this giddy Guggenheim ownership group committed to a giant $213 million payroll (compared to $95 mil and change a year ago), and they’ll happily roll it out against a Giant payroll of $137 million (a $20 million upgrade over a year ago) that supports a loose collection of players who just won their second World Series title in three years. The latest came, somehow, without Juan Uribe. San Francisco’s gamep lan has come with outstanding pitching (all throwing to defending NL MVP Buster Posey, who has a new nine-year contract). It starts with Matt Cain in the opener against Clayton Kershaw (making his third Day 1 start in a row), while Madison Bumgarner is up for Game 2 against Hyun-Jin Ryu and former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum takes his new short haircut against Josh Beckett in the finale. Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong are spared.

MLB: Angels at Texas:
Friday at 11 a.m., FSW
Saturday at 1 p.m., Channel 11
Sunday at 5 p.m., ESPN2:

Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton, left, and teammate first baseman Albert Pujols, right, joke around before an exhibition game in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

How can you not look ahead to Josh Hamilton’s return to Arlington, Tex., to face the team that gave up on him for giving up on them? So much intrigue already that the networks take over for the last two games of the series. This is also the Rangers’ home opening series after playing three in Houston. There’s even more drama for those wondering if Nolan Ryan will even show up by the Sunday finale, where Jered Weaver should circle back to pitch for the Angels after his Opening Day start.

BEST OF THE REST: Continue reading

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Q and A: Drew Carey won’t get carried away with high-priced predictions, right or wrong, about the Cleveland Indians for 2013

Let’s dispel the myth right here: Drew Carey has no ancestral link to the late Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray. They may spill their beers the same, but they spell their names slightly different.

Drew Carey, as he cheered for Ohio State during its win over Arizona on Thursday during the NCAA West Region at Staples Center.

If the price were right, perhaps the reigning master of ceremonies for CBS’ “The Price Is Right” would consider changing that.

The 54-year-old Cleveland native has been the right guy to officiate the Showcase Showdowns five days a week since Bob Barker retired in 2007. They tape the shows at CBS Television Studios in L.A. – putting Carey in constant contact with Dodgers and Angels fans, many of them jumping up and down just for the right to stand next to him on the stage.

Carey, a world soccer fan whose sports connection also includes being part owner of the Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders, filled us in on how he sees this 2013 season playing out for his beloved Indians:

QUESTION: Finish this sentence: The Cleveland Indians will win the World Series this season if …. ?
ANSWER: The Browns win the Super Bowl and the Cavs win the NBA Championship.

Q: Of all the Indians’ off-season pickups, Nick Swisher was one of the biggest, coming over from the Yankees. Maybe we can test your ad-lib abilities: Use the word Nick or Swisher in a sentence without offending anyone?
A: “Dagnabit! I just nicked my swisher!” Continue reading

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From concessions to concourse to reconstructed restrooms and big boy bobbles, a Dodger Stadium worthy of praise for Opening Day

Construction work continues Friday on Dodger Stadium’s new top-of-the-park souvenir stand, even as Dodgers were hours from playing their exhibition game against the Angels.

Matt Kemp poked his head out of the Dodgers’ dugout on Friday afternoon, moments after being one of the first to try out the team’s new underground batting cages.

He looked up at the new giant videoscreen in right field and asked, “What’s that thing for underneath.”

He was pointing to another strip of electronic gadgetry under the screen, which looked like where the score by innings might be posted.

“Who knows?” replied Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner.  “Like everything else, we’ll soon find out.”

The Dodgers’ roster received some notable upgrades this past off season, thanks to the infusion of payroll by the Guggenheim ownership group.

Fittingly, the face lift that a fleet of fork-lift trucks and other earth-moving machines were able to pull off on Dodger Stadium over the winter is as equally if not more impressive, considering the time restraints that restrict such restructuring on a place that’s held its beauty for more than 50 years.

What’s old looks new, and what’s new looks 1960s era retro.

Welcome back to the future.

A stadium worker cleans up the “42″ monument for Jackie Robinson that is near the entrance to the top level at Dodger Stadium.

Those fans fortunate enough to have an Opening Day ticket to take in Monday’s  Dodgers-Giants game at Chavez Ravine, one that’s expected to draw a capacity of 56,000 for the usual array of bunting, balloons and beach balls,  will experience even a more polished product than was on display Friday when the first and only exhibition game was played there so far this season.

During a five-month window, the team rushed through a $100-million-plus retrograde. You only wish your kitchen remodel had gone as fast and efficiently. Continue reading

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Where there’s no smoke, there’s a smoke screen as to why UCLA doesn’t have a basketball coach yet

Puffs of blue-and-white smoke have yet to come out of the Pauley Pavilion chimney.

If and when they do, how can we be sure Nike doesn’t buy the rights to it and add some God-awful camouflage coloring just to mess with our up-to-the-nanosecond Twitter reports?

It’s been a difficult week trying to keep track of the Mark Few and far between who may or may not be interested in the UCLA men’s collegiate basketball head coaching position.

Smart move by Shaka Smart to stick at VCU, which is almost UCLA spelled backwards.

Even-keel Brad Stevens knew it was best to keep his services at Butler. Service with a smile and a towel draped over your bent right forearm, you constant overachiever.

Tubby Smith went straight from being let go at Minnesota – after he knocked UCLA out of the big dance – and chugged over to an interview at Texas Tech, a place that once thought Bob Knight would be the answer to their mess.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to declare his interest in the job, and it was the best joke told on the show all night.

Ed O’Bannon, selling cars in the Nevada desert, went on a national radio show the other day and endorsed former teammates Tyus Edney and Cameron Dollar for the job. Again, this is coming from a car salesman.

What’s Larry Brown up to these days? Doesn’t Jim Harrick have some friends up at Monty’s who owe him a few favors? Continue reading

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A NASCAR novela, with extra hot sauce

Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo, who produces and stars in a new TV series aimed at the Latino market, poses at Auto Club Speedway, where the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race auto race was held in Fontana. Del Castillo plays Ela Rivella, a sexy, headstrong race car driver in the glamorous, high-stakes world of cutthroat competition and danger, in a novela that is co-produced by Univision and NASCAR to put the down-home American sport of stock car racing in front of millions of Spanish-speaking viewers who might have never watched a NASCAR race. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

By Greg Beacham
The Associated Press

FONTANA — Ela Rivella is a sexy, headstrong race car driver torn between two racing brothers in a glamorous, high-stakes world of cutthroat competition and danger. Ela loved Jordi Fernandez until jealousy drove them apart, and now she’s irresistibly drawn to Checo, whose clandestine romance with Ela could drive Jordi to violence.

Sound like a soap opera? Maybe some particularly ambitious Formula One fan fiction?

It’s an actual novela — the wildly popular short-run series that flood the Latino television market in North America and beyond — co-produced by Univision and NASCAR to put the down-home American sport of stock car racing in front of millions of Spanish-speaking viewers who might have never watched a NASCAR race.

This remarkable blend of speed and cheese will debut on Univision’s website in a series of five- to seven-minute episodes starting in April before appearing on Univision on May 5. Called “Arranque de Pasión, La Historia de Ela,” it’s an audacious attempt to expand the NASCAR brand into the growing Latino population through a particular form of storytelling. Continue reading

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Weekly media column version 03.29.13: Worming our way into a stack of books, or 501 ways to bury yourself in stuff few keep on their shelves any longer

Today’s version of the sports media column – aka, the weakest link in the Los Angeles News Group food chain — centers on a discussion we had with Ron Kaplan about his latest research project, “501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die.”
Or die trying.
There’s this quote from Holden Caufield from “Catcher in the Rye” that goes: “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”
I got that feeling finally reaching out to Kaplan for a conversation… And hope to do more of that with upcoming reviews. Kaplan has a fantastic baseball-centric blog with author interviews worth checking in on religiously.
We will review it at the end of own “30 for 30″ series that starts Monday with a review of a baseball book during every day of April, to launch the new MLB season and give us reason to hang out at the local bookstore all in the name of research.
We also had more on Tim McCarver’s decision to step away after this year’s grind on the Fox MLB beat, and other notes.

What didn’t make it into the column but should have:

== CBS and Turner say they’re up 4 percent in the ratings over last year during the coverage of the Sweet 16 games Thursday, which included the two at Staples Center. Good for them. But we’ve found that the less we’re engaged with the games, the more we’re using our iPhone just to check on scores. We’d like to see the ESPN data on that instead.

== Did you hear the one about Doug Gottlieb, on the CBS set with Greg Gumbel, Greg Anthony, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, wedging in a comment that went something like: “I don’t know why you guys ask me, I’m just here to bring diversity to this set, give kind of the white man’s perspective.” Gottlieb, the Caucasian for every situation, is nothing if not honest. At all costs.
Unfortunately he felt compelled to offer up an apology as Twitter exploded. Best reaction was from Gumbel, who immediately looked away as if to say, “Where did that come from?” Again, context is the key here, and Barkley later said on the show at halftime: “I want to say something about Doug Gottlieb. He made a joke earlier tonight and people are going crazy, all those idiots on Twitter, which I would never, ever do. Listen — me, Kenny, Greg Anthony and Greg Gumbel did not take that personally, so all you people at home who got no life who are talking bad about Doug Gottlieb, get a life. It’s over with and it’s no big deal.” Barkley to the rescue, as someone who knows what it’s like to open his mouth and have all the air come out of the room.

== Our best moment from the studio pregame came from the group based in Atlanta, where Seth Davis predicted not only a Wichita State victory in Thursday’s game over LaSalle but also guaranteed a trip to the Final Four for the Shockers — and then walked off the set.

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How dare we: 30 baseball books in the month of April, ’13

Going 13 for April ’13 sounds much less daunting.

But why stop there? Because you can’t keep a good book down.

We’ll dig in and take our cuts again to try to bat 1.000 for the month and provide  snappy book reports on 30 of the most eclectic baseball-related tomes we’ve come across this past winter and spring, all to usher in the 2013 MLB season.

Sitting on my night stand are two stacks of hardbounds and softbounds, both about two feet high and preventing me from seeing my clock. No kidding. In amongst them are the new Bruce Springsteen biography by Peter Ames Carlson, “Lost At Sea,” by Jon Ronson, “Scratching the Surface: A Surfing Live,” by Izzy Paskowitz, Darrell Wallace’s “Big Fish” (the ending isn’t anything like the movie), a couple of signed copies of recent writings by Fr. Jonathan Morris (he’s the priest you may see on Fox News talking all that is Catholic stuff), a signed copy of “A Good Man,” by Mark Shriver did about his dad, Sargent Shirver . . . and the old standbys, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintence” by Robert Pirsig and Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.”

Also in there: Mike Piazza’s autobiography “Long Shot,” Fran Zimniuch’s “Baseball’s New Frontier,” John Sexton’s “Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game,” Joe Peta’s “Trading Bases,” Christopher Frankie’s “Nailed!” about Lenny Dykstra, plus a few others that could make it into a revised edition of Ron Kaplan’s “501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die.”

Kaplan’s book comes out Monday, and we’ll have an interview with him for Friday’s media column to get us all on the same page. Prep for that by going to his outstanding blog Baseball, where “501″ is already No. 1 on  in books relating to “Education & Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Publishing & Books > Bibliographies & Indexes > Literature”

It’s a killer list, as will be the one we’re compiling to start reviews on beginning Monday. We hope not to kill our self getting 30 books lined up to span until April 30, but we’ll give it our best. Don’t hesitate to suggest things you see along the way and we’ll keep our list fluid as usual, trying to line them up with particular dates, anniversaries, teams and events.

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More on Timmy McCarver: The good, bad and lessons learned from how he handled criticism

UPI photo

Reaction to the news of Tim McCarver’s announcement Wednesday that this will be his final season as an analyst with Fox Sports’ MLB game of the week package turned predictably into something that looked more an Internet racquetball tournament.

“McCarver, a great voice for baseball, will be missed,” was the headline on an story by Marty Noble.

“Should we miss Tim McCarver?” started one non-nonsensical point-counterpoint debate on started posting Twitter responses in hopes of generating more hits about which side of the baseline you fall into when it comes to judging the career of the three-time Emmy Award winner who spent more than two decades doing national games for ABC, CBS and, since 1996, at Fox and has covered more televised World Series games than any broadcaster ever.

Time magazine’s writer on sports, culture and entertainment wondered if McCarver’s accolades or his public perception would ultimately define his legacy.

The best response we took heart came from broadcast partner Joe Buck, who said he not only learned more about the game from McCarver than he did from his own Hall of Fame broadcasting father Jack Buck, but he learned how best to deal with the backlash of criticism as one who could not only dish it out as part of his job but also take it as well (regardless of whether it came from a Deion Sanders water bucket).

After Fox executive Eric Shanks said on a conference call that his admiration for McCarver came from “the DNA of Tim that is his toughness as a man and as a broadcaster and player,” Buck added:

“Eric was dead-right . . . to describe Tim as tough. What makes him great is he doesn’t let criticism bother him. He takes it and he moves on. He doesn’t mind the online stuff, which isn’t easy to do in this world. But he takes it, and moves on. If a player or manager doesn’t like something he said, he taught me more about handling all that stuff more than anyone. No one is even close. He’s a man’s man and he doesn’t bow to criticism in this day in age. He’s everything you’d want in a teammate – if ever there was something said about me (critically), you gotta hold him back.

“I’ve learned more from that attitude around players, managers, bloggers, online people, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.”

Former Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros, who has been working on Fox’s regional coverage since 2007 as well as on the Dodgers’ KCAL-Channel 9 studio show, should be a front-runner to replace McCarver starting in 2014 — unless a position opens on the Dodgers’ local telecasts starting with the new team-owned channel. That could happen if Vin Scully decided to retire after this year.

TBS’ Ron Darling and John Smoltz have also been mentioned as potential Fox hires as well in various media speculation.

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McCarver says this year will be his last doing Fox MLB schedule

Tim McCarver greets the crowd before accepting the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting as part of the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., in July, 2012. (AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth, File)

Tim McCarver has told Fox Sports this will be his final season doing full-time analysis on the Major League Baseball game of the week going into his 18th year with the network.

On a conference call this morning, McCarver, who turned 71 last October, said he informed management last month of his decision not to renew his contract past 2013.

“Timing is everything, and I wanted to step down while know I could still do the job and be proud of what I’ve done,” said McCarver, the 2012 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame and associated with the game as a player or broadcaster for 55 years. “It’s not a tough call, not a sad thing for me.”

McCarver, who underwent minor heart surgery in the fall of 2011, said his health was “fine” and actually that procedure “turned out to be a false positive during a routine heart exam. I have seen others perhaps pushed out of this business because of health issues and the minute they cut back or step away, they don’t live that long. I plan on living a very long life, believe me.”

His plan is to also broadcaster with partner Joe Buck for the entire season, including Fox’s coverage of the All Star game, playoffs and World Series, starting with a regional broadcast on April 6 (Detroit at N.Y. Yankees).

McCarver, who began as a player in 1959, worked 28 straight postseasons on network TV going back to CBS in 1984. He has covered 23 World Series and 20 All-Star Games. He started broadcasting for the Phillies in 1980 and did 16 season with the Mets, three with the Yankees and one with the Giants in addition to his national network roles.

McCarver, married for nearly 50 years to wife Anne and with two grown daughters, said having grandchildren now and his interest in wine, which has led to him buying a home in Napa, is what he looks forward to turning to after baseball.

“Joe’s probably going to laugh at this, but I also want to travel to Italy and take cooking classes,” said McCarver. “I also love to read and I’ll have ample time to do all those things.”

“Basically,” Buck chimed in, “he’s going to be Hannibal Lector.”

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The Smart Odds to replace Howland at UCLA … with the Shaka: Where’s Kareem?

Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart directs his team against Michigan in the first half of their third-round game of the NCAA tournament in Auburn Hills, Mich., last Saturday. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The wise guys over at posted the odds for this exotic wager:
Who will be hired as the next UCLA basketball coach?
Shaka Smart                 3/1
Josh Pastner                 5/1
Mick Cronin                   6/1
Jay Wright                    7/1
Jeff Van Gundy             9/1
Rick Pitino                    10/1
Billy Donovan                10/1
Mike Brown                   12/1
Brad Stevens                15/1

Where’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

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