Play It Forward April 13-19: Life’s a beach again for IndyCar drivers, especially those who survived last year’s bangup

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:

INDYCAR SERIES: 41st GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH
Details/TV: Start at the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Shoreline Drive, Sunday at 1:30 p.m., NBCSN:
indexRemember how chippy things got a year ago? James Hinchcliffe was upset with his own Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay. Will Power tried to apologize to Simon Pagenaud, but he wouldn’t have any part of it. Scott Dixon infuriated Justin Wilson. And there was Mike Conway, who started 17th in the 23-car field and overcame an early broken wing to win the whole thing for the second time in four years. The Brit chased Dixon over the final few laps, then got the lead when Dixon stopped for fuel two laps to go. Conway then held off Power to win by 0.9005 seconds. “Second would have been good,” said Conway, “but this is awesome.” Hunter-Reay, who started on the pole and led for 51 laps, triggered a seven-car accident just 24 laps from the finish (see video above), one that Conway, a road- and street-course specialist, managed to avoid. Hunter-Reay was trying to pull around a slower Josef Newgarden on Turn 4 when the two collided. Hinchcliffe then ran into Newgarden. “At the end of the day, patience is a virtue and someone wasn’t very virtuous day, it was a rookie move,” said Hinchcliffe, who suffered a sprained left thumb. Said Hunter-Reay: “A lot of people say it’s my fault. I made the decision at that split second when he had some wheel spin to go for it, that’s the type of driver I am. I go for it.” Dixon took over at that point until he ran out of gas. He also made contact with Wilson, who accused Dixon of being “deliberate and blatant.” Pagenaud was furious with Power for making contact with him, saying: “I think we had a car to win and he pretty much ruined our race. We were friends until now. We won’t be going on vacation together, I guess.” Back in Long Beach for the third stop of this IndyCar Series season with five weeks to go for the Indianapolis 500, let’s see how many friendships are actually renewed.

THE BEST OF THE REST:

The Clippers have two more games — Monday vs. Denver at Staples Center (7:30 p.m., Prime Ticket) and Tuesday at Phoenix (7:30 p.m., TNT) — to determine whether they can actually take the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference before the playoffs begin on Saturday … The Lakers finish off trying to avoid a 60-loss season with a home-and-home against Sacramento (Monday on the road, 7 p.m., and Wednesday at home, 7:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet) …  The Dodgers have Seattle in town for the annual Jackie Robinson Day/MLB Civil Rights Game on Wednesday (7 p.m., SportsNet L.A.) … The U.S. national men’s team faces Mexico at the Alamodome in San Antonio (Wednesday, 6 p.m., Fox Sports 1) … And even if the Kings are disinterested in defending their Stanley Cup title, the Ducks go into the NHL playoffs as the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed and start against Winnipeg on Thursday (Honda Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime Ticket). More at this link.

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30 baseball books for April ’15, Day 11: Knuck, knuck, knuck

the knuckleball grip by Chicago White Sox pitcher Eddie Ciotti.

The knuckleball grip of Chicago White Sox pitcher Eddie Ciotti. The 1913 photo by famed photographer Charles Conlon on a glass plate negative was published in The Sporting News.

The book: “Knuckleball: The History of the Unhittable Pitch”
The author: Lew Freedman
The vital statistics: Sports Publishing/Skyhorse, 310 pages, $24.99
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnesandnoble.com, at Powells.com

51F3nNOCfLLThe pitch: Two knuckleball-related stories that are fresh in our knuckleheads:
One: A Bob Uecker quote: “The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and pick it up.”
Two: In 2013, former major league infielder and LSU quarterback Josh Booty beat out a group that included his brother, former USC quarterback John David Booty, as well as Doug Flutie, and won an MLB Network reality show called “The Next Knuckler.” With it came a spring training invite to the Arizona Diamondbacks spring camp. The elder Booty didn’t pan out.
While neither that Ueck quote nor the updated yarn is even broached in this book by Freedman, a former Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer, inquiring minds may want to know: Why not?
Meaning, if what little we know already about the story of the pitch can be found in somewhat greater detail on Wikipedia, we’re kind of wondering what else we’re supposed to learn by this, which simply reads like an elongated newspaper story. Continue reading

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One-third through with 30 baseball books for April 15 …

10exIn 2008, author Benjamin Wiker put a book together called “10 Books That Screwed Up The World,” a list that, if updated, would not have included any of the 10 baseball books that we found so far in 2015 to be placed among his choices of Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” Darwin’s “Descent of Man,” Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil” or Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.”
Although Bouton’s “Ball Four” may have covered all those topics in 1970.
With 10 books down, the final 20 spots for the baseball book review series of 2015 is becoming more difficult to decide on what to include and what to cut.
Looks like a survival of the fittest situation.
For those late to the literary party:
Day 1: “Tommy Lasorda: My Way” by Colin Gunderson
Day 2: “Out At Home: The True Story of Glenn Burke, Baseball’s First Openly Gay Player” by Glenn Burke with Erik Sherman
Day 3: “Perfect: The Rise and Fall of John Paciorek, Baseball’s Greatest One-Game Wonder” by Steven K. Wagner
Day 4: “The Joy of Ballpark Food: From Hot Dogs to Haute Cusine” by Bennett Jacobstein
Day 5: “101 Baseball Places To See Before You Strike Out: Second Edition” by Josh Pahigian
Day 6: “100 Years of Who’s Who in Baseball” by the staff of “Who’s Who in Baseball” and Douglas B. Lyons
Day 7: “The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life” by Mike Matheny, with Jerry B. Jenkins
Day 8: “Bats, Balls, and Hollywood Stars: Hollywood’s Love Affair with Baseball” by Joe Siegman
Day 9: “A Game of Their Own: Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball” by Jennifer Ring
Day 10: “The Hidden Game of Baseball: A New Edition of the Baseball Classic that Ignited the Sabermetric Revolution” by John Thorn and Pete Palmer

What we have planned to hit on for the next 20 days includes:
== “Knuckleball: The History of the Unhittable Pitch” by Lew Freedman
== “Picker’s Pocket Guide – Baseball Memorabilia: How to Pick Antiques Like a Pro” by Jeff Figler
== “Joe Black: More Than a Dodger” by Martha Jo Black and Chuck Schoffner
== “Gil Hodges: A Hall of Fame Life” by Mort Zachter
== “I Am Jackie Robinson,” from the series “Ordinary People Change the World” by Brad Meltzer
== “The Game Must Go On: Hank Greenberg, Pete Gray, and the Great Days of Baseball on the Home Front in WWII” by John Klima
== ” In Pursuit of Pennants: Baseball Operations from Deadball to Moneyball” by Mark L. Armour and Dan Levitt
==  “Seeing Home: The Ed Lucas Story: A Blind Broadcaster’s Story of Overcoming Life’s Greatest Obstacles” by Ed and Christopher Lucas
== “A History of Baseball in 100 Objects” by Josh Leventhal
== “Throw Like A Woman,” by Susan Petrone
== “Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius” by Bill Pennington
== “Marvin Miller, Baseball Revolutionary” by Robert F. Burk
== “The League of Outsider Baseball: An Illustrated History of Baseball’s Forgotten Heroes” by Gary Cieradkowski

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How USC’s “Swim With Mike” program keeps those like former UCLA lineman Nick Ekbatani more than just afloat

Former UCLA offensive lineman Nick Ekbatani visits groups to promote the Swim With Mike program that has helped him pursue an MBA at USC.

Former UCLA offensive lineman Nick Ekbatani visits groups to promote the Swim With Mike program that has helped him pursue an MBA at USC.

When you pool your money together, things that once seemed improbable can actually happen.

SmallNickNick Ekbatani, who said he never swam before he lost part of his left leg in horrific a 2012 motorcycle accident, now gets to a training pool at 5 a.m. three times a week to work out with a group of master triathletes. They swim more than 2,500 meters in a session that covers about an hour and 15 minutes.

“It’s brutal,” the 27-year-old former UCLA offensive lineman out of South Torrance High and Harbor College says. “But I love it. These kinds of challenges fire me up.”

Quite a few other things Ekbatani never thought he’d be doing are now part of his daily routine. Pursuing a Masters in Business Administration degree at USC might be at the top of the list for someone who majored in political science as a Bruin and had a goal of becoming a lawyer.

But he’s got two semesters left before he figures out what direction that will point him. The scholarships he has received from USC’s Swim With Mike program, which has its 35th annual swim-a-thon fundraiser on Saturday at the on-campus Uytengsu Aquatics Center from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., have more than kept him more than just afloat.

“For someone like me who has lost a leg and almost died, this MBA program has given me stability during the most volatile time in my life and I’m so grateful,” said Ekbatani, living in Westwood these days.

“You have to use your gifts and combine them with your passion. I’ve always idealized going to grad school and this is just a serendipitous thing. Literally, this program has saved my life, that’s how I look at it. I have been in the most miserable, depressed places in my life, but this has given me a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m eternally grateful.”

Ekbatani has had more than a dozen surgeries since that accident in Redondo Beach, but endured the miserable moments to connect with the Swim With Mike program in 2013.

The organization has been more proactive in recent years reaching out to scholar athletes who have life-changing physically challenging situations. The growth of it has expanded well beyond USC in the last dozen years to where more than 160 scholarships totaling $14.2 million have been given out since 1981.

Ekbatani is one of 61 benefactors currently with the Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship. Only a quarter of them go to USC; the others are part of a nation-wide program to where swim-a-thon fundraising it taking place through the year at places such as the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Arizona, UC Santa Barbara and Hawaii.

350DA1_3669Mike Nyeholt, the three-time USC All-American swimmer in the late ‘70s whose own dirt bike accident left him with a broken neck and little hope to walk again, says stories like Ekbatani continue to push him through his own dark moments.

“He’s an incredible young man and I’m proud to say he’s as big a Trojan now as he was a Bruin before,” said Nyeholt, who, at 58, recently retired as a sales rep at the Capital Group investment company and lives in San Gabriel. “I can’t say enough about all the kids we now have helped. They’re crazy good people.”

Ekbatani says Nyeholt “inspires me so much. He has given me a lot of perspective. I can’t believe how someone in a wheel chair continues to roll on, be so positive. He’s the man.”

Nyeholt’s workout routine includes four trips a week to the Rose Bowl Aquatic Pool to swim with former USC Olympian John Naber.

“It’s absolutely beyond my believe that it has come this far,” said Nyeholt of the program that was initially started by Ron Orr, the current USC associate athletic director and longtime friend of Nyeholt, to help him cover initial medical expenses.

“I rely on this to keep my spirits up. The young men and women we’ve helped remain athletes in their own right. They have drive and perseverance that’s very important, and they want to move forward. As important as the financial assistance is for their academics, it’s important to be surrounded by those who understand their injuries and get caught up in this swim event. I am so proud of them.”

SWIM WITH MIKE:
Event: Saturday at the USC Uytengsu Aquatics Center, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., free parking.
Website: www.swimwithmike.org
Scholarships: Applicants for the Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarships must have suffered an illness or injury that resulted in a physical disability that substantially limits major life activities; have participated in organized high school or college sports prior; met admissions requirements at selected universities and maintain a 2.5 GPA while enrolled.
Benefactors: Among those who are currently receiving scholarships for their education based on the program include:
= Jorge Mendoza of Los Angeles: A right leg amputee who competed in basketball and volleyball, now attending Cal State L.A. in Exercise Science.
= Jennifer Bou Lahoud of San Dimas: T-10, T-11 spinal injury from a sledding accident who competed in basketball and cycling, now at USC in Physiology and Neuroscience.
= Stephen Wilson of Redondo Beach: A paraplegic after an auto accident who competed in soccer and football, now at USC in Mechanical Engineering.
= Sharon Lee of Glendora: A quadriplegic from a fall off a balcony who competed in cross country, now at the University of La Verne in biology and premed.
= David Rodarte of Downey: A paraplegic after an auto accident who competed in football, soccer, basketball and wrestling, now at Long Beach State getting a masters in Counseling in Higher Education.
= Matt Wesley of St. John, Indiana: A quadriplegic from a football injury, now at Notre Dame studying law.
= Andrew Luk of Walnut: Blind and deaf from a brain tumor who competed in swimming, soccer and baseball, now at UCLA as a political science major.

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30 baseball books for April ’15, Day 10: By the numbers, there’s not much hide and seek anymore

Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, left, father of the baseball farm system, checks his 18 minor-league teams on his office blackboard with his son, Branch Jr. (Look Magazine Collection, Prints and Photographs Division)

Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, left, father of the baseball farm system, checks his 18 minor-league teams on his office blackboard with his son, Branch Jr. (Look Magazine Collection, Prints and Photographs Division)

The book: “The Hidden Game of Baseball: A New Edition of the Baseball Classic that Ignited the Sabermetric Revolution”
The authors: John Thorn and Pete Palmer
The vital statistics: The University of Chicago Press, 432 pages, $22.50
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnesandnoble.com, at Powells.com

HIDDENBOOKThe pitch: This all kind of adds up now.
Even, perhaps, in a world where Charles Barkley still exists and may want to know just why Michael Jordan never made it as a baseball player.
In many ways, we’ve yielded to the notion that a player’s WAR, FIP and UZR are equal to or greater than an RBI, OBP or SLG.
And even more current, Wins Above Replacement has replaced Total Player Rating in the evolution of sabermetrics.
What’s intriguing now in circling back to pour over the thought process behind what Palmer, the stat-man, and Thorn, the history guy, attempted to convey 30 years ago in the original edition that seemed to rock the foundation of seamheads everywhere.
Continue reading

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