WISH YOU WERE HERE
SI's Steve Wulf sends a postcard from spring-training-less Florida:
At least I saw Bo Belinsky pitch. He retired the only batter he faced in a game sponsored by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association last Friday night at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg. With the spring-training lockout in effect, this was literally the only game in town. It was nice to see players I cherished long before I ever heard the words collective bargaining agreement: Wally Moon, Dick Radatz, Tito Francona, Bill Mazeroski....
Before the ball game got under way, pitchers Mudcat Grant and Tug McGraw led the crowd of more than 6,000 in the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner. For once, the fans didn't take the anthem for granted. They joyfully joined in, as if to say, or sing, Hey, this might be the only chance we get this spring.
Each day the lockout inflicts more damage. Take Tommy Walton, the operatic hot dog vendor who has delighted crowds at Al Lang Stadium for years. Walton has just recovered from costly foot surgery. Now the lockout has jeopardized his springtime income.
He's hardly the only victim. Nine-year-old Matt Harmon of Scarborough, Maine, saved up five years' allowance so he could come to St. Pete to see his beloved Cardinals. He and his father booked rooms in a hotel by the stadium and bought tickets for the first three exhibition games. At least they saw Bo Belinsky pitch.
Some Floridians are getting fed up. City commissioners in Sarasota, the spring home of the White Sox, passed a resolution asking the major leagues to compensate their city for lost revenue. You can't blame them. These communities in Florida and Arizona go to great lengths to make teams feel comfortable, then are left to hang while the owners and players haggle.
In Bradenton, Fla., where the Pirates train, civic leaders fear that as a backlash, city voters will reject a bond proposal needed to raise money for a new stadium for the Pirates. The team, whose spring training presence generates $9.6 million a year for the local economy, may move to another city if the ballpark isn't built. "I hear people saying, 'Let 'em go somewhere else. Why should we care about them if they don't care about us?' " says Jack Stuhltrager, president of the Bradenton Boosters. "Those people will find out, as the saying goes, that you never miss the water till the well runs dry."
Baseball is missing out on the little things that make spring so special, the palm trees in Florida, the cacti in Arizona, Walton singing He's Got the Whole World in His Hands. All I can say is, baseball, I wish you were here.
GAME ON THE LINE
For years most Kentucky basketball fans who lived east of the Rockies could pick up Wildcat games on one of two 50,000-watt radio stations: WHAS in Louisville and WCKY in Cincinnati. But in recent years both stations stopped broadcasting Cats games, thus leaving many Kentucky followers out of radio range.
Ah, but this is the age of the 900 phone number. To satisfy distant Wildcat fans, the university and Lexington, Ky., station WVLK have set up a 900 number that's hooked into WVLK's broadcasts of Wildcat games. Now fans can call in from anywhere in the U.S. to hear the live play-by-play. It's not cheap: Calls cost 75 cents for the first minute and 45 cents for each additional minute. Include the pregame and postgame shows, and the bill for an evening on the line with the Cats can exceed $ 100.
We're relieved to report that not even Kentucky fans are that crazy. The line has been receiving about 175 calls per game, but most have lasted only a minute or two. Average revenue per game: about $400.
The seven-month, 3,800-mile dogsled crossing of Antarctica by Will Steger and five fellow adventurers (SI, July 31 et seq.) ended last week, but not without a scare. On Feb. 28, with the explorers just 16 miles from their finishing point, a severe blizzard hit, halting the trek. The next night, with the storm still raging, team member Keizo Funatsu of Japan went out to feed the dogs. He didn't return.
The team started searching, but visibility was next to nil. Funatsu, who had gotten disoriented, realized that he was in peril. He dug a hole in the snow and crawled in to conserve body heat. He stayed there for 14 hours, concentrating on thoughts of home and family. Finally, last Friday morning, he heard voices calling for him. He jumped up and started shouting, "I am alive! I am alive!" His teammates, who had tethered themselves to one another with a 300-foot rope anchored at the campsite, rushed to him, crying and laughing. Almost miraculously, Funatsu was fine. "Keizo has a very strong will to live, and that's the reason he's alive today," said Steger later.
Last Saturday the storm abated and the team mushed to a coastal science base, completing the longest (in miles) unmechanized crossing of the continent. Team members said that they had especially missed their loved ones, mountains and anything green. "I thought we'd all be excited, but that's not really it," said Steger. "We're all really peaceful and tranquil. I have an overwhelming sense of peace."
DOWN THE TUBE
Apparently the NFL's new television contracts may already have had an impact on one team, the New England Patriots. In December, before TV negotiations began, Pats general manager Pat Sullivan wanted to dismiss coach Raymond Berry, but owner Victor Kiam resisted. Kiam knew he would have to pay Berry and his staff for the remaining year of their contracts, and that would cost him $1.6 million.
Then details of the new TV contracts started coming out. Under the four-year pacts with ESPN, Turner Broadcasting, ABC, NBC and CBS, which owners are expected to approve at their meetings in Orlando, Fla., next week, the league will take in nearly $4 billion. Next season each team's cut of TV money will jump from the current $17.1 million to about $32 million.
With that money coming in, one insider says, Kiam felt he could justify eating the coaches' contracts. Kiam denies this, but last week the Pats did fire Berry and replace him with Steeler defensive coordinator Rod Rust.
THE SECRET OF THEIR SUCCESS?
One of east Germany's best-kept training secrets was revealed recently by that nation's sports officials: a $9.8 million high-altitude-simulation chamber built in 1979 near the town of Kienbaum, east of Berlin. Hidden under a large mound of dirt, it may become the most widely known German bunker since the one in which Hitler spent his final hours.
The chamber, in which an estimated two thirds of East Germany's Summer Olympic medalists since 1980 have trained, looks rather like a health club. It's stocked with everything from weight machines and stationary bikes to a rowing tank. Athletes can watch movies and rock videos on TV sets while working out.
But what makes the chamber special are its oxygen-removing vacuum pumps, which can create the atmospheric conditions found at up to 13,000 feet above sea level. Training in such thin air can improve the body's ability to transport oxygen, thus enhancing performance in endurance events.
East Germany first used altitude training in preparation for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City (altitude, 7,347 feet), and since then has regularly sent top athletes both to altitude chambers and to high-altitude training camps. Before Kienbaum opened, East German athletes used smaller altitude chambers built for undisclosed military use. In 1972, Peter Frenkel trained in the chambers until the day before the 20-kilometer walk at the Munich Games. He caught an overnight train to Munich, had lunch, then went out and won the gold medal, breaking the Olympic record by almost three minutes. On the darker side, at least one East German athlete reportedly suffered lung damage from training in a chamber from which too much oxygen had been removed.
With government sports subsidies shrinking and reunification with West Germany perhaps not far off, the East Germans decided to go public with Kienbaum. "We want to open our doors to competitive athletes from other countries," says the center's director, Gert Barthelmes. Kienbaum is even considering hiring a marketing firm to drum up business. The rate for working out in the altitude chamber: a dizzying $120 an hour.
The hidden altitude chamber forged East German champions; now it's open to Westerners.
THEY SAID IT
•J.C. Snead, pro golfer, on his putting woes: "I could putt it off a tabletop and leave it short, halfway down a leg."