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Archive for July 2009

Rep. Ken Calvert gets to hate children for at least two more weeks

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That’s because a southern California park district failed to approve taking land by eminent domain that had been sold to a group  kencalvert1including the Republican Congressman. The Jurupa Area Recreation and Park District, which serves an area near Riverside, wants the four acres for a park or youth sports field. Rep. Calvert and his Stadium Properties would rather use it as the site of a storage facility.

The park district is suing the local water and sewer district over the 2006 sale to Calvert, on the basis of a judge’s ruling that the $1.2 million sale violated state law because it didn’t provide state-mandated notice to other governmental agencies that it was selling property. Calvert and his folks last year offered to sell it back to $1.5 million, but the park district puts the fair market value (what an agency needs to pay to acquire property through eminent domain) at $700,000. Clearly, Rep. Calvert and Stadium Properties aren’t liking that rate of return.

Last year the park district got community approval by a 3-to-1 margin, through a mail-in vote, to take the property. So why didn’t it do so Thursday night? Four out of five members needed to say yes. One was absent. One abstained. Why did one abstain? That commissioner won’t say. But the district is planning to vote again Aug. 13.

Even if the vote goes through, surely Rep. Calvert and his group will sue or do something to fight it. That generally happens. At least one thing Calvert can’t move the land out of town in the dead of night to avoid eminent domain.


Written by rkcookjr

July 31, 2009 at 5:57 pm

When keeping the rules real goes wrong, part two

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Already this youth baseball postseason, we’ve had one controversial, game-winning home run that was overturned on dubious technical grounds, leading to defeat snatched by an umpire from the jaws of victory as the benefiting team sits on its hands instead of doing the right thing and telling Blue to back off. That couldn’t happen again, could it?

It could.

From the Charleston (W. Va.) Daily Mail:

Bridgeport, the District 5 [10- and 11-year-old Little League] champion, thought it had taken a 7-5 lead in the top of the sixth inning on a two-out, two-run home run over the left-center field fence by Elijah Drummond.

It was the boy’s first homer ever … .

Instead, Drummond was called out after the ball went over the fence. A base umpire declared there had been a case of “assisting the runner” and the homer was nullified. …

“Our kids said that when Elijah ran to first, he and (teammate Tanner Furbee) in the coach’s box did a double high-five and then Elijah continued around the bases,” [Bridgeport manager] Robert Marra said. “When he finished rounding the bases, the first base umpire ran in and said because the first base coach hugged the batter, he was going to be out.”

You can guess what happened next:

The game remained at 5-5 through the regulation six innings, and after Bridgeport scored twice in the top of the seventh, South Charleston scored three in the bottom of the inning for an 8-7 victory.

And thus, I am forced again to run the Baseball Bunch’s re-enactment of the George Brett Pine Tar home run from a 1983 Kansas City-New York game, which I will do until youth league game-winning home runs are hit without issues.

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In the first instance of keeping the rules real going wrong, earlier in July young Hunter Cowers was called out on his game-winning home run because in all the excitement, he didn’t touch home plate until his coaches redirected him back there, thus assisting him. His South Lake team, instead of winning, lost in extra innings. However, a national Dixie Youth Baseball director overturned the umpire’s decision and South Lake’s loss, allowing the team to advance in an 11- and 12-year-old state tournament. Basically, in a decision upheld by a judge when winner/not winner Spring Hill sued, the Dixie Youth national director determined that the South Lake team wasn’t given the right of appeal that night and thus was wrongly wronged.

In West Virginia, the Little League national staff a few days after the July 22 home run/not a home run reprimanded the umpire for an incorrect call (Little League Rule 7.09 — it’s 7.09 in the Dixie rulebook, too — says no one can assist a runner, but a high-five is OK because a home run “is a happy moment and nothing should be done and certainly don’t call the runner out”), and a regional Little League official for telling Marra the call was not protestable and that the game must go on, thus making him wrongly wronged.

So Little League set the game back to where it was, in the top of the final inning after the home run? No. It told Marra and Bridgeport, tough shit.

Again, from the Charleston Daily Mail:

“The umpire was wrong twice, but it’s clear, from the tournament rules every manager signs before (all-star play) begins, that a protest of any playing rule must be resolved before another pitch is thrown,” Little League spokesman Chris Downs said from Williamsport (Pa.). “If the game goes on, the protest isn’t valid.”

In a one-page ruling, the Little League tournament committee/charter committee said that although the out call on the homer was erroneous and the decision that Bridgeport couldn’t protest the call was also a mistake, the tournament rules and guidelines “make it clear that any protest of a playing rule must be resolved before another pitch or play. After such a pitch or play, the manager accepts the decision of the umpire and/or local tournament director, that manager loses the right to continue the protest.”

You have to protest and stop play at that moment, except that Marra was told the call was not protestable. So what was he supposed to do, take his team off the field? I talked to Marra, and he said just leaving was not an option, not with parent tempers running hot on both sides, not with police on the field (a few were called to join the few already there because of tensions following the South Charleston manager being thrown out of a previous tournament game), and certainly not when the game was in South Charleston, not in Bridgeport.

Marra sent me all the supporting documents he sent to Little League to make his case, and it sounds a bit paranoid, actually. The case he made in those documents, as well as in a follow-up email to me, is that it wasn’t just a call gone wrong. From his statement to the national Little League office:

The umpire in question (Mr. [Tommy] Lewis) had officiated numerous games throughout the baseball tournament. Many homeruns [sic] were hit during various games with several exact and/or similar “high-five” and celebratory gestures between runners, coaches and player-coaches. No calls of interference, runner assistance or any other related calls or warnings were made. It was only in this semi-final game, after a significant rally and finally lead change by a team challenging the District 3 representative in the baseball tournament being officiated by District 3 umpires did this issue come into play.

And why not file a lawsuit to get an injunction while waiting for Little League? Marra emailed: “We never went through with the injunction.  … [W]e did not trust the DA from District 3 [South Charleston’s home district] to suspend the tournament until Williamsport ruled on the protest.”

A little paranoid, aren’t we? Then again, given how nutty some people get over youth sports, particularly during a tournament, just because Marra is paranoid does not automatically rule out the possibility people were out to get him.

Marra has been about the only person directly involved talking about this situation, with Lewis and South Charleston’s coaches largely staying away from the media, Charleston Daily Mail sports editor Jack Bogacyzk said during an email exchange I had with him. It’s too bad. I would like to talk to the South Charleston coaches, in particular about what they did when the ump called young Elijah out. Did they tell the ump to back off? Did they tell the ump to make that call? Did they just sit on their hands? According to Marra, all he could see South Charleston doing during the whole contretemps was… nothing. (By the way, South Charleston coaches, feel free to comment below if you’d like to respond.)

And like in the Florida case, herein lies the problem. I understand there’s such a thing as a rule book, and as others have argued, if you don’t follow it to the letter, what good is it? When AL President Lee MacPhail in 1983 overruled the umpires and let George Brett’s infamous Pine Tar homer stand, saying the excessive goop on his bat didn’t violate the “spirit of the rules,” opposing manager Billy Martin of the New York Yankees griped that the rule book was “only good for when you go deer hunting and run out of toilet paper.”

However, there is a time for youth coaches to not be those annoying bastards who, when playing a board game, constantly nags over the rules and finds every loophole for themselves and closes every one for you. In the West Virginia and Florida cases, the adult managers should have told the umps to go pound sand (especially in the West Virginia case, because the ump was flat-out wrong). Yes, some parents would have screamed about the sanctity of the rulebook. Their kids would have been disappointed. But in neither case was anyone trying to pull something. They were tweens getting excited in the moment. The valuable lesson for the kids involved is that while there is a rule book, there is also a time when fairness dictates you just let things go.

Maybe that’s the kind of debate that got people so worked up about Judge Sonia Sontomayor’s “empathy.” Are there such things as activist and strict constructionist umpiring?

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A happy home-run moment that also would have roused the consternation of anal rulebook types.

Written by rkcookjr

July 30, 2009 at 6:42 am

Rep. Ken Calvert hates children

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I’m going to make this blanket statement about the Republican Congressman from Corona, Calif., based on tkencalvertwo items.

The first is a list, made by the Orange County Weekly in 2006, of what Calvert likes: “Toll roads, money, blowjobs.” (Personally I’m not so sure about the first one, but who would honestly argue against liking money and blowjobs?) The second, about what he dislikes, is apparent (to me, anyway) in Calvert’s continuing fight to keep four acres of ill-gotten land that should long have been turned into a park or a youth sports field.

The latest chapter in a three-year saga is scheduled to come Thursday. That’s when the Jurupa Area Recreation and Park District plans to show it’s not just some too-cute agency that uses April Lavigne songs as inspiration for naming its facilities, as its board votes to take the land from Calvert and his partners through eminent domain.

Technically, in the legal sense, the park district’s beef isn’t with Calvert, who has a long history, even for a career real estate developer, of eyebrow-raising land deals. The big upset is that Calvert apparently wanted to build a storage facility on it, and not use the land in some relation for a project he’s earmarking. The park district has sued not Calvert, but the Jurupa Community Services District. It’s the agency that runs the area’s pipe-related services, and it sold the land to Calvert and his Stadium Properties group. According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, someone thought that transaction stunk like untreated sewage (while the lawsuit is draining the park district’s legal budget like a leaky washer):

In 2007, the Riverside County grand jury concluded the 2006 transaction violated state law because the community services district had not provided state-mandated notification to other governmental agencies that the property was available before selling it to the Calvert partnership.

The Jurupa park district had sought the land for use as a park or a youth sports field since at least 2001.

It’s too bad Calvert won’t do the right thing and just sell back the land, for the kids’ sake. Doesn’t he want to see children as happy as he is when he gets a toll road, money and a blowjob? Unless he knows it’s going to be called “Complicated Park.” Then he’s completely justified.

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A much better Calvert: Robert, singing lead on Hawkwind’s “Quark, Strangeness and Charm.”

Written by rkcookjr

July 28, 2009 at 7:39 am

Memories of vacation

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I’m back from a family vacation to the Washington, DC, area. Like the Minnesota State High School League, I determined my four kids needed a week without sports. More accurately, they needed their father to take a week off from writing about them.

5772_1192419767972_1152725890_570051_3503071_n I bathed my feet in the fountain of the World War II Memorial (it’s what Tom Hanks would have wanted) to prepare myself to wade back into the cesspool of youth sports. Before I do that, a few fun vacation memories:

— The revisionist historians at the Manassas National Battlefield Park (a Confederate re-enactor who, not in character, buttonholed us about how much Lincoln loved slavery) and the National Museum of the Marine Corps (one more chorus from someone claiming we would have won Vietnam if the damn politicians hadn’t gotten in the way). A docent at the Marine Corps Museum shared one explanation he heard about why the Iwo Jima flag on display had only 48 stars: “Alaska and Canada hadn’t become states yet.”

— The dramarama at Six Flags America. My 12-year-old son and I witnessed two girlfights, including one that finished with each girl looking like they were worked over by Freddy Kreuger. That same fight featured two boyfriends who clearly did not want to get involved, but who yelled at each other because they figured they’d better look like they were doing something. (“Don’t make me come at you!” “No, don’t make me come at YOU!”) Also, my son and I got stuck on the Joker’s Jinx for 15 minutes, which sent me into a claustrophobic frenzy, always a good example to set in a crisis with your kid sitting next to you.

— How my kids, my 6-year-old son in particular, turned the Gen. Sherman statute outside the White House into the coolest slide ever, thanks to its wide, curving bannisters. That son also got at least two other kids yelled at by their parents when they tried to copy him. The Cook family is a bad, bad influence.

shermanLook at those bannisters! How could you resist?

Written by rkcookjr

July 27, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Just in case you weren't sure whether youth sports was a business

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I could talk about multiple cities’ plans for multimillion sports complexes, the franchising of youth sports leagues, Little League’s reliance on its televised World Series coverage for a large bulk of its revenue, and the kids’ section at Dick’s Sporting Goods as signs that youth sports is not a fun activity, but a business.

But no sign is quite as clear as this notice from Sports Business Journal about a special issue:

Youth sports have received more scrutiny as a business opportunity as companies look to develop new revenue streams. The increased attention garnered by young athletes increases the viability of youth sports as a media property. However, the fractionalized nature of youth sports and concerns over exploiting young athletes poses significant hurdles for those wanting a piece of the market. Publishing Date: August 17 Close: August 3 Materials Close: August 5.

For information on advertising, contact National Ad Director Julie Tuttle at 212-500-0711 or

Written by rkcookjr

July 21, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Posted in Business, Sports

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One trashy baseball field

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My blogging and reporting is going to be a bit more sporadic this upcoming week because I and the family are in the Washington, DC, metro area for a vacation. We thought, “When is the most miserable fucking weather time of year to go to Washington? Mid-July? Perfect!” Amazingly, the temperature is in the 80s, and the humidity is somewhere south of what is required for the family anole to live. Barack Obama IS the Messiah!

Anyway, a quick youth sports noted in my travels. Driving in between the Manassas National Battlefield and the National Museum of the Marine Corps (both fascinating visits, not the least of reasons for all the revisionist history proferred by some of their visitors), I noticed the Coles Little League field south of Manassas. It was noticeable because it shares the same driveway as the Prince William County landfill. In a lot of major-league parks, at home plate you see the beautiful city skyline. At Coles, you see a massive, grassy hill full of garbage. That smell is not coming from your hot dog.

By the way, the Kane County Cougars, a Class-A team in Geneva, Ill., is also hard by a landfill. I know the land is cheap, but sometimes it’s for a reason.

Written by rkcookjr

July 18, 2009 at 7:30 pm

What fiend burned a dollar sign into the East Hampton football field?

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The police would sure like to know. It’s been nearly two weeks after someone burned a dollar sign in the middle of the $1 million synthetic turf field at East Hampton High School in the tony Long Island enclave that’s summer home to the likes of Stephen Spielberg and Sean Combs. That someone also left a five-page note (and sent copies to local newspaper) raging about how the school board wasting tax money on things like, well, a $1 million synthetic turf field.

It would seem a dollar sign would be an appropriate symbol to have on the field, or the team’s helmets, given the town’s reputation. However, East Hampton has finances that would Californians feel sorry for its plight. The city of 21,000 year-round residents had to get state approval to float $15 million worth of bonds to cover 2007 and 2008 deficits, but East Hampton is looking at another $4.1 million in deficits for 2009, not counting the $1.9 million in 2008 money that won’t be covered by the bonds. As a result, the town is talking layoffs.

East Hampton had a foreclosure problem pop up at the beginning of 2008, and certainly the Wall Street bust and the (perhaps temporary) end of the big-bonus era is killing property values. But a state audit also found that the people running East Hampton were running it, all right — into the ground. That’s on top of the school system’s own financial struggles, although the $1 million synthetic turf field in question was approved as part of an $80 million referendum in 2007. Why not just yank up taxes on the wealthy? Because the residents aren’t all wealthy. The 2000 Census put 12 percent of them below the poverty line, and the city also has a sizable illegal immigrant population that helps support the summer residents.

By the way, it’ll cost $100,000 to fix the burnt field.

At this point, there is no list of suspects. There is no one local crank under suspicion. That’s because even in East Hampton, the tax protesters are out, and an afternoon tea is no longer only held in a mansion.

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Written by rkcookjr

July 16, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Florida judge rules against team that was in, then out, of tournament

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An update on “When Keeping the Rules Real Goes Wrong.”

From the St. Petersburg Times:

Citing bylaws that give the league’s national commissioner the final say in disputes, [Hernando County Judge Kurt Hitzemann] judge on Wednesday rejected a Spring Hill team’s request to reverse the [Dixie Youth Baseball League] commissioner’s July 3 ruling and allow it to play in this weekend’s state tournament.

“What happened here is very unfortunate and sad,” he said later, “but according to these bylaws, the commissioner can do what he wants to do. He can decide what the rules mean.”

Nearly 30 supporters, including some of the 11- and 12-year-old boys on the Spring Hill National Triple-A Majors All Stars, attended the hearing. They all left disappointed.

The controversy, which has drawn attention from national media, stems from a game on June 30 between Spring Hill and a team from South Lake.

That night, a player for South Lake hit a go-ahead home run in the top of the final inning, but failed to touch home plate and was ruled out by an umpire. After a lengthy debate involving officials from the Dixie Youth Baseball organization, the umpire’s ruling stood. The Spring Hill squad won that game in extra innings.

Three days later, Wes Skelton, the league’s national commissioner, awarded the game to South Lake, saying they had been denied an opportunity to appeal the decision on the night of the game.

Claiming that being barred from the state tournament would cause “irreparable harm” to the boys on the team, the Spring Hill squad asked Hitzemann to allow them to play in the upcoming [12-team state] tournament.

Young Hunter Cowers, who hit the home run that started this mess, is now his generation’s George Brett, at least in terms of controversy-causing taters. Maybe the judge should have done this: ordered the game to be replayed from the point the home run was hit. And then the Spring Hill manager could have played everyone out of position as a protest.

Written by rkcookjr

July 16, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Sports

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Upon further review, Florida reverses school sports cutbacks

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The Florida High School Athletic Association, as expected Wednesday, rolled back a plan to cut back schedules for every sport but football and competitive cheerleading. The vote was 15-0, compared to the 9-6 vote in April that established the plan as a way to save money in the face of plummeting property tax revenues for the state’s schools.

The FHSAA was sued on behalf of girls who argued their Title IX rights were violated because by not touching football, the cuts overwhelmingly affected girls’ participation compared with boys’. The FHSAA may well still be ready to argue in court on Friday in Jacksonville that football is a coed sport (the most recenty numbers I’ve seen are 40,000 boys and eight girls, up from the previous count of three.) But Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the lawyer/ex-Olympic swimmer/mother of twin daughters handling the Title IX lawsuit, says she will continue to seek an injunction against the just-rejected plan so the FHSAA can’t try it again. She’ll probably get it, if not Friday, then soon enough.

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Personal foul against the FHSAA, taking Title IX to the ground and givin’ it the business.

Coincidentally, the FHSAA’s change of heart comes the day a group called the College Sports Council put out a release touting a study claiming scholarship discrimination by NCAA programs — against men. From the release, passed to me by the group’s PR contact, Eric McErlain (one of the best hockey bloggers in the business, by the way):

The findings of a first-of-a-kind study of NCAA participation and scholarship data conducted by the College Sports Council (CSC) shows that in NCAA Division I “gender symmetric sports” (teams where both male and female athletes participate), female students are accorded far more opportunities than male students to compete and earn scholarships.

“Because only 119 schools, or less than 12% of all NCAA member institutions, offer the full 85 football scholarships, the NCAA can’t use football to tackle criticism of their discrimination against male athletes in gender symmetric sports,” said CSC Chairman Eric Pearson. “This new study appears to provide prima facie evidence of disparate treatment of male students by the 28% of NCAA Division I schools that don’t sponsor football teams.”

Findings of the study, the first of its kind to compare scholarship opportunities for men and women in NCAA Division I using the organization’s own data, include:

  • At the NCAA Division I level, there are far more women’s teams (2,653) than men’s teams (2,097).  The study found the greatest gender disparities in favor of women in the sports of Volleyball (313 to 21) and Soccer (300 to 195).
  • Overall in “gender symmetric” sports, there are far more scholarships available for women (32,656) than for men (20,206).  This disparity is pronounced through virtually all “gender symmetric” sports because of NCAA scholarship limits.  As a result, even in one of the only sports where there are more men’s teams, golf (285 to 228), there are still more athletic scholarships available for women (1,368 to 1,282.5).
  • In every “gender symmetric” sport with the exception of gymnastics, men face longer odds against getting a scholarship than women.  By far, the most difficult athletic scholarship to obtain at the Division I level is in men’s volleyball, where there are 489 high school athletes for every full NCAA scholarship. Similar long odds exist for men competing in Track and Field/Cross-Country (221 to 1), Soccer and Water Polo (196 to 1) and Tennis (136 to 1).

Before you dismiss the College Sports Council as being charter members of the He-Man Women Hater’s Club, it should be noted that the organization includes a lot of people associated with programs that have gotten the ass end of Title IX. Generally colleges, instead of merely expanding opportunities for women, have tried to game their numbers by cutting men’s nonrevenue sports such as gymnastics and wrestling.

It could be argued that the Florida High School Athletic Association tried to do merely what its college brethren have done — protect football uber alles, and slash and burn everywhere else they can get away with. The issue of Florida’s financial problems doesn’t go away. In fact, FHSAA board members said after the vote that individual schools will now have to make their own cutbacks.

Other states, such as Nevada and Delaware, have cut back schedules for other sports and left football alone, with the argument that football pays the freight and needs to be protected. But in many cases at the high school and college level, football brings in a lot of money, but it also costs a lot of money. Some problems might be solved in making football cut back a little, for a change.

Written by rkcookjr

July 16, 2009 at 12:47 am

We interrupt this feel-good story to be amazed at the pimping of kids in sports

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So I’m reading a feel-good story at, naturally,

Reader Melinda Powelson, of Littleton, Colorado, writes, “We just got back from the 12U Cooperstown Dreams Park tournament. Our team, ranked #102 of 102 teams, experienced an incredible display of sportsmanship from the #1 ranked team at the tournament…It felt like were were living in the movie “Rudy” when these events transpired.”

Here’s Melinda’s story: …

Nestled in a lush valley in the Catskill Mountains, New York’s Cooperstown Dreams Park is nostalgically called the Field of Dreams. Last week, the Dakota Ridge Eagles from Colorado and the West Chester Sluggers of Ohio were among the 102 teams who played in the jewel of 12-year-old baseball tournaments. On these hallowed grounds, the Eagles and Sluggers exhibited a brand of sportsmanship that proves that it’s not always winning that matters, but how you play the game.

The West Chester Sluggers are one of youth baseball’s elite, called a “northern powerhouse” by Travel Ball Select (TBS) magazine, a publication that ranks teams across the country. …

And that’s where I stopped.

Are you kidding me? Travel Ball Select magazine? You mean grown people make their living ranking which pre-pubescent team is likely to beat another pre-pubescent team?

Oh yeah. Not only does Travel Ball Select have its own list, but its Web site also has extensive coverage of  games you couldn’t possibly care about, not if you have a healthy adult life. Presumably someone is paying the membership fee so when they click on the picture of 14U featured player Niko Gonzalez, they can, as the caption says, “Meet Latino Heat.”  Why do I get the feeling the cops will be monitoring any grown person’s desire to “Meet Latino Heat”?

Of course, this is not limited to baseball. Clark Francis and his Hoop Scoop make a living doing things like ranking the best fifth-grade player in the nation. I don’t know if the folks behind Travel Ball Select do this (there’s no information on the site, at least none I can find, about who’s behind it), but Francis’ job is to scout little kids and hold camps for the best of them so NCAA coaches don’t have to, or because they can’t. (The NCAA this year just lowered the recruiting threshold to seventh grade — yes, seventh grade — mainly because some coaches already were holding their own elite camps to make contact with the top tweens.)

I don’t mean to cast aspersions on people who chose to make their living panting over little-kid sports prospects like an even creepier Mel Kiper Jr. OK, maybe I do. All I know is, I’m not sure what is scarier: Travel Ball Select and its ilk, or their subscribers.

Written by rkcookjr

July 15, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Sports

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