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Sports in 2008 was enough to drive someone bats

/ Source: The Associated Press

BC-YE--Sports Quirks,1222 Eds: For us any time. AP Photos By FRED LIEF AP Sports Writer

Indignities come in all forms. John Odom, however, may have found a classification all his own.

Odom is a minor league pitcher, and not an especially good one. He was traded this year from the Calgary Vipers to the Laredo Broncos of the Golden Baseball League. He wasn't traded for cash or even for those old reliable "future considerations" and "player to be named."

Odom was traded for 10 bats.

No doubt, it could have been worse. A year or so ago, a European soccer player was said to have been traded for a slab of beef.

But for the Odom, the going price was 10 black, 34-inch maple bats. According to the manufacturer, they sell at discount for $65.50 each.

Odom was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2003 but released. He still thinks he's got a shot at the big leagues. In the meantime, without a Robin for a sidekick, he has a nickname: Bat Man.

"I'm still in shock from this phenomenon," he said. "I don't know how to describe it. It's mind-boggling."

Humiliation is an equal opportunity employer, and in 2008 there was plenty to go around.

Consider Eliot Spitzer. It wasn't enough that the former New York governor got caught in a tabloid inferno for his call-girl escapades. The Macon Music of minor league baseball's South Coast League promoted — before ultimately backing off — an "Eliot Spitzer Night" in which any fan named Eliot, Spitzer or Kristen (his lady of choice) would get $1 off admission.

Or consider the women's hockey team of Bulgaria, which lost an Olympic qualifier to Slovakia 82-0. There was not even the faintest silver lining for the Bulgarians. They were outshot 139-0.

Soccer referee Sergei Shmolik didn't fare much better. In a game in Belarus, he wobbled off the field, seemingly from back pain. Later, the source of his discomfort became clear: He was drunk.

Even Adam "Pacman" Jones, no stranger to excess, broke new ground. The Dallas Cowboys cornerback got into another scuffle, this time with one of his own bodyguards.

China's Wang Hao, an Olympic table tennis champion in a country where the sport is revered, was ordered to explain himself to teammates in a shameful declaration. His crime? He confronted a parking attendant who reportedly caught him urinating outside a karaoke hall.

It was more a case of courage than contrition for photographer Ryan McGeeney of the Standard-Examiner in Provo, Utah. He was covering a high school track meet when he was speared in the leg by a javelin. McGeeney was not one to pass up a good shot. While others tended to him, he snapped a photo of his wound.

"If I didn't," he said, "it would probably be my editor's first question when I got back."

Seemingly no sport was immune from its quirky moments: Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summit dislocated her shoulder fending off a raccoon on the deck of her home; German champion billiards player Axel Buescher was suspended for doping; soccer fans in Argentina — twice in one week! — hijacked buses to get to games on time, making it in neither instance; Volvo Ocean Race sailors girded themselves not only for icebergs but pirates; and pirates of a different sort, the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates, looked to India for hope. They signed two pitchers who until this year had not thrown a baseball.

There also was an odd intersection between sports and a couple of political flash points from the 1970s.

It's not often — comets streak the sky more frequently — the names Westminster Kennel Club and Patty Hearst are mentioned in the same breath. But there she was: the one-time gun-toting Tania of Symbionese Liberation Army fame making her presentation among coiffed pooches at the world's most famous dog show. She is now Patty Hearst Shaw and 54 years old, and altogether proud her Diva was voted best French bulldog.

"When people find out it's me," she said, "it's like it doesn't make sense."

Also resurfacing was the name of Jim Jones, the cult leader who orchestrated the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana in which more than 900 died in a murder-suicide. Grandson Rob Jones now plays college basketball for San Diego. He brushes off taunts from opposing crowds about drinking Kool-Aid.

"It's just part of my past, part of my history," he says. "We look at it and try to keep moving."

The macabre mix of death and commerce took some strange turns.

The Spanish Soccer League was awarded a cemetery in lieu of unpaid debts in a lawsuit involving a club owner. Fans of the German soccer club Hamburger SV now have their own cemetery, with the option of a grave covered in grass from the team's field. And the Jamaican hotel room where Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer died under mysterious circumstances now pulls in tourists.

"It's pretty amazing," said Lloyd Bremner, general manager of the Jamaica Pegasus. "Some people request to be in it; some want to be on the same floor."

Some oldsters were still going strong in 2008. Leo Fiyalko, 92, made a hole-in-one in Clearwater, Fla. — he is also blind. Dale Davis of Alta, Iowa, who is 78 and legally blind, bowled a 300 game. Ken Mink found new life on the basketball team at Roane State, a Tennessee community college, at a sprightly 73.

Sportsmanship, so often on the run, made a rare sighting in 2008 this year. Sara Tucholsky, a Western Oregon softball player, slugged her first college home run against Central Washington. But her knee buckled at first base and she couldn't go farther.

She was told teammates couldn't assist and a pinch-runner would limit her to a single. Then, two Central Washington players carried Tucholsky around the diamond, allowing her to touch each base with her good leg until she made it to the plate. The homer helped eliminate Central Washington from the playoffs.

"In the end, it is not about winning and losing so much," said Mallory Holtman, who helped lift Tucholsky around the bases. "She hit it over the fence and was in pain, and she deserved a home run."

There was nothing sporting about Marian Hinnant. She was a juror in the corruption trial of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. She told the judge her father died and she had to go to California. The judge halted the proceedings. It turned out she was lying and her father hadn't died. Hinnant had flown to California to see the Breeders' Cup.

Court documents do not show on which horses Hinnant bet, but she might well have been eyeing the second race that day. For running in The Turf Sprint was a 4-year-old colt by the name of Idiot Proof.


Contributing to this report were AP sports writers Ben Walker and Bernie Wilson and Associated Press writers Chris Talbott, Christopher Sherman, Joseph Frazier and Jesse J. Holland.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)