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Tough Competition

For many local youngsters, baseball is a full-time summer job.

By Ron Martin

Finding a good mango can be tricky. Too ripe, and it's soft and mushy; not ripe enough, and it's too hard to bite into.

Competitive Baseball is the mango of youth sports. It isn't church-league or recreational-league baseball but rather baseball as serious as you'll find in high school, college, or the pros.

Competitive Baseball is a national program involving youngsters ranging in age from 8 to 18. The local arm of the program centers on the Snowden Grove Complex in Southaven, which features 17 fields and hosts tournaments for teams from 23 states. These tournaments produce over a million dollars a year for the Memphis area in hotel revenue, second only to the COGIC convention. Approximately 100 competitive teams call Memphis home, but most play a majority of their games on the road, from Florida to Oklahoma. Parents pay an average of $2,000 a season to support the program, which can involve as many as 85 games in a summer.

Tim Dulin, of Dulin Sports Academy and Southeastern Sports Management, which oversees Snowden Grove, says burn-out by the young players can be a problem. "Even pro players take time off," he says. "I tell parents and coaches that they need a weekend off every summer." A typical weekly schedule for a Competitive Baseball team includes games on Monday and Thursday, with a possibility of five games on a weekend, depending on how well a team performs in tournament play.

Competitive Baseball's name is appropriate. Teams aren't traveling around the country just for the scenery; they're playing to win.

"It's important that coaches are making sure it's not a win-at-all-cost situation," says Dulin, adding, "but baseball is a sport that teaches kids to react to different situations. Each play demands instant reaction."

Watching Competitive Baseball is both a wonderful and troubling experience. Youngsters take to the field with enthusiasm and teamwork. They can develop lasting relationships with players from around the country. In some cases, these relationships can last a lifetime.

Watching the parents is a different story. Some are reliving their youth through their children and seem hell-bent on their sons becoming the next great major-leaguer.

The situation isn't lost on Dulin. "Sometimes, you'll see a kid strike out and look right over to his dad. They always know where he's sitting," says Dulin. "I try to tell the kids that while Babe Ruth was the home-run king, he also led the league in strikeouts." Some parents pace around, acting as if losing was devil's work and the umpires are their servants. Others are less intense and seem to genuinely enjoy watching their offspring compete.

It's a fine line that parents need to toe. They need to understand that their kids need to be kids. Competitive sports at this level means missed family vacations and family reunions and the freedom pre-teens should experience during the summer.

It's simple, really. Win or lose, there should always be joy in Mudville. It's a lot like finding the perfect mango.

Flyers The Titans and the Nashville city government aren't happy with each other. At stake is $2.3 million in interest owed by the metro area government to Titans owner Bud Adams. The government wants to change the lease and Bud wants his money. Look for a court date soon.

The University of Memphis could own Hawaii during the holidays. If the football team goes to the Aloha Bowl and the basketball team heads to the Rainbow Classic, the U of M athletic department will have a presence in the islands for about three weeks. Aloha.

Ramblings I miss the real Jerry Dover Classic. The current incarnation is a poor reflection on his good name Why did fight promoter Brian Young bypass Memphis for Tunica to create his Olympic Boxing Club? Was it the casino money? Thanks to former U of M players Idrees Bashir and Isaac Bruce for coming back to Memphis for the DeSoto County Athletic Club Pro Football Camp. Oh, I forgot -- Memphis isn't a part of DeSoto County This quote from Sports Illustrated was attributed to the Grizzlies draftee Drew Gooden about his being able to go to Graceland: "I thought Elvis was born in Tennessee."

Every Day Is Saturday

Grizzlies rookies get a taste of NBA life.

By James P. Hill

For Drew Gooden and Robert Archibald, their childhood hoop dreams of playing in the NBA are now reality. After being drafted and working out in the daily-double format of rookie and free-agents camp, the neophyte Grizzlies are playing in the Summer Pro League at Long Beach State University in Southern California.

For Gooden, the former Kansas All-American and Oakland, California, native, the experience of playing in front of his home-state crowd is very encouraging. "I'm very excited," he says. "I'm from California, and I've got some family coming down -- and I'm excited to win." Gooden, the fourth pick in the 2002 draft, is finding out NBA life is more than fun and games. It's about competing and winning. Gooden explains the difference between playing three or four times a week in the NBA as compared to one or two college games a week. "It's big-time; it feels like every day is a Saturday," says Gooden. "You just practice and then you're sitting around in the hotel all day, but I'm trying to get used to it. I'm trying to adjust, and I'm coming along."

After losing their first three games, the Grizzlies collected their first win in a 120 to 95 rout of the Dallas Mavericks. In that contest, Memphis shot 61 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line. The Dallas win also served as a breakout game for Gooden. In 41 minutes, Gooden made 12 of 16 shots and scored 36 points. He also pulled down 14 rebounds, dished out three assists, and collected a steal.

For Archibald, the 6'11" center/forward out of the University of Illinois, being selected as the Grizzlies' second-round pick was a dream come true. "I think my role will be to provide an inside presence, to be a big body down low, and play tough," says Archibald. Archibald's focusing on playing quality defense and getting rebounds, but he can also score when opportunities arise. In the Grizzlies' second summer-league win, over the Clippers, Archibald poured in 18 points and collected seven rebounds in 32 minutes. He also hit eight of 11 free throws for the Grizzlies.

While Archibald, Gooden, and the rest of the Grizzlies of summer play ball, Jerry West sits courtside, watching and evaluating. He is still searching for pieces of an incomplete puzzle and is still committed to building a winner for years to come for Memphis basketball fans. "We think we brought some players in who are talented enough to increase our talent level," says West. "That will help us get to a different level than we were last year."

After the Grizzlies finish their schedule in California, they'll travel to the highly competitive Rocky Mountain Revue in Salt Lake City, which has been hosted by the Utah Jazz for the last 19 off-seasons. The Grizzlies have a six-game schedule there, including games against the Phoenix Suns, the Portland Trailblazers with Qyntel Woods, and on Tuesday, July 23rd, against Dajuan Wagner and the Cleveland Cavaliers on ESPN.

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