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News - Striking out, coming out

Waiting for Jones to step up to the plate

Defense wins championships — in the NFL, where fumbles and interceptions can be returned for touchdowns. In baseball, defense only prevents losing.

The aggressive Astros and Diamondbacks blew into town hitting short, quick grounders followed by stolen bases and sacrifice flies. It's obvious that the Braves will not go far in the playoffs at their current level of offensive production. Assuming they get there, which I'm not assuming. Try 16 consecutive innings last week without getting past second base, never mind scoring an earned run.

Andruw Jones spends more time in the indoor batting cage than any other Braves player. A lot of good that does, since he has no eye at the plate. He leads the team with 95 strikeouts; next closest is Chipper Jones with 60.

Bobby Cox can't keep Andruw out of the batting cage but he can keep him out of the lineup. Andruw is, once again, the only player to play every inning of every game this season; it's been suggested — even by Cox — that a rest might improve his hitting. Trouble is, the Braves can't afford to lose his glove in center field. A glove good enough for an MVP award if Jones weren't batting .250.

Hitting coach Merv Rettenmund is confident Jones is one good-hitting game away from breaking out. Merv's been saying that since May. He's still waiting.

You won't hear George O'Leary griping about early games. He's licking his chops about the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium Aug. 26. The Jackets' preseason date with Syracuse has set a tone of urgency for the team's summer workouts, which pleases Boss Bee to no end. Not to mention that playing in New York (OK, New Jersey) and on national TV helps with recruiting.

Last season, the great unknown was who could take Joe Hamilton's place. That won't be a problem this year, unless George Godsey's repaired ACL doesn't hold up. Count on it, knee surgery requires two years to heal for running backs, point guards, outfielders and scrambling QBs. Godsey might be able to fudge that recovery time since he stays in the pocket. And anyway, he recovers from setbacks easily. That's what makes him competitive.

Assuming Godsey is solid, Tech's question marks are overall team depth — O'Leary used roughly 58 players a game last year, keeping his team fresher longer — and the defense's range and speed. Especially speed. Don't expect to see either in this first game.

Cindy Abel cried. A natural reaction, considering the quality of most of the renditions of the national anthem at Turner Field. But this was a quartet from the Atlanta Gay Men's Chorus; the tears were for their name on the center field scoreboard.

"I never thought it would happen in my lifetime," said Barbara Rubin, of seeing "Gay" in lights in a major league ball park.

Abel, principal of bizvox, the marketing communications firm for Atlanta Games Inc.'s bid for the 2006 Gay Games, and Rubin, a bid supporter, were part of the group shepherding Rob Lavery and Derek Liecty, the Games' two-man site inspection committee, at the Braves-Astros game last week.

Atlanta's bid touts Turner Field for closing ceremonies, the Georgia Dome for opening ceremonies, Philips Arena for hockey and ice skating, Georgia Tech for basketball, and sites from Emory to Stone Mountain for various other disciplines, including bowling.

With 20,000 participants, the Gay Games is twice the size of the Olympic Games. Given the transportation snafus and tackiness that plagued the Centennial Games, one wonders why Atlanta would even be considered.

"Well," explains Liecty, "the Gay Games are fun. The Olympics are horribly serious, horribly commercial and horribly competitive." As if we didn't know. The Gay Games, by way of contrast, are about personal bests and inclusiveness. "It's not always about winning," says Lavery.

Meanwhile, back in the Braves public relations offices, voicemails choked with messages from ticket-holders wanting their money back, now that the bid committee had organized group sales of nearly 2,000 tickets, far surpassing the threshold for dibs on the Star-Spangled Banner, on-field presentation and ceremonial first pitch. Irate callers didn't want their kids to be at a baseball game with gays in the stands. Virtually every call ended with a variation of "I've gone to my last Braves game."

Yawn.

From the What A Waste department -- ESPN's Charlie Steiner reports from his recent gig in Cleveland that John Rocker dines out alone, ignored by teammates and fans alike. The consensus in his former clubhouse: sad but not surprising.

Memo to Augusta National -- You're desecrating your golf course for nothing. Length doesn't scare the pros.

$250,000 -- Paid by the University of Oregon for a gigantic billboard outside Madison Square Garden touting QB Joey Harrington for the Heisman Trophy. Who told the Ducks that anyone in New York cares about college football? And couldn't that money have been better spent on term-paper writers for the players? Or steroids?

The Fundamentals: 8 Plays for Winning the Games of Business and LifeTitle of a new book by Isiah Thomas, who bought the Continental Basketball Association and proceeded to ignore it into bankruptcy.





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