Sixty-five years after Babe Ruth called his shot and more than a decade before Rex Ryan started making guarantees, Owen Nolan of the San Jose Sharks had his moment as the most confident man on the planet at the 47th annual NHL All-Star Game.

On Jan. 18, 1997, in San Jose, Nolan became the first known NHL player to call his shot, capping off one of the most famous hat tricks in NHL history.

Doing it in front of the home crowd in San Jose only added another level of theatrical flair.

Despite his historic performance, Nolan didn't walk away with the game's MVP award.

Consider the backstory: With 2:32 left in the second period, Dale Hawerchuk of the Flyers gave the East a commanding 10-4 lead. By this point in the contest, Montreal's Mark Recchi had already posted a hat trick and the Rangers’ Wayne Gretzky had an assist in his East debut after playing 17 seasons for the West.

The San Jose faithful started to feel restless watching their conference get blown out. The fans put a little bit of extra effort into their cheers, hoping that someone in a purple uniform would answer their call and end the embarrassment.

That someone was Nolan, the hometown star, who was playing alongside Tony Amonte of the Blackhawks and Theoren Fleury of the Flames. With 1:06 left in the second, Nolan slid a pass from Fleury by the Devils’ Martin Brodeur, cutting the East’s advantage to 10-5.

Nolan scored again eight seconds later -- an All-Star Game record -- with a slap shot on a pass from Amonte. With the deficit cut to four, Nolan sent the hometown fans into a frenzy and gave life to the West.

But in the third, eventual league MVP Dominik Hasek shut the West down, giving up no goals in nearly the first 18 minutes of the period and foiling Nolan on several juicy chances. On the West bench, Nolan looked up at the clock and then into his hometown crowd. He wanted no part of a Hasek shutout.

Nolan jumped onto the ice and went into extreme forecheck mode. When the Rangers’ Mark Messier coughed it up at his own blue line, Nolan jumped on the loose puck (lit up on TV by Fox’s glowing puck) and skated toward Hasek. That’s when it happened.

Nolan took a few quick strides to gain momentum and picked up his head. Gliding at the top of the left circle, Nolan stared straight at Hasek and pointed in the goaltender’s general direction.

Hockey historians argue whether Nolan pointed at Hasek or the top right corner of the net. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. Nolan blasted the puck off the crossbar and into the top right corner.

He took on Hasek, whom Gretzky had declared "the best player in the game" and called his shot to cap off a hat trick, which came in the final 22 minutes of the game. The hats came flying onto the ice from all over The Shark Tank in a true "Hats Off Moment." It might have been even more of a "Hats Off Moment" in a literal sense if Recchi hadn't already posted his hat trick.

The East held on to win 11-7. Recchi won the game’s MVP award as most of the ballots had already been collected by the time Nolan finished off his hat trick in electrifying fashion.

Nolan played 11 more seasons in the NHL, making one more All-Star Game roster. Now 39, he plays for the Zurich Lions of the Swiss 'A' league.

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Pac Man Jones’ latest bodyguard is a sweet, white-haired man named Paul. He mans the door at Jones’ high-rise in Cincinnati, grinning at visitors and pointing out Jones’ 12th floor apartment buzzer. The label next to the button says, “Mr. and Mrs. Jones.” The elevator requires no code or key. The door to Jones’ apartment is unlocked. There is no music playing. There is no smell of anything other than baby powder. There is no one around except Pac Man’s fiancée, Tishana, his newborn daughter, Triniti, and the Bengals defensive back himself, in a white shirt and a black neck brace. The three of them are sitting on the couch, drinking water and watching TV.

It’s Saturday night at Pac Man’s place.

Pac Man Jones sitting around on a weekend night with his fiancée and his daughter is the NFL’s equivalent of Lindsay Lohan insisting she loves pancakes and appreciates the hard work done by traffic cops. Since he was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2005, Jones has been charged with everything from assault to felony vandalism to marijuana possession to public intoxication to disorderly conduct. Pac Man is by far the NFL’s most notorious miscreant –- the very definition of an athlete-gone-wild. Now he’s a happy homebody? Seems fishy.

But even an act would be a big step for Pac Man. Recall this is a guy so brazen and unconcerned with image that he went to a strip club the night before a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. In the NFL, where a four-game suspension is heavy, Jones was banned for the entire 2007 season -– at a personal cost of more than $1.2 million in salary. Even his mom, Deborah Jones, says Pac Man was “out of control” and “hotheaded.”

Sounds about right –- last week he was ordered to take anger management classes in addition to serving 200 hours of community service for his role in a nightclub shooting in Las Vegas four years ago that left a man paralyzed. Jones is supremely talented and insanely fast -- less than a year ago, after several months out of football, he ran a 4.42 40 in a tryout for his current team –- but his list of transgressions (both real and alleged) is far longer than his list of accomplishments. In his NFL career, he has a whopping five interceptions and one sack. If this is an act, it’s an act with a tiny audience; not many will buy it.

But Jones is trying anyway. “What am I sorry for?” he says. “There are a million things.”

“I’m sorry for everything.”

***

Adam Jones has one lasting memory of his father, who was an amateur boxer in Atlanta. He was sitting on his uncle Nick’s shoulders, peering over a crowd to see his dad. It was at his father’s funeral. His dad was 24. Adam was 4. His mother remembers Adam being scared and confused. He looked up at her and asked, “You mean I’m never gonna see my dad again, Momma?” Then he saw his dad being lowered into the ground. He started to wail. Months later, Uncle Nick was dead too.

“None of the males on my dad’s side ever got to see 25,” Jones says. “My dad was shot and robbed. Nick was killed trying to rob somebody. My uncle Ant was stabbed on a bus. He was 23.”

Jones grew up thinking 25 years is pretty much all the time you get. That was the way it was in his Atlanta neighborhood. He committed to Georgia Tech but switched to West Virginia because Rich Rodriguez and his staff showed so much concern about his dying grandmother. Jones was shocked when he got to Morgantown. “It was the first time being around so many white people that embraced you as a person,” he says. “I didn’t have to worry about leaving the door unlocked.”

He loved West Virginia. He played well there and met a teammate who he still calls “the best friend I ever made playing football.” It was Chris Henry, the wide receiver who had about as much talent and got into about as much trouble. Henry died in a car accident in Charlotte in 2009. Jones couldn’t bear to attend the funeral. Instead, he put a huge painting of Henry in his apartment.

Jones is now 27; Henry was 26. Pac Man outlived his best friend, too.

That has put him in a strange place. He is now an old man, of sorts. But he has no roadmap for what to do in middle age, let alone his 30s. He has even avoided going out around the time of his birthday –- Sept. 30 -– because he was that much closer to the age at which his father and uncles died. So a man who never thought to plan for the future is now realizing he might actually have a future. He’s got two little girls now: Triniti and
Zaniyah, who just turned five last week. He proposed to Tishana, and will marry her this summer in Atlanta.

He also wants to be called Adam now, instead of Pac Man, which is a name his mom still calls him. That nickname came from the video game, which Deborah Jones loved to play while she was pregnant with her only child. When Adam was born and started breastfeeding, his feeding style reminded her of the little yellow circle on the screen. “His mouth would move like Pac Man –- gobble, gobble, gobble,” she says. Then when she saw on TV recently that he was trying to get rid of his old name and his old identity, Deborah called her son up in a huff. “Well,” she said, “what am I supposed to call you?!”

So Pac Man is still around. But without a posse, he's no longer Pack Man. And that may be the most important change of all.

***

Like so many boys who lose their fathers at a young age, Adam took on the role of head-of-household. He assumed responsibility even when he was too young to understand it.

“He likes to be everybody’s daddy,” says Deborah. “He tells you what to do and how to do it. He tries to make everything OK. He’s been that way for a long time. He thinks that’s what dads do.”

And so when Jones got to the NFL and got rich, he started taking care of everyone around him. “I’d say, ‘When I get this money, we’re going to Miami! We’ll have a good time!’" he says. “That’s what you do.” That’s how most entourages get going, and Pac Man was no different. What was different was how he lost his crew. Or, more accurately, how they lost him.

When Jones’ career spiraled after the Vegas shooting in 2007, and so much of his money vanished, his posse started to wander away. After he got released by the Cowboys in early 2009 and got offers from the CFL instead of the NFL, he found himself alone. “It’s amazing how many people run away,” he says. “It gave me enough time to see people show true colors.”

This isn’t finger-pointing as much as acknowledgment that he wasn’t living right. Jones’ fall gave him a chance to live without social shackles. Now that he’s back in the NFL, and in good standing with the Bengals, he says he’s boycotted all Atlanta clubs. “I get nervous there,” he says. “I’m vulnerable. You wouldn’t understand.”

Here he gets frustrated and short –- residue from the old temper. He’s hiding something, most likely the behavior that got him into trouble and the people who won’t let him move on from it. He says he’s tired of talking about the Vegas incident, and he says it in a loud voice.

“People were scared of me,” he finally says, quieting down. “People were scared of my people. There is always somebody out to prove something. I’m just trying to avoid being in any B.S. I don’t have to be in.”

So this isn’t the next Michael Vick, who is full-on hero after being full-on goat. Jones is a bit too jaded for that, saying of the Eagles quarterback, “They always love you when you’re up.” No, Jones is in somewhere between, somewhere on the long road from ne’er-do-well to do-gooder. He’s got too many pistons firing to go from 60 to 0. But as for now, he’s abiding by the speed limit. He hops around his apartment, playing with his dog, taking photos of his daughter, doodling on napkins, talking about his love of fishing, yelling at an NFL game on TV –- “That ref is my boy! He’ll let you get all the dirty work in!” -- and then completely forgetting his train of thought. This is his definition of “chillin’." And it seems to work for him, even though the two bedroom apartment seems way too small for his energy. “I don’t need no thrill,” he says. “I need to get 100
percent healthy.”

Jones goes to rehab every weekday for the neck injury that ended his 2010 season, and that’s the only thing on his agenda -- other than his wedding and maybe a trip or two with his new bride. Most fans will think, “Just wait,” but Jones has now gone two full calendar years -- 2009 and 2010 -- without a reported off-the-field incident. He’s never been a nuisance on the field. He loves his job, and he doesn’t want to lose it again.

“I don’t want to see anybody go through what I went through for being stupid,” he says. “A great athlete thinks about the future. I wasn’t thinking about the future. I was thinking about then.”

Now he says he wants to “sit across the table” from Tommy Urbanski, the bouncer who was paralyzed in the brawl in Vegas. “I hate what happened to Urbanski,” he says. “I’m a father. I understand.”

There’s some truth to that; the neck injury scared him when it happened. “Every time I got hit,” he says, “something was tingling. I was worried. I want to be able to walk and talk.”

It’s too much to say Jones has been scared straight, but the loss of his money, his entourage, his NFL career and almost his mobility was enough to change him. Take it from his mom, who was a track star in high school when she got pregnant with Adam:

“This boy has gotten more patient, more understanding. He’s grown up a lot. It’s not all about him anymore. Maybe it was the suspension. And the injury. I think that changed him. It slowed him up a little bit.

“At one point, you couldn’t tell him nothing. Now it’s, ‘Mom, what do you think I should do?’ In high school, we were like best friends. Once he went to college, hmm. Now it seems like things are getting back to normal. I missed him terribly. That’s my only child.”

***

Later on that Saturday night, Pac Man heads out. He says hello to Paul at the elevator and walks to the garage. He takes his Jaguar and weaves into the Cincinnati downtown before spotting a wings joint. He parks, walks in, sits at the bar and orders a glass of wine. (He says he quit hard liquor.) He’s got his phone, but he’s hardly looking at it. It doesn’t buzz or ring. Nobody is coming to meet him. A couple of patrons recognize him and he smiles and waves hello, almost sheepishly. Jones seems a bit exposed; there’s no buffer between him and the fans. But he’s done well in this town, and folks seem glad to see him.

Jones orders some food to go and throws down a big tip. He says he’s not hitting any clubs tonight. (And as if to prove it, he sends a text before 8 the next morning.) “Nothing good happens after midnight,” he says. “That’s what I’ve learned. And I’ve learned that anything you want to do after midnight, you can do at 5 in the afternoon.”

He laughs, grabs his food, and takes off, into the maze of the city, dashing away from the ghosts of his past and maybe, just maybe, strong enough now to attack them head-on.

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Andy Pettitte's retirement and Jamie Moyer's elbow injury suggest the 300-game winner has followed the Sunday doubleheader and buffalo nickel into the dustbin of history.

Moyer had 267 victories when his elbow blew out last summer. Pettitte retired earlier this month with 240 victories after flirting with the idea of returning to the Yankees for another season.

Moyer, who most recently wore the uniform of the Philadelphia Phillies, vows to resume his pursuit of 300 wins in 2012 –- but he’ll need to recover from Tommy John surgery and avoid the vagaries of time. He will turn 49 well before next season starts. Even though Moyer is lefthanded, what general manager could justify signing an injured, aged pitcher no matter which arm he uses?

Pettitte had the Yankees offense to support his quest. But he opted to follow the lead of Mike Mussina, who who had 270 wins when he left the game to spend more time with his family. Additionally Pettitte faces a summer that could include his testimony against former teammate Roger Clemens, who has denied using performance-enhancing drugs.

With Pettitte and Moyer out of the picture, probably for keeps, the leading active winner is ancient knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, with 193. Even such luminaries as Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia are light-years away.

In fact, the 2011 Bill James Baseball Handbook says no active pitcher has even a 50 percent chance of reaching the magic number. Halladay, according to James' calculations, has a 42 percent chance of reaching 300. He enters this season at age 34 with 169 wins. Here are some projections by James:

Sabathia, age 30, 157 wins: 38 percent
Tim Hudson, age 35, 165 wins: 4 percent
Lee, age 32, 102 wins: 3 percent
Wakefield, age 44, 193 wins: 1 percent

Before he passed away a few months ago, Hall of Famer Bob Feller insisted the 300 Club is closed for good. “I think Randy Johnson is the last one we’ll have, at least for the foreseeable future -- until they get rid of that pitch count nonsense,” said Feller, whose four-year wartime military service prevented him from winning more than 266 games. “A pitcher should be in good enough condition to finish his ballgame. That’s the kind of pitcher I would want on my team -- a man who could hold a one-run lead through the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.”

Virtually all of the 10 living 300-game winners agreed. “It takes 15 wins a year for 20 years or 20 wins for 15 years,” said Don Sutton, who crashed the 300 Club with only a single 20-win season. “More and more pitchers are coming out prior to the decision of a ballgame. People in baseball seem content to use more pitchers, pay more money, and get less out of their investment.

“I don’t think anyone else will win 300. Pitchers don’t go nine innings because the environment does not encourage it. We glorify 200 innings pitched and a 4.50 earned run average. That level of performance is not conducive to winning 300 games.”

Like Sutton, the one-time Dodgers ace who has spent nearly a dozen years as a Braves broadcaster, Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan thinks the 300 Club will never add a 25th member.

“Winning 300 games is a bigger challenge today than it was for me,” said Ryan, who holds career records for strikeouts and no-hitters. “In Texas, we asked our pitchers to work deeper into games. We felt each time we went to the bullpen, we lessened our chances of being successful. If you go to the bullpen three or four times, there’s a better chance one of those relievers won’t be on that night. And the more you use them, the greater chance you have of wearing down the bullpen for the second half of the season.”

Greg Maddux, with 355 wins, remains the leader among 300 Club members still living. The others, in
alphabetical order, are Steve Carlton, Clemens, Tom Glavine, Johnson, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Ryan, Tom Seaver and Sutton. Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Don Drysdale and Juan Marichal are conspicuously absent.

Even the list of men who came close is short, with Tommy John (288), Bert Blyleven (287), Robin Roberts (286), Ferguson Jenkins (284) and Jim Kaat (283) the only men to come within 20 of the elite club.

Winning 300 is a big deal; every eligible member of the 300 Club has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, with Maddux, Glavine, Clemens and Johnson still needing to wait five years after their retirement.

According to Kaat, whose bid fell short when he spent his final years in the bullpen, “I think the bar (for Cooperstown) should be 250 wins. What Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson did in a five-man rotation has really been remarkable. I’m glad I pitched in a four-man rotation. I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself with that extra day’s rest.”

There’s no question that the 300 Club is an exclusive group. There are fewer 300-game winners than there are members of the 500 Home Run Club or 3,000 Hit Club.

“Randy Johnson may be the last,” Jenkins said of the lanky lefty who reached the magic circle while pitching for the San Francisco Giants in 2009. “Because of the situation of not having run production and the age factor, unless somebody really comes along and puts a lot of 20-win seasons together, Randy could be it. You have to put up some big numbers.”

-- Dan Schlossberg is a former Associated Press sportswriter and the author of 35 books, including "The 300 Club: Have We Seen the Last of Baseball’s 300-Game Winners?"

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The story of Michael Avery –- or is it the legend of Michael Avery or the curious case of Michael Avery? -– started at a basketball tournament in the summer of 2008 that he really had no reason to be in.

Avery was from California. The tournament, the King James Shooting Stars Classic, was in Akron, Ohio.

Avery was in the eighth grade. The players, on the various AAU teams, generally were in high school.

But there was Avery, wowing the crowds -– and one particular college coach -– as a combination guard for the Indiana Elite team.

Even though he was playing a year above his age group, Avery dominated. He so impressed observers that then-Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie got word to the Averys to give him a call so he could offer him a scholarship.

College coaches are not allowed to directly connect recruits that young, so Avery made the call and accepted the offer.

The offer was tentative, based on a projection. And like all verbal commitments, it was non-binding. Either side could back out.

But it was Kentucky, a school that only gives offers to the very best. And because of it, Avery appeared to have settled the hardest part of a high school basketball career before even entering high school.

Three years later, Avery is a 6-5, 210-pound junior without a scholarship offer or even a high school team to play for.

His future is uncertain.

Some would say his becoming “the kid who verbally committed to Kentucky in the eighth grade” was the biggest mistake he ever made.

Avery won’t. In fact, he’ll say the opposite. He’ll say given the chance to do it all over … he wouldn’t change a thing.

“I would’ve done the same thing,” he said. “It helped me grow so much as a person.”

It helped start one of the more interesting high school basketball journeys, one whose final act has yet to be played.

***

Michael Avery was born in Indiana but raised in California. By middle school, it became apparent that he was a top-level talent on the basketball court.

His parents began looking for a high school that would help him prepare for college both academically and athletically. It’s the reason he was in the Midwest in the summer of 2008.

Avery visited Culver (Ind.) Military Academy and bonded enough with the coach to join the local AAU team, Indiana Elite, at the King James event.

Avery didn’t enroll at Culver. Instead, he chose to stay close to home at Crespi High in nearby Encino, Calif.

News of his verbal commitment came with him, making his life at Crespi difficult.

He suddenly had to deal with the frequent phone calls and media attention that only elite upperclassmen receive. And while his neighbors and classmates back at Crespi supported him, opposing crowds did not. Hostile chants about him and Kentucky were common during his freshman year.

“They were relentless,” Crespi coach Russell White said.

Avery admits the hostility only added to the pressure of living up to his legend. He averaged 9.6 points per game. And while that is solid for a senior -- let alone a freshman on the varsity -- it wasn’t enough for a player already ticketed to one of the nation’s premier college programs.

Changes were coming. Difficulties, however, were not going away.

***

Shortly after Avery’s freshman season, Kentucky fired Gillispie.

Avery has not kept in touch with Gillispie nor has he had any contact with the coach who replaced him, John Calipari, other than a few non-personalized mailings from the school.

“I haven’t talked to them since the coaching change,” he said. “We’ve pretty much parted ways. I moved past that time in my life.”

He also moved across the country to attend Montverde (Fla.) Academy for his sophomore year. He liked the boarding school’s reputation for academics and coach Kevin Sutton’s reputation in basketball circles.

Avery averaged 4.3 points (and more than two rebounds and two assists) for a team of stars that went 25-5 and finished No. 6 in the final RivalsHigh Top 100 rankings.

He seemingly had found a home. It just turned out to be one his family couldn’t afford.

As the economy continued to decline, his father’s accounting business suffered as well. Montverde’s tuition, which is about $35,000 -- or three times the cost of Crespi -- became too expensive.

“Coach Sutton is terrific," said Avery's father, Howard. "The people over there are like family. My personal financial situation was such that I couldn’t afford to send him there anymore.”

Michael Avery transferred back to Crespi in the fall of 2010 for his junior year. He appeared to be back where he belonged.

The California Interscholastic Federation didn’t see it that way.

***

The CIF allows one transfer from one school to another without a valid change of residence. The rule prevents top athletes from shopping their skills from one private school to the next on an annual basis.

Avery was in violation of this rule, according to the CIF, because it considered his return to Crespi as well as his move to Monteverde to be transfers. The fact he transferred out of state, or transferred back to his home area, or transferred because of financial reasons didn’t matter. The CIF said he had to sit out one full season of varsity basketball.

The Averys said the family’s financial hardship forced the transfer. But to qualify for a hardship waiver, CIF by-laws state, “there must be evidence of an unforeseeable, unavoidable and uncorrectable circumstance that necessitated the transfer.”

CIF Southern Section director of communications Thom Simmons said Avery’s situation did not meet that criteria.

Simmons cited an example of an “unforeseeable or unavoidable circumstance” as a cancer-stricken family member whose hospital bills exceed their health care insurance, forcing a transfer to a less expensive school.

“Historically it has to be a very, very compelling, ‘There was no way for us to see this’ type of hardship,” Simmons said. “It is foreseeable that your business could possibly suffer from some type of financial downfall.”

The CIF wants to limit athletic transfers and ensure that education remains the priority over athletics. White, though, feels Avery’s return to Crespi seemed to follow suit.

“How’s a kid go from a top basketball factory in the country, transfer back home with his parents and go back to the school he went to as a freshman, and that’s athletically motivated?” White said. “That’s kind of (out of) whack.”

***

After his appeal to play at Crespi this season was denied, there were schools (out of state or independents not under CIF jurisdiction) where he could have transferred and played. Avery, however, said those days are done.

“I’m planning on staying at Crespi and graduating,” he said. “That’s the place I want to be.”

But his college destination has never been more up in the air. The offer from Kentucky was based on a projection of his talent, which to this point has not unfolded the way either side expected.

He currently is viewed as a mid-level, Division-I prospect. IUPUI, Hartford, Pepperdine, St. Mary’s and Stetson as well as big-conference schools Florida State and Stanford all phone him frequently.

Sitting out this season hasn’t helped. Avery, who works with a shooting coach in the morning and a strength coach in the afternoon, thinks the list will grow after he can get back in the spotlight.

“It’s not where it could be, my list,” he said. “Once I get a full summer of playing and once I get a high school year where people can get to see me more, then it will be a lot better.”

Seeking live action, he played four games with the junior varsity. But he found the level of play wasn’t going to help his skills. He has been a help, however, to the varsity during practices.

“He’s definitely helped make our team better,” White said. “He goes out there and plays hard. I’m very proud of him and how he’s handling these practices.”

And though a season of sitting can seem endless, there actually are plenty of opportunities ahead. Even before his senior year, there's the summer AAU season.

“Hopefully this July period he’ll get seen,” his father said.

Just as he did in the eighth grade.

Jeff Fedotin writes for RivalsHigh (www.rivalshigh.com), the national high school sports web site for Yahoo! Sports.

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Nick Willis, the Michigan All-American track star and Kiwi native, was supposed to be receiving his long overdue 2008 Olympic silver medal Saturday while competing at a meet in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Tuesday’s tragic 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch shattered that plan. But Willis improvised a new one -- organizing a meet in Wellington to serve as a fundraiser for quake victims. Reports on Friday from New Zealand put the death toll at 113 with more than 200 still listed as missing. Damage estimates have reached $12 billion.

“My training partners and I were fit, and ready to race, so we thought the best thing we could do to help out the cause was to still race, but in Wellington, and use it as an opportunity to raise awareness for the direct need in Christchurch, and to raise funds,” Willis said. “Other local athletics administrators also got behind the idea, and within 24 hours, we had organized the Track Meet 4 Christchurch.

Willis is no race director, just a talented 27-year-old who logs more than 100 miles a week and is known for his fast finish. But he sifted through all the paperwork as elite athletes from around the world, including Alan Webb, the U.S. record-holder in the mile, flooded organizers with entry forms.

Willis will also receive his Olympic silver medal before the meet. He had won the bronze for the 1,500 meters in Beijing, but was awarded the silver the following year after gold-medal winner Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain tested positive for doping. The New Zealand Olympic Committee has been in possession of the silver since mid-2010, but Willis, proud of his heritage, waited patiently for it to be presented in front of his home fans. (He lives in Ann Arbor now.)

Willis, who had been scheduled to fly from Wellington to Christchurch on Wednesday morning, learned of the quake on the radio while driving to the track with his wife and four training partners.

“Thankfully all family members on my stepmother’s side are safe, but one of the family's houses has been completely demolished,” Willis said. “The same applies to my sister-in-law’s family. I have many friends whose houses have been demolished, but have not heard of any major injuries or deaths yet, but there are still 225 people missing.”

While Willis was safe in Wellington, many athletes already in Christchurch were caught up in the catastrophe. Yukiko Akaba, the winner of this year’s Osaka Women’s International Marathon, was training with her coach and husband Shuhei Akaba at the time of the earthquake, and he gave this account:

“The shaking was so strong that we couldn’t stand up in our rooms, and the ground outside was like a liquid. There was a big crack in the road surface just outside our hotel too. The main roads are flooded full of muddy water. There have been a lot of aftershocks, two or three of them almost as big as the first one.”

Click here to donate to the Canterbury Earthquake Appeal.

-- Jo Ankier is a track and field athlete who was the previous British record holder in the 1500m and 3000m steeplechase. Ankier has been a sports reporter for ESPN International and Fox Soccer Channel. Follow her on Twitter @joankier1.

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When baseball salaries boomed in the decades following his playing career, Mickey Mantle often quipped, “If I was playing today, the first thing I’d say to the owner in the morning would be, ‘Hello, partner.’”

That one-liner became part of The Mick’s regular repertoire in his post-career celebrity days, a half-jab at the old guard, new economics and a comical reframing of the past. Ballplayers played only for the love of the game? Be serious.

It was a wishful thought for Mantle, who played for the George Weiss Yankee regime, an engine that considered World Series bonus money part of a regular wage and believed agents, multi-year contracts and player rights were best left to a country ballplayer’s imagination.

Now here is Albert Pujols and the monster contract that could reshape the baseball economic landscape for the next decade. Most telling is the rumor that the Cardinals were supposedly willing to offer an equity share in ownership of the club -- Mantle’s Holy Grail.

“We explored a number of different things,” Cardinals chairman William DeWitt Jr. said. “There was discussion about other things that could be part of the contract. You can be sure we explored a number of different avenues.”

You can be sure that a meaningful stake of club ownership will not be on the table. Perhaps Pujols will be offered a ceremonial nibble in the form of a post-career personal services contract -- but not a piece of the real action.

The idea that a star hitter, even a generational talent, will somehow be allowed into the fraternity of baseball ownership as part of his reward for what he achieved on the field is every bit as buzzed as The Mick’s zinger. Nolan Ryan is not in ownership because of 5,000 strikeouts. He is there because he knows 5,000 people, and a lot of them are Texas rancher barons and oil billionaires.

The DeWitt family is rooted in generations-old baseball blood, dating back to the dirt cheap St. Louis Browns and influenced by Branch Rickey, who believed any player was expendable if you adhered to quantity over quality. This is one of the most powerful families in baseball, rooted as deeply in player control as Yankee general manager Weiss and club president Dan Topping were in Mantle’s day.

Behind closed doors in today’s professional baseball, the Cardinals are known for being stubborn. Firmly entrenched in financial conservatism, even their big money deals build in as much caution as they can. When the Cardinals re-signed Matt Holliday at seven years and $120 million last June, the $17 million per season price tag looked slightly more reasonable compared to the $18 million per season average and $126 million the Nationals gave Jayson Werth this winter. Carl Crawford’s seven-year $142 million deal with the Red Sox deal will peak at $21 million in 2017. The Cardinals will have to likely beat both deals to keep Pujols around. Offer labor a piece of management to improve short-term cash flow? Not a chance.

“Me and my agent talk every other day about you guys throwing numbers out, assuming the Cardinals offered me this,” Pujols said. “Albert asking for 10 years. We just laugh about it and I’m pretty sure the Cardinals are, too. You guys don’t have any clue.”

Few modern fans have a clue about the historical roots of the DeWitt family or the historical negotiating patterns of the Cardinals dating back to the 1930 Gas House Gang. As for Pujols, his logic misses one vital point: No matter what they spend, the Cardinals have long been among the most pro-management organizations in baseball. Pujols, like Mantle, is labor. Swing a hammer or swing a bat, a grunt is a grunt to billionaires.

“I just don’t like the idea of dealing with agents,” Cardinals general manager Fred Saigh said in 1950, and you can be sure, DeWitt Jr. is thinking the same thing privately today.

If Pujols is worth better than $200 million, what would Cardinals icon Stan Musial be worth today?

Nearly 60 years ago, Musial earned a cool $50,000 in 1952. He was the highest paid Cardinal, but he was the second-highest paid player in the National League behind Pirates slugger Ralph Kiner. Since Albert says we all have no clue, I’m sure he has this information in the trunk of one his Hummers.

Here were the top paid players in baseball, according to an Associated Press story dated March 2, 1952:

Ted Williams, LF – Boston Red Sox - $125,000
Joe DiMaggio, CF – New York Yankees - $100,000
Ralph Kiner, OF – Pittsburgh Pirates - $65,000
Lou Boudreau, SS – Cleveland Indians - $65,000
Hal Newhouser, RHP – Detroit Tigers - $50,000
Stan Musial, 1B-OF – St. Louis Cardinals - $50,000
Bob Feller, RHP – Cleveland Indians - $45,000
Tommy Henrich, OF – New York Yankees - $45,000
George Kell, 3B – Detroit Tigers - $35,000
Jackie Robinson, 3B – Brooklyn Dodgers - $35,000
Pee-Wee Reese, SS – Brooklyn Dodgers - $35,000
Phil Rizzuto, SS – New York Yankees - $32,000
Bobby Doerr, 2B – Boston Red Sox - $30,000
Dom DiMaggio, CF – Boston Red Sox - $27,000
Johnny Mize, 1B-OF – New York Yankees - $27,000
Luke Appling, SS – Chicago White Sox - $25,000
Del Ennis, LF – Philadelphia Phillies - $25,000
Johnny Sain, RHP – Boston Braves - $25,000
Enos Slaughter, OF – St. Louis Cardinals - $25,000
Vern Stephens, 3B-SS – Boston Red Sox - $25,000
Allie Reynolds, RHP – New York Yankees - $25,000

A-Rod could buy this roster at those rates. Easily.

You could argue that some of these players were as meaningful and influential to their franchises as Pujols is to his and thus worthy of ownership stake consideration. They’re still waiting, just like A-Rod.

Baseball owners are not in the business of giving every employee of the month a share of the business.

There’s a lot of fun to infer here in comparison to the modern game. Indians fans would love their team to have two of the top seven highest paid players in the game, just as modern Pirates fans might have to struggle with the notion that their team once had the highest paid player in the National League.

But the two top-paid players, Williams and DiMaggio, belonged to the Red Sox and Yankees, respectively, who combined for nine of the top 21 spots. Some things never change.

If I know my history, I’m sure William DeWitt Jr.’s old man would say, “See! We told ya so! Keep 'em cheap and hungry and there’s more talent to spread around.”

You can be sure of one thing. Musial would never be invited to ownership. Neither would have been Mantle, who made $7,500 in his second year.

Nor will Pujols, who will be lushly rewarded with cash, but his power will never be rewarded with power.

-- John Klima is the author of "Willie’s Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, The Last Negro League World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend."

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If you haven’t noticed, the third-biggest sporting event in the world has now been underway for nearly a week.

It’s true: A tournament that will be watched by an estimated 2.2 billion people in more than 200 countries exploded into life last Saturday and will for the next six weeks take its followers on the kind of emotional rollercoaster of national pride that only a truly global showpiece can manage.

So how can it be that you haven’t heard of this event that ranks behind only the soccer World Cup and the Summer Olympics in promoting international couch potato-ism? How come you haven’t been bombarded with promos and predictions and suffered terrifying dreams where you forgot to set the DVR?

Well, simply because it is the Cricket World Cup. And the United States, save for a handful of pockets of ex-pat activity dotted around the country, doesn’t do cricket.

That should be no surprise, of course. The United States has no professional cricket structure. Most Americans think it is a chirpy insect rather than a sport played with bat and ball. The U.S. national team, comprising enthusiastic but under-funded amateurs, is in the fourth tier of international competition, as near to elite level as a junior varsity high school football player is to the NFL.

And, of course, America has no cricket history to speak of, compared to the rich heritage enjoyed by its traditional sports and pastimes.

Or does it?

***

The year 1844 was a somewhat quiet one in American history. Samuel Morse sent his first message on the telegraphic line between Washington and Baltimore, while James K. Polk laid the smack down on Henry Clay and earned himself a place in the White House. The Mexican War was still two years off, the debate on slavery more than a decade away from hitting full flow, and the industrial revolution was lining the pockets of a growing elite set of society.

In New York and Philadelphia, the social climbers and moneyed class found cricket, with its ties to Mother England and its principles of gentlemanly etiquette, rather appealing. Wealthy benefactors pumped money into several cricket clubs which, in essence, were the early predecessors of modern country clubs -- sporting lavish premises, smartly-dressed members, and a wide range of athletic activities.

Yet the sport was played by ordinary folk too, and had been for more than a century previously. Newspaper reports in Georgia dating back to 1737 told of social cricket matches, while workers in New York and Maryland played games with varying degrees of structure and organization.

By 1844, there was enough interest for a collection of the finest cricketers in the United States to invite a team of Canadians, mainly from the Toronto Cricket Club, to travel to New York for an official match. The American team included players from Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, and the venue was the St. George’s Club in Bloomingdale Park, where the NYU Medical Center now stands at 31st and First.

The real significance of the events of Sept. 25-27 (yes, games can last for three, or even up to five days -– although World Cup matches last only one day) is that it has gone down as the first ever international cricket match, which the visiting Canadians won by a tight margin of 22 runs.

This wasn’t just an exhibition for the benefit of friends and family either. It was serious business. A crowd of more than 20,000 showed up and bets of $120,000 -- an astronomical sum in those days -- were wagered.

Those heady days would not last long, though. Although cricket continued to be played, the Civil War prompted a period of anti-English feeling and the game suffered. Baseball, previously a sport played mainly by students and children, surged in popularity and quickly transformed into the national pastime.

Although some English cricket teams visited on various tours and some American sides traveled in the opposite direction, interest never reached such heights again. As international competition became structured in the 20th century, the United States was not seen as strong enough for admission as a top level or "Test" nation, with the game establishing its power base in Britain’s colonies such as Australia, New Zealand and, later, India.

Fast forward to the present day and there is not much going on with American cricket. It was hoped that the United States Cricket Association’s hiring of ambitious CEO Don Lockerbie would spark sponsorship interest and a multi-million dollar stadium in Broward County, Fla., opened in 2007.

However, Lockerbie left the position late last year, his blueprint of hosting regular contests (in the shortened, three-hour version of cricket known as Twenty20) between elite nations on American soil still largely unrealized.

Quite simply, the U.S. just isn’t a great place to be if you’re a cricket fan. To find coverage of the Cricket World Cup, the options are limited to an expensive television pay-per-view package or a slightly cheaper internet option.

The tournament goes on without the world’s biggest media market casting a glance in its direction, but given the level of interest elsewhere, it doesn’t seem to be hurting too much for the snub.

While the early matches of the event have been somewhat one-sided, viewing figures are higher than ever. Yet even with just 14 teams, the disparity between the haves and have-nots is huge. Bangladesh, Canada, Kenya and Zimbabwe were all thrashed in the opening week, and the USA is light years away from even the level of those minnows.

Just like how the state of the game in this country is light years away from that far-flung time when it carried relevance in society, before becoming America’s forgotten sport.

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As the talent pool for Major League Baseball has continued to expand internationally, it is just a matter of time before the Hall of Fame welcomes more foreign-born players. The only two inductees this year will be Roberto Alomar and Bery Blyleven, both foreign-born players.

Blyleven was born in the Netherlands, and he grew up in Southern California. Alomar came from Puerto Rico and honed his craft there until he signed with the San Diego Padres as a teenager, looking to follow his father and brother into what essentially became the Alomar family business.

(Yes, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, but it fields its own team at events such as the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics, so for the purposes of this discussion, it is designated as foreign. Bernie Williams, who was born in San Juan, is eligible for induction in 2012.)

But amazingly, there were just seven foreign-born MLB players in the Hall before Alomar and Blyleven were elected (not including three Negro Leaguers). England’s Harry Wright played some ball in the 1870s but the Hall’s website lists him as an executive, so we’re not counting him. Only major leaguers listed with a position qualify. Our apologies, Harry. Now onto the list of the previous seven.

1) Roberto Clemente, 1973
Clemente was the quintessential two-way player, collecting 3,000 career hits and 240 home runs while showing off one of the best outfield arms in the history of the game. Born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, the former Pirate had a distinguished major league career, but he will be most remembered for his humility and desire to help others. Clemente died in a plane crash at 38 while flying relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, and he would probably be honored to know that he is the first foreign-born major leaguer to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

2) Juan Marichal, 1983
Marichal broke onto the bigs in July 1960 by throwing a one-hitter against the Phillies. He then took his signature leg kick into the Hall as a member of the Giants. Marichal represented the Dominican Republic well by winning 243 career games and posting a 2.89 career ERA. In 471 career outings, Marichal threw 244 complete games.

3) Luis Aparicio, 1984
Aparicio, a product of Venezuela, played shortstop for the White Sox and also spent time with the Orioles and Red Sox. In 18 seasons, Aparicio collected 2,677 hits, made 10 All-Star teams and led the American League in stolen bases nine times. Aparicio never recorded a single out at a position other than shortstop.

4) Rod Carew, 1991
Carew, from Panama, was known for his ability to make contact and get on base. Carew finished his career with 3,053 hits and a .393 on-base percentage. In 19 seasons, the left-handed hitting Carew made 18 All-Star teams and won the 1977 A.L. MVP. Only Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn and Honus Wagner have more batting titles than Carew, whose No. 29 was retired by both the Twins and Angels.

5) Ferguson Jenkins, 1991
And Canada is on the board. Jenkins, a right-handed pitcher from Ontario, went into the Hall wearing a Cubs hat. He won 284 games in 19 big league seasons, including seven 20-win seasons. Jenkins’ 3.34 career ERA is impressive, but he will be remembered as having superb control of a sinker and slider. Jenkins is the only man ever to strike out 3,000 batters while walking fewer than 1,000.

6) Orlando Cepeda, 1999
Cepeda came from Puerto Rico to play 17 seasons in the majors, most prominently as a power-hitting first baseman with the Giants. The seven-time All-Star had a career .297 batting average with 379 home runs and 1,365 runs batted in. As it turns out, Cepeda was destined to be a great hitter. When his father, Pedro Perucho Cepeda, earned himself the title of “Babe Ruth of the Caribbean,” what other choice did Orlando have? He was destined to swing a bat.

7) Tony Perez, 2000
Perez went into the Hall of Fame as a first baseman remembered for playing a large role on Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s. The Reds plucked Perez out of a sugar-cane factory in Cuba, and he went on to collect more than 2,700 hits, 379 home runs and two World Series championships.

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Feb. 8 marks two dubious anniversaries in beer history. In 1985, the Stroh Brewing Company announced it would close its 135-year-old brewery on Detroit’s east side. And in 1999, Stroh announced it would sell its labels to Pabst and Miller. Sure, you can still find places to buy cans of beer that say Stroh’s on them, but we know it’s not the same.

To commemorate the day, ThePostGame.com is celebrating the blue-collar throwback beers (some of which you can still buy in some co-opted form) that were rooted in hometowns, ubiquitous on outfield walls and swigged by our sports-loving dads and granddads.

These are just a few, so tell us what bygone beers you miss most. (Burger Beer, anyone?)

Stroh’s

Ballantine

Check out this billboard at the old Yankee Stadium.

Hamm’s

Schmidt’s

Piel’s Beer

Utica Club

Note the "Most Interesting Man" resemblance in part:

Falstaff

Rheingold

Pee Wee Reese of the Dodgers provided an endorsement.

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When Christina Aguilera waltzes onto the field at Cowboys Stadium this Sunday, those attending Super Bowl XLV will rise out of their seats, remove their hats and listen to her belt out the national anthem with a certain patriotic zeal that’s otherwise reserved only for the Fourth of July.

Those at home probably won’t stand, but they will listen on their TVs or perhaps hustle into the kitchen to snag a frosty beer and a second helping of wings before kickoff.

Then there are those scattered around the world who will fervently hang on every syllable Aguilera sings -- some pleading with her to spit it out already and some wishing she’d take more time -- while simultaneously engaging the clock in a staring contest. As the seconds tick off, their hearts tick faster.

Welcome to the world of Super Bowl prop betting.

Prop bets allow you to wager on more than just the point spread and over/under. Bookmakers nowadays take prop bets on almost anything they can study and quantify, including an over/under of 1 minute, 50 seconds on Aguilera's rendition of the anthem.

As most of the stories go, prop bets appeared in the early 1980s, when Las Vegas casinos began hosting lavish Super Bowl parties for their big spenders. When a bet on the point spread seemed all but determined by the third quarter, interest in the game plummeted. To keep their guests entertained, casinos wanted to figure out a way to keep the high rollers betting until the game clock struck zero. They wanted bettors to feel invested despite the score.

Enter props. All of the sudden, it didn’t really matter if you weren’t going to cover the spread. Now there was a way for you to win that money back.

Prop bets didn’t gain traction nationally until Super Bowl XX. The Bears crushed the Patriots 46-10, but there was unprecedented buzz in Vegas. The week leading up to the game, casinos noticed that fans wanted to bet on whether William “Refrigerator” Perry would score a rushing touchdown. Chicago’s defensive lineman had scored two TDs that season, and many wondered if Bears coach Mike Ditka would dial his number on the goal line that Sunday.

He did.

Perry scored, Vegas wept and prop bets became a national sensation.

It was a sensation that needed to be tweaked, though, and that credit largely goes to Jay Kornegay, the bookmaker at the Las Vegas Hilton. Kornegay and his colleagues at the Hilton faced a conundrum in the 1990s when only two Super Bowls in that decade were decided by single digits.

The problem was clear: How do we keep bettors engaged during a boring game?

Before the 1995 Super Bowl, when the 49ers were favored by 18 points over the Chargers, the Hilton offered about 40 prop bets. To tempt bettors into laying money on a game that appeared to be as interesting as shoveling the remnants of a winter storm, the Hilton doubled its props.

The 49ers beat the Chargers by 23 points, and the number of prop bets has rapidly increased since then, with the Hilton offering more than 400 for this year’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers.

What are the coolest Super Bowl prop bets this year? Tune in Friday and find out.

-- Check out this year's most interesting Super Bowl prop bets

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