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John Manuel, Sydneyside

First from his bunk bed at the Aegean Hostel in Sydney's Coogee Bay and then from more comfortable surroundings at his cousins' house in Hurlstone Park, John Manuel is reporting in every day with his take on Olympic action on and off the field. John graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1994. He started at Baseball America in September 1996 and celebrated his fourth year with the magazine by landing in Australia on September 16.

Thursday, September 28

Wednesday night was quite a night. It was a thrill to be at a baseball game where one player is on his game as much as Ben Sheets was against Cuba. When Mike Neill homered in the first inning, you knew this was going to be a different game, and before I fill you in on a few of my wanderings on my last full day in Sydney, I'll give you a few thoughts on the tournament.

This was not the absolute best team the United States could send even from its minor league pool. Even Paul Seiler, USA Baseball's CEO, said so. These players, though, took that as a slight, as I guess they should have. That fits the mentality of a lot of the "Four-A" players on this team.

Guys like Neill, John Cotton, Pat Borders and Ernie Young probably all believe the reason they were available for Team USA is because they haven't gotten a break out of any big league organizations, or that they have been screwed out of an opportunity. That mentality easily translated over into an "us-against-the-world" mentality.

That was also easy to adopt when Peter Gammons called this the fifth-best team in the tournament. If I remember correctly, Sports Illustrated and USA Today picked Team USA for a bronze medal, and yours truly pegged them for silver in a pre-Olympic chat on BA Online.

I did say to Seiler before the gold-medal game, though, that I thought Team USA had all it could ask for: a gold-medal shot at Cuba with a rested Ben Sheets on the mound. That gave the Americans a great shot, and I think Cuba manager Servio Borges helped by starting Pedro Luis Lazo. Normally a reliever, Lazo overpowered the game's first two batters, but Neill's homer served notice that this was going to be a different game.

The American players generally were pretty easy for me to deal with, and I had to respect the way they came back and played professionally after what I thought was a chippy performance in their first meeting with Cuba. And while I'm not a big Tom Lasorda fan, I'll give him his props for letting the veterans lead this team to gold and for playing the public-relations role he was hired for.

Finally, I want to congratulate Paul Seiler, Bill Bavasi, Bob Watson and Sandy Alderson for a job well done. Seiler is all class and has done a great job as USA Baseball's CEO the last year or so. He has played such a role in organizing this Olympic effort, and because he doesn't have a big league background, he doesn't get as much publicity as those former big league GMs. He deserves a lot of the credit for this, and as an official friend of BA, we all congratulate him.

He showed as much class as anyone when he told me after the game how he couldn't help but think about Buddy Bell, Marcel Lacheman, Jackie Moore and the rest of the Pan American Games team and staff that qualified Team USA for the Olympics last year. Those guys, he said, were pioneers, and they deserved a lot of the credit for getting Team USA in position for Sheets to win the gold for them.

* * *

The day after the title game, I pretty much crashed. I was able to sleep until about 10:30 a.m., which was quite necessary. I joined my cousins at their shop at the market at 1 p.m. or so and then ventured out to see downtown one last time. I walked down George Street, one of the major drags downtown and strewn with skyscrapers, shops, Olympic live sites and lots of people.

I walked down George from the markets, near Sydney Central, down to Circular Quay (pronounced "key" for some reason). That's where the heart of the city is, and I had glorious weather to see the Harbour Bridge and Opera House up close, instead of from the water. They are both just so beautiful in the sunlight, and I took plenty of pictures with a disposable camera I bought with actual film.

I also have to confess that while feeling a little homesick, I took the opportunity to eat the most American food I could find. There are 7-11s everywhere here, so finding a Slurpee was easy. But I was shocked to see a Taco Bell, and I took the opportunity to guiltily have a chicken burrito and double-decker taco. I'm sorry, I just had to eat something other than fish and chips or a meat pie.

Then I caught a ferry from Circular Key across the Harbour to Manly Beach. Sydney Harbour once again was fantastic. The British captain who first sailed it in 1788 described it by saying he "had the satisfaction of finding the finest Harbour in the World, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security." I can't imagine how wonderful it must have looked to someone who had left England 250 days earlier.

Anyway, Manly was probably the best of Sydney's beaches that I visited, ranking just ahead of Coogee and well ahead of Bondi. The shops were more authentic and less trendy, as were the people hanging out there. There was a jazz festival going on in conjunction with the Olympics, and everyone hanging out around the beach was just mellowing out with the sun, the sand and the music. I had an ice cream and just relaxed for a while.

We spent the evening back home, watching the Olympics, eating a steak dinner and just hanging out. My mom's cousin Timo got a little excited and just seemed to really enjoy talking about family, which was great. His kids acted just as I would if I were 24 or 26 and still living at home. They've heard it all before and like to give their dad a hard time.

It was like hanging out in the United States with all my Greek relatives, and I have to thank my cousins for being such gracious hosts. But I want to go home, and I'm glad I get to very soon. I'm not looking forward to the flight, but I am looking forward to its end.

Thanks to all our readers who have followed along on BA Online. It's kind of neat to be at ground zero as our website gives BA a chance to do things it never has before. This was a great experience for the magazine and website and of course for me as well.

Good on ya and g'day.

Wednesday, September 27

I’m sitting in the Venue Press Centre, as the sign says, at Homebush Baseball Stadium, just trying to get ahead between games here on Medal Day. (If they don’t call it that, they should.)

I’m still a little shocked Japan lost to Korea for the bronze, but Korea deserved it. To come back after losing that game last night and beat Daisuke Matsuzaka was shocking, just shocking. Just as stunning was Japan’s inability to score runs against the tournament’s good teams. They needed a defensive lapse to score two runs off Team USA in 13 innings, and scored one run in 18 innings in the medal round against Cuba and Korea. This from a lineup with five Japan Leaguers hitting every day. It’s just got to be a crushing disappointment for a proud nation that for the first time didn’t win an Olympic baseball medal.

Last night’s U.S.-Korea game, while thrilling, was murderously long. The rain delay made for a lot of downtime, and I ended up getting ahead with a little work and doing a lot of Net surfing. Glad to see that while I was away, my fantasy football team went 2-0, and I’m tied for first place in my division despite starting the likes of Robert Chancey, Richard Huntley and the injured Steve McNair. Whatever gets it done. Prior to those two wins, my teams over the last three years had lost 18 of 22 games, which is obviously brutal. It’s hard to stomach that and be commissioner of the league at the same time.

Last night’s game would have been hard to stomach, too, had Team USA lost. Nothing against Korea, but the United States is the better team, albeit a team that couldn’t hit submariner Tae-Hyong Chong. He was changing speeds and throwing from different submarine angles and baffling Team USA’s hitters, and the biggest single reason the Americans won is Korea took Chong out of the game.

Since I was here so late last night, I had lunch and dinner at the ballpark. The fish and chips here are decent, and I’ve noticed an improvement in the chips over my three or four helpings of them. The chili-and-cheese hot dog for dinner was excellent. But when you see a, shall we say, chunky sportswriter—in the U.S., he’d be a Big Kat; get it?—have pity, because this is the crap we eat at ballparks, and we have few other options.

All this hero stuff is great for Doug Mientkiewicz, a likeable player who deserves another big league shot, hopefully with a team that can carry a first baseman with below-average power for the position. A small-market team that needs a good clubhouse guy could really use him (though the Twins fill that bill right now, they also have Tom Kelly, and I don’t think Mientkiewicz and Kelly is a good marriage). Next year, he’ll be in the big leagues somewhere, and even if he doesn’t succeed, he should be remembered as what he is: an Olympic hero.

That said, I wish Mike Neill had been the hero with a base hit before the rain delay, driving in Brent Abernathy, or something like that. That delay was a killer. I left the ballpark at 1:30 a.m. and made the 15-minute trudge through a driving rain to the Olympic Park train station. I was thankful I brought my hooded jacket and I stayed sort of dry, but the same can’t be said for my computer bag. It’s an ugly brown thing I got as my souvenir (Baseball America publisher Lee Folger would say "chatchka") from the Pan American Games. It’s handy, but now it’s still a little wet and stained from my Day 8 mocha. (Mmm, mocha coffee. That would taste good right now.)

Anyhow, I finally got home at 2:45 a.m. after taking a $20 cab from Central train station to my cousins’ place. I had called them during the rain delay, and they advised I take the cab rather than walk the three blocks in the dark from the Hurlstone Park train station to their home.

That’s the real Sydney, mate. Hurlstone Park is a solid working-class neighborhood, but unless your company can foot the bill for a freaking cruise ship in the harbor like Sports Illustrated did, Sydney looks a whole lot like other cities with 4 million people. It can be dirty, it can be a little dangerous, it can be a little too big.

It can also be an awesome experience, which this has been for me, and I’m very thankful to have had the chance. I’ll file again tomorrow as I get to see a tiny part of Australia outside of Sydney, when my cousin Anastasia takes me for a drive down to Wollongong, about 100 kilometers down the coast (1.6 kilometers equals 1 mile, so that’s, well, I don’t feel like figuring it out).

We’ll check back in on Friday morning (for me, Thursday afternoon for you blokes) for the final "Sydneyside," and I’m sure some personal reflections on this gold-medal game coming up here in a few hours.

If I thought it mattered, I would make a prediction. But I hope for a close game, one that isn’t over in the first inning like the first meeting between these two teams. If Team USA plays well and doesn’t lose its composure, as it did collectively in the first game, I’ll be happy whether or not this "bunch of young guys," as manager Tom Lasorda keeps calling them, beats Cuba or not.

Tuesday, September 26

No bus today. I repeat: I did not ride the bus today. That's because the move to Hurlstone Park, home of Tim Konstantelos and family, went well (at least for me) yesterday. I was supposed to call my cousins earlier in the day, but in typical John Manuel fashion, I waited until the afternoon to call. I took that walk to Bondi first and waited until afterward to let my newfound family know what I was doing.

When I called, Alex picked up the phone and said, "We were ready to send out a search party for you." I had forgotten or ignored the fact I was supposed to call at 9 a.m. Honestly, I woke up early enough to call, but then I turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. By the time I woke up again, the walk beckoned.

My cousin Sam came to pick me up at about 6 p.m. at the Aegean hostel and I was on my way. Alex and Helen were also home, with Helen preparing for a party at Fort Dennison, Sydney's version of Alcatraz. It's a little prison built in the middle of the harbor, smaller than Alcatraz but similar in function and form. More ominous, it used to get completely submerged during fierce weather, or so our water taxi driver said last week. Anyway, Helen and Alex were deciding what Helen should wear. Sam was off somewhere, and I was chatting with Alex and watching TV.

It was pretty cool.

Honestly, if I could have just sat there with the remote control and stroked the cat (named Filbert, you gotta love it), I would have been happy. I hadn't really watched much TV since I've been over here, none actually. I didn't miss it, but once I had it, I got quite settled in.

Talking with Helen and Alex is easy. They're both my age and frequent Net denizens, so we've enjoyed talking about the differences between Aussies (you have to pronounce the "ss" like a "z" or you show your ignorance) and Yanks. As a Red Sox fan, again, it's hard to be called a Yank. In fact, I just don't like it. I'm no Roger Clemens or Wade Boggs. I'm a Sox fan always, baby! (Duke, please don't fire Jimy.) In fact, I spent part of my time yesterday at my cousins' house online visiting the Boston Globe site to keep up with the latest Sox saga. Man, what a mess.

Anyway, it's easy to talk to Helen and Alex, and it was just as easy when their older sister Anastasia showed up, treating me to my first visit with her. She's pretty great; we had a laugh over a late-'80s picture of her with Helen. Both of them had bigger hair and more makeup then, as I'm sure Alex did (though I haven't seen any photographic proof).

With Anastasia's friend Robert in tow and Timo and Katerina (Helen & Company's parents), we all sat down for a great dinner. It was the first meal I've had here (other than the first time I came to visit) without "chips," a.k.a. french fries, offered to me. Good change. Of course, at the ballpark today, I had some fish and chips again, after professing yesterday that I was tired of them.

I'm sure this will come as a surprise to my parents, but I ate lots of lamb last night, and mostly I concentrated on the stewed potatoes and the feta cheese, as well as the tiropitakia. For the non-Greeks in the vast BA audience, tiropitakia are cheese pies. These were store-bought, but they were pretty good. With all the Greeks here, I haven't eaten at a Greek restaurant yet. Maybe now I won't have to do it.

The night consisted of lots of family talk and TV, which was a welcome change. We all watched Australian superhero Cathy Freeman, the Aboriginal track star, win the women's 400 meters as the host nation exhaled. Australia is just coming to grips with its treatment of its indigenous population (has the U.S. ever done the same?), and Freeman is a big deal for reasons that go well beyond being an Olympic champion. We also watched Michael Johnson win gold again, and Australia's women's field hockey team.

At the end of the night, the Australian Channel 7, which is doing the Olympics, has a show called "The Dream." Alex described it as "two Aussie blokes just having fun with the Olympics," and the show has been the talk of many Aussies I have met around town since I've been here. They seem to enjoy making their own cheeky commentary about the sports and have come up with their own Olympic mascot, Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat.

I couldn't make that up if I tried.

Fatso is part of the commentary, coming along in cartoon form and dropping "golden nuggets" on various highlights. Anyone who knows me knows how I appreciate scatological humor such as this, so I found Fatso, while poorly named, quite entertaining. Many others do too, apparently. The people at Cadbury made a giant chocolate Fatso—complete with chocolate almond "nuggets" on the stand—and sent it to "The Dream." And Fatso is now on an Australian postage stamp. That's because a member of the Aussie swim team was holding a stuffed Fatso when the relay team was photographed for a stamp. Isn't that just so Oz?

Sad to say, the best part of the night may have been going to sleep, because I slept in a room by myself on an actual bed with real blankets. Nothing against the Aegean, because I enjoyed my stay there, but I slept really well last night, and I haven't been able to say that for more than a week. I got a good breakfast with my first citrus fruit since my arrival, as well as a coveted Pop Tart, but the cereal here is lacking something I can't quite put my finger on . . . it's just different. Perhaps it's the fact every cereal doesn't include the word "Frosted" in it, and there are no cartoon characters on the boxes. Even Helen, in a trip to the United States, discovered the joys of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. (I would die, though, for a box of Cap'n Crunch right now. I was talking with the Americans in Australia I told you about a couple of days ago, and one was like, "Dude, I miss Crunch Berries so much!")

The walk to the Hurlstone Park train station is short, but Alex's fiancťe Nick came by in the morning and drove me the short distance up the road, reducing my walking to a minimum today, much to my feet's delight. Now we wait. Cuba and Japan are scheduled for a 12:30 game, but it's raining and the game has been delayed. The Australian times on pulling and removing tarp would be severely mocked in the States, and I shudder at how shoddy it's going to be in Athens in 2004.

Monday, September 25


Me at Bronte

My time in Coogee is coming to a close. I've finally got the digital camera figured out and have sent a couple of shots to give you a look at where I’ve spent my time for the last week. Because I’m expecting this to be my last day in Coogee, I decided to do something somewhat adventurous for me. There’s a two-kilometer walk from Coogee to Bondi, a walk that I didn’t think would be easy but didn’t expect to be so hard, either. I decided feet be damned, I’m going to take that walk. The path runs along the ocean, so if I had to stop, at least it would be a nice place to hang out.

Christian asked if he could join me, so the two of us set out. It was the first time since the first day I was here, I really think, that I didn’t have an egg product in one form or another for breakfast, which is a good thing. I just ate the two bananas I had at the room and we set out for Coogee Beach, which is where we picked up the trail.

It turned out to be a very good idea. Christian has a very handy Sydney guide that he bought when he arrived, and the guide gave me plenty of fodder for the rest of this trip. For example, I learned that Coogee comes from the Aboriginal word for "rotting seaweed," and a more general word that stemmed from that, for "bad smell." It doesn’t smell bad now, but I guess at one time it had that reputation.

Bondi, our destination, stems from an Aboriginal word describing the sound of the surf, according to the book. In between Coogee and Bondi, we saw plenty of surf, and at both places surfers were hitting the waves more than at any point since my arrival. It was good to see, not that I surf, but because when I have told many native Australians that I was in Coogee, they have replied by asking, "How’s the water?" I have usually answered them negatively, much to their disappointment. For me, choppy waves and strong currents are bad, but their idea of good water conditions may as well be on Bizarro world to me.

Anyway, our walk was excellent. After some early trouble, my feet relented to the rest of my body’s desire for exercise and fresh air, and most of the pain subsided. While it was overcast, breezy and cool, that was good weather for what amounted to a hike. And the cliffs revealed repeated beautiful seascapes on the horizon or just at our feet. The sound of the waves pounding the rocks on the coast was a constant.

We stumbled upon at least three other beaches. Gregory Cove was rocky and had a small number of rowboats on the shore waiting for a trip. Clovelly Bay, just south of the ominously named Shark’s Point, was a narrow beach with just a couple hundred feet of beachfront, but it stretched back far into the mainland.


Bronte

Beyond Shark’s Point was Waverley Cemetery, which we had to walk through. It’s apparently a cemetery of some renown, but it mainly just seemed old to me. It occupies a scenic spot, but I was glad to get through it and on to Bronte, which the book describes as "Bondi’s little sister." Abutting Tamarama Bay, Bronte’s beach was very small and filled with joggers and people walking their dogs. The road next to the beach, lined with small shops and cafes, was blocked off so an Olympic cycling race could go through, and several helicopters circled over the site.

We saw still more helicopters in the distance and knew we were close to Bondi, and a short hike over Mackenzies Point proved us correct. We came over a hill and found the famous beach before us (with its controversial beach volleyball stadium venue right in the middle). When you look at a map of Sydney that depicts the beaches, Bondi is the biggest one, with Manly on Sydney’s northern shore second. Manly is longer and is supposed to be nicer, while Bondi is deeper and trendier.

It’s certainly trendy. It was about 1 p.m. by now, and I was hungry, so we searched for somewhere unpretentious to eat. Maybe we didn’t look hard enough, but we ended up at Liberty Lunch, which had a cheesy little menu but nice outdoor tables. Our service was horrible. They dropped my food in the kitchen and finally brought out my pizza about 30 minutes after we arrived.

It gave me plenty of time to people-watch. Christian and I had a few good laughs over the clothes and attitudes of the people at Bondi, and we concluded we preferred Coogee’s scene. Of course, neither of us are partiers and we’ve only had a small sampling of Coogee, but on the surface Bondi seemed very, well, superficial. We were glad to find a bus stand nearby to take us first to Bondi Junction and then back to Coogee.

A nap seems to be in order, but I’ve got to get myself ready for my move. I’ve got clothes to pack and stuff everywhere in this little room. I’m expecting my cousin Sam to come pick me up here at the Aegean sometime after 5 p.m., and then I’ll have to get moved into my cousins’ house in Hurlstone Park.

Hopefully, I’ll find a little more privacy there, as well as constant, free Internet access--what a concept. Plus it will give me a chance to get to know my cousins a little better. I’ll miss Coogee, but maybe a change in location will recharge my batteries a bit. The long Olympic grind, as BA’s Jim Callis likes to call it, has taken its toll on me. I’m trying to conserve my energy for the most part for the games, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t take a good stroll.

Sunday, September 24

At first, it seemed like it was getting harder and harder to write this column every day. It's frustrating I can't figure out how to properly send all of my digital photos. I figured one out, but I have dozens of others just sitting here. I just can't send them so they can be read by the BA computers.

And by this point, I've been here long enough that a lot of things are starting to get routine, and frankly, I'm just not that interesting. Some of the days here in Sydney aren't that interesting, either, because it's like a day at work anywhere. I have a feeling a lot of other American journalists are feeling the same way. I wonder if any of their feet hurt like mine do.

But I realized I have more to talk about than my aching feet. I rode a train back home last night with four Sports Illustrated writers: Jack McCallum, Phil Taylor, Mike Farber and some other guy I didn't recognize. He was younger, 34 he said, but still older than me. Maybe I can still aspire to work there, but those guys sounded just like all the other guys here, no better, no worse.

It's a weird lot of journalists at the baseball venue, and for a BA staffer, it's just different to get out of the office and cover something with other reporters every day. We're usually either covering things other people don't cover much or just doing stories via the telephone or Internet. I've never even been in a big league clubhouse, and sometimes I still feel strange in a minor league one. And covering college baseball, I only have to deal with more than one or two reporters at a game once a year, in Omaha at the College World Series.

Even then, with some strong rooting interests, you don't have media cheering at games, so yesterday was a rare experience. The Japan-Korea game is a very hot rivalry, and media from both countries were rooting right along with the fans for the part of the game I attended. The Japanese media was especially loud and less professional, by American standards, than their Korean counterparts, and seemed deeply saddened by the loss.

On the other hand, Cuba's media contingent was really acting as if it was part of the team, and I got caught up in it. The night started with, to my surprise, the Australians in the crowd cheering loudly and almost exclusively for Cuba. I had trouble with this last year in Canada, but I came to look at it this way: The Canadians have a front-row seat to see how politics play into the USA-Cuba rivalry, a good many of them vacation in Cuba and as a country they have this complex about America anyway. If they want to cheer against the Americans, fine.

But what ax does Australia have to grind with Team USA? I guess it just goes with being a "Yank." One fan tried to start a "Yankee Yankee Yankee, Oi Oi Oi," chant, but no one was buying it. As a Red Sox fan, I don't know how I would have reacted.

I did react once in the game, to my surprise, when Cuba's Yobal Duenas slid high into catcher Pat Borders. My first reaction was that it was a clean play, that it's just baseball, and Borders should have held onto the ball. And in the postgame, when the Cuban manager made the same point, I agreed with him. Tom Lasorda made it a clean sweep.

But when it happened, and I was watching the replay, the Cuban media sitting behind me was booing and jeering Borders, who was trying to shake off the injury. And I have to say I got a little mad at the Cuban journalists for just being so boosterish.

The replay showed Duenas sliding high, with his spikes about 3-4 inches off the ground. I turned around and said in my best Spanish, which is meager, "Que diges ahora? Alto, alto!" I hope that means, "What do you say now? High, high!" The five or six guys sitting behind me--who had been cheering loudly the whole game, booing Team USA and chatting with the Cuban players all evening when they came in from the field--seemed shocked I had addressed them en Espanol. I think one of the guys said back to me, "No, that wasn't high, it was low." That made me madder, but I realized that since I couldn't think of how to say, "What game are you watching, you moron?" in Spanish, I figured I had better just leave it at, "Alto, senor, alto."

I guess that's why my brother always calls me a hothead (among other things) and why one of my coworkers has dubbed me a bull in a china shop. What can I say? I'm just playing the role I got sold to . . . (with apologies to Chuck D).

Of course Team USA gave the fans reason to cheer for Cuba. Ernie Young did get hit with a purpose pitch, but shoving catcher Ariel Pestano out of the way was, well, I guess it's normal. Doug Mientkiewicz says he was trying to protect himself when he went on all fours while a Cuban runner was bearing down on him at first base, and I guess I'll give him that, but it looked bad to the general public here.

Starter Rick Krivda was overmatched, and while it was a good idea to give him a try, Team USA didn't throw its best pitcher Saturday night, and that didn't help. Also, Krivda is an offspeed pitcher who hadn't worked in about 11 days; perhaps he should have pitched an inning or two a few days ago to loosen up and get accustomed to the Olympics, and to get his arm ready. Like other Team USA starters, he looked a little too juiced, but that doesn't hurt Ben Sheets or Roy Oswalt or the other hard throwers as much.

We'll see whom Team USA starts today, Oswalt on four days' rest or Kurt Ainsworth on five. I don't think it makes much of a difference. Of course the semifinal is much more important, but I think Team USA is confident either one can do the job. Then, should Team USA play for gold, it will have Sheets on four day's rest, with Jon Rauch available three days after throwing 62 pitches in relief against Cuba. That's about as good a pitching scenario as Team USA could have hoped for.

Also in the Americans' favor is the draw. Unless it loses to Australia later today, Team USA can't play Cuba or Japan again until the tournament's final day, whether they play for bronze or gold. Korea won earlier today and put itself in the medal round. Should Cuba (playing Japan) and Team USA win their final games, Team USA would be the No. 2 seed and play Korea on Tuesday. Korea would win the No. 3 seed at 4-3, tying Japan and winning the tiebreaker with the head-to-head victory. If Japan beats Cuba and Team USA wins, then Team USA is the No. 1 seed and plays Korea.

I'm trying to think baseball as much as I can, because I miss my wife and I miss North Carolina. I spent Sunday sleeping in and then got in a bit of a funk. I went to check my email at one of the Internet cafes here and just got caught up in being a little homesick. I was reading about the Red Sox' implosion, and I'm glad I'm not around for it. Carl Everett needs to grow up. And I saw some college football scores, and the wild-card race, and checked my fantasy football league (which made me hum the Monday Night Football theme for the first time in a week), and just got in a funk.

It's beautiful here, and after talking with the Aegean's owner, it looks like he'll be cutting me a break, letting me check out tomorrow so I can go stay with my cousins at their house in Hurlstone Park. Like I said before, he's Greek, but perhaps more in my favor, he plays Civilization. I loaded it onto his Mac and I'm trying to help him play. I'm glad I gave that game up, though, because it's addicting.

And on the way to the ballpark today, I got out of my funk a little by running into four guys on their way to the baseball game. Three are natives of the United States. One of them, Joe, has lived in Australia almost 12 years and said he considers himself more Aussie than American by now, though he's not yet an Aussie citizen. Noah gave me his card so I know his name. He's from Arkansas and played some college football. I don't recall the other two guys' names (sorry), but they were all pretty cool and all ballplayers over here. They had flown in from Melbourne for the weekend to watch baseball and party, which sounds like a good plan. It was good to talk baseball and just hang out with some good guys for a while. If I'm not beat--and hopefully I won't be--I'll meet them at the Coogee Bay Hotel (just a pub, really) for a beer when the game's over tonight.

But all in all, I'm ready to come home. If I can get through today and hang out with the cousins tomorrow, then hopefully the two big days of baseball Tuesday and Wednesday can get me through the rest of the week. One week in Sydney was outstanding. Two weeks, well, two weeks alone anywhere for me, not to mention in Sydney, is a little much.

Saturday, September 23

I can't believe I've been here for a week. I guess you could say I've gotten accustomed. I've noticed myself talking a little slower to make sure everyone understands me, and while I'm not saying, "G'day," to everyone, I have noticed myself saying, "No worries." I like that one. I'm not so sure about "Maccers," though, or "pokies," short for video poker machines.

I'm also not quite used to the media crush around Team USA manager Tommy Lasorda. I don't know if you've noticed, but I've tried to stay away from Tommy as much as possible. I don't know the guy and have nothing against him personally, but I have to be honest. I resent him being here.

He's here for one reason, he says, to win the gold. That may be true, but he's also here to make sure Team USA would get some press. Tommy is everything to 99 percent of the U.S. media covering the baseball tournament, and I think I'm the other 1 percent. (Maybe I should include USA Today's Mike Dodd, but he's gotta do the Tommy thing a lot, too.) The way I figure it, if you're reading Baseball America or BA Online, you're like me. Team USA doesn't need a face. It has several in Ben Sheets, Jon Rauch, Kurt Ainsworth and Roy Oswalt—a hard-throwing, prospect-filled rotation. It has one in minor league slugger Ernie Young, the best hitter in this tournament not named Linares. It has one in funky sidearmer Todd Williams, one of the minor leagues' best closers.

In short, you're interested in the baseball, not the show, I'm trying to give it to you. I hope I'm not missing the story by kind of ignoring Lasorda, but if you want that, you're probably getting it elsewhere.

Friday night's Italy game was just the height of Lasorda, as about a dozen media members moseyed over from the Main Press Center and showed up for the game only after seeing it was tied in the late innings. Then all they cared about was Tommy's birthday, not how Team USA coasted through a game and almost cost itself a No. 1 seed as it nearly lost to Italy.

I'm not saying I'm better than those journalists, mind you. But I'm not buying what Tommy is selling. I'm much more interested in talking to the scouts after the games, when they tell me Japan's Daisuke Matsuzaka struck out 10 Koreans despite not having his best stuff, or how one of them is giving the Aussies scouting reports against the rest of the teams in the field.

OK, off the soapbox. Back to the beach, where I spent most of the morning again today. Coogee is pretty great, I have to say. Good restaurants, great people, easily accessible. Today I went with Christian, my French roommate who wanted to spend some time getting to know me. I'm glad I took the time. His English is pretty great (I've gotta laugh at the French accent sometimes, though), and he's really well traveled. It's great to hear him talk about New Zealand, Morocco, Hong Kong and the various parts of the United States he has visited.

When we were at the beach—have I mentioned how cold the water is?—I noticed just how much better my feet felt without my shoes on. I'd like to thank Nike (which is not a BA Olympic sponsor) for screwing up my feel beyond all recognition this week. My new Nikes have given me three blisters, and my Achilles tendons feel like they're about to snap. Dude, they hurt. I've switched to my 6-year-old Doc Martens. I know I need new ones, but they're better than the Nikes so far today. We'll see after I trudge back to the trains and buses tonight.

I also noticed that Coogee is positioned right in the flight path for many international flights, because at least 12 planes flew over the beach while we were there. They couldn't block out the Tupac Shakur blaring out of the door of the ice-cream store I passed on our way off the beach. I had to stop and ask whether the radio was playing Tupac or if it was a CD, and I was informed that indeed, Australia (like California) knows how to party—they love Tupac down here.

Hopefully tomorrow will give me a chance to meet my other cousin Anastasia who wasn't around the other day. The tournament is winding down, which is good in a lot of ways. The games mean more, we'll resolve the medal chase and I'll be coming home soon. Coogee is cool, and Olympic baseball—if you can get past Uncle Tommy—is awesome, but I'll be glad to be home soon with my wife.

Friday, September 22

I had a great day off. How was yours?

I've had two incredibly cool things happen in the last 48 hours, and neither was seeing Cuba lose on Wednesday. To be honest, I've seen the Cubans play seven times in person now going back to last year's Pan American Games, and they're 4-3 when I see them. I understand the big deal, but forgive me if I don't hold them in the same esteem the rest of the baseball world does. I guess I'll have to rely on scouting reports.

But after the Cuba game and the crazy mixed zone-where the players and coaches are herded through a press zoo with no regard for what's best for the athletes or media-I tucked away my notebook and went upstairs to the working press area inside Homebush Baseball Stadium.

When I went into the working area, I saw Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe working over his computer. I own a book this guy wrote, "One Strike Away," a story of the 1986 Red Sox, and I read his column as often as possible during baseball season. I even stopped and watched the U.S. Open tennis tournament when they were interviewing him while his niece (I believe) was playing a match. In other words, I hold him in some esteem.

Well, when I walked inside, Shaughnessy was writing, then paused, picked up his Baseball America Olympic preview issue, looked up some fact, carefully folded his BA back into place and went back to work.

I was just a little stunned. This was one of my journalism, well, not heroes or idols, but someone I look up to in the profession, and he was referring to my work. It was exceedingly gratifying, and I had to tell him so. With my voice shaking from a little awe and a lot of exhaustion, I approached him and asked, "Mr. Shaughnessy, you aren't on deadline right now, are you?" He shook his head, so I continued, "Because I'm with Baseball America and did a lot of that issue, and for you to refer to it . . . "

"Oh, it's great," he said. "You guys did a great job with this. I was just showing it to George Solomon of the Washington Post and telling him what a great job you guys did with the preview. It's fabulous. Keep up the good work."

Now, I've already felt pretty validated about my work over here and on that issue. I've got, as BA managing editor Will Lingo would say, the necessary arrogance about my skills as a sportswriter, and you can probably throw in some unnecessary arrogance for good measure. And earlier in the day, the press officers at the ballpark had photocopied my player capsules out of the issue to replace the voluminous 48-page bios Team USA had provided, so my insecurities already had been placated.

But this was different. This was a peer, if I can say that, giving me props for something I worked on, and it meant a lot. It made my day until Thursday.

That was my day off, which started at about 1 a.m., when I returned to the Aegean after Team USA's thrilling 4-0 win against Korea. With Gerhardt gone I hoped I would have the room to myself, but alas, I knew the gig was up when I could see the door to my hostel room's balcony closed. I had left it open when I left in the morning, and I discovered when I entered the room that I had a new roomie.

The next morning, I spoke with Christian, a Frenchman who is here for the Games and on his way to be a language teacher in Japan. I knew I'd meet interesting people in the hostel. I just didn't want to share a room with them.

I took the day slowly at first and finally called my second cousin Helen to arrange our meeting around noon. I'll give you a little background. I knew I had some Greek cousins in Australia, but I didn't know how many until I told my mother that I was going to be making the trip. She excitedly said something about cousins in Melbourne, whom I'd heard of, then mentioned cousins in Sydney, whom I'd never heard her mention.

The next day, I get an email from Helen.Konstantelos@247media.com, with "Long lost?" in the subject field. That last name is my mother's maiden name, though in the United States my uncles and cousins spell it with a "C." I couldn't believe it. Turns out my mom cold-called her first cousin, Tim, in Sydney-whom she had not spoken to since leaving Greece in 1958. She got Helen on the phone, and Helen looked me up at Baseball America Online and sent me the email.

Helen was a great help in the leadup to my trip, and I couldn't wait to meet her. I learned beforehand that her father Tim and mom Katherine had four children-Anastasia, 29; Helen, 26; Alexandria, 24; and Sotiris (Sam), 19. Helen's the one who made "first contact," so to speak, and we decided to just meet at Sydney's Central Station.

She was waiting for me outside, and we exchanged hugs and pleasantries and walked to her parent's booth at a large flea market in Sydney's downtown. It was fantastic to meet these people who are a lot like my family-from the same home as my mom, speaking the way I speak at home in a mix of Greek and English, excitable and emotional like my family, and hard-working too. I learned Timo (that's the Greek diminutive form, I guess) has worked in the markets pretty much since 1971, and that he arrived in Australia in 1965 to join his sister, who had already moved down here.

Timo's market is normally open only from Thursday through Sunday, but it's open all week for the Olympics, and the place was lousy with shoppers. It was huge inside with all kinds of stalls selling tons of stuff. (I should have bought a watch for $10 Australian at the stall next door, but I'll be back.) I had a chance to set a spell and catch up, took a short walk outside with Helen to one of the live music venues apparently dotting the town, and then went back to the market to wait for Sam.

Sam works as a bank teller, and while Helen was going to show me around downtown before her own 4 p.m. meeting at work, Sam took her place after helping foil a holdup at his bank earlier in the day. Seems a guy tried to hold up the teller next to Sam, who hit the alarm that alerted security and stopped the transaction, so to speak. Sam and many of his coworkers got sent home for the day, and my reward was getting a tour guide for the day.

Sam took me down to Darling Harbour, teeming with Olympic visitors, pin traders, sponsor booths and energy. We took in a group of Japanese performance artists performing, for lack of a better word, Stupid Human Tricks—one guy broke some chopsticks in his, well, cheeks for one act, then snorted milk up his nose and shot it out of his eye for another. We then hopped a harbour (that's their spelling, so I'll use it) taxi and I finally got to see what all the hubbub was about.


Sydney Opera House

Sydney Harbour is pretty freaking awesome. It gives Sydneysiders the chance to see the sun rise and set over the water in the same city. The Harbour tour took us just a couple of miles or so down the water, but we passed the Rocks, where Sydney's first settlers started the city; Luna Point, a giant, gleaming amusement park on the north shore of the Harbour; the famous Harbour Bridge, a beautiful structure festooned with the Olympic Rings; and of course the Sydney Opera House, which I can only describe as funky. How'd they build that? It's more amazing to see in person after having seen it in photos.

Sam took me on a quick drive around some of the city, then we went to the family's home in Hurlstone Park, a southern suburb. (Suburb here isn't so much a suburb as a part of town, like how Harlem is part of New York City but isn't its own borough, you know?) On the way, Sam stopped at "Maccers," as the Aussies call McDonalds, but he didn't buy a McOz burger, which is basically a quarter-pounder with beet root. (!)

Back at the house, I spent an hour or so talking with Alex, a teacher who is the first member of the Konstantelos kids to get engaged; she's planning a September 2001 wedding. I met the dogs, the cat, the remote control for the cable TV . . . I just felt at home, or close to it, for the first time in a week. And of course, my cousins want me to make their house my home for the second week of my trip, and I'm thinking about it.

I won't bore you with the rest of the details, because this is already my most voluminous entry. I actually don't even want to give you all the details, because I want to savor them for myself. We ate dinner together, went out together, then they drove me back to Coogee, stopping by the city center again so I could see the Harbour at night, with the bridge, the Opera House, and the downtown lit up with lasers and spotlights.

I was exhausted, like I have been all week, but it was a good exhaustion. I finally feel like I've seen a lot of the real Sydney. And even though I'm here for the baseball, I can't wait for Monday, because that's my next day off.

Wednesday, September 20

Whoo, I'm pooped.

I'm realizing I've set quite a pace for myself, writing a lot and going to six games in three days, with plenty of walking, busing and train riding interspersed in between. I'm quite tired of working 12-16 hours a day, so that's going to have to stop. The buses and trains have become my new workstations. As someone who commutes 35 minutes a day by car every day, I kind of like riding the trains and buses and letting someone else do the driving while I can relax or do something productive. But let's face it, I'm just flat beat.

That's why this morning was so vitally important. I was able to sleep in and didn't get up until after 9 a.m., at which time Gerhardt informed me he was leaving. He's not going back up to Austria just yet, because he doesn't resume classes until October, but he's going up the Aussie coast to get away from the Olympic bustle. To be honest, I don't think he knew the Games were going on when he scheduled this trip.

Nothing against him, but he won't be missed. I'd like to be able to turn the light on when I get back to the room at 12:45 a.m. every night. Not that I could do anything, mind you, because I'm fighting fatigue and I'm constantly thirsty-I think it's the fact I'm not sitting at a desk every day-but I'd like to be able to see when I get ready to go to bed.

Anyway, after Gerhardt left, I had a fantastic morning. Coogie (I've now been told that if you spelled it in "American" it would look like "Kudgy") is a great neighborhood and area. I strolled about a mile to the beachfront again and had a fantastic omelet and tall mocha at the Garden Cafť Coogie, where I caught up on other happenings concerning the Games and other news. Seems the Australian dollar has hit a new low against the U.S. dollar, so that $1 Australian equals $0.55 U.S. That should make it cheap for me, but the Aussies are understandably concerned about it.

After breakfast I wandered down to the beach again, which was really, really crowded. Young and old, beautiful and not (the latter group included me), everyone was relaxed. Plenty of topless women, by the way, but they were tempered by the even greater number of old men in Speedos showing way, way too much. But I dipped my feet in the Pacific (frankly, I was too tired to swim) and went for a walk.

I'd noticed the cliffs around the beachfront area, but I soon realized the whole coast was cliffs except for the small area of Coogie Bay's beach. There's a two-kilometer walk from Coogie to Bondi that I'll make if the blister on my left heel goes away, but for now I just took a short stroll up that way and took in the breathtaking scenery.

The cliffs go right to the water with a white picket fence supposedly keeping people from falling in, but it was fantastic. I found a flat rock with a great view and just splayed out for a short nap. A woman on the rocks behind me was stretching out for a job and an older man was also taking in the scenery on his morning walk when a teenage scream broke the calm.

"Oh s---, it's Tony!" There was a group of four teenage boys on one side of the cliffs, and storming in from the other side (presumably) was Tony, who looked about 15. He was barefoot, wearing a white t-shirt and brown trousers, and he was freaking flying over the rocks at this gang of four that had apparently wronged him in some way.

They scattered, with the shortest and slowest of the four yelling, "It wasn't me, Tony, honest!" Of course, by the time I walked back in their direction back to the hostel, all I saw was the gang of four, apparently unscathed, taunting Tony away as he walked away, turning back only to give them the finger.

Glad to see teens are the same all over the world.

One other quick note. Last night was the first time I felt kind of alone here, despite all the people. I was chatting with Mike Dodd, who does a great job covering the Olympics and baseball for USA Today. We were discussing our Internet duties, which are kind of a double-edged sword. I asked him if he was emailing his stories in to USA Today's northern Virginia offices or what, when he explained the process was a little more elaborate.

It turns out USA Today, which owns BA's biggest competitor, Baseball Weekly, has about 50 people in Australia. Maybe 15-20 are writers, Dodd said, with the rest editors, photographers and photo technicians. They have an entire office inside one of the Sydney newspapers' offices, and they basically have their own Australian server. Mike files separate stories for USA Today.com, the U.S. edition of the paper, the international edition and their special Sydney edition, all different versions of the same story, really, tailored to the time zones.

It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But at the end of the day, Dodd said, he gets to go out with some of his usual co-workers and see the city a bit, have a beer. Yesterday I also read Rick Reilly's column on Sports Illustrated's web coverage where he also talked about seeing the city with his peers, going to parties and the like, and I thought, What the hell am I doing here, then? It also made me really, really miss my wife, because I'm sure we'd be having a fantastic time together here.

I guess I could be resentful or jealous or whatever, but instead I've decided to try harder to relax and to take more time for myself. I like baseball and my job too much so it's too easy for me to just go to two games a day. That's stressful but fun at the same time, which is the problem. That started this morning, because I didn't even try to get to the 12:30 p.m. game at Homebush Baseball Stadium. It should continue tomorrow, when I'm supposed to get together with my Greek-Australian cousins for lunch and hopefully dinner as the baseball tournament enjoys a day off.

I'll try to do the same.

Tuesday, September 19

Iím sure you remember Vincent Vega, John Travoltaís character in the 1994 movie ďPulp Fiction.Ē If you do, you remember his oft-imitated ďRoyale With CheeseĒ scene with fellow hit man Samuel L. Jackson.

ďTheyíve got the same (stuff) in Europe they got here, only there itís a little different,Ē Vega said.

He could have been talking about Australia. While I havenít seen anyone drown his or her ďchipsĒ (French fries) in mayonnaise, I have seen some stuff thatís just a little bit different.

Everyone here has a mobile phone, which I guess isnít that different than what you have in the U.S. Everyoneís also wearing a hat, presumably because of that bright sun. Of course, I left all my hats at home. Luckily, we got a Gilligan-style hat in our press kit, along with those gruesome breakfast bars they gave us. Yikes, they were bad. Whatís a breakfast bar without chocolate? It was my first Australian meal, sad to say. They did serve complimentary Australian and New Zealand wine on the flight, and it was all good. Thatís the only reason I got any sleep on the plane.

Anyway, back to the differences. Take signs and billboards. Sure, thereís the standard sex-sells billboards, like all the LíOreal ads at every bus stop (Iím partial to the Laetitia Casta stops myself). But then you have painted on a building next door, in huge letters, ďPap Smears Done Comfortably.Ē OK, then.

My favorite difference is in the chocolate. No, I havenít eaten any yet (though I did have a doughnut for breakfast, and Krispy Kreme need not fear an invasion of Aussie doughnuts). The difference is in the packaging of American brands. Youíve got M&Ms and Mars bars and all the candies of the M&M/Mars company, but some names and packages have changed. My favorite example is the candy bar that was a big hit in the Baseball America snack machine this summer, especially with intern Will Kimmey, the Kit Kat Big Kat. Thatís the bar where one Kit Kat wafer is on steroids and is the whole candy bar. Here, the Big Kat loses its fierce moniker and is merely Kit Kat Chunky. Iím sure Mr. Kimmey is disappointed.

At the Sydney Central train station, thereís the familiar Burger King logo. But instead of saying ďBurger KingĒ in between the buns, it says ďHungry Jackís.Ē I wonder if they use the old biscuit commercial. (ďHungry, Hungry Jack. You gobble íem down and the plate comes back . . .Ē)

Last night at Blacktown Ballpark, I was wandering the grounds trying to find the media tent. I was pointed in about five different places by five different volunteers, so I just gave up, headed for the train back to Olympic Park and the Main Press Center and did my work there. During my wandering, I came across a sign that said, ďMagpies around. Beware of swooping.Ē It didnít specify whether it would be Hekyll or Jekyll doing the swooping.

Blacktown is the scene of tonightís United States-Netherlands matchup, and Iím really not looking forward to making that trip. Itís already 50 minutes on the bus and train for me to get to or from Olympic Park, and then you have to add another 30-45 minutes to get to Blacktown. Ugh. Luckily, Iím breaking it up in the middle with a little Australia vs. Japan at the main Olympic ballpark in Homebush.

Homebush also will be the site of Cubaís first test tonight, a 7:30 p.m. matchup with Korea. The Koreans lost another player to injury yesterday when catcher Kyung-Oan Park injured his shoulder in a home-plate collision with Aussie Grant McDonald. Korea is already without Lee Seung-Yuop, their home run king, who hasnít started in either of their first two games. Lee looked bad in a pinch-hit role against Australia yesterday, striking out and looking pained with every swing. Heís battling back and ankle problems.

It will also be interesting to see whom the Cubans pitch in that game. Ace righty Jose Contreras has thrown just one inning so far, and itís plausible he could start today and then come back on three daysí rest against Team USA on Sept. 23. Cuba also could use Omar Ajete, a 35-year-old whoís one of their two lefties, or righty Ciro Licea, their No. 3 starter. Because Team USA is playing at Blacktown, this will mean the Cubans will have played three games and I still wonít have seen them play. That has to change.

Team USA has its own decision to make with its rotation. Look for Kurt Ainsworth tonight against the Dutch, and either Roy Oswalt or Chris George against Korea. The Koreans looked bad against Aussie lefthander Craig Anderson, a Class A Midwest Leaguer, who held them to one hit in 4 1/3 innings. George has similar but better stuff than Anderson and could do well against Korea.

The question is when to use Ben Sheets again. Clearly Sheets is this teamís ace, a potential No. 1 starter in the big leagues in terms of stuff and makeup. Lasorda has said if Sheets wants the ball for the gold-medal game, itís his, and clearly he should get it. But if heís to get it, he probably shouldnít pitch against Cuba in the round-robin. That game will be Sept. 23, and the gold-medal game is scheduled for Sept. 27. Frankly, as important as Olympic gold is, itís probably not worth pitching a 22-year-old future star on three daysí rest in September, when Sheets has already pitched more this season than ever before.

Thatís Lasordaís biggest decision to make. He still has Oswalt and George for the games with Korea and Australia, and could use veteran lefty Rick Krivda or righthander Ryan Franklin, who pitched four great innings against Japan in relief on Sunday, against Italy on the 22nd.

My opinion: go with George against Korea, Krivda against Italy while giving Sheets a couple of innings to stay sharp, Oswalt against Australia. Then Team USA would have three startersóSheets, Rauch and Ainsworthóready for the medal round. Sheets should be available in case Team USA has to play Cuba or Japan in the semifinals, and thatís more important than beating Cuba in the round-robin. Team USA saved unbeaten ace righty Seth Greisinger for the gold-medal game in 1996, only to have Japan bash Kris Benson in the semifinal.

Team USA canít let that kind of thinking derail it again. But thatís just me. Team USA has Bob Watson, Sandy Alderson and plenty of coaches to help Lasorda make that decision.

Monday, September 18

What a start to the Olympics, BA style.

Sleep in a twin bunk bed, sharing the room with Gerhardt. Wake up at 5:30 a.m. whether you want to or not. Really up at 6 a.m., and spend at least two hours of your day on a bus or train to get to work and back to your bunk bed.

I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Day One of the 2000 Olympics baseball tournament was pretty incredible. Team USA's 4-2 win against Japan in 13 innings was one of the best baseball games I've ever seen in person by any measure. Just thinking about it for a minute, I think I went to three baseball games between the end of the College World Series and the Olympics. So two of the last five games I've seen were two of the best I've ever seen period-Louisiana State's come-from-behind 6-5 win against Stanford in Omaha, and yesterday's Team USA victory. I'm on a roll.

The postgame scene here was a little different from Omaha, thanks to the stakes (this wasn't the championship game, obviously) and the main characters involved. Tommy Lasorda and Skip Bertman have some things in common as far as winning resumes and savvy media skills, but yesterday's press conference was a little weird for me.

The Japanese players, manager and media may as well have not been there as far as Lasorda and several American journalists were concerned. On at least three occasions, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bill Conlin just started asking a question while the Australian translator tried to make sense of a Japanese question so the rest of us could understand.

Now, Conlin's questions were all very good. I learned information just from his questions, and he is also one of the best columnists I have read. I don't read him frequently because his persona on ESPN's "Sports Reporters" turns me off, and his performance yesterday did nothing to ingratiate himself to me further, but I'm sure that's not what he's after. He knows what he's doing and he does it well, and for that I respect him a lot. If I'm lucky, one day I'll be half as good at my job as Bill Conlin is at his.

But his performance yesterday, chit-chatting with Lasorda while Japanese journalists tried to have their questions answered, must have reinforced the "ugly American" image that the USA Today travel section tried to tell me was going away. But as New York Times columnist George Vescey said as we left the press conference, "That's Bill. He's my buddy. We wouldn't have him any other way."

A couple of other press notes. You'll be glad to know the Aussie press is every bit as jingoistic as the American media, which makes sense considering this is Ruppert Murdoch's media domain. (I guess you could say that about most of the English-speaking world, though.)

This is a classic example of Aussie journalism, written in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday by David Hughes, who is covering men's basketball. He was writing about Australia's 101-90 loss to Canada, something of an upset. Both teams shot 57 percent from the field in what must have been an entertaining game, at least.

"Andrew Gaze (the former Seton Hall forward) had a hot hand and scored 24 points, but his considerable nous did not compensate for his lack of foot speed, particularly when guarding Barrett . . . Apart from Chris Anstey, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half, the big men were horrible. Luc Longley and Mark Bradtke will want to forget this one as soon as possible, and Paul Rogers and Andrew Vlahov will keep the game video only if they are compiling a horror movie collection."

Good stuff, though I don't what "nous" means.

This morning I actually have a morning, now that Team USA is done with playing early games. The rest of its play in the round-robin will take place either at 6:30 or 7:30 p.m., giving me plenty of time to explore the city. This morning has turned into a good one, as I found the Coogee (pronounced kind of like Gucci) Bay beach just a short walk from the Aegean.

According to Glenn, my driver to the Aegean on Saturday night, "It's one of the few beaches the tourists haven't found in Sydney yet." So I got lucky. The beach looks tremendous, and I'm sure I'll hit the water later in the week. I had a wonderful breakfast and was able to put the laptop to good use at the C@fe, an Internet café and one of three on Coogee Bay Road as you approach the beach.

In other words, as much work as yesterday was, this is turning into a working vacation. Talk to you later.

Sunday, September 17

My first international baseball experience was at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, just over a year ago. Suffice it to say Sydney is a little bit more of a haul, but itís not that different in several regards. Iíve already seen a KFC and McDonalds. My press kit came in a backpack with a Fosterís logo, and had a Coke inside. In fact, Coke is everywhere here as an Olympic sponsor.

The first difference came in getting here, of course, which involved a 14-hour (and change) flight from Los Angeles. All things considered, the flight was relatively painless, and I had the pleasure of sitting near a Texas-based scout, so it was an unexpected bonus to talk some baseball on the trip. Heís very high on Carlos Lee, so we had lots in common. (Please, Hawk, donít spoil it for me by continuously calling Carlos "El Caballo." Itís not too late yet.) Plus, the Air New Zealand flight crew was pretty friendly, with constant service. Like I said, for a 14-hour flight, it wasnít bad.

On arrival, I groggily called my transportation to the Aegean Hostel, where Iím staying. My driver, Glenn, has traveled in the U.S. extensively, and the drive was quick. He picked me up outside of Olympic Airlinesí counter, and because thatís the Greek national airline, everyone out there was speaking Greek. It sounded like my parentsí house, or the hall at my dadís church after the service. The Aegeanís owner, like me, has Greek roots and was very helpful.

Iím sharing a room for now with an Austrian student named Gerhardt. Iíll let you fill in the rest. He was pleased to hear when I told him the New York Times I read on the plane said the European Union has lifted the sanctions against his home country, and he spoke good enough English that we could communicate. But it ainít exactly the Ritz Carlton Iím staying in.

While we all speak English, there was a slight miscommunication between me and the Aegean, because while the hostel has Internet access, you have to pay for it, and there are no ports for me to plug in the iBook. The owner let me use his Mac last night, but that gave me plenty to do today once I got to the Main Press Center.

This morning (I'm 15 hours ahead of Eastern Time), I woke up too early, 5:30 a.m., but itís a good thing I did. It took me an hour, three buses, a couple of train rides and a lot of help from an Australian volunteer named Warwick to get me to the MPC. I owe Warwick one, but he wouldnít let me tip him. Thatís the second time my tip has been refused. I could get used to that, but Iíve also heard everyone make remarks about how all us "Yanks" (Americans) have so much money, we just throw tips around. I want to say, "Hello, Iím staying in a youth hostel!" But anyway . . .

I had a lot of help also at the MPC, which was necessary because I wasnít able to connect to the Internet through either of my American ISPs, though I had dialup numbers and thought I had all the information to do so. The tech help was good, though, and even though we couldnít figure it out for my ISPs, I signed up with an Olympic plan a local ISP has that shouldnít cost much at all. If you want, you can email me at bajohnmanuel@bigpond.com, though I doubt Iíll check that email much. I also had time to call one of my cousins here in Sydney (there are Greeks everywhere, man), which helped me from completely stressing out at my inability to connect.

Well, thatís an action-packed Day 1. First game for me is in less than two hours, USA vs. Japan, and Iíll be staying to watch the host Aussies take on Pat Murphy and the Netherlands. Iíll admit it, Iím rooting for Coach Murphyís club to pull some upsets. Pat Murphy is definitely different, but he also qualifies as a friend of BA and Iím looking forward to seeing him.

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