Phil Pash’s Sports Notes

Glass Slipper Fits: Talk about your Cinderella stories—young Ben Curtis of Kent, Ohio, is it.

He got into the British Open only because he tied for 13th in the Western Open here in Illinois, which, incidentally, was his best finish ever in a PGA Tour event. He’s a tour rookie who was born in Columbus, Ohio; went to Kent State University, and turned pro in 2000.

Curtis, 26, learned the game of golf on a course built in rural Ohio by his grandfather, who died five months ago. His dad, Bob, now is superintendent at the course, Mill Creek Golf Course in Ostrander. Until this week, Curtis mostly was known for being a two-time Ohio State Amateur champ, along with Arnold Palmer and John Cook.

But that will change because he won the British Open at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England, with the only sub-par total of the event—283 on rounds of 72, 72, 70 and 69. Playing in his very first major, he held off top players Vijay Singh and Thomas Bjorn, who tied for second at par 284, and Tiger Woods and Davis Love III, who tied for fourth at one-over 285.

Woods now is winless in his last five majors.

Ranked No. 396 in the world, Curtis is believed to be the first player since Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open to win the first major championship he ever played. Curtis won much more than Ouimet, though—almost $1.2 million and the famed claret jug, and now is exempt on the PGA Tour for the next five years.

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Pippen Back ‘Home’: Scottie Pippen is coming back to the Chicago Bulls, undoubtedly to finish out his career. He is 37 years old, but Bulls general manager John Paxson, a former teammate of Pippen’s in Chicago, said the team can make use of him as a defensive-minded small forward and a mentor for young players such as Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry.

Pippen was a seven-time All-Star in his 11 seasons with the Bulls. He left after the 1998 season because of former general manager Jerry Krause, going to Houston and then Portland for the last four seasons. He helped the Bulls win their six NBA titles.

It was reported Pippen’s deal was for $10 million over two years.

Dennis Rodman, who played on three of those championship teams, says he is serious about making another NBA comeback. He is 42, a seven-time NBA rebounding champ who has been on five title teams (three in Chicago, two in Detroit) and hasn’t played since the 1999-2000 season. Off the court, he has a history of being a pain in the you know what.

But at a news conference last week, he said, “It has been two years going nuts, partying, and in the last four months I’ve lost 18 pounds, and I am getting mentally prepared to return to the NBA. This is not a hoax, this is real. I want to perform like I did in those Chicago days. My choice would be to play for the Kings or Lakers because I want to live in California, but if the Nets are interested, I would go there.”

How about some time with the Rockford Lightning to prove himself?

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Kobe Bryant Charged: L.A. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant insists he is innocent of the charge of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a spa in Edwards, Colo., June 30. While denying that charge—filed last week—he did say he was guilty only of adultery.

The 24-year-old Lakers guard faces probation to life in prison on the single felony count, Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said. Bryant, free on $25,000 bail, must return to court Aug. 6 for an advisement hearing.

Whatever happens, his career will be tarnished.

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Bears Open Camp: Don’t look now, but another pro football season is just around the corner.

The Bears open their training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais Thursday. The Packers camp at St. Norbert College in the Green Bay suburb of DePere already is going, opening last weekend.

One other team trains in Illinois, the St. Louis Rams at Western Illinois University in Macomb. The Rams camp also opens Thursday. Wisconsin also has a second team training there, the Kansas City Chiefs at River Falls (UW-River Falls). The Chiefs, who have been there since 1991, opened camp Sunday.

Wisconsin had five teams training there in the mid-1990s—Packers, Bears, Chiefs, Saints and Jacksonville—forming what was called the “Cheese League” (I still have a Cheese League T-shirt).

The first of the preseason games is only 10 days away. The New York Jets and Tampa Bay will play in the American Bowl in Tokyo Aug. 2, and the Packers and Kansas City are paired in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, Aug. 4.

The first full preseason weekend will be Aug. 7-11, and the regular season will begin Sept. 4 with the New York Jets at Washington.

The Super Bowl will be Feb. 1, 2004, in Houston. Over the course of the season, more people will want to know that date than any other. It’s published here now with the hope some people will write it down so they don’t have to go looking for it later on.

The Bears last week signed safety Mike Brown to a six-year contract, making him the second key member of the defense locked up with a long-term contract before reaching the free agent market. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher was signed to a nine-year deal June 4.

Brown was slated to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. He and Urlacher both came out of the 2000 draft, Brown from Nebraska and Urlacher from New Mexico. Brown has eight career interceptions, four returned for touchdowns to tie the franchise record set by Bennie McRae.

Also last week, the Bears waived quarterback Henry Burris, who was signed last season as a free agent. He was in six 2002 games, completing 18 of 51 passes for 207. He also logged time with the Packers, was in the Canadian Football League and this year started six games for the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe.

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A Veeck at Work: If you know anything at all about baseball history, you just knew someone named Veeck had to be behind former White Sox superstar Minnie Minoso becoming the first pro baseball player to play in seven decades.

Minoso, 77, was in the lineup as designated hitter for the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League last week against Gary, drawing a walk in a 6-5 loss before 6,259 fans. The Saints president is Mike Veeck, son of the master promoter Bill Veeck, who owned the White Sox when Minoso played there in his prime.

The game was part of the Saints’ annual Negro League tribute. Minoso played in the Negro Leagues. So did Larry Doby, who died in June. Doby was the first black player in the American League, brought in in 1947 by Bill Veeck, who then owned the Cleveland Indians. After Doby retired, Veeck—who then owned the White Sox—made him the second black to manage a Major League team, following Frank Robinson.

Minoso became the first player to play in six decades when he batted for the Saints in a game in 1993. He broke into baseball in 1948, and was with the White Sox for 16 years, through the 1950s until 1964. He came back with the White Sox in 1976 for eight at-bats (he got one hit) and two more in 1980.

Minoso currently works in the White Sox community relations department, and was on the Steve Cochran Show on WGN Radio the day after his St. Paul appearance, talking about his baseball career.

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All-Star Redemption: The American League won an exciting 74th All-Star Baseball Game last week, beating the National League 7-6 on a two-run homer by Hank Blalock of the Texas Rangers in the eighth inning. It was one of five homers in the game.

Garret Anderson of the Anaheim Angels also hit a homer and had two other hits to be named the game’s MVP. He also won the Home Run Derby.

Cubs’ manager Dusty Baker managed the NL stars.

The win means the AL will have home-field advantage for the World Series in October. All in all, it was redemption of some measure after last year’s All-Star debacle.

One note on the game’s site—the U.S. Cellular Field home of the White Sox on the South Side. You know, Comiskey Park, whether you call it New Comiskey or just Comiskey. AT&T, a rival of U.S. Cellular, is giving away T-shirts at some of its Chicago stores that say: “I Still Call It

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Rockford Good Provider: The Rockford RiverHawks continue to be a source for talent for other teams. Jason Shelley, who led the Frontier League with a 7-1 record, 82 strikeouts and 0.85 ERA, was signed to a minor league contract by the Milwaukee Brewers last week, and assigned to Class AA Huntsville of the Southern League, which is a pretty good jump up the ladder.

Earlier in the week, Rockford relief pitcher Justin Dowdy was signed by the Seattle Mariners and then assigned to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Class A Midwest League.

In June, another Hawk reliever, Justin Olson, was signed by the Minnesota Twins and is playing for the Quad City River Bandits of the Midwest League.

Losing players of that caliber obviously hurts Rockford’s chances of a title, but at the same time it speaks well that the RiverHawks are finding desirable talent.

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Weber With Cubs: Rockford Boylan’s Matt Weber now is with the Mesa Cubs of the Rookie League after signing a $160,000 contract last week at Doc’s Diner in Loves Park. He had a 14-1 pitching record this year, helping Boylan to second in the state.

“I’m as happy as I can be,” said Weber. “It’s great to be part of a good organization like the Cubs. You couldn’t ask for anything else.

“I’ve already bought a new car. The rest I’ll save and use when I get older. I’m fortunate I’m starting life with more money than most people get a chance to.”

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