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Sunday, July 9, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Olympic notebook

Seattle Times staff and news services

Tommy Lasorda, in his 51st year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, doesn't just let it slip. He brags.

First and foremost, he's a Yankee. But this is about stars and stripes, not pinstripes.

And this 72-year-old Yankee Doodle Dandy is eager to get to the Sydney Olympics, where he will manage the U.S. Olympic baseball team.

"I wish it was tomorrow," Lasorda said. "Being selected to manage the U.S. Olympic team is such a great privilege and honor, it's bigger than the World Series. It's bigger than the Dodgers, bigger than Major League Baseball, because it's the United States of America. It's your country."

Two months from now, the Olympic baseball team arrives on the Gold Coast of Australia, about 400 miles north of Sydney, where it will train and play exhibitions against Olympic teams from four other countries. The U.S. squad will be chosen Aug. 23 from a pool of minor-leaguers and will convene Sept. 1 in San Diego.

USA Baseball officials hope Lasorda's enthusiasm for the task infects a few top minor-league prospects who could face a difficult decision next month. They may have to choose between a September call-up to the big leagues or the Olympics.

For many, the choice will be obvious - and it doesn't include a passport. The Olympic manager sniffs at the suggestion.

"If anybody takes something like that over playing for his country, I don't particularly want him," Lasorda said.

Two years ago, Lasorda appeared before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to lobby for a constitutional amendment outlawing flag-burning. He laments that kids today don't seem patriotic enough.

In 1976, when two fans tried to light up the American flag in center field of Dodger Stadium, Lasorda sprinted from his third-base coaching box to confront them.

Dodger outfielder Rick Monday "beat me to them," he said. "When I got there, Monday had picked up the flag. I said to those guys, `Take a punch at me, because I want to bury you guys right here.' "

Lasorda said he learned patriotism at his family's dining room table, where his father, an Italian immigrant, told his five sons they should be prepared to give up their lives for this country.

"I've worn three uniforms that I'm extremely proud of. When I was 14 years old, I wore the uniform of the Boy Scouts," he said. "I wore the uniform of the U.S. Army and the uniform of the Dodgers. Now I'm going to put on a uniform that's going to say `USA' on the front of it."

And it's a baseball uniform, the fabric of Lasorda's life for more than 50 years before he was forced to retire as Dodger manager in July 1996 because of a heart condition. He is now a vice president with the Dodgers.

"He misses every part of being on the field," said Dodger infielder Dave Hansen, who played five-plus seasons under him. "This is his arena. It doesn't matter what uniform, as long as he's got on a uniform and a field to step on. . . . He lives it, and there's very few of those people left."

Said Lasorda, who managed the Dodgers for 20 years: "I miss it very, very much. But I think I did the right thing. When I had the heart problem, it scared the daylights out of me."

Like the teenagers and college-aged kids who will take America's hopes to Sydney, the septuagenarian also dreams of standing on the top of the podium with a gold-medal winning team.

"I want to go down as a trivia question 50 years from now: `Who managed a world's championship and managed an Olympic team to a gold medal?' "

U.S. plays Korea in Tacoma

The USA Baseball team comes to Tacoma to play the Korean national team on Wednesday at Cheney Stadium, starting at 7:05 p.m.

This U.S. team is comprised of the top college players in the country, including Bothell's Josh Karp, a right-handed pitcher who plays at UCLA. He joins six other Pac-10 players: Mike Gosling, a left-handed pitcher from Stanford; Casey Myers, a catcher from Arizona State; Jon Switzer, a left-handed pitcher from Arizona State; Xavier Nady, an infielder/outfielder from Cal; and Mark Prior and Anthony Reyes, both right-handed pitchers from USC.

Tickets cost $5 for general admission, $6 reserved and $10 for a box seat. There will be a free clinic for kids 14 and under at 5 p.m. with USA Baseball players and coaches, and three will be fireworks after the game. Call 253-752-7700 for advance tickets.

The Red, White and Blue Tour began June 18 in Tucson, with five games against Mexico's national team. Since then, they have played Japan five times and Korea four times and will follow the Tacoma exhibition with six games against Taiwan, beginning Friday in Portland. The U.S. had a 7-3 record going into Friday's game with Korea.

The U.S. Olympic team, which will comprise minor-league players, will be the first professional Olympic baseball team ever assembled. A selection committee of Major League Baseall and USA Baseball will choose the 24 players on the team. The Mariners will be represented on the Olympic selection committee by General Manager Pat Gillick and scouting director Roger Jongewaard.

At the 1996 Olympics, the U.S. defeated Nicaragua for the bronze medal, the first Olympic medal in U.S. history. (The U.S. won the gold in 1984 and 1988, but baseball was still a demonstration sport.)

U.S. softball team at Husky Stadium

The U.S. national softball team will play the Akron Racers at 2 p.m. next Sunday (July 16) at Husky Stadium.

The Central Park to Sydney Tour comes from a July 14 stop at Portland's Erv Lind Stadium. The Seattle game is the 19th in a 35-city tour that began June 2 in Chattanooga, Tenn., and ends Sept. 3 in Honolulu.

The U.S. team has not lost a game yet on the tour.

The Akron Racers of Ohio are part of the Women's Professional Fastpitch League.

Ticket prices are $15 for adults and kids in the stadium and $10 for adults and $8 for kids in the outfield bleachers.

For additional ticket information, contact the Husky Ticket Office, 206-543-2200.

Karolyi doesn't get it all

Whatever Bela wants, Bela gets. That pretty much had been the unwavering plot line during Bela Karolyi's first seven months as national team coordinator for the U.S. women's gymnastics program.

And Karolyi likes it that way.

Karolyi wanted to conduct monthly training camps, where he could play headmaster to the best gymnasts in the country, assigning them letter grades - "A team here, B team to the back of the gym" - without having to step a foot from his Houston ranch and residence. He got it.

He wanted to select the eventual six-woman U.S. Olympic team himself, rather than leave it to the hard results of the U.S. trials, which are a long-standing American tradition but far too unpredictable and unmanageable for Karolyi's tastes. In an extraordinary move, he got that too.

Last week, however, the sometimes benevolent dictator got some news that had him grumbling and grousing to reporters on a conference call: Karolyi would be joined on a four-person Olympic team selection committee by longtime American judge Marilyn Cross, 1984 Olympian Tracee Talavera and either gymnast Chari Knight or Larissa Fontaine.

USA Gymnastics would prefer the trials not be rendered altogether meaningless. All that needed to be done, the federation figured, was to have the panel in place before the trials, scheduled for Aug. 17-20 in Boston. Once they convene in Boston, they can watch the competition, get a handle on the best talent there and then vote on which six should go to Sydney.

That sounds reasonable enough . . . unless you're Karolyi and one of your favorites since January has a bad weekend in August and she's voted off the team, 3-1.

"The selection situation, it's still messy," Karolyi said.

Karolyi criticized the addition of Talavera and Cross, who were chosen by coaches of potential Olympic gymnasts.

"I just hope everyone realizes what the best interest of the team is," he said, "and what the strengths and weaknesses of the athletes are."

Gannett news service and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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