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07-28-11 presidents race

Want to run for president without having to deliver stump speeches -- or having to speak at all?

The Washington Nationals have put out the casting call for its "racing presidents," the costumed characters who race around the ballpark during the fourth inning of home games.

To qualify to be one of the oversize mascots, applicants must be between 5-foot-7 and 6-foot-6, age 18 or older and strong enough to wear a 45-pound costume for several hours. In addition, applicants must be fast, capable of running from center field to home plate in 40 seconds.  

Racing presidents must also commit to work at least 35 games.

But hey, you don't have to participate in any debates.

The club receives about 200 to 300 applicants a year, according to Tom Davis, the club's entertainment manager. About 50 applicants will be selected for tryouts, based on responses to a questionnaire. The tryouts will be held, naturally, on Presidents Day weekend.

Winners of the job have included college students and government workers.  

The part-time work comes with a salary, but club officials declined to reveal the amount.

While only George, Tom, Abe and Teddy -- the presidents depicted on Mount Rushmore -- race during games, the club selects about 15 to 20 people.


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Photo: Courtesy of the Washington Nationals

New York mayor bets a cheesecake on a Giants victory

Eli manning
As wagers go, a cheesecake for cheese curds seems, well, kinda cheesy.

But New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who built an information services empire before his election, is so confident that the Giants will beat the Packers this weekend that he's putting a cheesecake where his mouth is. Or something like that.

Bloomberg and Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt have announced a "friendly wager" on Sunday's game in Green Bay. If the Giants win, Schmitt will ship local cheese curds and Titletown's Sno-Cap root beer. If the Packers win, Bloomberg will send Junior's cheesecake and -- in honor of the touchdown dance stylings of Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz -- salsa from the Brooklyn Salsa Co.

 "The Giants are playing best when it matters most, and I know they're going to keep it up on Sunday," Bloomberg said in a statement. "I have a feeling that Victor Cruz will be dancing in the end zone and the Giants will be putting the Packers' Super Bowl dreams to rest just like they did four years ago. And our salsa and cheesecake will be staying right here in Brooklyn."

Schmitt was quoted by Bloomberg's press office as responding, “The Lambeau Leap will always trump a touchdown salsa dance! We have the best team in the NFL and I look forward to another win.”

The Packers, winners of the 2011 Super Bowl, have the best regular-season record in the NFL: 15-1, with their lone loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. But the Giants, 9-7 in the regular season, played them tough in early December, losing by a field goal, 38-35.

Bloomberg announced Thursday that he'd be wearing Giants blue on Friday and encouraged all New Yorkers to do the same for "Big Blue Friday."

But the mayor wasn't always so monochromatic.

When the Giants were playing the Jets in late December, he wore a blue and green tie to a press conference and uttered these neutral -- if not simplistic -- words when asked about the contest between New York's two football teams: “One of the teams will win and the other one will not, and then we’ll see whether, in the crazy NFL East, one of the teams -– or whichever divisions they’re in -– they can still compete.”

Bloomberg, a Massachusetts native, followed basketball and the Celtics. If he was also a Boston Red Sox fan, he was clever enough not to talk about it in New York. If he had, getting elected to three mayoral terms would have been a daunting challenge, even for a billionaire.


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Photo:  New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning throws a pass against the Atlanta Falcons during their NFC wild card playoff game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.. Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images



Louis Zamperini deserves Congressional Gold Medal, lawmaker says

ZamperiniThe Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded to an eclectic assortment of figures, including Charles Lindbergh and Walt Disney. Now, a Texas congressman is seeking to present the nation's highest civilian honor to 94-year-old Louis Zamperini, a World War II hero from Los Angeles who survived 47 days in a life raft in the Pacific and beatings from his Japanese captors.

Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican, introduced the legislation after reading about Zamperini in Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption." McCaul must line up at least two-thirds of the House as co-sponsors for the measure to be considered.

The bill seeks to award the medal to Zamperini, a Hollywood Hills resident who will turn 95 in January, for "his service to the country, sacrifice during the war, and his inspiration to others through his courage as a survivor."

Zamperini was a miler at Torrance High School and USC, setting an NCAA record of 4 minutes 8.3 seconds that stood for 15 years, and competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Although he finished eighth in the 5,000 meters, his final lap of 56 seconds caught Adolf Hitler’s attention. He also drew attention for snatching a Nazi flag from the Reich chancellery during the Games.

During the war, after his plane crashed and after surviving 47 days at sea, he was captured by the Japanese and beaten frequently and fed a near-starvation diet during his more than two years in prisoner-of-war camps.

After the war, he drank heavily and suffered from nightmares and marital problems. One day he attended a Billy Graham rally, and he credited the evangelist for turning his life around, leading him to forgive his captors.

After returning home, Zamperini "overcame severe post-traumatic stress disorder from his time as a prisoner of war to dedicate his life to inspiring others and being an example for other soldiers to follow," the legislation says.

Zamperini was not immediately available. But John Naber, a fellow Olympian and USC Trojan who has become a close friend of Zamperini, welcomed the idea of Congress honoring a "man who has inspired so many, by his personal example and testimony."

"Louis has endured unbelievable challenges, and he has triumphed over all sorts of adversity, mostly in the absence of spectators," Naber said. "His message of hardiness, seasoned with preparation and coupled with forgiveness has changed -- and continues to change -- people around the country."

Zamperini Field, the Torrance airport, is named after him, as is "Louis Zamperini Plaza," the entrance to USC’s track stadium. In January, he will receive the 2012 NCAA Inspiration Award at the NCAA Convention in Indianapolis, presented to "people who, when confronted with a life-altering situation, used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome or deal with the event."

President Obama recently signed legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the first black Marines for their service during World War II in the face of discrimination, the so-called Montford Point Marines, named after the segregated North Carolina camp where they underwent training.


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Photo: Louis Zamperini. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Fan grief follows stabbing death of Seattle Mariners' Greg Halman


The news that Seattle Mariners outfielder Greg Halman was stabbed to death in the Netherlands early Monday -- possibly at the hands of his brother -- triggered an outpouring of grief among fans.

Halman, 24, was known for his scrappy climb through the minor leagues and his persistence when he was called up to the majors last year. Among the comments on the team's official page:

"I still remember that absolutely sick catch you made. I will never forget it. You were one of the young guys I absolutely loved to watch. I know as fans we were critiquing your statistics and your performance, but lord did we love the energy and the life you brought to your game....Thank you for living our dreams, and thank you for everything. We'll miss you."

An initial statement from the Rotterdam police said little -- “A 24-year-old died this morning in a stabbing and we have arrested the 22-year-old brother of the victim” -- in keeping with that country's privacy laws.

PHOTOS: Notable sports deaths of 2011

But a spokeswoman was more forthcoming. Rotterdam police spokeswoman Patricia Wessels told the Associated Press that police were called to a home in the port city in the early hours of the morning and found Halman bleeding from his wounds. Emergency workers were unable to save him, she said.

"It will take some time to figure out what exactly happened," she added.

The story continues to unfold and a statement from the team was expected Monday morning. 

"We are shocked and incredibly saddened by the news this morning," Halman's agent, Greg Nicotera, said in a statement released to He called Halman a "passionate, good-hearted, generous and faithful young man" before concluding: "This hurts."

Halman hit .230 in 87 at-bats with two home runs and six RBIs for the Mariners last season, according to He was on the Mariners' 40-man roster and regarded as a challenger for a position in left field or as a backup to center fielder Franklin Gutierrez.

The Dutchman also helped his native Netherlands win the 2007 European Baseball Championship and was Seattle's minor league player of the year in 2008.

To many in Europe, however, Halman was the face of Major League Baseball: He coached clinics for kids with major league dreams, and was doing so as recently as two weeks ago in the Netherlands.

Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Assn., noted as much in his statement to "Greg was passionate about the game of baseball and generously gave of himself to share his passion with others in an attempt to help grow the sport's popularity across Europe. He will be sorely missed."


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Twitter / renelynch

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photo: A 2010 photo of Greg Halman Credit: Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press

Texas nun keeps faith in Rangers, baseball

Sister Frances Evans (above left), 85, has been cheering for the Texas Rangers ever since the team moved west from Washington, D.C., in 1972.

She spoke with The Times before attending Game 5 of the World Series in Arlington on Monday night, the Rangers' last home game against the Cardinals before they are scheduled to depart for St. Louis.

Q: Where will you be sitting tonight?

A: Row 14, behind home plate.

Q: Do you plan to bring your drum, the one longtime Rangers fan John J. Lanzillo Jr. -- better known as “Zonk” -- gave you last year, that all the players signed?

A: I always bring the drum.

Q: How did you become a baseball fan?

A: I grew up a tomboy. I played baseball and football with the fellas. None of your basic frilly type stuff.

Q: And where was it that you grew up?

A: Temple, Texas.

Q: How did you become a nun?

A: I was a convert. I worked six years in Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio in the lab. There was something different about the sisters. The only thing I can think is, God just shook me by the neck and said, "This is what you’re going to do." In 1950 I entered convent in San Antonio, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.

Q: Did you wear habits?

A: We sure did! We wore habits for a long time.

Q: Could you go to baseball games?

A: Not back then, you didn’t go much of anywhere. I worked in the hospital most of the time. I don’t think we even had television when I entered.

I was stationed here in Fort Worth in 1967. It was beginning to lighten up a bit here and there. I remember well when they went to the shorter skirts and I walked out of chapel and felt the breeze on my knees. I never knew how good that would feel.

Q: What are some of your favorite Rangers memories?

A: When the Rangers moved here in '72, Sister Maggie and I were at the opening game. I can still see Frank Howard hitting that home run. It was a great thing to see.

We got to know [Rangers owner] Nolan [Ryan] when he was playing ball for us. He has a lovely family, Ruth is a great lady. We got to know all the players over the years and the owners. When they built the new stadium, they asked us to be the first ones through the turnstile. Baseball’s been so good to us.

We’ve been to New York three times for the playoffs and we’ve been to fantasy baseball camp in Port Charlotte, Fla. We donned uniforms and played baseball all day -- it was really fun. Talk about going back to your childhood! We’ve had a good life with baseball.

Q: How do you get to go to so many games?

A: God provides the tickets.

Q: Why do you love baseball?

A: It’s a good family sport. Texas has always been football country, but they’re kind of coming around now.

I need to get somebody to go with me. I don’t like to go by myself -- I like to have somebody to talk to, to share joys and sorrows with.

Q: I understand Sister Maggie Hession, 83, who has accompanied you to games for decades, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

A: Yes. She's at a nursing home. I'm visiting her now. Her room is all decorated in Texas Rangers décor. She has a spread on her bed and a pillow, a sham, it’s decorated with the Rangers emblem. Everything is in red, white and blue.

Q: I heard you tried to take her to a playoff game but it didn't go so well.

A: The noise level was too high -- so I don’t take her to the playoffs. I would love to, if she could remember. Her love of baseball was as strong as mine. Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease.

Q: Does she still remember you?

A: Yes, thank God she does. But you don’t get better with this darn stuff, you just get worse gradually.

Q: What will you do if the Rangers win tonight?

A: I’ll thank God for the win. It sounds crazy, but I do pray for our team, as well as lots of other things. I have a long list.


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Photo: Sister Frances Evans, left, with her best friend and baseball buddy Sister Maggie Hession, in Sister Maggie's nursing home room. Sister Maggie suffers from Alzheimer's disease and can no longer attend the games.  Credit: Lara Solt / Dallas Morning News


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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