April's End

Top stories and other stuff from the past week, the last week of April, the last month before sports start getting serious for the summer.

The Seattle Mariners jumped out to a Major League leading 20-5 (including 15-0 against right-handers) record through the month of April. Twenty is the most wins ever in the opening month of play.

And the Mariners have done this without its former All-Star shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who now plays for AL West division rival Texas. Unloading A-Rod, who is making $22 million for/from Texas (up 411 percent from his Seattle salary in 2000), allowed the Mariners to go after a lot of other guys, and the deal is paying off. Seattle's opening day payroll was $75.6 million (11th largest in the league), up from $58.9 from last season.

At that amount, Seattle bought each win in April for $3.78 million. That's cheap compared to Texas' price tag of $8.04 million per April victory. The Rangers, which were 11-14 in the fourth month, had the seventh highest opening day payroll.

The largest? The $109.8 million New York Yankees. New York was 14-12 through April, forking out $7.84 million for each victory. Yankee players' average annual income is $3.5 million. You know, it's quite expensive to live in the city.

Minnesota Twins players, as a contrast, make an average of $901,852 (poor things - how do they manage?). And they even live in two cities, Minneapolis/St. Paul. The Twins have scraped by on a meager $24.3 million opening day payroll, the league's lowest. Still, the club has won 18 games in April, at only $1.35 mil per pop - more than doubling (or halving, depending on your perspective) the Mariners' money.

The road-raging Reds closed out April in second place in the NL Central at 14-10 - its first April winning record in seven years - despite Ken Griffey Jr.'s 2001 "contribution" of three walks and one hit-by-pitch. Jr.'s now (starting 4/29) on the 15-day disabled list nursing the hamstring he hurt before the season.

Look for Deion Sanders to dance on up from Triple-A ball to replace Griffey's bat and box office draw.

The NHL playoffs - the most grueling playoffs in sports and those with the coolest championship trophy - are now into their second round and could possibly run until mid June. And you thought hockey was a winter sport.

Prohibitive least-favorite for the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 5: Songandaprayer. Why? Because the steed, sired by Unbridled Song, is owned by former Kentucky nemesis Bobby Hurley, Duke point guard on its '92 national championship team. He parted with $1 million last year for Songandaprayer, who sits at 25-1 odds at the end of April.

Hurley, who was forced out of the NBA after a near-fatal car crash a few years ago, is still filthy rich, though, owning a couple more 3-year-olds and "a half-dozen 2-year-olds." Just another reason not to like him.

In other filthy-rich-people news, this past week Michael Jordan announced that he's going to announce something on July 1. And that's big news.

On 7/1, Jordan will announce whether he's un-retiring (again). The NBA is hoping so, because it needs an image enhancement and needs his help.

We should not resent Jordan for considering this, because to the greatest player on the planet, RETIREMENT is just an acronym for REst unTIl theRE's soMeone Else New to beaT.

And there are plenty of new guns ablaze in the NBA that were mere pea shooters when Jordan left the game. Who wouldn't pay big bucks to see him punk that punk Allen Iverson? Or to launch an air assault against fellow high-flying Carolina alum Vince Carter? Or to go head-to-heads against Kobe and Shaq?

Okay, so MJ vs. both Kobe and Shaq may be a shade problematical even for Mike, especially if he's playing for the wimpy Washington Wizards, the team he partly owns. Therefore, Jordan's sought a sidekick, persuading his buddy Charles Barkley to also consider abandoning retirement.

And that's big news too. Literally. Barkley, the Round Mound of Rebound, is currently more like an oval, seriously out of shape at north of 300 pounds. Appears that his weight is finally catching up to the size of his mouth.

So, seems Chuck will have to abandon several meals this summer if he's going to be ready (by 7/1) to play with/for Jordan... if Jordan's going to play. But expect Sir Charles to be successful in starving himself, because his figurative hunger for his first championship - fed by his XXXL ego - will be greater than actual hunger of his XXXL belly on a supermodel's diet.

Speaking of the aforementioned dynamic duo (Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, not [yet] Barkley and Jordan), they led the Lakers to its first playoff sweep since 1991, beating the Portland Trailblazers last Sunday for a third straight time.

In the post-game TV interview, Kobe busted out in Italian, perhaps trying to cross-market himself by creating resonance for his Adidas commercial in which he talks trash in that tongue. Shaq, never to miss an opportunity to jest, jousted back with a jargon of Jibber-Jabber reminiscent of Beavis and Butt-head. Uh-huh-huh, hmm-huh-ha. That Shaq is a wacky guy.

All jokes aside though, L.A. is the pick to take the NBA title this year. Since Phil Jackson started coaching the Lakers, the team has never lost three straight times. And they're looking real good right now.

Except for Rick Fox. Have you seen Rick Fox's do? The Laker's starting forward's hairstyle is a cross between ugly and awful.

But he's married to Vanessa Williams, so he must be doing something right.


Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

The answer is... wait a minute...hold on... I said, let me think for just a damn minute, Regis... okay, the final answer is: contributing Ace writer, XXXXXX. His tape date for the ABC show is May 2. Ace art director Jim Shambhu will serve as the "lifeline" in the category of art and architecture, if called upon. Ace editor, Rhonda Reeves, (who had never seen the show when asked to serve) will be choking in the category of literature. If XXXXX makes it to the hot seat, expect future Ace coverage of his gameshow adventures.

James Still, 1906-2001

James Still, Appalachian writer and former poet laureate of Kentucky, died last Saturday of cardiac arrest at the Appalachian Regional Hospital in Hazard at 94.

The author of River to Earth and poet laureate from 1995 through 1996 will be sorely missed by the authors whose work he influenced, as he is regarded as one of the forefathers of the Appalachian literary tradition; he was especially beloved for his work with the writers' conference at the Hindman Settlement school.

A new collection of his work is due to be published in June by the University Press of Kentucky, titled From the Mountain, From the Valley: New and Collected Poems.

Transcending 4th Street

There's very little as satisfying as public sculpture, but unfortunately, there's very not too much of it. Luckily, artists John Davidson and Jamie Kuli are helping out by unveiling their work Transcendence on May 10th. In the courtyard of Lafayette Boulevard on Fourth Street, Davidson and Kuli will hold the ribbon cutting at 5:10pm of the 15 foot by 17 foot, 850 lbs. sculpture. Stop by, if you can, since they made the sculpture for you, Mr. & Ms. Q. Public.