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For Columbia youths, attraction to baseball is in the numbers; HOWARD AT PLAY


PRO ATHLETES think they're not role models for kids? Mike Swartz, profiled on this page today, relayed a fun little tale about the 11-year-olds on his Columbia Youth Baseball Association travel team that indicates otherwise.

Seems his squad had a debate about uniform numbers for this season that boiled down to who would get the most popular number, that of a major-leaguer sometimes simply called "Junior."

Ah, Cal Ripken's No. 8, you say.

Nope. Despite being a living legend who's played forever 15 or so miles up Interstate 95, Ripken's a bald, old guy who at 39 is decrepit enough to be father to Swartz's kids.

The "Junior" Swartz's boys want to emulate is new Cincinnati Reds slugger and multimillionaire Ken Griffey Jr.

"Of course, what they forgot, or didn't hear," said Swartz, "is that Griffey, [No. 24 while making his fame with the Seattle Mariners] had to change his number when he signed with the Reds. That's because Tony Perez wore 24 in Cincinnati, and when he went into the Hall of Fame the team retired his number."

Griffey Junior will wear No. 30 this season. Reason: to honor his role model -- his father and Cincy coach Ken Griffey Sr., who's switched to No. 33 this season.

Missing softballers?

We found some numbers to document where lots of those missing middle school softballers we wrote about last week are.

Seems the booming Howard County Lacrosse Program, which a decade ago counted about 50 girls on its teams -- compared with 300 boys -- has teams totaling about 550 girls.

That's a whopping elevenfold increase.

So what about the boys? The county's grown and the sport's probably never been as popular, so HCLP has about 750 boys competing -- about 2.5 times as many a decade ago.

Conversation fodder

Numbers game: With about 5,600 ut 10,000 at the rec level.

Plan ahead

Soccer fans, mark April 15 and 16 on your calendars for the fourth KICKS Against Breast Cancer Women's Intercollegiate Soccer Tournament, which was founded by a Columbian and proceeds from which benefit the Claudia Mayer Cancer Resource and Image Center at Howard County General Hospital.

Louise Waxler, involved deeply in women's soccer, founded the tournament, which is played at the University of Maryland, in memory of Mayer, her late friend, also a Columbia soccer name.

This year's tournament will feature matches among eight soccer teams: Maryland, Virginia and Clemson from the ACC; regional favorites Navy, George Mason and James Madison; Illinois from the Big 10; and that rapid-riser just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Penn State.

This event has raised more than $25,000 for the Mayer Center. A silent auction is being conducted, with autographed shirts by U.S. national women's team captain Michelle Akers and Brandi Chastain, whose penalty k25; we promise to call back.

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