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Sports action wilts in heat of summer


Say whatever you want about senators and congressmen, but you have to give them this: They know when to get out of town when nothing is happening.

Capitol Hill essentially shuts down each August because there's nothing to do in Washington for the whole month besides sweat. So, what does the sports-minded Baltimorean do for the almost two weeks before the Ravens report to camp?

Make no mistake, folks, the sports cupboard around here is empty.

To wit, the Orioles are closer to last place in the American League East than third, and the next six weeks are essentially reduced to watching the real contenders come through Camden Yards and fatten up on the hometown nine. That is, until the Sept. 1 call-ups. Then, we can see which prospects will be disappointing in seasons to come.

Even sports that many care about every so often, say tennis and soccer, are on breaks. Wimbledon just ended and the next big tennis event, the U.S. Open, won't start until the end of August.

Meanwhile, now that the World Cup is over, most Americans won't think about soccer again until, oh, say, 2010, when the next world championship will take place.

Still, the next couple of weeks don't have to be a complete waste. There are a few activities that can keep the anxious sports fan occupied until the next big thing comes along.

If you simply must have baseball in your regimen, there is no shortage of interesting books available on the subject, the best of which is Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Hero, a biography of Roberto Clemente.

Author David Maraniss, who wrote a biography of Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, has crafted a moving biography of the late, great Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder, who died delivering relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims on New Year's Eve, 1972.

ESPN's publishing arm has come up with an interesting blend of baseball and that wacky new puzzling craze, Sudoku, in which players are challenged to fill in a grid with numbers from 1 through 9, without repeating them.

In a new paperback collection of 200 puzzles, players are given the usual task of doing Sudoku, but with a twist: The numbers have been replaced with baseball positions, a la a scorecard, with, for example, the 1 being replaced with pitcher, the 2 with catcher and so on.

The doldrums also lend themselves nicely toward hitting the video store or video-by-mail service with a vengeance, with, of course, a heavy lean toward movies with a sports theme.

While anyone can rent the obviously brilliant sports movies, say, Field of Dreams or Bull Durham or Raging Bull, there's an art to finding films that are a bit off the beaten track.

Take, for instance, Beyond the Mat, a 2000 documentary from filmmaker Barry Blaustein that goes behind the scenes of the world of professional wrestling. Though critical of World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon, Beyond the Mat is quite sympathetic to the wrestlers and is quite an eye-opening film for fans and skeptics alike.

For basketball fans, you can hardly go wrong with 1 Love, another terrific documentary from Leon Gast, who directed the Oscar-winning boxing documentary, When We Were Kings. 1 Love is an oral and visual hoops history lesson with conversations with such luminaries as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Phil Jackson, as well as footage from the Harlem playgrounds.

If you need a sports-themed love story, 2000's Love and Basketball is the ticket. Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan play a couple who have balanced, well, love and basketball, since childhood, and see their relationship evolve as both pursue professional careers. The basketball scenes are as realistic as Hollywood can make them, and the film never lapses into the maudlin or into the proscribed sports movie ending.

At some point, however, you'll need to get off your couch and actually do something. What could be better than a round of Frisbee golf at the city's disc course at Druid Hill Park? It's all the walking of golf without having to lug around clubs. Or perhaps a rousing game of billiards or darts could be up your proverbial alley.

Now, if walking really is your thing, there are plenty of parks and trails in the area where you can admire the flora and fauna and get in a nice little hike as well. Be sure and go early in the morning or later in the evening before sundown, so as not to get all hot and sweaty.

Finally, if you want to do something with even lower impact, you could do worse than checking out the relatively new Sports Legends museum at Camden Yards.

Of course, there's always a two-week nap on the couch, with a note pinned to your shirt instructing someone to awaken you when something interesting happens.

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