Vegas baby, Vegas!

July, 24, 2010
I rarely, if ever, make a well-planned trip to Las Vegas. And by well-planned I mean having an idea I'm going to Vegas when I wake up in the morning.

The trip normally revolves around a friend asking what I'm doing later, me responding with nothing particularly exciting and concludes with us stuffing a few dress shirts into a backpack and driving to Las Vegas.

Courtesy of Arash Markazi
Former cheerleaders Bonnie-Jill Laflin, left, and Erica Arana are in Vegas with Arash.

Well, here I am again, in Vegas, having no idea I'd be writing this post from the sports book of Caesar's Palace when I woke up in the morning. Then again when you get a BBM message from Bonnie-Jill Laflin, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, and Erica Arana, a former Raiderette, telling you to hurry to Vegas with a picture of both of them sitting by the pool you don't have much of a choice.

I'm here for a party I'll tell you about later but needless to say The Strip is already brimming with wannabe ballers, groupies and other assorted characters with USA Basketball in town for training camp and Saturday's USA Basketball Showcase.

To be honest, it isn't much of a "showcase" with the Kobes and the LeBrons of the world being replaced by the likes of JaVale McGee and Kevin Love, which probably explains why courtside tickets were going for $75. Call me crazy, but I'd rather watch the Showcase Showdown on "The Price is Right" than this intrasquad scrimmage.

I'll be back later with some more updates from my stay in Vegas. Well, as much of it as I can remember and won't interfere with me being gainfully employed when I return.
Ron Artest was running about an hour late, something about being at the passport office and getting a visa for a trip to China and getting stuck in traffic and, you know, typical Ron stuff.

He was supposed to speak to a group of students at Jordan High School in Long Beach on behalf of the Stephanie Starks HOPE Foundation and encourage them to improve their grades, stay in school and go to college. The kids, however, sat and waited for no one in particular (he was a surprise guest) for nearly an hour before Artest finally came running through the gates and was welcomed by a standing ovation.

“Is this a real school or summer school because I heard in Los Angeles, California they go to school all year round,” he said as he grabbed the microphone before being corrected by a couple student in the first row. “They don’t. Why would somebody tell me that?”

As Artest stood in front of the students seated around him, he began pacing back and forth and reciting his checkered history in the class room.

“My freshman year of high school I had a 65 average, so I was failing so they sat me 13 games,” he said. “In order to play basketball I had to pick up my grades so every year I picked up my average by 10 points. My senior year I had a 95 average and I went to St. Johns but I still didn’t do that well on the SAT. I took it twice, I got 820 the first time and the second time I got an 860. That was only because I was good at math. Reading was bad for me.”

Artest said he wanted to be an architect or a junior high math teacher when he was growing up and tried his hand in both when he went to St. Johns.

“My major in college was math,” he said. “It started as architecture but then I changed it to math because I had to do too many projects in architecture and it was too hard to wake up 6am and do architecture and then go to practice so I majored in math.”

While the majority of the kids he spoke to were in summer school because they failed at least one class, Artest told them they had no excuse not to improve their grades and do better. After all, he was able to do it even though he was helping raise a child.

“I had my first baby when I was 16 going on 17 but I’m not encouraging that, it’s extremely hard,” he said. “I used to have to go outside in New York City at 2 in the morning, someone would want to play me in basketball and I had to play games for $200, $500, going out and hustling just to buy Pampers.”

Afterwards, when I caught up with Artest he seemed unimpressed with the new-look Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. “I don’t really have an opinion on that. I’m more worried about what we’re going to do this season and how we’re going to play,” he said. “What happened over there isn’t much different than what happened in Boston and what happened in LA. It’s the media’s job to create the stories.”

He was, however, impressed the Lakers were able to sign Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff in the off-season to a championship roster mostly intact from last season. “That was interesting because I don’t know what better players you can get,” he said. “I think the Lakers are great and they’re a team that everyone wants to play for; I know that’s how I felt last year.”

Despite what the Heat and other teams have done this off-season Artest simply smiled when asked about the Lakers’ chances at winning the title again next year.

“I don’t want to talk about that three-peat next year,” he said. “That’s easy.”
It had been over seven months since Pete Carroll walked onto the field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It looked drastically different than the stadium he had grown accustomed to the past nine years as USC’s head coach. Much of the stands were covered in ramps and rails for the “Big Air” competitions taking place at the X Games, and the field looked like a Las Vegas convention with booths set up on either side for NFL 101, an annual event in Los Angeles promoting a league which left the city 15 years ago and has seemingly forgotten about it since.

Icon SMI

It seems like forever since Carroll roamed the Coliseum sidelines.

Carroll and his USC Trojans were the closest thing LA has had to an NFL team (insert pay-for-play joke here) but with Carroll back in the NFL and the Trojans on four years probation, it seems Angelinos will have to settle for these on-field wine-and-cheese mixers where they get to take pictures with the Raiders and 49ers cheerleaders and then settle for watching the teams on TV when Sunday rolls around.

As Carroll walked around the field he looked up at the Peristyle entrance and smiled. “It’s good to be back,” he said. “I loved walking down that Peristyle entrance before every game. It’s a great place with great memories and a great future too. I’m just fortunate to have had a chance to understand what it feels like to be a part of this place.”

Carroll not only strolled around USC’s locker room but took a look at the visiting locker room, a place he hadn’t been in since 1993, when he was the defensive coordinator for the New York Jets.

If the memories of that game (a 24-20 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders) seem like a lifetime ago, it’s been about that long since this city has seen an NFL game, which still amazes Carroll, who saw over 90,000 fans pack the Coliseum to see USC play on Saturdays.

“When the time comes and its right, everyone gets together, which may take a long time still, I know it will be well received,” he said. “It will be a big deal but it looks like they still have to wait a while.”

Would Carroll come back and coach whatever team Los Angeles gets, whenever that may be?

“Oh, no,” he said. “I’m happy where I’m at right now. I’m not looking to move anytime soon.”

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Some records may be erased, but former USC QB Matt Leinart isn't giving up the memories.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart held his fourth annual "Bowling with the Stars" event at Lucky Strike Bowling Alley in Hollywood on Friday and while there weren’t many stars there (can anyone out there tell me who BC Jean, Carly Craig, Cassie Scerbo, Gina Holden or any non-athlete in this gallery) there was plenty going on inside and here are three things I took away from the party as I prayed there were no television executives in attendance who would take this "Bowling with the Stars" concept to prime time TV.


1. Reggie Bush attended the Leinart’s event and Leinart and the other USC players who were there (Keith Rivers, Thomas Williams and Brandon Hance) didn’t blame Bush for being responsible for USC vacating its victories from December 2004 through the 2005 season and being banned from the postseason for two years. Bush and Leinart chatted before Bush joined Vince Young and Shawne Merriman at the middle bowling lane and took a couple of pictures. Leinart said he and Bush still talk regularly and the sanctions don’t change the way he or his teammates view him.

“Me and Reggie are very close and we talk all the time," Leinart said. "I actually saw him a few times this week. It's a tough time for him and he took this pretty hard but I'm proud of him. He's held his head up high and he's continued to move on. It's five years ago and you have to move forward."


2. New Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh is already preparing for his South Beach look while he’s in Hollywood. Bosh showed up to the event in a blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, torn khaki shorts and sockless canvas shoes. The last time I saw Bosh was during a blizzard in Toronto and when I reminded him of that while we stood at the bar he laughed and nodded his head. “Yeah, that was fun,” he said. “I’m glad I can wear this more often now.


3. I really should be better at keeping up with the happenings in the pop culture world but I had no idea who Kellen Lutz was before last night. As the photographers on the red carpet snapped away like crazy and girls on the sidewalk squealed as if they had seen Brad Pitt (see out of touch I am) I was trying to figure out who had arrived. So apparently Lutz played Emmett Cullen in The Twilight film series. I don’t know what that means but I do know it's a big deal because I remember hundreds of people camping outside at LA Live for close to a week before The Twilight Saga: Eclipse premiere. Anyway, Lutz chatted with Leinart at the event and while I couldn’t hear what they were saying I can tell you they do share one thing in common: neither is a particularly good bowler although Leinart would be the first to tell you that.
Literally the only thing more absurd than me standing on a red carpet at an award show is me standing on a red carpet at an award show, hosting one of those “Live from the Red Carpet” shows. Yeah, that’s right, me. This guy. The guy who has never been on TV before. The guy who looks like a deer in headlights even when a camera at a family party is on him. The guy who talks to fast for his own good and trips over his words like it’s a slapstick comedy when he’s nervous.

I’m guessing the same people who decided to have me host the first ever “Live from the Red Carpet at the ESPYS” show, which was streamed live on, were the same people who thought “The Decision” was a great idea. Thankfully not as many tuned in to watch me do my best Ryan Seacrest impersonation as I talked to Danica Patrick, Brandon Jennings, Lisa Leslie, Evan Longoria, Arsenio Hall and others as they walked into the Nokia Theatre.

Rich Arden for
The red carpet was full of media.

I did a little bit of research on these red carpet shows before the ESPYS and the one common theme they all had was, there were usually two people hosting, usually a good looking guy and an attractive former model or actress and they had commercial breaks during the times when things got slow. Yeah, I had none of the above. I’m not that much fun to look at, I didn’t have a co-host and instead of commercial breaks viewers listening to me as I stammered my way through a play-by-play of the guests who were passing by.

Other than all that, I thought it was a rousing success. Easily the most surreal moment of the evening was holding an ESPN microphone to Rachel Nichols’ face and interviewing her. There was certainly something wrong with that picture and I told her she didn’t have to worry about her job as if she couldn’t already tell by the time our interview was over.

I also caught up with Bill Simmons and Kenny Mayne, who were as shocked as I was to be hosting the show. “Who’s idea was this?” Simmons said. “How many people are watching this right now?”

I don’t know but my running joke that at least my parents were watching wasn’t even true. When I called them after the show they said their internet wasn’t working so they missed it.

Probably the best part of the show was our location on the red carpet; we were next to far more professional shows like Extra, Access Hollywood and Inside Edition (I didn’t even know they were still around) and the fact that I was on a riser so I looked taller than I actually am. Danica Patrick was the one guest who was actually shorter than me and joined me on the riser, which I wasn’t about to complain about.

The one guest I wasn’t able to get on the red carpet because we had already gone off air (online?) was Brooklyn Decker, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover model I knew from back in my days at SI when I would go on some of the swimsuit shoots. Luckily for me, I was able to snag a ticket to the after-party at the Conga Room and hung out with her there.

She’s going to be co-starring with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in a romantic comedy called, “Just Go With It,” next year, which just wrapped production in Hawaii. (She always seems to be at an exotic location for work.) Despite being a natural in front of the camera she said she was terrified of being a presenter during the ESPYS although I told her she did far better than I did on the red carpet.

Then again, after being given a red carpet show with virtually no experience, I told her I fully expected to be back with her at the show next year, this time as a presenter. Hey, why not? The only place to go after conquering the absurd is taking on the very absurd.

Live from the ESPYS

July, 14, 2010
The one knock I always had against the ESPYS (you know, back when I wasn’t employed by this amazing company), was that it wasn’t live. It was taped Wednesday and shown on Sunday. That’s a four-day, 96-hour tape delay of a show we already know the results of by the time it hits the airwaves. That’s all out the window this year when Seth Meyers takes the stage at Nokia Theatre to host the ESPYS live.

So, for example, if Sean Payton wins Coach of the Year instead of Mike Krzyzewski, there’s nothing stopping Nick Saban from pulling a Kanye West moment and stopping Payton mid-speech to give credit to Coach K and you’ll be able to see it all happen live.

Speaking of being live, I’ll be live on the red carpet at the ESPYS, hosting our red carpet show, which can be seen at We had a live test run yesterday at the ESPYS Golf Classic in the City of Industry and let’s just say it’ll be worth watching if for no other reason than to watch me stammer through interviews under the spotlight.

Anyway, before the show starts, here’s my prediction on who will win some of the most talked about awards, and no I don’t have any knowledge of who will win. For all I know, I could get all my picks wrong and wouldn’t be surprised if I do. OK, drum roll please…


This will become a growing theme on a night that should feature plenty of Saints walking on stage but I'm going to take Drew Brees over Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Jimmie Johnson and Albert Pujols.


I heard Serena Williams threw an amazing “house party” (it wasn’t really a house, just a Bel-Air mansion she rented) on Tuesday and I’m guessing she’ll throw another shindig after she edges out Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi and Lindsey Vonn for this award.


Hey, look, there's Drew Brees again, accepting an ESPY after beating out Anthony Johnson, Michael Phelps and Shaun White.


This one’s tough but I have to take John Wall over Stephen Strasburg, Chris Johnson, Brittney Griner simply on the merits of the immensely popular John Wall dance.


I’ll take the Connecticut Women’s Basketball team and their 78-game winning streak over the likes of Usain Bolt, Brett Favre, Roger Federer and the Isner vs. Mahut match.


Since an upset category deserves an upset winner, I’m going with Frankie Edgar beating B.J. Penn at UFC 112 to shock fellow upset specials, Hawaii beating No. 1 Alabama in softball, Northern Iowa shocking No. 1 Kansas in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and Y.E. Yang stunning Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship.


Hands down the best moment of the year has to be the New Orleans Saints winning Super Bowl XLIV and giving the people still suffering the effects of Katrina something to cheer about. That moment just edges out Phil Mickelson at the Masters, Joannie Rochette at the Winter Olympics and Landon Donovan’s World Cup goal against Algeria.


I can’t imagine a scenario where the New Orleans Saints don’t edge out Alabama Football, Chicago Blackhawks, Connecticut Women’s Basketball, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Yankees to win this award. The ESPYS pre-party had a Saints theme and something tells me the post-party will as well.


This is probably the toughest category for me to pick from but I’m going to give Sean Payton the nod for leading the Saints to the Super Bowl over Geno Auriemma, Joe Girardi, Phil Jackson, Mike Krzyzewski, and Nick Saban.


Give me Canada edging USA in the Olympic hockey championship game in overtime over the Twins beating the Tigers in extra innings in the AL Central one-game tiebreak and Duke beating Butler in the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship.


This one had to go to Landon Donovan’s World Cup goal against Algeria over Brett Fvare’s return to Green Bay and Stephen Strasburg’s MLB debut, Sidney Crosby in the Olympic Hockey Gold medal game.


I loved both Invictus and The Blind Side but I’ll give the edge to The Blind Side over Invictus, Big Fan, The Damned United and The Karate Kid.


Yep, you guessed it, Drew Brees again, taking an ESPY over Brett Favre, Chris Johnson, Peyton Manning, Darrelle Revis and Charles Woodson.


Albert Pujos should beat out Zach Greinke, Derek Jeter, Tim Lincecum, Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols for this honor.


I have to go with Sidney Crosby over Ryan Miller, Alexander Ovechkin, Henrik Seden and Steven Stamkos.


Kyle Busch should take it over Dario Franchitti, Ron Hornaday, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Schumacher.


I know LeBron James should win but after the whole “Miami Thrice” thing and his performance against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs I have to go with Kobe Bryant over James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade.


Give me Candace Parker over Tamika Catching, Becky Hammon, Lauren Jackson and Diana Taurasi.


Since I can’t choose between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, I’m going to give the award to Georges St. Pierre.


I’m picking Ernie Els over Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.


I like Cristie Kerr over Lorena Ochoa and Jiyai Shin.


You can’t go wrong with Roger Federer and he’s my pick but I think Rafael Nadal could easily win it. Sorry, Juan Martin del Potro, you don’t have a chance.


I like Kim Clijsters but this is between Serena or Venus Williams and I’ve always been partial to Serena so I’ll give her the award.


I’ll take John Wall and his dance over Blake Geoffrion, Mark Ingram, Evan Turner and Garrett Wittels.


You can’t go wrong picking a Connecticut women’s basketball player since Tina Charles and Maya Moore make up half the candidates are up for the award, but I’ll take Moore over her teammate and Megan Hodge and Megan Lagenfeld.


I’m going with “The Flying Tomato” Shaun White over Bobby Brown, Ryan Dungey, Mick Fanning and Garrett Reynolds.


I’ll take Torah Bright, who won gold at the Winter Olympics in the halfpipe, over Ashley Fiolek, Jen Hudak, Stephanie Gilmore and Ashleigh McIvor.


You have to go with Calvin Borel who became the first jockey to ride three Kentucky Derby winners over a four-year span to beat out Julien Leparoux and Mike Smith.


This one is tough but since he showed he could dance almost as well as he could speedskate I’m going with Apolo Anton Ohno over Shani Davis, Evan Lysacek, Bode Miller and Shaun White.


I talked to Lindsey Vonn after her SI Swimsuit shoot and she is as nice as she is talented on skis so I have to go with her here over Hannah Kearney and Julia Mancuso.


Not only in Landon Donovan the league MVP but he was the best player on the US Men’s National Team so he’s got to win over Connor Casey, Jeff Cunningham, Shalrie Joseph and Kasey Keller.

And last but certainly not least...


I’ll take Usain Bolt and all his world records over Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards.
I am far from a celebrity. All I have to do is look at my followers on Twitter and the fact that I don’t need to verify my account to understand my place in the pop culture world. But apparently when you’re desperate, you’re desperate, I guess. That’s the only way I can explain my inclusion in the fourth annual Sports Dream Celebrity Poker and Pool Party at the Playboy Mansion

Then again as I looked around the mansion and saw the likes of Jose Canseco, the Iron Shiek and Ron Jeremy milling around (I can only hope the trio will be on the red carpet for the ESPYs) I didn’t feel so bad about taking a spot at one of the tables. I was invited to play by the fine folks at New Era, which was perfect because I needed a hat to hide my complete lack of a poker face.

Chris Palmer
Arash Markazi tries his hand at some poker.

Since Ron Jeremy was in the house, let me tell you a quick Ron Jeremy story. A couple of years ago I was in Hollywood with my friend and MMA fighter Daniel Puder. He said he had to go meet his friend Ron at Hustler Hollywood. So we get there and “Ron” turns out to be Ron Jeremy. So we’re sitting in the café outside the store and I order a smoothie named after Ron. After a couple of sips, Ron mentions he’s never actually tried his smoothie, grabs my drink and takes a few sips from my straw.

Um, yeah, so you can imagine where this leaves me when he gives me back my drink. After a few minutes he notices that I haven’t taken another sip from my drink and starts laughing. “Don’t worry, man,” he says. “I get tested all the time.” Unable to think of anything else to do I nervously laugh and pretend like I’m getting up to use the rest room and knock the drink down.

“Oh shoot,” I say. “I’ll go get another one. Ron, you want one?”

Anyway, back to the mansion. Luckily for me, I can’t bluff for the life of me and was knocked out fairly early (I’ll save you all the clichéd bad break stories and just say it wasn’t my night). I say luckily because the poker tournament, which started at 9pm, didn’t end until 1am, and really, who goes to the Playboy Mansion to play poker with the future cast of Celebrity Rehab instead of chasing Bunnies in the Grotto?

Then again, this was a party filled with more athletes, wannabe athletes and far-from-athletes than Playboy Bunnies. Indeed, if you came here to watch Cowboys kicker David Buehler get his game on in the Playboy game room you had come to the right party.

The one saving grace was the entrance of the newest couple to grace the tabloids, Kim Kardashian and Cowboys receiver Miles Austin, who were at the party for about as long as I was at the poker table which isn’t saying much. I was able to catch up with the happy couple briefly before they left and reminded Austin that being connected to a Kardashian has led to championships for the Saints and Lakers so try and not mess things up with Kim before February. He smiled and said he would do his best. So at least you have that going for you Cowboys fans.
Warren Moon has been out of football for 10 years now and by his own admission wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with his life after a professional football that actually spanned four decades from his rookie year with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1978 to his last season with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2000. After he left the game he tried his hand in, well, I’ll let him run down the list of endeavors he dabbled in.

“I got involved in broadcasting when I first got out of the game,” said Moon. “I did a bunch of charity work, I got involved in a sports agency and all of those different experiences led me to where I am right now.”

Moon, who wore No. 1 throughout his 17-season NFL career, is now forming a new venture, Sports 1 Marketing, which will offer services for corporate or event clients with athletes and coaches to formulate advertising and sponsorship campaigns.

Moon had been worked with his agent Leigh Steinberg but in December Steinberg told his employees at Steinberg Sports & Entertainment that he was going in a different and was going to take care of himself. (Steinberg had been arrested twice for being drunk in public and drunk driving within an 18-month period two years ago.)

“Leigh is going through some things right now in his private life where he’s taking sometime away from being involved in business,” said Moon, who hosted a launch party for his new venture at the X Bar at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. “He’s really getting himself together. I’m happy to say he’s doing well. I learned so much from him and met so many great people being associated with him and that’s why I feel I’m ready for this opportunity.”

Dave Meltzer, who was the CEO of Steinberg Sports & Entertainment, joined Moon in the same capacity.
“I was at a loss (when I heard about Leigh) because Leigh Steinberg was my mentor and still is,” said Meltzer. “It was difficult for me but Warren gave me and our team a call and he was interested in continuing to work with our team.”

So Moon is now taking the baton from Steinberg and trying his hand in marketing. If he does well and makes a lot of money, he thinks he just may have found his calling.

“When I retired I wanted to get involved in things where I could first of all, make a lot of money for myself,” he said, “And make a lot of money for the needy.”

Yes, but first things first, take care of No. 1.
New Orleans Saints Sean Payton is sitting in the posh lobby of the W Hotel in Hollywood fiddling with his phone when he sees his wife, Beth, daughter, Meghan and son, Connor, in the distance. A smile immediately comes over his face as he puts his phone in pocket, gets up and waves at them. They immediately run over and hug him, their Universal Studios passes still dangling around their necks.

Payton wishes he could have gone with them to see the new King Kong ride and get wet while riding Jurassic Park but the responsibilities of a Super Bowl winning coach and a best-selling author prevented him from spending the day with his family. Instead, he was forced to spend some quality time with someone such as myself, talking about his book, Home Team, which debuted on Sunday at No. 8 on The New York Times best-seller list.

Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.

I got a chance to spend some time with Payton, who despite being a Bill Parcells disciple, is the furthest thing from Parcells or Bill Belichick when it comes to dealing with the media. The 46-year-old native of coach constantly had a smile on his face as he mingled with fans in the lobby, which probably had a lot to do with the gaudy Super Bowl ring he was wearing. When I complimented him on the diamond encrusted fleur-de-lis on the ring, he immediately took it off and handed it to me and told me to try it on. “This is probably going into a safe deposit box when we get home,” he said. “We’re chasing another one.”

As good as it felt to try it on it was nowhere near as nice as the feeling Payton had when he put it on r the first time last month. After giving Payton his ring back, I talked to him about winning the Super Bowl, his friendship with Kenny Chesney and being an acclaimed author.

Markazi: One of the most interesting sections of the book touch on your first trip to New Orleans post-Katrina when you’re interviewing for the Saints job and you literally think to yourself how tough a challenge this is going to be for whoever takes this job and a few days later, there you are, taking the job. Take me back to that process.

Payton: There’s a story behind that because you’re getting pulled one way and then all of a sudden you end up in a place that maybe wasn’t your initial plan. Not all of us follow our exact plans but it was fairly unique after Katrina and 2006 was a different time for that region and the football team was secondary to the city while everyone wondered what the recovery was going to be like.

Markazi: You’re looking at your book right now, what did it feel like the first time to pick up your hard cover book? I know it was your dream to win a Super Bowl but for most writers it’s to be on the New York Times best-seller list.

Payton: I was very skeptical of writing a book at first to be honest with you. I didn’t want to do a traditional coach’s clichéd book so I wanted it to be different. Initially you think it’s going to be an easy process but when you begin writing it you recognize it’s going to take a lot more work and time and there’s a competitive part of you that wants it to be good. So when you get word that it’s a New York Times best-seller all these things get you excited about it.

Markazi: What was it like to find out the book had made the New York Times best-seller list?

Payton: I found out through an e-mail while I was on vacation last week that it hit No. 8 and I didn’t really know what that meant. I know people worked their whole lives for something like that but I’m trying to rasp what it actually means. It does give you feedback that people enjoy it. I wanted them to laugh and get emotional when they read it as if it was a long sit-down story.

Markazi: Kenny Chesney plays a large role in this book and his photos are all over the inside, tell me how your relationship with him began?

Payton: I met him first when I worked for the New York Giants and again when I worked for the Dallas Cowboys and got to know him more personally while I was in New Orleans. You come across guys like Kenny and Jimmy Buffett and various people that are fans of football and the Saints. Buffett had come to games for years and is from that area and Kenny started to come more recently and follow us. We actually signed him to a contract in ’07 and had him run around for a practice and then we cut him. Those are things you do to break up the monotony of training camp and sometimes just to change things and he ended up playing the post-game Super Bowl party.

Markazi: You, Peyton Manning and Kenny Chesney actually got on stage at Sloppy Joe’s, a Key West bar, and helped out with a couple songs a year before the Super Bowl. How was that and are you comfortable up on stage?

Payton: No, I’m not. I’m out of my element. I went with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and group to Key West to see him perform. It was really like a game day for him and more of a relaxing time for us.

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Major League Basbell staged something called the “2010 Taco Bell Legends & Celebrity Softball Game” Sunday night at Angel Stadium. With all due respect to the parties involved calling this a “celebrity” softball game would be like calling a Taco Bell Crunch Box an authentic Mexican dinner.

This was more like a, “Hey, where do I know that guy from” game which probably answered more “Where are they now?” questions than anything else.

Icon SMI

Mad Men star Jon Hamm made the celebrity game worth watching.

There was M.C. Hammer, Guy Fieri, David Nail, Jon Hamm, Marcus Giamatti (I guess Paul was busy), Joe Manganiello and several others I wouldn’t recognize if I saw them in the streets.

Kevin Frazier and Mario Lopez played as well presumably as a way to get Entertainment Tonight and Extra to mention the C-list love fest.

Since I didn’t recognize many of the players and didn’t want to ask them who they were before talking to them, I went to John Kruk, who was trying to catch his breath after playing catch with Marisa Miller, to get his take on the event.

“I’m just trying not to get hurt,” Kruk said. ‘That’s the key for everyone out here.”

Yes, you certainly wouldn’t want “what’s his name” or “who’s her face” pulling anything out there.

World Cup at Gladstone's

July, 12, 2010
Tucked into the back of Gladstone’s, the legendary Malibu restaurant nestled along the Pacific Coast, was a guarded room showing the World Cup to VIPs, or at least that’s what the security guard at the door was claiming.

Thankfully the World Cup viewing party at Gladstones was being throwing by ESPN The Magazine and when you’re rolling with Marcellus Wiley you can pretend to be a VIP even if you’re not. While most of the crowd at Gladstones watched the game on the oversized Jumbotron outside causing traffic jams on the Pacific Coast Highway or on the various flatscreens throughout the establishment, the VIP viewing room was showing the game in 3D.

The room looked more like a bad sci-fi convention than a VIP area with everyone wearing glasses and transfixed on the TV. I thought I had walked into a screening of Captain EO at Disneyland. Now I’ve heard about ESPN3D (hey, I read the company-wide e-mails) but experiencing it for the first time was pretty amazing. There are still a few hiccups (there was a sound delay with the announcers and the feed cut out a couple times) but field level shots of players who literally look like they were walking in front of you are nothing short of spectacular.

As if watching the World Cup in 3D was already good enough the endless supply of mojitos and mimosas added another dimension to the game (but that’s another story).

Since I’ve been a fan of Dutch football since my father sang the praises of Johan Cruyff growing up, I was pulling for the Netherlands. To even things up, I was joined by my friend Bridgetta Tomarchio, who picked Spain because, well, I’ll let her explain.

“I think their guys are hot,” she said.

You may recognize Bridgetta as the girl in those Extenze infomercials playing on your TVs late night or while you’re at a bar during last call. These days you can find Jimmy Johnson hawking the male enhancement pill while you’re watching ESPN.

“I don’t know if I’m being faded out but I wanted to do a commercial with him in something little maybe interviewing him,” she said. “That’s OK, We’ll see. I’m starring in a new film, 6 non-smokers, where I’m actually going to have my clothes on the entire film.”

Well, that’s a start.

Better than a book club

July, 12, 2010
I’ve never been to a party thrown in honor of a book before. In fact, some of the best parties I’ve ever been to were thrown in honor of never having to open up another (insert subject) book again back when I was in school. But here I am at the House of Blues in Anaheim, surrounded by three scantily clad women, helping me put white gloves on as they show me “The Official Major League Baseball Opus,” a limited edition 75-pound book which has more than 1,000 photographs and illustrations and sells for $3,000. (Recession? What recession?)

It took two of the women to carry the book onto a display and another to turn the pages (feel free to create your own “how many blondes does it to open a book?” joke) of the baseball tome which traces the history of the game through 110,000 words.

The event attracted former players such as Chuck Finley, Chili Davis, Goose Gossage, Harold Reynolds, Fred Lynn, Tommy John and John Salley, who despite never playing baseball was there to, um, well, what brings you here Salley?

“I’m here to pick up my check,” Salley said jokingly after the baller turned comic entertained the crowd on stage. Afterwards Salley and I went to an outfield themed photo studio set up in the club with three of our friends who used to be cheerleaders. As much as I liked my picture, I’m nowhere near as photogenic as “The Spider” as you can see.

Before I left the party I ran into Al Leiter, who actually taught me how to pitch (not that I’m any good) back when he was on Pros vs. Joes. In fact the first thing he said to me as he grabbed my throwing arm was, “I haven’t seen you since that [expletive] show!”

Since Leiter is always in the talking mood, I asked him a couple questions before heading out of the House of Blues and into the madness that is Downtown Disney.

Q: I heard you helped out with this book, it looks nice, but why would anyone want to spend $3,000 on it?

A: This is a celebration of our sport. We covered everything that was part of our sport and we also wanted it to be a happy story. Much of it is focused on moments in time frozen for fans to relish in the good of the game. When you spend a considerable amount of your hard earned dollars to buy something that is part of your passion or hobby you want to see good. And I know what you’re going to ask next.

Q: What’s that?

A: The steroid era. We didn’t include it because this is a celebration of our sport. Yes, steroids were a part of this sport but do we want to accentuate it even more? It was a time we’re not proud of. This is about the beauty of the sport. The pictures really accentuate the beauty of the sport. This is what it’s about. We’re not trying to unearth or expose anything; we’re just celebrating the sport.

Q: Speaking of the steroid era, what’s your take on the pitchers in today’s game who have really benefitted I would think from the sport cleaning up its act?

A: I would have been better. I don’t know if I’d be throwing perfect games or no-hitters, although I did throw a no-hitter, but when guys are not as strong or as quick with the bat speed to the ball, they’re not as good hitters. I think because of better steroid testing, it’s harder to hit and they’re not going to be scoring as many runs.

Q: What’s it been like tonight, talking to and catching up with a lot of players you either played against or looked up to?

A: You know there’s a snippet, a snapshot in time as to your moment when you were significant and when I’m at an event like this it reminds me to hold on and freeze that for a second because the next greats are coming along and not to take advantage of the moment because the next greats are coming along. Not that we’ll be insignificant but it’s their time now.

Q: Finally, what’s your take on Stephen Strasburg? Do you think he should have been in the All-Star Game?

A: Who? [Laughs] I think it was right that he didn’t make the all-star team because he didn’t have the body of work as an all-star player but he’s going to be great. I hope he stays healthy and if he stays healthy for a long period of time he’s going to go down as one of the greatest pitchers ever.

Bocanegra and Bill

July, 9, 2010
Carlos Bocanegra had his fair share of highlight moments during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa but perhaps the most surreal moment came moments after Landon Donovan had dramatically scored the game-winning goal to beat Algeria in extra time (and help the United States capture their group for the first time since 1930).

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Former President Clinton celebrated with Bocanegra and Tim Howard after the big U.S. win over Algeria.

In what would become one of the most indelible images of the tournament, at least Stateside, Bocanegra, the captain of the US Men’s National Team, stood shirtless in the locker room after the game with former President Bill Clinton, enjoying a couple Budwesiers.

When I saw Bocanegra in the Dodgers’ dugout before he threw out the first pitch Thursday night, I asked him about the picture and a smile quickly came over his face as he thought back to that night in Pretoria, South Africa two weeks ago.

“He was cool, man,” said Bocanegra, an Upland, Calif. native who grew up as a Dodgers fan. “He came into the locker room and congregated everybody and we’re like, “Hey, you want to have a beer with guys and celebrate,” and he was like, “Yeah, totally, yeah,” so he had a beer with a few of the guys and we took some pictures with him. He was awesome.”

Joe Torre smiled when I approached him in the dugout, moments before the Dodgers-Cubs game Thursday.

I asked him the question everyone wanted to know.

“Where’s LeBron going?”

“I’m sure it will be in the clubhouse, but that’s really not one of my priorities these days,” he said. “I hope they raise a ton of money for the Boys & Girls Club because it’s a worthy charity but beyond that, whatever.”

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Joe Torre may have a "Decision" to announce some day soon too.

Torre may be saying “whatever” now, but is there a chance he could one day reveal his own future plans in a similar one-hour special?

“I’ll think about it,” he said, smiling. “I’ll have the money go to my foundation. The only thing is to get advertisers to find interest in my decision. That’s the trick here. I don’t want to get embarrassed by this thing.”

OK, OK, now that you’re open to the possibility, how about doing it on ESPN?

“Uh, maybe not.”

What? Even if they could raise the most money for your charity?

“Then maybe I would be one of those people who change their mind. I was always very uncomfortable asking for money but when I realized it’s not for me I became a little more uncomfortable.”

“LeBron Watch 2010” had clearly taken over Dodger Stadium. Not only was his announcement being played on the flat screens in the Dodgers’ clubhouse and in the press box but it had overtaken the Jumbotron in left field while the Chicago Cubs were in the middle of batting practice too.

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Before he inspired rage in Cleveland, LBJ was all the rage at Dodger Stadium.

For what it’s worth, Lou Piniella thought James would go to the Knicks. “I didn’t help the Bulls," he said. I lobbied for the city of Chicago in the Olympics and that didn’t work.”

While it looked like Los Angeles and Chicago were out of the race in the minutes leading up to James’ announcement, Matt Kemp was still staying true to his prediction that James would go to the Chicago Bulls. “It makes the most sense,” he said. “I don’t know if he’s going to go there, but he should.”

James Loney tabbed him to go to the Los Angeles Clippers, making him the only other person besides Clipper Darrell with that pick, while Russell Martin predicted James would go to the Miami Heat. “What does he know about basketball?” Kemp said when he heard Martin’s pick. “He’s from Canada.”

Clearly Kemp isn’t familiar with a Canadian by the name of Steve Nash.

The line of the night, not surprisingly, came from Vin Scully. When the venerable Dodgers announcer saw a group of us surrounding a TV in the press box as “The Decision” began he said, “What is this, the World Series?" When Scully was told James would soon be announcing which team he would be playing for, he laughed and said, "Who?"

I always felt the idea of wearing a hardhat at a construction site was akin to wearing a seat belt on a plane. It might make you feel somewhat safe but take one look at the tons of steel being carried above your head on a job site, or look down 40,000 feet below you while you’re on a plane, and suddenly that piece of plastic on your head or piece of fabric around your waist doesn’t seem so comforting.

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Rod Carew was an 18-time MLB All-Star.

That’s why, when I was invited to take a “hard hat” tour of the MLB FanFest at the Anaheim Convention Center I had my reservations. The hard hats, however, turned out to be nothing more than red batting helmets and, despite having to wear them during the tour like birthday hats to a kid’s party, there was thankfully no chance of getting hit by anything other than a line drive by Rod Carew (who was on-site and is the FanFest Spokesperson).

After taking a look at the 450,000 square feet of exhibits, and nearly pulling a hamstring while running 90 feet from third base to home plate in 4.8 seconds in the "Steal Home Challenge," I caught up with Carew briefly and talked to him about the event and the MLB All-Star Game next Tuesday night.

Q: What does it mean to you to have the All-Star Game in Anaheim?

A: Well, it’s funny; I played my first All-Star Game in Anaheim in 1967 as a rookie, so to have it come back and to be a part of it is a great feeling.

Q: You were an All-Star in every year you played but your final one in 1985, what was your All-Star experience like?

A: I played in 18 All-Star games during my career and you look forward to playing in them. When you were nominated you wanted to go to the game. It’s just a great feeling when millions of fans vote for you and enable you to be an All-Star. Whenever you get the chance and you’re voted you should want to go to the game and not want to go fishing or take the three days off.

Q: From all those All-Star games you played in, is there one moment that sticks out for you now as you look back?

A: Yes, the 1983 All-Star Game in Chicago. We were all sitting around in the clubhouse talking about how we’re going to beat the National League and this guy came in, I forget who, but he said, “You know, there’s never been a grand slam home run hit in the All-Star Game?” So we thought about it and he said, “Freddy Lynn, you’re going to hit a grand slam tonight in the All-Star Game,” and sure enough he hit a grand slam home run that night. It was sort of eerie.

Q: Is this the time when you build those bonds and friendships between fellow all-stars you might only see in passing during the season and even less in the off-season?

A: Yes, it is a good time for guys to banter back and forth. You hear the conversation in the locker rooms; you hear pitchers talking about how they got hitters out and hitters talking about what line drives or home runs they hit off pitchers. It’s a great feeling among the players to sit around and talk.

Q: I saw you instruct some kids in the hitting cages and take a look at the hall of fame memorabilia here at the MLB FanFest, is there one attraction you would recommend to fans coming for the first time?

A: I always like hitting cages because I was a hitter. I like to see the kids get in there and swing the bat and have fun doing it.

Q: Finally, what’s your prediction for the game?

A: The American League has to win. When I played we always talked about beating the National League and we wanted to beat them so badly and I think the same thing happens today. So the American League has to win and uphold the tradition.