|Two athletes who actually get it|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
I sat in the broadcast booth with Ernie Harwell, turned the scores inside Fenway's Green Monster and floated in a raft in McCovey Cove. I stood in line for Roots berets, argued contraction with Bud Selig in his office and stayed up all night with immigrants from nine African nations cheering on Senegal in the World Cup. I watched the Irish practice on the Notre Dame campus, shouted questions at Jamie Sale and David Pelletier on their way from the Kiss and Cry Zone and even savored the aroma of the winning entry at the Pillsbury Bake-Off.
Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming, Pete Sampras, Serena Williams, the U.S. soccer team, Carson Palmer, LeBron James, Brady and Sale & Pelletier might have owned the headlines in 2002, but they are not my athletes of the year. Nor are any of the athletes who earned so many millions this year.
The athletes I remember most fondly from the past 12 months are two amateurs who didn't make a dime off their sports, poured a lot of money into them, and still came out so far ahead that Alex Rodriguez should ask for a loan.
The first is Myron Seidl, a farmer in the little township of Stark, Minn., whom I met in August during my drive across I-90. Seidl runs the local townball team that is as much a part of his life as his family. You can find him at the field most any day during the baseball season, mowing the grass, chalking the lines and generally manicuring the field with the same care he uses for his crops. "People call home for Myron," his wife, Cathy, said, "and I tell them to call the park because that's where he lives."
After meeting Seidl and learning about all that he has done for Stark baseball (one example -- he camped in line at the Metrodome before a bobblehead giveaway so that he could in turn give them away to the kids who sold the most raffle tickets for the team), I wrote that he should be baseball's commissioner. I still think he should be, but he received a higher honor this fall when he was inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball hall of fame in October.
It might not be Cooperstown, but Seidl is very proud. And justifiably so. He's a far more admirable Hall of Famer than Pete Rose could ever hope to be.
"I don't care for that type of award, but if they're giving it to you, you have to accept it. I accepted it on behalf of the whole community of Stark. The whole group helped me achieve it."
It was an unseasonably warm 42 degrees with no snow on the ground at Seidl's farm when I called him last week, almost warm enough to play baseball. He can't wait. The team meets next week to plan for the coming season.
Seidl doesn't just grow crops in Stark. He grows something more important.
"It isn't just baseball," he said. "It's the community."
The community of sports is vast, indeed, as I was reminded when I met German Glessner while standing in a security line in Salt Lake.
Glessner is an Olympic skeleton racer from Argentina who lost his entire savings in his country's money crisis. He learned he was broke when a London bank machine refused his cash withdrawal and he was told his assets had been frozen. With the equivalent of $20 in his wallet and with no state funding, he lived on donations from friends and an aunt in Austria, sneaking food from hotel breakfasts to last him the entire day. He told me that he was supplementing his diet at the Olympics by visiting the various parties thrown by the national teams (Austria house was his favorite -- good sausages and good beer).
He spent five and a half years training for the Olympics, and as many sacrifices as he made to reach Salt Lake, he felt it was all worth it. He was broke. His country was bankrupt and had gone through five presidents in 12 days. It had been the site of riots that killed 32. But he was at the Olympics.
His goal was to race a personal best and finish among the top half in Salt Lake, then medal in 2006.
And then the day before his event, someone dropped a bobsled on his foot, crushing a toe.
He finished last.
"I wanted to show people what I could do with no money. And then all this happens," he told me after his race. "I tell you, I've been crying like a baby. Losing all your money, losing your chance in the Olympics. We have an expression, 'S--- is falling on your head.' And that is what has been happening to me. S--- is falling on my head. It's like I'm doing all this on purpose to give you a good story. Yes, it's a great story, but I don't want it to happen to me.
"What else can happen? If I discover my girlfriend is not a girl, and is instead a boy, maybe that would be worse."
As it turned out, his girlfriend of two years, Natalia, was not a boy, but it didn't matter anyway. When Glessner moved to Barcelona to be with her, she dumped him. He's back in Argentina. He described the past year as "CHAOS" in an e-mail but remained defiantly optimistic.
"After traveling around the world and after seeing all what I saw, I always say that the glass is half full," he wrote. "Imagine a country like Nepal where people have nothing but the clothes they wear, but still they are so happy just for being alive. And that makes you think that all the problems you have, they are not really problems. Because if a problem has a solution, there is not a problem any more.
"What I am trying to say is that, yes, I got crazy with the money thing in December with the banks in my country, but at the end, it is just money. And I believe that if I could make that money once, I can make it again. If I had an accident at the Olympics, I will have my chance again in 2006 in Turin.
"And about my bad luck ... I don't know if it was so bad, because now people respect me much more because, despite all adversity, I made it to the Olympics. So, that is not that bad."
Glessner vows to return to the Olympics in 2006.
He also might start racing rally cars.
His glass is not half full, it is overflowing.
I covered a lot of events and I interviewed hundreds of people in 2002, but Seidl and Glessner are my athletes of the year for one very important reason: They reminded me why we should care about sports in the first place.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.