This International League Has Expansive View of US

MAJOR league baseball is sometimes kidded for presumptuously calling its championship the World Series. But what about the International League? It, too, thinks globally, yet plays locally. The Triple-A minor league has one Canadian baseball franchise, in Ottawa; otherwise every team is in the United States - east of the Mississippi and between Rochester, N.Y., and Charlotte, N.C.

Then there's the International Hockey League, which is strictly US-based but is growing like Topsy. For most of its nearly 50-year existence (it began in 1945), the league has kept a low profile in the hinterlands of hockey. Now, however, the ``developmental'' image of the league has begun to yield to a more ambitious vision as a viable entertainment enterprise. Since 1989, the franchise entry fee has leaped from $200,000 to $6 million as yearly game attendance has more than tripled - from 1 million to 3.5 million.

To some degree, the organization appears to rival the National Hockey League. At the very least, the IHL is carving out a new model for a major/minor hybrid that is selling high-level minor-league hockey as an affordable, family entertainment option in a number of major markets. Next season, the league will expand to Denver, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Chicago.

Obviously, the IHL feels that it can exist alongside an NHL team like Chicago's Black Hawks. At the same time, the IHL team in Salt Lake City is moving into the shadow of the Red Wings in Detroit.

Given this move into NHL-occupied major metropolitan markets, one wonders how much longer Fort Wayne, Ind., Kalamazoo, Mich., and Peoria, Ill., will remain IHL addresses. The league also lists franchises in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and San Diego. Touching other bases

* Sharpshooter Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers made a name for himself with some lights-out, stop-me-if-you-can marksmanship during the National Basketball's Eastern Conference championship series. It was fitting, therefore, that he had the ball with the game on the line during the last ticks of the seventh and decisive game against the New York Knicks. So what happens? Miller takes a long shot that misses everything, and the Knicks, leading 91-90, add three free throws after Miller commits a desperation foul. New York wins, 94-90, and advances to the NBA Finals against Houston, starting Wednesday night.

* Defending champ Louisiana State University was emphatically eliminated from baseball's eight-team College World Series Sunday, losing to Fullerton State 20-6. In the words of LSU coach Skip Bertram, ``I thought it was a good ball game for four pitches....''

* You've got to love the name of the boat design group - Fluid Thinking - that is working with two Australian America's Cup syndicates on next spring's races.

* If Disney can come out with a sequel to its ``Mighty Ducks'' youth-hockey saga (as in it has with ``Mighty Ducks II''), then surely there's a decent youth football script out there. Steven Spielberg clearly thinks so. Warner Bros. and Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment began filming ``Little Giants'' last month. Many of the football walk-ons will be from Pop Warner youth leagues.

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