A Special Sailing Event; Summer Book for Baseball Fans

SURELY, doors are swinging open all over for athletes with disabilities. What's happening, especially in the area of teaming the able with those who have physical and mental disabilities, is exciting. Take the decision to add sailing to next summer's International Special Olympic Games in New Haven, Conn., for example. Sailing will be one of nine ``unified'' sports, meaning that athletes with and without mental disabilities will be teamed together.

In the 18-foot Hobie catamaran class, a Special Olympian will work with a skipper; in the 19-foot Flying Scot monohull class, two Special Olympians will join a skipper and one crew member. A safety officer will act as an observer in every boat.

The Rhode Island Special Olympics organizers would like their sailing-minded state to fare well in the 1995 international Games. To that end, they have joined with Shake-A-Leg, a leader in organizing adaptive sailing programs, to design a training program for athletes and coaches preparing for the races. Summer reading recommendation: women's baseball book

LOOKING for a fun summer baseball read, something off the beaten basepaths? ``When Women Played Hardball'' (Seal Press, $14.95), by Susan Johnson, may be the ticket.

Johnson, like other writers in recent years, tells the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which existed between 1943 and '54 and was the subject of the 1992 Hollywood movie, ``A League of Their Own.'' Johnson has a fondness for the league, having grown up in Rockford, Ill., as a fan of the Rockford Peaches. Her sociologist's perspective and abiding interest in baseball history (she's a member of the American Society of Baseball Research) bring vitality to the book.

Johnson interviewed many former players and shares past and present pictures of some of them. One of the most telling photographs in the book shows the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Daisies hiking back to town after their bus broke down. The women are marching along in skirts and dresses, because of the league's rigid skirts-in-public rule. Golf patience pays off

GOLFER Beth Daniel knows what it means to snap a drought. Although she has won 29 tournaments since joining the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour in 1979, her career has been marked by two major dry spells.

She was winless from 1985 to `89, before triumphing at the 1989 Greater Washington Open. Then, two weeks ago, she captured her first tour title in three years with a spectacular finish at the Corning (N.Y.) Classic, which she won by one shot after scrambling out of the woods to birdie the final hole.

Last week she maintained her momentum, winning the Oldsmobile Classic in East Lansing, Mich., by four strokes with an LPGA record-tying 20-under-par total. Can she keep the ball rolling? The answer comes at this week's Minnesota Classic outside Minneapolis. Touching other bases

* Suspicions that major leaguers are playing with a juiced-up baseball this season were not dispelled by what happened in New York last weekend. A high school player not known for his slugging belted an American League ball into Yankee Stadium's upper reaches. Frank Porter's homer during the Catholic championships traveled about 450 feet.

* Center Bill Russell, who led the Boston Celtics to 11 National Basketball Association championships between 1957 and '69, has long had a reputation as a hard-liner when it came to signing autographs. For years, he refused to accommodate any requests. Last weekend, though, Russell came out of the signature closet, agreeing to sign for a price at a collectors' event in Boston put on by Field of Dreams, a California sports memorabilia company. A bare-bones autograph went for $295, an autographed basketball for $495.

And yes, there was a crowd.

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