In August, folks scream for ice cream, not sports

Time was sports weren't 24/7 endeavors. It's hard to imagine that once upon a very long time ago, there wasn't Australian Rules Football readily available on television and - yes, this is true - there wasn't even ESPN.

And it is just occurring to us that 98.64 percent of the time when we turn on television sports, we hear Bob Costas. He is more ubiquitous than dirt.

Sports take over as much of any life as the possessor of that life needs, wants, or allows. Many seem unable to limit their sport intake. That's why right now - these very days of our lives in August - are such a tonic to the oversported. As you read this, sports are on vacation. Glory be.

There is not a single sports event of more than minor import that is in our faces. Even better, it will be roughly another month before sports reload and start anew their often thrilling assault on Mt. Excitement.

To wit:

*Baseball. In season but out of mind. These are the desultory dog days of summer. There is much slogging along and, at the moment, only one compelling divisional race - in the National West between San Francisco and Arizona.

Races likely will heat up as September cools down. Meanwhile, the games are more background noise, like Muzak.

Mildly interesting is this week's news that the Yankees inadvertently acquired former star Jose Canseco from Tampa Bay. It's a wonderful mess, especially since the Yankees neither wanted nor needed him. New York manager Joe Torre fumes, "I'm stunned."

*Hockey. Out of season and out of mind. Come fall, the NHL expands to 30 teams, by adding Columbus (Ohio) and returning to Minnesota. Will a diluted product be improved by adding more clubs? Longtime Philly star Eric Lindros (six times an All-Star, once MVP) is furious with his team over contractual and health issues. It doesn't seem likely to end happily. This is the big hockey news these days.

*Basketball. Out of season and out of mind. Veteran players are signing contracts so huge that we don't even understand how huge. For example, the Pacers' Jalen Rose just signed for $93 million over seven years; that's an average of $13.3 mil per year. In Portland, Ore., Brian Grant turned down $70 million over six years, having previously nixed going to Cleveland to play for $93 mil over seven. Miami may be on his horizon. Grant's coming off a season of personal career lows. His agent, Mark Bartelstein says, "It's not about money."

*Football. Out of season and the weather's still too hot across much of the land to get fired up over crucial third downs. The NFL teams are in camp and playing dozy exhibitions.

Anticipation is a terrific thing in sports, but August is just too early to get worked up over football.

TV analyst and former star Matt Millen will help officiate a preseason game for a quarter and Titan running back Eddie George says he believes his team will return to the Super Bowl. This is the most fascinating NFL news at the moment, which illustrates the nothingness of these days.

College football is just starting its grinding preseason training. Watching is like seeing sausage made. Nebraska is No. 1 in the AP's first poll of the year, Florida State second. No news flashes here.

Dropping down a tier:

*Tennis. Out of mind. The men play next week in the RCA Championships in Indianapolis and the women play some tournament in Montreal followed by the Pilot Pen in New Haven, Conn.

*Golf. Out of mind. This week is the Buick Open. And in the best sports event on the horizon, next week the men golfers will be in Louisville for the PGA. But among the four majors - the PGA, Masters, British Open, and US Open - the PGA is clearly the ugly duckling. If you must miss one major a year, miss the PGA.

And then dropping way, way down:

There's nothing going on in figure skating, horse racing, soccer, or even high school sports. Even in the best of times, these sports make only occasional and brief forays to the top of the sports page. Arena football? Sorry.

It's a time to live unencumbered by having to plan around sports. It frees up our spirit. Time for the beach, the park, the kids, Grisham in a hammock. Much looms, including the Olympics in mid-September. But for now, it's blissful.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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