One of college baseball's wildest rides rolled to a happy ending last week. Four years ago, after Hunter Bledsoe hit .267 as a freshman third baseman at Duke, his coach called him the seventh-best infielder on a Blue Devils team that had gone 4-20 in the ACC. Bledsoe transferred to Walters State Community College near his hometown of Kingsport, Tenn., and hit .410 in 1996, but that wasn't enough to attract a Division I scholarship offer. He settled for a partial ride at Vanderbilt.
Despite separating his shoulder before the '97 season, Bledsoe hit .389 that year and led the Commodores to a 31-24 record. But on the eve of the season's final series came word that Bledsoe hadn't earned enough junior college credits. He was declared academically ineligible—a shock to the former high school valedictorian who had an economics-engineering science double major and the best grades on the Vanderbilt team. The Commodores forfeited all 30 victories in which he had played, leaving them with a record of 1-54, and Bledsoe had to sit out the '98 season.
This year, as Vanderbilt's cleanup hitter, Bledsoe ranked second in the nation with a .459 average and was SEC player of the year. As a fifth-year senior he's exempt from next month's amateur draft; after weighing offers from four other teams he signed with the Dodgers and will report to one of their Class A clubs this week. "I look back on my college career as a blessing, not a curse," he says. "When you've seen what I've seen, you don't worry about an 0 for 4."
A Night in the Clouds
On May 6, Babu Chhiri Sherpa boldly bivouacked where no man had bivouacked before. He fought driving snow and 55-mph winds to summit Mount Everest for the eighth time—two short of the record—and spent the night on the 29,028-foot peak without oxygen equipment. No one else had endured more than a few hours at the summit, but the 5'6", 150-pound Sherpa cheerily melted snow for drinking water on a gas stove and made prank calls on his walkie-talkie during his 21 hours there. "I called down to base camps on the north side of Everest," says Babu Chhiri, who had to remain awake to be sure he stayed alive. "I woke the climbers up, and when I said, 'I'm Babu Chhiri Sherpa, and I've made my camp on Everest's summit,' they freaked."
Oxygen depletion at such heights can kill. Everest has claimed more than 150 lives, but Sherpas—a Nepalese ethnic group of about 25,000, many of whom work as climbing guides—perform better than lowlanders in thin air. "If's tough up there without oxygen," says alpinist Ed Viesturs, who has reached Everest's summit five times, twice without supplemental oxygen. "Not many people have the physiology to do it, or the desire. As for staying up there all night, I would never have thought of it."
Tina and Thomas Sjögren, two Swedish climbers who were part of Babu Chhiri's expedition, made frequent phone calls to him from their camp at 26,000 feet to make sure his oxygen-depleted brain wasn't getting dangerously merry. As news of his feat spread up and down the mountain, other calls began pouring in. "Tina and I got worried," says Thomas. "He was doing interviews from up there. We told him to put away the radio and concentrate on getting down."
The New Fenway
A Perdition Like No Other
Keep the Angst Alive: That should be the slogan of Boston's new $545 million, 44,130-seat Fenway Park. By re-creating the 37-foot-tall Green Monster in leftfield, the architects from HOK Sport have ensured that tears will remain on the menu when the new park opens in 2003.
Most of the Red Sox' travails in their 87-year history at Fenway can be laid on the warning track at the foot of the wall. Boston general managers have made a tradition of putting together slow-moving, power-laden teams in an attempt to take advantage of the fact that the Green Monster is only 310 feet from home plate. Managers have had their teams play station-to-station baseball while waiting for somebody to hit one over the wall. Pitchers, especially lefthanders, have shuddered at the nearness of the Monster. Hitters have swung out of their shoes, trying to take a 310-foot shortcut to immortality. Whatever their virtues at home, these tactics have backfired on the road, where the symmetrical parks the Bostonians encountered have long been a mystery to them. No wonder the Sox haven't won a World Series since 1918.