Is the lightning somehow responsible? Well, Trevino and Heard are both suffering from back ailments, which explains at least in part their over-par play. But Nichols is another matter. The Washington Post's Dave Kindred talked to him last week and found he has no physical complaints of any consequence. Nichols would not blame his poor performance on the lightning, but he admitted, "I do get jittery at times when I didn't before. I get very petrified if it starts getting dark on the course. I can't play at all if it's overcast or even if it's cloudy."
Nichols won a career-high $124,747 in 1974 and had earned nearly $50,000 in 1975 when the lightning struck. In the two troubled years since, he has won, all told, $18,065.66.
If you tend to think of baton twirlers as leggy coeds in spangled costumes, think again. The recently crowned Texas state men's champion and a contender in next month's nationals in Denver is Calvin Murphy, the Houston Rockets' pugnacious guard. Entering his first competition in 11 years, Murphy, a onetime high school and college twirler, dazzled the judges in the state meet with numbers like the Windmill and the California Bounce. The 5'9" Murphy, who has a history of punching out far bigger adversaries on the basketball court, says, "I think by now people have learned not to think of me as a sissy."
TAKEN DOWN A PEG
The Fourth National Open Cribbage Tournament (cribbage is that two-handed game with the board and little pegs) will be held in Raleigh, N.C. on Aug. 6, 7 and 8. The event is a rare hurrah in the U.S. for this venerable game, which, according to tradition, was founded by Sir John Suckling, the 17th century English poet who was as skilled at cards as he was at verse. When his reputation as a whist player made it hard for Sir John to get a game in that pastime, he invented cribbage. Alas, he soon became unbeatable in that, too, leaving so many opponents in the lurch (defeating them by more than 30 points) that he again had trouble getting a game.
In 1974 Nick Pond, the sports director of WRAL-TV in Raleigh and a cribbage addict, got an itch to play the game in a big way. So he launched the national tournament. He promoted it so well that players from 45 states are preparing to head for this year's renewal at Raleigh, where they will compete for a first prize of at least $1,500.
But, shades of Suckling, because he is the tournament's director, Pond, the man itching for some action, is ineligible to play and has yet to pick up his first crib.
It was only the second inning, yet many of the 13,119 fans in the Houston Astrodome suddenly rose and rushed for the exits. Fire? Terrorists' blimp? No, the San Francisco Giants' Willie McCovey, that evening's "designated strikeout victim," had just gone down swinging on a 1-and-2 pitch from Houston Astro righthander Dan Larson. And because McCovey struck out at a favorable moment, the whiff entitled everybody 18 and over to free beer for the rest of the evening.
Such mass exoduses have been occurring in the Dome since 1975, when the Astros began setting aside certain Friday night home games as Foamer Nights. At first they promised beer gratis anytime a Houston player homered during an even minute—7:42, 9:04, etc.—on the stadium's digital clock. Last year they added the designated-strikeout gimmick: free suds would also flow if a rival player selected in advance by Astro management fanned during an even minute.