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T.J. SIMERS

You can't say Carroll doesn't stick with it

August 24, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

Sorry to report things went so poorly at USC's practice Saturday.

Every practice, year after year, begins with equipment manager Tino Dominguez tossing packs of Bubble Yum gum -- original flavor only -- to Pete Carroll, who likes the challenge of trying to catch them all.

A few years back Dominguez made it two packs of gum before every practice, then three, and now he throws four at a time. "Sometimes I throw a fifth in there to surprise him, and let me tell you, he's made some amazing catches -- even all five."

But Carroll drops a pair Saturday, two more Friday, and the season is only one week away.

"I'm not there right now," Carroll says.

He also misses the white piece of tape on the blue table, the one sitting against the far wall on the USC practice field, Dominguez giving him a target every day and Carroll trying to hit it with a ball.

"I've seen him take down a cup sitting on top of the orange Gatorade bucket," Dominguez says in recalling glory days gone by.

But now the arm just doesn't appear to be the same.

"I was off, all right, but missed by only a couple of inches from 40 yards -- and I'm ticked," says Carroll, who ends most practices by removing the gum from his mouth, wrapping it in paper and then trying to hit the chalk on the far sideline.

"He's always competing," Dominguez says, which explains why "a lot of guys are walking around here with gum on their spikes."

THIS IS Carroll's eighth year on the job, and "I've never been anywhere that long," he says, "except grammar school."

His face still lights up with delight when reminded that some, if not everyone, discounted his hiring and predicted a short stay on the job.

Hard to believe a columnist could be so wrong.

"I love that part of it," Carroll says, a lot older and grayer now, but still as boyish as ever, though running around on a bad set of knees -- raising the question, just how much Advil or Motrin does it take to get through a practice?

"Celebrex," Carroll says, after two hours of jogging up and down the practice field, a mob of admirers surrounding him, wanting autographs and pictures, and he does this every day.

A lot of folks work hard, do it for eight years, and even three or four times longer than that, but how many report to work every year looking as excited as someone starting a new job?

"It's the renewal of the team," says Carroll, who also went to Egypt and Israel to freshen his outlook. "It's like waiting for a flower to blossom when you coach -- the young guys coming in and the older guys emerging. It's a beautiful thing."

It's his favorite line, everything beautiful as far as he's concerned since getting the chance to prove his plan for success works.

"It's fun," he says, because it's tough coaching at USC, the challenges satisfying his relentless competitive drive, "everything a carnival game," as Dominguez says, five packs of Bubble Yum, Virginia on the road to open the season and then bring on Ohio State.

"I hear [Virginia] played our fight song during its spring practices," Carroll says, while removing a wad of gum from his mouth and tossing it 20 yards into a garbage can. "You didn't think I was going to miss, did you?

"Hey, I love the idea of everyone getting jacked about our game. I love that. Virginia is going to have a huge crowd. That's great. We've got to come out early and play well to have a good season -- so let's go."

By the way, while Carroll is off his game and still needs lots of practice catching and throwing, Mark Sanchez looks sharp, rolling to his left against his knee brace and never once favoring his injured leg.

Nice to see someone at USC on top of his game.

YOU JUST knew this was going to happen.

Ever since Delilah a.k.a. Joe Torre had Manny Ramirez cut his hair, Ramirez is hitting .250 with one home run.

STEVE SOBOROFF has his own problems -- he's a Clippers season-ticket holder. But he's also a Dodgers fan and was having fun before Delilah cut Ramirez down to size.

Hard to remember a time when Dodgers fans had fun, so in an effort to keep everyone energized, "and Manny hitting over .400," Soboroff said, "I will match his contribution to Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA for each home run, RBI and single -- all the way through the World Series. I hope others join in."

I'm on my way to Philadelphia to check with Jeff Kent.

I DON'T know much about HGH and Mr. HGH isn't talking because he refuses to say what he did with all those vials of the stuff before joining the Angels.

But I hear when people go off performance-enhancing drugs they dwindle away to almost nothing -- just a coincidence, I'm sure, Gary Matthews Jr. hitting .090 since July 7 -- .222 for the season.

Looks bad, but I'm sure there's an explanation, if only he was talking.

I WILL be undergoing knee surgery in a couple of weeks to cure old age. I've chosen Dr. Frederic Nicola, based in Marina del Rey and the team physician for the Raiders the past 25 years, because he obviously specializes in broken-down bodies.

I'm waiting until the second week of September because I figure the Raiders' season will be over by then, allowing Dr. Nicola more time to concentrate on my knee.

TODAY'S LAST word comes in e-mail from Kevin Karthaus:

"Do your homework, speak to some varsity sportswriters from the Northeast and maybe then write something intelligent about Money Ramirez. Thank heavens you are entertaining all three sports fans in LA and not here putting our passionate fan base to sleep. You and your writing are right where they belong."

Folks here are going to be disappointed I can't get a job in Boston.

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

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