By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
CONTRERAS: CUBA, SI. YANKEES, NO.
Chucky and Godzillawalk into a bar . . . The Yankees' spring-training opener sounded like a punchline waiting to happenonly it was the Reds who had the last laugh, with a definitive 9-3 win. While Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden (famed for his resemblance to the killer doll) threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and Hideki Matsuiwalloped his first U.S. homer, hurler José Contreras's much anticipated debut proved more fizzle than sizzle. The 6-4, 238-pound Cuban surrendered five runs in one inning, thanks largely to a brace of walks followed by an Adam Dunn grand slam. "Never happened to me in my 10 years of pitching," lamented the disappointed defector, who was dubbed El Titan de Bronze by Fidel Castro for his dominance back home.
Nibbling at the plate and dawdling on the mound (unwelcome shades of El Duque), Contreras struggled to find his rhythm, prompting multiple visits from catcher Jorge Posadaand coach Mel Stottlemyre. ("He looked like he was trying to pitch the seventh game of the World Series," remarked the latter.) On a brighter note, the 31-year-old retired the side in order the next inning, racking up three strikeouts over his two frames. Though the media have jumped on the Jeff Weaverbandwagon of late, manager Joe Torre remained tight-lipped about his preference for a fifth starter: "It's all information you put in the hopper," said the unflappable one. Still, he'd better hope for more consistency from Contreras if he wants to avoid another flare-up of irritable Bosssyndrome. El Fat Pussy Toad, anyone? J.Y. Yeh
THE CHILL OF VICTORY
Granted, we were a bit thrown when we arrived in Quebec City two weeks ago for the town's annual Winter Carnival and saw that the thermometer read minus 31 (only 24 below in Fahrenheit, though!). But in between quadruple-layered sojourns to join thousands of crazed Canucks in pursuit of such frozen pleasures as snow rafting, ice fishing, and le bain de neige (don't ask), we kept noticing that every time we got back to our hotel to thaw out and turned on the TV, there seemed to be an intense curling match in progress. Turns out we'd hit the Great White North smack in the middle of Canada's national women's curling championship, held this year in Kitchener, Ontario. Sponsored by paper goods giant Scott, which furnishes everyone with spiffy uniforms crested with logos (Cottonelle, anyone?), the Tournament of Hearts competition featured teams from all of Canada's provinces and territories, and the big storybig enough to knock even the Habs off the front page of the sports sectionturned out to be the little-dogsled-that-could showing by the four-person squad from tiny Prince Edward Island.
Talk about getting a piece of the rock (the 44-pound stone used to play this centuries-old sport): Led by rookie sensation Suzanne Gaudet, a 21-year-old former world junior champ who could give Avril Lavigne a run for her loonies in the teen idol department, P.E.I. made it all the way to the semi-finals before getting knocked off by Newfoundland, helmed by bouffant-topped, no-sweeping-needed drop artist (and '76 junior champ) Peg Gossand wick-and-roll specialist Cathy Cunningham. While ultimate honors went to three-peaters Team Canada, Gaudet slid off with the best one-liner of the whole tourney. Asked to comment on P.E.I.'s third-place finish, the skip was as deadly direct as her tosses: "It sucks really bad." Billy Altman
WEST SIDE STORIES
Pol-watchers who wondered why deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff requested a two-month delay of his January 30 presentation to the City Councilthe long-awaited parley on financing his proposed Olympic stadium/convention center/Madison Square Garden V/central business district megalopolis on the West Sideneed wonder no more. Last month, Doctoroff told Crain's New York Business that he was making a last-minute lineup substitution: Out was the tax increment financing (TIF) plan that had been savaged by financial experts, in was a concept called payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). An alternative fee paid by developers who build on tax-exempt public land, PILOTs have been used for such purposes as funding services in Battery Park City and hitting up tax-exempt universities for funds in places like Cambridge and Ithaca (though not New York City, an omission that the Independent Budget Office estimates costs municipal coffers $200 million a year).
But PILOTs are traditionally restricted to land owned by the public or by nonprofits, and Deputy Dan was silent on exactly how they'd translate to a project that would be mostly in private handsif developers are already paying property taxes, after all, there's nothing for them to pay fees "in lieu of." Further confusing the matter is that in other states, PILOT has been used as a term for the incremental property tax revenues collected in a TIF. (Sorry about all this, really. Next week we promise to write about something simple, like park-adjusted slugging percentage.) All of which leaves open the question: Is this just the same warmed-over plan with an even more inscrutable name?
According to Doctoroff, yeah, kinda. "The precise structure may be different than a classic TIF, but the concept of using incremental revenues generated in the area is still exactly what we're planning to do," he told Crain's. "The name will be different." So long as the city is playing musical acronyms, we have an idea: Why not go one step further and just sell naming rights to the financial plan itself? All we'd need is a good bidding war to drive up the priceanyone know a financial instrument that abbreviates to "BIC"? Neil deMause