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Archive for the category “Gluskin”

The Kevin Youkilis News Cycle

by mgluskin 

Kevin Youkilis is a career .287 hitter. He’s batted over .300 three times, made three All-Star teams and won over legions of Fenway Fans because of his all-out competitive style and funky batting stance.

But based on the amount of talk I’ve heard about Youkilis over the past 48 hours, you would think he had achieved immortal status of some sort. (In fact, he was dubbed the “Greek god of walks” in the book Moneyball, so maybe that counts.)

Yes, I live in Chicago, so the Youkilis-centered talk is heavier here than in most places around the country, with the exception of Boston. With that in mind, here’s a brief snapshot of the Youkilis News Cycle (with times being severely estimated in some cases), a baseball version of the hyper-speed 24-hour news cycle that dominates today’s instant gratification society.

Sunday morning, June 24, 11 a.m.: Youkilis hasn’t been in the Boston lineup the past three days, he’s angry and likely wants to be traded. But where to? The White Sox emerge as a leading contender, but then…wait! Youkilis is in Boston’s lineup today. Does that mean he’s back in manager Bobby Valentine’s good graces?

Sunday afternoon, June 24, 3:30 p.m.: Rumors swirl around U.S. Cellular Field about the impending trade (I was there so I can speak to the veracity of seeing the flying rumors; or maybe I was just seeing hot dog wrappers blowing in the wind.) Youkilis has been removed from his game in Boston. Zach Stewart is scratched from his start in Charlotte. Brent Lillibridge is removed from Sunday’s game for a pinch hitter. Omg.

Sunday afternoon, June 24, 4:05 p.m.: The White Sox win and the trade is confirmed. Best day in Sox history. OK, second best, after the 2005 World Series victory. That one’s going to be hard to top, unless Youkilis leads this year’s squad to a title.

Monday afternoon, June 25, 3 p.m.: Did you hear? Youkilis is batting second in the lineup tonight! I’m feeling a good night: maybe a homer or two, a few defensive gems and a win.

Monday night, June 25, 9 p.m.: President Obama, usually hated in Red States, draws the ire of Red Sox fans when he jokes at a Boston fundraiser about the trade, thanking Boston for Youkilis (watch the now-viral video here). The First Sox Fan laughs about Youkilis’ change of Sox, raising expectations even further on the team’s new third baseman. I still contend the fans were yelling “Youuuuuuuuuk” and not booing Mr. Obama.

Monday night, June 25, 10:30 p.m.: Youkilis goes 1-for-4 with a single; this hit maintains his .233 batting average. Was the trade a good move? Is Brent Lillibridge still available? (This kid – another now-viral moment relating to this trade – wants to know.)

Tuesday morning, June 26, 8 a.m.: The Chicago Tribune sports page features a big picture of Youkilis batting under the headline, “More of same.” Although the headline refers to the lack of run support given to starting pitcher Jake Peavy, it implicitly condemns the Youkilis trade and Youk Era.

The Final Youkilis News Cycle Tally:

Viral videos resulting from the trade: 2

Potential votes lost by President Obama in Massachusetts: Too many to count

Hits by Youkilis in a White Sox uniform: 1

Actual questions answered about the trade or conclusions that can be drawn at this point: Zero.

Best Dressed: The Tampa Bay Rays

by mgluskin 

On June 30, the Tampa Bay Rays will wear their 1979 uniforms as part of a “Turn Back the Clock” promotion.

Astute baseball fans and readers will notice a major error in that first sentence (and yes, the punctuation is all correct). The Rays – who were initially known as the Devil Rays – only became an expansion franchise in 1998, a solid 19 years before the promotion date they are running at the end of this month.

But that didn’t stop the Rays organization. Taking some creative (and MLB-approved) license, they crafted a “hypothetical uniform” with the purpose of “fully embracing the style of the era while keeping the Rays modern colors,” according to a team press release.

As seen in the picture of Rays manager Joe Maddon above, the stylish threads feature contrasting tones of blue, a mustard yellow and what looks to be an orange slice inside the “b” on the hat and “a” on a jersey – possibly a nod to the team’s home, Tropicana Field.

When the Rays have celebrated “Turn Back the Clock” nights in the past, the team has outfitted in old uniforms of local teams that competed in minor professional leagues. In 2009, the Rays inched the clock back 11 years and wore their inaugural-season uniforms from 1998, the only time they have worn another actual Rays jerseys for one of these promotions. But this year’s fake-but-now-real uniforms easily top all of these other selections because of the faux authenticity and cleverness surrounding them.

Plus, this serves as another example of the Rays’ love for creativity and clothing; for each road trip, Maddon’s gang travels in style according to a theme selected by the manager. Earlier this year, the Rays donned bow ties and suspenders as part of a nerd theme designed to raise money for charity. Last year, the team paraded in pajamas, with many players somehow finding adult onesies to fit into. And two years ago, the Rays wore hockey jerseys during the Stanley Cup finals, with many showing their support for the Blackhawks.

These trip themes create camaraderie among the team and although they likely don’t direct relate to performance, the Rays have certainly not suffered as a result of their fashion fun: they had a winning road record each of the past two seasons and are above the .500 mark away from home so far this year.

And when the Rays do return home at the end of the month, they will treat fans with some far out uniforms. Can you dig it?

Knarrative: The Life of a Knuckleball

by mgluskin

 I fly. I float. I flutter.

Once a pitcher releases me from his grip, I’m at the mercy of the wind. I travel toward home plate – with as little spin as possible – and dance along the way, sometimes dropping to the dirt while other times cutting away from a batter.

Recently, I’ve been getting loads of attention thanks to New York Mets starter R.A. Dickey, who’s just 11-1 with a 2.00 ERA so far this season (both best in baseball), possibly on his way to starting the All-Star game. Clearly, I’m reliable.

While most pitchers want to dazzle the fans and scouts by lighting up the radar gun, I’m often considered a trick pitch, throw by players goofing around during warm-up tosses, but usually restricted from entering the serious field of play.

Sure, some pitchers have used me to achieve great success – including Phil Niekro, Hoyt Wilhelm and Tim Wakefield – but I’ve always been shunned by the majority of hurlers.

Since I’m not widely understood, let me briefly explain what it’s like to be me. Let’s take the other night in New York when Dickey threw his second consecutive one-hit shutout, becoming only the 10th player ever to achieve such a feat.

As I nestle against the leather of Dickey’s glove, he grabs me and I may as well repeat the two-word phrase of any mother who has just prepared a home-cooked feast: “Dig in.” The fingernails on Dickey’s index and middle fingers grasp my skin while the thumb and ring finger surround me.

Once Dickey is ready to release me in the air, he shoves me from his clasp and it’s takeoff time. My flight’s speed depends on Dickey’s arm motion and the force applied by his fingers on the runway; the other night, I traveled anywhere from the mid-60s to the low-80s, in terms of miles per hour, enjoying the view as I hovered toward home.

Most of the time, I landed safely in the catcher’s mitt, often in the strike zone. Due to my lack of rotation and spontaneous movement, some catchers struggle to snare me from the air, while allows me to roll around in the dirt and grass.

But once that fun is over, I’m back in the pitcher’s mitt feeling the force of his freshly trimmed fingernails, and the process starts all over again.

Is Stephen Strasburg Facing Unnecessary Limits?

Life is full of limits. We drive and obey speed limits. Presidents win an election and face term limits (maybe this should apply to Congress, too). Homeowners add extensions to their house and deal with zoning limits.

In baseball, pitchers are usually the ones facing limits, of the pitch count and innings variety. Pitch counts are all the rage these days, with every pitcher’s throws meticulously counted by his manager (looking to protect a team’s investment) and the media (looking to place blame when a pitcher gets hurt).

But some teams face a potentially more difficult challenge with their young pitchers. Teams invest millions into these flamethrowers, praying that every muscle, fiber and joint stays in place on every pitch thrown. If they could, teams would lock their best pitchers up in boxes full of packing peanuts, safe and sound.

Enter the surprising Washington Nationals, currently sitting in first place in the National League East. The Nats’ roster is flooded with young talent, from Bryce Harper to Stephen Strasburg, both recent Number One overall selections in baseball’s draft. Strasburg, who uncorks his wiry arm at an unusual angle, debuted in 2010 and missed most of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. This year, Strasburg is 8-1 with a 2.45 ERA, the first to 100 strikeouts in baseball.

Although he is currently leading the Nationals’ drive to the playoffs, he may not be around to pitch in (pun intended) toward the end of the season (and no, I’m not threatening violence here).

That’s because the Nationals have implemented an innings limit on Strasburg – no specific number has been assigned, but the team’s general manager has indicated it will be 200 or fewer (he’s at 77 now). Despite the team’s best intentions, this strategy is being questioned, seeing as how Strasburg is an integral part of the team’s success. The questions will grow more difficult as the season progresses, but for now, Strasburg shoulders on, with his next start being tonight.

So, what’s the best course of action? That decision obviously rests with the higher-ups in Washington, but it seems silly to announce an innings limit at this point in the season, well before the All-Star break. Of course a team should protect its star pitcher, but shouldn’t it also monitor his health and arm strength as the year progresses, getting Strasburg’s opinion along the way? I agree that trading this season for a healthy Strasburg over a full career isn’t a worthwhile swap, but no one can predict how Strasburg will feel or perform three weeks from now, let alone three months.

For now, let’s relax on the limits.

Easily Watching Matt Cain’s Perfect Game

by mgluskin

Who hasn’t thrown a no-hitter or perfect game yet this year?

Less than three months into the season, the baseball world has already tallied three no-hitters and two perfect games, thanks to Matt Cain’s gem last night. This is only the third time ever in MLB history – and twice in the last three seasons – that pitchers have hurled two perfect games in one year. (And yes, I know, that’s all I seem to write about.)

While no-hitters are cool, perfect games have a special aura about them. According to baseball-reference.com, a site we wrote about earlier this week, there have been 275 no-hitters in baseball history, with just 22 of those being perfect games.

As a baseball junkie, I love watching highlights from these games, and I needed to do that after Cain’s game since west coast baseball ends way past my bedtime. Thankfully, the folks at MLB.com always package all 27 outs of a no-hitter or perfect game into a tidy video that perfectly encapsulates a pitcher’s perfection.

Five minutes later, I had witnessed the game and history (this was the first perfect game for the Giants’ franchise). Those five minutes were packed with just the outs, except for two replays of Gregor Blanco’s incredible catch to lead off the 7th inning; not only does this catch rival DeWayne Wise’s perfect game-saving catch from 2009, but the replays allow you to appreciate just how much ground Blanco covered before extending to snare the ball.

Fans who want to watch games this way aren’t even missing much of the action. A Wall Street Journal report from 2010 calculated that only 14 minutes of the average baseball game broadcast feature live action. The rest is composed of players standing around, dugout shots, crowd views and replays, among other things.

Although watching this way cheapens part of the lore and romance of baseball – its deliberate, methodical pace; its strategic pitch sequences; its chess match between managers – it’s inarguable that it’s a time-saver.

The beauty of the Cain five-minute clip (click the picture below to watch) is that by watching, you can still sense the crowd’s enthusiasm and anticipation of every at-bat. Some no-hit crowds seem to notice in the sixth inning as they nudge their neighbor ever so slightly and point to the scoreboard (so as not to jinx anything), but the San Franciscans began to feel it in the third or fourth inning. There are also a couple of moments when they collectively hold their breath, biting their nails in nervousness, as they pray for their fielders to make the play.

Spoiler alert: they always do.

6 Reasons to Love Stony Brook Baseball

by mgluskin

It’s been a busy month for residents of the sports world, so it’s understandable if not everyone is familiar with the Cinderella-story Stony Brook Seawolves. Between the NBA finals, Stanley Cup finals, French Open, Euro soccer tournament and the usual full slate of MLB games, fans have a smorgasbord of sports to select from.

So, for those of you who have not been avidly following the Seawolves’ ride to the College World Series (CWS), we now present 6 reasons (one for each win they have so far in the tournament) why you should care and root for Stony Brook:

  1. They’re good. Before we get into the underdog nature of this team, it’s important to acknowledge that their trip to Omaha is not a fluke. They were the first team in the nation this year to 50 victories and had seven players selected in last week’s First-Year Player Draft. During their 3-game series victory over LSU, Stony Brook compiled impressive totals of 14 runs and 35 hits.
  2. They’re making history. Not only is this the school’s first-ever College World Series appearance (its first game is Friday afternoon), but they’re only the second No. 4 seed ever to reach that stage of play. For college basketball fans, ESPN continually compared being a No. 4 seed in baseball to that of a No. 13 seed in the NCAA tournament.
  3. They’re proving cold-weather teams can play baseball. Typically, the best high school and college teams reside in warm-weather enclaves, like Florida, Texas, Arizona and California. Seeing as how those teams get to play in the sunshine year-round, it makes sense. However, Stony Brook – located on Long Island – is now the first Northeast school to make the CWS since Maine did it in 1986.
  4. They’re cool under fire. One of the toughest things about being a lower-seeded team in the baseball tournament is that those squads must play continuously on the road. After winning 4 of 5 games in its regional in Florida, Stony Brook went into LSU – one of the more difficult places to play in the country – and won 2 of 3 games there. In fact, the crowd at the CWS-clincher was 10,620, way more than the combined attendance at all 28 of Stony Brook’s home games this season: 6,228.
  5. They’re good sports. Throughout the series, Stony Brook players displayed a confidence in their abilities and teammates enjoyed celebrating with each other after big moments. However, they played good, clean baseball and did not taunt LSU, its fans or show up the umpires. In fact, the LSU crowd was so respectful after the series that many stood to applaud after the final out (likely cheering for their Tigers and the accomplishment of Stony Brook). Some Stony Brook players even circled the field after their win, receiving high fives and good-luck wishes from the LSU faithful.
  6. They’re called the Seawolves. As the school prepared its move from lower-level Division III to its current Division I status, it decided to upgrade from its Patriots nickname to that of the Seawolves. According to the school’s website, “The Seawolf is a mythical creature … said to bring good luck to all those fortunate enough to see it.” So, if you want some good luck – and are sick of hearing about LeBron – tune in for the rest of Stony Brook’s super-baseball ride.

No-No Good?

 by mgluskin

The Seattle Mariners and their six-headed, no-hitting pitching monster should feel good about shutting down baseball’s best team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, on Friday night. But they shouldn’t celebrate for too long.

In fact, they may want to think to themselves, “No-no-no-no-no-no!”, which was Saturday’s headline in the hometown Seattle Times newspaper.

The reason for this negative thought process? This year’s pitchers who have thrown no-hitters (Friday night’s was the fourth of the season already) have struggled since their dazzling pitching performances. Will the Mariners’ six feel the same hex?

A brief examination:

  • The White Sox’s Philip Humber, who tossed the only perfect game of the quartet, did not get another win until more than a month later. Only half of his starts since the perfect game have been quality outings, defined by going 6 innings and giving up 3 runs or less.
  • The Angels’ Jered Weaver tossed the next no-no, and he actually went 2-1 with pretty good numbers overall (minus one disastrous outing) immediately after his game. But in his fifth start following the no-hitter, Weaver got hurt, and he’s currently on the disabled list with a strained lower back.
  • Johan Santana, who we featured in our first blog post earlier this week, has only pitched once since his flawless outing. But against the crosstown Yankees, Santana got lit up, giving up four homers in five innings. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but it was a far cry from perfection.

Seattle may already be feeling the no-no jinx, seeing as how their Friday starter, Kevin Millwood, left the no-hitter after the sixth inning with a groin injury. Although the severity of Millwood’s injury is not yet know, it’s an ominous sign that the Seattle Six may soon suffer from the no-hitter hangover.

On a more positive no-no note, these outings always inspire great, pun-infused headlines in newspapers and on websites across the country. A popular one following Humber’s perfect game was “The Humber Game,” a clever reference to the young adult book and movie series, “The Hunger Games.” Sure, Humber wasn’t fighting for his district and life, but it’s too good of a headline opportunity to pass up.

No-Han Santana already has jerseys being sold with that phrasing on them, and Seattle’s story is no different. Aside from the headline referenced and pictured above already, websites featured phrasing like “Sixcess” and “Hitless in Seattle.”

Clearly, these moments bring out the best in select pitchers and English majors all over the country. Although the no-hit pitchers have mostly struggled since their great games, we as readers and baseball fans have benefitted; there’s no(-hit) doubt about that.

Call Me, Maybe?

by mgluskin

Over the last decade or so, baseball – a game deeply rooted in American history with entrenched traditions – has openly embraced modern-day, 21st-century technology.

Instant replay is now used on disputed home run calls. TV broadcasts can track the speed and movement of every pitch thrown. Home run distances are measured using complex scientific formulas. Stadium scoreboards flash every known stat compiled about a player.

But for all of these advances, there is one glaring use of 20th-century technology that still works perfectly well in baseball: the landline dugout telephones used to call a team’s bullpen.

Although landlines are becoming increasingly obsolete in homes throughout the nation, they will always have a home in at least 30 places around the country – Major League Baseball stadiums.

The phones, which began to be used around the 1950s, as documented by this interesting New York Times piece last year, are easy to work and practical for their intended use. When a team’s pitcher is struggling, a manager can easily pick up the phone – which automatically makes an in-house call to the bullpen – and tell the bullpen coach which pitcher or pitchers to start warming up.

The process takes less than a minute and is nearly fool-proof (although last year’s champion St. Louis Cardinals had a mix-up using the system during the 2011 World Series). Sure, landlines may no longer be needed in homes where family members carry a cell phone glued to their hips, but for baseball, they are the most effective technology that can be used between dugout and bullpen.

Think about it, what would be more efficient? Wireless phones would require extensive dialing and the need for reliable cell service (which may only be found in the two stadiums named for phone companies, AT&T Park and U.S. Cellular Field). Wireless headsets – those worn by NFL coaches – are not going to be draped around a baseball manager’s ears the entire game when they’re only needed for a minute or two, at most.

Other long-dismissed communication systems – smoke signals, messenger pigeons, Pony Express and telegraph – are too inefficient, even for baseball. That leaves the landline dugout-to-bullpen phone as the best option. It works for a game that, while pressured to modernize and advance, is constantly tugged back by its roots to old-school Americana and sandlot baseball.

So while relievers sit in the bullpen and think, “Call Me, Maybe”, they are eagerly awaiting to hear that landline phone jangle off its hook, not humming the irresistibly catchy pop tune by Carly Rae Jepsen. (This song, of course, also has direct baseball ties, ever since Harvard’s brainiac baseball team went viral with its interpretative van dance of the song.)

And although this might seem crazy, landlines are still the best way for managers and bullpens to talk.

The White Sox’s Newest Hawk

by mgluskin

I bet you didn’t know that Chicago baseball is closely intertwined with birds. The Cubs can’t seem to get rid of the seagulls that invade center field and flock toward the bleachers for postgame leftovers. The Cubs also once had a legendary player named Andre “The Hawk” Dawson.

And speaking of hawks, the White Sox play-by-play announcer goes by the name Hawk Harrelson, although his birth certificate says “Ken.” Even if you’re not a White Sox fan, you’ve probably heard of Harrelson, seeing as how he made national news last week with his middle-school tirade against a home-plate umpire.

But after last night’s first-year player draft, the White Sox acquired a new Hawk, one who hopefully carries a more positive reputation to the franchise. However, this hawk – Courtney Hawkins, an 18-year old high school outfield from Texas – got off to a rocky start in the black-and-white pinstripes.

Immediately after being drafted, several of the big-name prospects in attendance were interviewed live on MLB Network. (I sadly know this because I was watching; feel free to take a minute to snicker at me.) Before Hawkins’ interview, the network showed a brief highlight package of his on-field feats, and this video also included footage of him doing a backflip in uniform.

This talent was too good for interviewer Sam Ryan to pass up, so she led off the interview by asking if Hawkins would do a backflip.

Before I continue, let’s pause for a minute. Imagine you’re White Sox general manager Ken Williams, or any of the dozens of scouts who have spent months and years searching for the right player to select in this year’s draft. You likely stood up and began pleading with the TV, saying, “Please, Courtney, don’t do it!” A flopped flip could have resulted in a long-term injury and heaped more Hawk-induced embarrassment upon the Sox.

After Hawkins removed his iPhone from his pocket, buttoned the top button on his Sox jersey and stepped into the proper placement, he flipped. Much to Williams’ temporary delight, Hawkins landed on two feet and couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

That smile may have been slightly muted when Hawkins later received a call from Williams. As Hawkins told ESPN, “Mr. (Ken) Williams said no more backflips, so no more it is.”

So that’s that. Although some White Sox fans may be disappointed that Hawkins won’t be backflipping his way out to center field in several years – their own Ozzie Smith – my guess is that most would prefer Hawkins remain healthy so he can bring more to the team than entertainment value.

Judging by the non-flip parts of the highlight footage shown last night, Hawkins can hit. And if he puts up big power numbers and plays solid defense, that’s something Sox fans will flip out about.

The Best Blog Post Ever*

by mgluskin

I love baseball, newspapers and punctuation. These three items normally intersect in a box score, where a baseball game’s scorebook is smushed into numbers, letters, commas, parentheses and periods.

However, these three things have recently been center stage in an off-the-field drama occurring between the New York Post and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Quick background: The New York Mets’ Johan Santana – now officially known as “No-Han” – threw a no-hitter last Friday night against the St. Louis Cardinals. During that game, Cardinals’ batter Carlos Beltran scalded a line drive down the left-field line in the sixth inning. Although replays showed the ball indenting the chalk line (making it fair), third base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled the ball to be foul, keeping the no-hitter intact.

The rest is history, as Santana went on to throw the Mets’ first-ever no-no. (Punctuation side note: For those of you scoring at home, I’ve already used six hyphens in this post.)

On the back cover of Saturday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch (that’s a printed newspaper for readers until 20), the headline read: “No Hitter*: Santana throws gem with help of missed call.” While that statement is true, what caused controversy was that little asterisk mark, a geometric blending of three intersecting lines.

Baseball has a storied history with the asterisk (no, seriously). Quick back story: When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961, the length of the baseball season had been extended, giving Maris more games in which to achieve this feat. A big debate ensued on whether an asterisk should be attached to Maris’ record to signify this, but the final verdict was to leave the number alone.

Since then, talk of an asterisk being used alongside certain historical records bubbles up time and again, especially during baseball’s recent Steroid Era. In response to the St. Louis newspaper’s headline, one of New York’s leading papers – The New York Post – wrote on Sunday that “Apparently, the Post-Dispatch couldn’t locate the asterisk key while Mark McGwire was swatting 220 steroid-aided home runs while a member of the Cardinals and setting bogus records in St. Louis.”

Oh, snap!

Although I doubt whether the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writers actually had a hard time locating the asterisk key, the New York Post brings up a good point. What baseball events qualify as asterisk-worthy?

While that certainly isn’t an easy debate to settle, adding asterisks throughout baseball’s history would messily jumble the record books and create punctuation-overload, even for me.

Let’s use a recent near-perfect game as an example. In June 2010, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga recorded the first 26 outs against the Cleveland Indians with ease. When the last batter came up, Galarraga induced a ground ball to first base, went over to cover the bag, caught the ball from the first baseman and stepped on first before the runner reached base. However, the first-base umpire incorrectly ruled the batter was safe, marring the perfect game.

Since baseball doesn’t use instant replay for calls like this (that’s another debate in itself), the umpire’s judgment call stood, depriving Galarraga of a place in the record books. Does this performance merit an asterisk? (If so, check the top of the “8” key to find one.)

While I understand the Post-Dispatch’s frustration with the wrong call being made on Beltran’s liner, the truth of the matter is that human error and judgment are entrenched in baseball. As long as people are umpiring the games and not robots, and as long as humans serve as the official scorers, there will be official decisions made that are not always agreed upon or correct. While the goal for umpires should be to achieve 100% perfection, we know this is an impossible standard to achieve. Every game they fall short of this standard, we can’t rush to place punctuation marks everywhere. Beside, the hashtag is already taken. #twitterjoke

I’m a believer that things even out over the course of a season for each team, especially when teams slog through 162 games. My guess is that within the first 50-plus games of the season, the Cardinals have probably had a call go in their favor that was made incorrectly by an umpire. This could be a ball-strike call. Safe-out. Or fair-foul.

The fact is that, as far as baseball and its record books are officially concerned, No-Han Santana threw a no-hitter on Friday, June 1. No one, whether it be the Post-Dispatch sports staff, Beltran or the Baseball Gods, can take that away from him.

*just kidding

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