Now, Case says, "I have people calling me up all the time saying, 'I used to be a figure skater. Do you think I could play hockey?'"

The explosion of women in hockey has worsened a snag in scheduling at area ice rinks. So few rinks, only so many hours, and so many people wanting time on the ice. Even the Force is forced to practice at odd hours and to routinely play games at 11 o'clock Saturday nights.

"People want to see women's hockey grow, but that means another resource wanting ice time," Case says. "So they have to move over. And then they aren't so excited about it."

Yet some of those excited about women's hockey need to chill out. Along with the joy of the U.S. Olympic team's victory, came shrill editorials claiming too much for an imaginary sports elixir and what it can do for women. On Feb. 10, the Post-Dispatch declared that the Olympic hockey team "should be watched by a new generation of girls who'll ask for hockey skates -- not tutus -- for their birthdays."

Well, now. What's wrong with tutus, if that's what you want? And what's wrong with choosing to steer clear of sports entirely, if you prefer? Do we want young women to lose their options as we try to bestow them? Let's hope women's sports grow in '99 and beyond. And beyond mimicking the model of men's sports. There are other options.

Are the logos for Konica and BJC Health System embedded in your mind? Both were on billboards over the left-field wall at Busch Stadium last summer. Think how many people worldwide saw those trademarks over and over and over in video highlights as Mark McGwire's 62nd home run, and many others, flew over the boards. Konica and BJC couldn't have dreamed of that exposure -- which will last in perpetuity on video -- when they purchased those spaces.

Yet incidental advertising isn't everything. Think how many times you've seen the Beatles deplane in black-and-white at New York in 1964. Every time you see the clip, you see them emerge from a Pan American Airlines jet. But did it do Pan Am any good? They went out of business in 1991.

The pressure on McGwire was enormous as he pursued and then broke Roger Maris' single-season home-run record. But the storied nonstop pressure of the media may have been exaggerated. Major-league clubhouses must be cleared of all press 45 minutes before each game. Yes, McGwire's personal life was encroached upon. But for a professional athlete, 45 minutes should be plenty of time to compose yourself, collect your concentration and play to your potential. And McGwire did that superbly last summer. Let us not say he was denied a chance to prepare himself before each game.

Despite his muscles, some women say that, aesthetically speaking, McGwire has no shoulders. Makes you want to look up "picayune" in the dictionary. Still, it ought to remain OK to say negatives about him. On the occasions that McGwire played poorly last summer, the response of many was an ironic "Trade him. He's a bum." Those quips seem snappy, but they close off honest discussion of his ability.

Also last summer, the Cardinals unveiled a bust of broadcaster Jack Buck, which was planted outside Busch Stadium on the Stadium Plaza side. Buck's signature phrases are many: "He wouldn't walk the pitcher, would he?" and "Where was that pitch?" But my favorite is what he says when a batter drops a surprise bunt that rolls foul: "That was a good idea that didn't work." Such quiet wisdom is what got Buck honored. It was also Buck who taught St. Louisans to say "enning" for inning.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee's farewell track-and-field performance in July at SIUE was one of the warm breezes of the summer. More than 9,000 attended an event that was expected to draw about 6,000 faithful. They saw Joyner-Kersee finish fifth in the long jump, then charm the crowd with hugs and waves and leisurely laps around the track, trailed by young girl athletes.

And over in Madison, Ill., at Gateway International Raceway, they filled the cracks in a track that fell apart during 100-degree heat in July 1997 in time for the facility's first NASCAR Busch Grand National race. Among this year's successes was the Ram Tough 200 in September, which was a stop on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series tour. St. Louisan Mike Wallace, brother of Winston Cup drivers Kenny and Rusty Wallace, finished eighth at the event and went on to finish 13th in points for the season. Those who attended the Ram Tough 200 will remember the dense pattern of pickup trucks that graced the acres of spectator parking. There's no doubt -- truck-racing fans are also truck owners.

The Rams, to be sure, continue to stink. But sports-talk radio is much more entertaining when they lose. And when they lose, the callers are suspiciously more forgiving when the team beats the point spread. Missouri voters banned cockfights this year, but one still goes on every Sunday morning between KFNS/Riverfront Times personality Howard Balzer and a caller named Lee.

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