Moving On

   As many of you know by now, I have decided to make the move from the radio booth to television for the 2007 season.  Its an exciting career decision that I did not make without long thought and consideration.  I have had seven wonderful years working the games on the Cleveland Indians Radio Network and now look forward to broadcasting games for Sports Time Ohio.

   In making my decision I realize that I am leaving two incredibly talented partners in Tom Hamilton and Mike Hegan.  I will miss working with them but, they will always be in the booth right next door.  I will always be grateful to the Indians organization for giving me the opportunity to join the radio broadcast team seven years ago and I make this move with their full support.

   I have had the chance to work with some of the best broadcasters in Cleveland sports history.  My career began at WEWS-TV 5 in 1990 where I worked under the tutelage of the late Nev Chandler.  He was a consummate professional and always encouraged me in my career endeavors.  Working with Tom Hamilton the past seven years in some ways was like working with an extension of Nev.  They have their own distinct styles but, each taught me lessons about preparation and work ethic that I wont soon forget.

   Mike Hegan opened my eyes to watching the game of baseball in an entirely different way.  He welcomed me to the booth and helped me better understand the "game within the game" and never once talked down to me even though he’s forgotten more baseball than I will ever know.

   Now I have the pleasure of sharing the booth with one of my favorite Indians players, Rick Manning.  We worked together on a show 10 years ago called, "Tribe TV" and had a blast doing it.  I truly look forward to learning more about the game from his vast knowledge as well as bringing my own insights to the telecasts.

   Finally I want to thank the loyal radio listeners for their support over the past seven years and look forward to your viewership on STO.  Its been a busy off-season already and I am truly looking forward to getting back down to Winter Haven, Florida for spring training.

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On a side note…I recently made the pilgrimage to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa with my Father and son.  Even if you are not a baseball fan, its worth the trip.  We had a great time and it truly is a magical place.  I’ll never forget when my Dad said, "Its just dirt and grass and corn, and yet its so much more than that.  It brings back so many memories of baseball and family.  It really is a field of dreams."

Hall Call

   While the Indians season has turned sour there will be a sweet moment coming next weekend at Jacobs Field when the Tribe inducts 7 new members into the Hall of Fame.  It has been 34 years between inductions and hopefully we won’t have to wait that long for future classes.  Rocky Colavito, Herb Score, Al Rosen and Sam McDowell will  be on hand for their enshrinement into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame during a pre-game ceremony on July 29th.  Ray Chapman, Addie Joss and Al Lopez will also be inducted posthumously.

   Colavito and Score, two of the most popular players in team history remain close friends to this day. 

   "Sudden Sam" McDowell, who blew fastballs by hitters in overpowering fashion went to the All-Star game 6 times during his career and was a 20-game winner for the Tribe in 1970.  Suddensam

   Al Rosen remains the last Indians player to win the AL MVP award back in 1953, and came within a single hit of winning the Triple Crown (.336 BA, 43 HR, 145 RBI) losing the batting title by .001.

   "El Senor", Al Lopez was at the helm of the 1954 Indians team that won the American League pennant with a 111-win season.  He remains the Tribe’s all-time leader in winning percentage with a career managerial record of 570-354.

   Perfection was the name of the game for Addie Joss back in 1908 when he threw a perfect game against Chicago, 1-0.  The perfect game performance is regarded as one of the best in baseball history because it came in the heat of a pennant race on October 2, 1908.  He won 20 games four times during his career which was tragically cut short at the age of 31 when he died of tubercular meningitis.

   Perhaps no player in the history of baseball suffered a more tragic demise than popular shortstop Ray Chapman.  On August 17, 1920 Chapman was fatally beaned by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays of the Yankees.  He was the Indians starting shortstop for 7 seasons and had tremendous range and speed.

   This honor is long overdue for these seven men who thrilled Indians fans for years with their collective efforts between the lines.  On Saturday July 29th, Jacobs Field will truly be a "Field of Dreams" because as James Earl Jones said in the movie, "These players, this game, they are a part of our past.  They remind us of what was once good, and can be again."

   

Shaking Things Up

   The Indians began the month of June by losing 12 of their first 17 games.  They wrapped up a 2-7 road trip by getting swept in Milwaukee, then came home and got blown out by the Chicago Cubs 12-8.  The following day Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro shook up the Tribe’s clubhouse by making several roster moves.

   Starting pitcher Jason Johnson, who hadn’t won a game since April 23rd, was designated for assignment and reliever Jeremy Guthrie was sent back to AAA Buffalo.  RHP Edward Mujica, who didn’t give up a single run at AA or AAA was called up to take Guthrie’s spot in the bullpen.  Joe Inglett was also called up and will give Manager Eric Wedge flexibility because he can play 2b, SS, left or center field.

   Sowers The biggest move won’t take place officially until Sunday when LHP Jeremy Sowers makes his major league debut against Cincinnati.  Sowers was taken with the 6th overall pick in the 2004 draft and was named the Indians minor league pitcher of the year on ’05.  He will arrive at the big league level faster than anyone could have anticipated.  Sowers has been described as a "cerebral" pitcher who has a great "feel" to pitch.  What does that mean?  When CC Sabathia arrived at the big league level in 2001 he was more of a "thrower" than a "pitcher".  Sabathia relied on his 97 mph fastball to get him through his Major League indoctrination.  Sowers doesn’t have a blazing fastball so he has developed his off speed pitches and has an excellent ability to locate those pitches.  He also has a great understanding of how to attack hitters by exploiting their weakness.

   Shapiro cautioned that no one should expect Sowers to carry the team on his back.  There is always a transition period for any young player making their first foray into the big leagues.  The hope with Sowers is that transition won’t take nearly as long as it has with others.  The bottom line is that Jason Johnson wasn’t going to get any better and with Sowers you have a pitcher that could be a permanent fixture in the Tribe’s rotation for years to come.  It also shows you how desperate teams in contention are for starting pitching when the Boston Red Sox traded for Johnson the day after he was deemed expendable by the Tribe.

   Eric Wedge has also intimated that other veterans jobs could be at stake if things don’t improve quickly.  The Indians aren’t throwing in the towel on the season but, its obvious now they aren’t going to sit around and wait to pull the trigger on more moves to try and get the most out of this season.  The Indians traded Coco Crisp in the off season to acquire a third baseman for the future in Andy Marte.  He was just named the International League player of the week when he homered in 5 straight games.  To a certain extent Sowers forced his way onto the ball club with how well he pitched at Buffalo this year.  The time may soon be coming when Marte does the same.

Taking a Bite out of the Big Apple

   "Every game here is like the World Series," says former Indians pitcher Jaret Wright.  The righthander succinctly sums up what its like to play for the Yankees in New York.  The atmosphere here is like no other in the game of baseball.  The media in New York usually outnumbers the players by a 2-1 margin making it uncomfortable for players who are not used to that type of scrutiny.

   The history and tradition of baseball is a living, breathing thing at Yankee Stadium.  Monument Park located beyond the center field wall pays homage to Yankee greats of the past.  When Grady Sizemore takes his position in center field he does so knowing that Joe DiMaggio once roamed the same grassy plain.  Before CC Sabathia took batting practice here on Wednesday, Jeremy Guthrie told him that he would be stepping in the same batters box that Mickey Mantle once stood in.  "That’s awesome," said Sabathia.  "I want to get some pictures taken of me swinging the bat here.  I mean how many guys can say they got to hit at Yankee Stadium?"

   Yankee Stadium is located uptown in the Bronx.  If you take the 4 train downtown to Grand Central Station you will be smack in the middle of the busiest city in the world.  Just a few blocks from Grand Central is Times Square, The United Nations Building, Park Avenue and all that midtown has to offer.  If you find yourself near Grand Central at lunch time then take the 6 train downtown to Canal Street.  Walk a few blocks to Mulberry Street and check out historic Little Italy.  The street is lined with restaurants and bakeries and you can’t go wrong with any of them.  My personal favorites are Il Fornaio and Pellegrino’s, located only 2 doors from each other.Littleitaly_1

   If you decide to make a trip to the big apple then make sure you bring your wallet.  Prices here are enough to give Midwesterners a serious case of sticker shock!  A bottle of beer will cost you $8.25 at the hotel and at Yankee Stadium a cheese steak sandwich runs $9.75.  Of course living in NYC is a whole different story.  A small two-bedroom apartment on the low-end will cost around $2500 a month.  A parking space might cost as much as $500 monthly unless you have an SUV then the price suddenly jumps to $750.

   New York City.  It’s a great place to visit but, I wouldn’t want to live here.

Inside the War Room

   "This is our Super Bowl," explains Indians Assistant General Manager John Mirabelli.  "This is the day we’ve been waiting for all year."  The 2006 First Year Player Draft is a chance for the unsung heroes of the Indians organization to shine.  Scouts from all over the country pack the Indians draft war room in anticipation of infusing more young talent into the farm system.

   The Indians invited all of their full-time scouts to the draft for the first time ever, in an effort to enhance communications between the team and the player being selected.  A huge board measuring 7 feet high and 25 feet wide covers one end of the room and is filled with the names of every conceivable player available in the country.  Each area scout sits in front of a laptop computer to follow every move in the draft.

   Directly in front of the area scouts are the scouting crosscheckers and members of the front office.  Mirabelli sits in front of the big board flanked by Assistant Scouting Director Brad Grant.  Sitting immediately to their left is National Crosschecker Chuck Ricci, General Manager Mark Shapiro and Assistant GM Chris Antonetti.  On the other side of the table sit Crosscheckers Paul Cogan, Matt Ruebel and Scott Meaney.  These men all have access to the Indians Draft software program developed by Matt Tagliaferri.  This system enables them to access scouting reports on any one of the thousands of players being considered as well as on-demand video.

   When the draft begins the room falls as silent as a high school classroom on the day of final exams.  The silence is broken only by the voice on a speakerphone announcing each pick by the various teams.  After only 5 picks in the first round a familiar voice on the phone is heard announcing the Dodgers need more time to make their selection.  Its former Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda who finally exclaims, "The ONLY Major League Baseball team in the city of Los Angeles is the Dodgers and we select…"  This is a direct dig at the Angels who have been trying to lay claim to the market of L.A.

   The Indians don’t have a first round pick and must wait until the 39th selection to claim their first player of the day.  Between picks the whispers in the room raise the noise level to a low hum only to be silenced with the announcement of the next selection.  Some scouts nod to each other during selections that make sense and raised eyebrows are exchanged over picks that seem to defy logic.

   The Indians have targeted 4 players that could be possibilities at #39.  They are concerned Boston will take one of them but, the Red Sox go another direction drawing sighs of relief from the Tribe’s top brass.  At the conclusion of the first round there is a 15 minute break.  The Indians brain trust huddles to go over contingency strategies in case their targeted players are gone by the time they are ready to pick.

   Indians owner Larry Dolan and team President Paul Dolan are on hand to observe the draft and wait anxiously as the tension mounts.  At 2:00pm, just one hour after the draft begins the Indians are finally on the clock.  "The Indians select David Huff, pitcher, UCLA," announces Mirabelli.  Immediately, area scout Vince Sagisi goes into a backroom to phone Huff.  The pitcher tells Sagisi that he is thrilled to be selected by the Indians.

   Huff, a lefthander, has drawn comparisons to Tom Glavine and Barry Zito.  He turned down an offer of $500,000 from Philadelphia when he was a high school senior and instead chose to pitch at UCLA for John Savage who previously tutored Barry Zito and Mark Prior.  He is considered to be a polished pitcher with command of a tremendous change-up and should move quickly through the system.

   The Indians now await back-to-back selections an number 56 and 57.  Shapiro calls Paul Dolan over to the draft table to advise him of their plans.  It is explained to Dolan that it may take more money to sign certain players than originally anticipated.  The Indians President never wavers giving Shapiro the green light.  Moments later a player on the Tribe’s "A" list is taken by another club and Shapiro grimaces with disappointment.  Without hesitation they quickly re-group and select RHP Steven Wright of Hawaii then second baseman Joshua Rodriguez from Rice.

   Next up the Tribe tabs third baseman Wes Hodges of Georgia Tech and later selects shortstop Adam Davis of Florida.  Rodriguez, Hodges and Davis are former teammates.  While not necessarily by design, the Indians have smartly drafted 3/4 of the starting infield from last year’s Team USA.

   The draft will continue the following day and when the dust settles the Indians will select roughly 50 players.  Traditionally only half of those players will sign contracts and begin their pro careers.  The men in the war room can only hope the players they’ve picked today will one day wear big league uniforms. 

   One scout whose player he recommended was just selected begins to pace the floor in the back of the room.  His face is a mixture of joy and anxiety.  Happy "his" player was selected.  Hopeful he will be a "hit" and not a "miss".  Its no accident there is a huge bottle of antacid and a jar of aspirin sitting on a nearby table.  Before the day is over both will be empty.

The Curse of Eddie Grant

   Fans of Cleveland sports teams know all about curses and bad luck.  Anyone who has watched our teams over the past half-century can attest to forces beyond our control intervening on behalf of the opposition leaving us dumbfounded and confused after gut-splitting losses in postseasons past.

   The Cavaliers were burned by Michael Jordan so many times you would have swore he was Satan in sneakers.  Even though the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964, they’ve never overcome the firing of Head Coach and founder Paul Brown two years earlier.  The Indians may be the only team in town with multiple curses to overcome.  First there was Bobby Bragan who allegedly put a curse on the team the day he was fired (although Bragan denied this).  Then there was the curse of Rocky Colavito, the beloved outfielder who was traded to Detroit by Frank Lane.  The Indians of course overcame all of this to break a 40-year post season drought only to become the first team in history to take the lead into the bottom of the 9th inning of game 7 of the World Series, and lose (I’m preaching to the choir here so we don’t need to relive the details).

   Whether or not you believe in curses, hexes or the maloik, its hard to argue with all of this history of coming so close only to be left standing at the altar empty-handed.  If we’ve learned anything over the years its that if you do something bad to someone else, its going to come back to you and more.

   Take the case of the San Francisco Giants.  They have not won a championship since they left New York (again, we’re not going over the gory details of the ’54 World Series win over the Indians) in 1957.  Many believe the Giants are plagued by the curse of Eddie Grant.  I can hear you now, "Who’s Eddie Grant?"

   Grant, who began his career with the Cleveland Indians in 1905, played a more prominent role with the Giants in a big league career that spanned 992 games.  In 1917 when World War I was declared, Grant enlisted and quickly rose to the rank of Captain.  On October 5th, 1918 he led a mission to try and rescue the famous "Lost Battalion" in the Argonne Forest of France.  Grant was severely wounded by enemy fire and died four days later.Egrant3

   On Memorial Day in 1921, representatives from the armed forces, baseball and Grant’s family unveiled a monument in center field of the Polo Grounds in New York, paying tribute to Captain Edward L. Grant.  Over the years the plaque became the focal point of Memorial Day events at the Polo Grounds.

  In his book "The Doughboys," author Laurence Stallings wrote that whenever legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, himself a veteran, went to the Polo Grounds, "the figure of Eddie Grant was always there, ghostly in the outfield."

   Over the years Indians fans have seen countless replays of Willie Mays amazing over the shoulder catch of Vic Wertz’s deep drive to centerfield at the Polo Grounds.  The next time you watch, look closely and you can see the plaque just beyond the fence.

   Neil Hayes of the Contra Costa Times, recently wrote, "The memorial came to represent more than just a long-forgotten ballplayer. Players walked past the 5-foot-high memorial on their way to and from the field. Fans exiting the stadium through the center-field service gate passed the memorial, often pausing to read the words "Soldier, Scholar, Athlete" on the bronze plaque."

   After the Giants final game in New York, Grant’s plaque was stolen and then later recovered but, eventually disappeared for good.  Five years ago, according to the Great War Society and the Western Front Association, they approached Giants ownership with an offer to replace the plaque honoring Eddie Grant at SBC Park in San Francisco.  The Giants declined the offer.

   The following season San Francisco blew a game 6 lead and eventually the World Series against the Angels.  The next year they were upset in the first round of the Divisional Playoffs by Florida when Jose Cruz, Jr. dropped a fly ball in the 11th inning in the pivotal game 3.

   Before the start of this season the Giants finally relented an erected a replica plaque that now hangs near an elevator at the Lefty O’Doul entrance gate at the recently renamed AT&T Park.  It may be too little too late but, at least its something.

   Enjoy your Holiday with the family and take some time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in order to make our lives so rich.

 

The Bridge Builders

   The Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates are turning back the clock to pay tribute to the stars of a bygone era.  For one night the Tribe and Bucs will wear uniforms of the Cleveland Buckeyes and the Homestead Grays out of respect for some of baseball’s greatest players, many of whom never got a chance to play in Major League Baseball.

   Josh Gibson, known by many as the "Black Babe Ruth", slugged nearly 800 homeruns in the Negro Leagues and was considered the greatest power hitter in black baseball.  Gibson actually got his start with Homestead when he came out of the stands to replace the Grays injured catcher in July of 1930.  Tragically, he died just 4 months before baseball was integrated by Jackie Robinson.

   Not long after Robinson debuted with the Dodgers, Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League with the Cleveland Indians.  Doby, a power hitting center fielder, helped the Indians win the World Series in 1948 and AL pennant in ’54.  Because Robinson was six weeks ahead of Doby, he was largely ignored by historians for his trailblazing efforts.  Former teammate Bob Feller once said of Doby, "He was a great American, he served his country in World War II, and was a great ballplayer.  He was kind of like Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, because he was the second African-American player in the majors."Doby_larry_3

   The contributions of players like Robinson, Doby and Satchel Paige helped scores of young African-American players who followed in their footsteps.  It reminds me of a poem I first read when I was in high school, titled "The Bridge Builder".

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim, near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you a bridge at the eventide?"

The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him."

  • Author: Will Allen Dromgoole

A Time to Vote

   We are fast approaching the quarter mile post of the 2006 baseball season and with that we are being reminded almost daily to vote for the all-star game.  When I was a kid there were only a few ways to make your vote heard.  You either had to attend a Major League Baseball game and get the ballot from an usher at the stadium or you could cut one out of the local newspaper and mail it in.  Nowadays, thanks to the technology we possess, voting is down right simple!

   You can still do it the old fashioned way by punching the holes in the ballots at the ballpark and handing them back to the ushers.  Of course after the Presidential election snafu with all of those "hanging chads" why leave anything to chance?  Simply log on to indians.com and vote electronically!  Its simple and you can really impact your favorite players chances by voting up to 25 times per day.  I can hear the purists moaning in the background but, hey this thing has always been a popularity contest from the get-go.  Haf_1

   Last year because the Indians got off to such a slow start the only player selected to the midsummer classic was closer Bob Wickman.  Two years ago the Indians sent five players to the all-star game including Victor Martinez, Ronnie Belliard, CC Sabathia, Jake Westbrook and Matt Lawton.

   Casey Blake is currently leading the American League in batting average and is certainly playing well enough to warrant an all-star game selection.  Travis Hafner is leading the league in runs scored, tied for 4th in runs batted in, and is also among the league leaders in home runs.  Victor Martinez had a streak of reaching base safely in 45 consecutive games dating back to last year and is one of the top run producing catchers in the game.  Despite missing the first month of the season, CC Sabathia is also making a bid for the all-star game with a 2-1 record and a 2.31 era.

   Seven times in Indians history the club has sent only one representative to the all-star game in back-to-back years.  The most recent was in 2002-03 when Omar Vizquel and CC Sabathia went to the midsummer classic for the Tribe. Will 2006 mark the 8th time in franchise history that this has happened or will Indians fans rise as one and let their collective voices be heard?  Only time will tell and the clock is ticking.  Voting ends on June 21st.

Gotta Beat the Bad Teams

   There is an old baseball axiom that if you play .500 against the top teams in the league and beat-up on the cellar dwellers then you put yourself in position to make the playoffs.  This holds true not only in baseball but in all sports.  The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970′s won 4 Super Bowls largely because they always beat the bums.  Chuck Noll’s teams during the decade of the 70′s were an amazing 50-0 vs. teams with losing records.  The bottom line here is you have to beat the teams you are supposed to beat.

   The 2006 Cleveland Indians have played extremely well against the top contenders so far.  Tom Hamilton did some research and found that the Tribe is 9-4 against Chicago, Boston, Oakland and Minnesota (the Twins were thought to be a contender when the Indians opened at home against them).  Even if you include the Tigers, a team no one expected to be this good, the Indians are a combined 11-6.  So why are they wallowing around the .500 mark?

   The main culprit is the fact that they haven’t played well against the bad teams.  The Indians have lost 8 of 13 games against Kansas City, Baltimore, and Seattle.  Is it a matter of playing to the level of competition or simply the law of averages?  Probably a little of both but, the Indians are a better team than they have showed so far.  Inconsistent starting pitching plagued them the first month of the season but, CC Sabathia’s return should help remedy that problem.  The bullpen appears to be settling down and Rafael Betancourt will return from the D.L. next week further fortifying the ‘pen.

   Offensively the Indians have been better than just about any other team in the league.  Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and Casey Blake are among the league leaders in multiple offensive categories and Grady Sizemore is batting above .300.  The key for the Tribe now is to put it all together and this would be a good time to do it.  The Indians will play the Royals 6 times in the next 10 days, plus they’ve got 3 games at home versus Detroit and the woeful Pittsburgh Pirates.

   The season is still early and there is plenty of time to catch the Tigers and White Sox.  CC Sabathia told me last night, "Hey, its only May." 

   Yeah that’s true but, as Yogi Berra once said, "It can get late early."

Royals

The Great Northwest

   I made my first trip to Seattle, Washington in October of 1995 when the Indians played the Mariners in the American League Championship Series.  I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by just how beautiful this city was then and still is now.  The perception of Seattle is a gloomy town with months of never-ending rain.  Truth is the rainy season ends in the spring and the summers here are spectacular.  Snow-capped Mount Rainier is always a breathtaking sight to behold and is located just south of the city.

   In 1995 the Mariners played in the old Kingdome.  It was such a bad place for baseball that many people often referred to it as the "King-Tomb" because it resembled a large concrete mausoleum.  In the ALCS of ’95 however Seattle fans packed the place to capacity every night and it was so loud you couldn’t hear the person sitting next to you.

   Safeco Field opened in 1999 and is easily one of the best parks in baseball.  It has a rolling roof that covers the field in the event of rain but, still allows air to flow in from the outside so you never feel completely enclosed.  The dimensions are bigger than many of the new parks but, its fair.  No cheap homers here however power hitters can still reach the upper deck in left field and left handed hitters can pull the ball deep to the lower deck seats in right field.

   Downtown Seattle is home to great shopping and one of the best restaurants in the country.  The Metropolitan Grill, located on 2nd avenue, is a steakhouse with great atmosphere and mouthwatering steaks and seafood.  Reservations are a must but, the good news is they are open for lunch and dinner.  I remember one year Rick Manning and I ate lunch at the Met on consecutive days.  The first day we ran into former Cavs Head Coach Lenny Wilkens and the following day we saw NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell dining at the Met.Pike_market_1

   Another spot to see if you visit Seattle is the famous Pike Place Market on the waterfront.  If you’ve ever seen a national TV broadcast of any game played in Seattle then chances are you’ve seen the guys at the market tossing whole fish around like kids playing catch with a ball.  Its a lively atmosphere much like the West Side Market in Cleveland.  City Fish Company has been around since 1917 and they always have enormous quantities of fresh King Salmon, Halibut, Cod and Snapper.  Plus they also have King Crab Legs at great prices and they ship anywhere in the USA.  I sent 15 pounds of Crab and Salmon home and now I can’t wait to get back and eat!

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