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Woe to the attorney who can’t talk sports with a client or colleague. While you don’t have to become an ESPN statistician, a little knowledge can keep the cocktail party conversation moving until you can steer it back into more comfortable territory. PLAY BALL: OPENING DAY, MARCH 30 “Damn Yankees!” was muttered around the country as the Bronx Bombers pulled off the second biggest trade in baseball, both thoroughly infuriating their archrival, the Boston Red Sox. (The first: Babe Ruth.) In a last-minute maneuver as sparkling as a Derek Jeter shot to first, Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez signed with the New York Yankees in February. In January, the BoSox were getting ready to print 2004 World Series tickets. They had acquired Arizona Diamondback pitcher Curt Schilling, and were in final negotiations with A-Rod, the American League’s most valuable player. But the deal went south, and the shortstop appeared stuck in Texas with the bottom-dwelling Rangers. Enter Aaron Boone, the Yankees’ third baseman, whose home run in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the BoSox/Yankees 2003 playoffs sent the boys in pinstripes to the World Series, and Bostonians into despair. As if that wasn’t enough, in February Boone became an unlikely hero for the second time, when he blew out his knee during a pick-up basketball game, opening the door for the Bank of George (Steinbrenner) to work some magic. After a split-second negotiation over A-Rod’s $25 million contract, and his OK to move to third base, sobbing could be heard throughout New England. With the addition of A-Rod, the Yankees are the heavy favorite to win the 2004 World Series. Las Vegas Sports Consultants, a company which provides the odds for the majority of Vegas casinos, had the Yanks at 12-5 odds before the trade and as of press time had them at 2-1 odds to win it all. Red Sox odds are 5-2. Next in line: the Yankees Southern Division (aka the Roger Clemens/Andy Pettitte Houston Astros) or the Cubs (with 7-1 odds), or the Angels or the Phillies (both 8-1). Extra points:Scott Spiezio, the Seattle Mariners’ new third baseman, moonlights with Sandfrog, a Chicago-based hard-rock band. The quartet tours in winter (correct jargon: “the offseason”). Reviewers advise Spiezio not to quit his day job, saying Sandfrog’s sound is clearly derivative (think Metallica and Megadeth). THE KENTUCKY DERBY, MAY 1 No, Seabiscuit isn’t running, but the 130th Kentucky Derby should be quite a close race, and Nick Zito is the name to watch — the trainer has three contenders in the Derby. Zito’s got a good track record. He’s trained two other winners: Strike the Gold in 1991 and Go for the Gin in 1994. The favorite to win the lion’s share of the over $1 million dollar purse and the victor’s rose garland is Zito-trained Birdstone, given 12-1 Vegas odds. Birdstone has already earned $312,000. Three other horses have a good shot: Lion Heart and Zito-trained Eurosilver carry 15-1 odds; Tapit is given 25-1 odds. Zito’s third horse in the race: The Cliff’s Edge (30-1). Of course, betting on the pre-race favorite is no guarantee of a big payday. Last year’s favorite, Empire Maker, lost to Funny Cide. No matter which horse you like, make sure you partake in the century-old tradition of sipping a Mint Julep on race day. Extra points:The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978. FRENCH OPEN, MAY 24-JUNE 6 The battles take place just outside of Paris at Roland Garros tennis center. American players have fared well on this clay: Andre Agassi, Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati have walked away with the championship trophy. But it was Spanish Juan Carlos Ferrero and Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne who won the top prize last year. Atop the men’s rankings: Roger Federer, defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero and Andy Roddick. Atop the women’s rankings: defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne, her countrywoman Kim Clijsters and France’s best hope for a championship: Amelie Mauresmo. Any unfinished business will carry over to Wimbledon and the U.S. Open later this summer. Extra points:Roland Garros wasn’t a tennis player but an aviator — the first man to fly across the Mediterranean. Noah Rothbaum is a New York City-based writer whose work has appeared in theThe New York Times andEsquire . E-mail: [email protected] . Additional reporting by Ashby Jones and Monica Bay.

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