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Smilin' Shigeki an uplifting presence in sports

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By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002


When he smiles, it enhances global warming. Shigeki Maruyama seems to invite us to feel his competitive pulse. To hear every palpitation of his Sunday heartbeat. To share an athlete's vibrant world.

He's so easy to like.

In an overpriced society burdened with jocks who are scowling, obnoxious and selfish, the Japanese golfer with the giddy grin and dyed-red hair is winning on the PGA Tour and tee-heeing like a schoolboy while capturing American hearts.

Maruyama became a champ last year at Milwaukee, then did it again this month at Dallas. Augusta embraces Smilin' Shigeki. In a way, Maruyama is a communications major. He speaks almost no English but excels in body language, leaping so many barriers.

European, African and Hispanic jocks, coming to chase U.S. sporting gold, often are successful at easing into Americanese as an alternative tongue. It seems more challenging for Japanese, including several baseball players who have gushed into our major leagues.

Maruyama overcomes with ways, not words. No hang-ups. No inhibitions. As he was rising to icon status in Japan, the young man from Chiba regularly appeared on a hot TV variety show called Yume-ga-MoriMori (Lots of Dreams). Maruyama is now living one.

From 21/2 full-time years on the PGA Tour, he has two trophies and $4-million. Maruyama is earning more. Beating the odds; winning us over. At 32, the gregarious grinner lets us in -- graciously -- on his joys, pains, feats, failures and humanity.

So easily, we smile back.

Many could learn from Smilin'.

READER'S SAY: On a greeting card from Sun City Center, Ron Ziegler suggested that I misstepped in verbally smacking Michael Jordan, writing the basketball god's unique notoriety, clout, contacts and riches could be used to do so much more for humanity.

"How do you know he isn't giving to various individuals and organizations anonymously?" Ziegler said. "Just because (Jordan) doesn't hold a press conference every time he makes a contribution doesn't mean he is neglecting duties as a human being.

"People like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley were known for giving generously to those in need and doing it anonymously. I put Jordan in their category. He doesn't need the recognition."

Maybe so, Ron, but this isn't about Old Blue Eyes or Blue Suede Shoes, but a fellow with the political and business connections, charisma and impact that offers M.J. a whopping opportunity to research, devise and lead a movement so imposing it could make him a Nobel Prize candidate.

I still think M.J. is shirking.

CHIPS: Who would have figured Ellis Burks for homering in more ballparks (40) than anyone, one more than Mark McGwire and Fred McGriff? ... When a BBC crew appeared at Muirfield's stately course to prep for telecasting this summer's British Open, a female producer was a key figure. But she was barred from the clubhouse where Scottish stuffos in pompous leather chairs have historically and disgustingly disallowed women. ... After 18 seasons as a superb NFL placekicker, Nick Lowery has gone into more important work as researcher for the American Indian Economic Development. ... Seeing this year's befuddling Derby outcome, Jerry Greene of the Orlando Sentinel suggested the race's anthem be changed from My Old Kentucky Home to Who Let the Dogs Out. ... Dan Fouts lost his Monday Night Football microphone when John Madden was hired, so the Hall of Fame quarterback joins Keith Jackson on ABC college telecasts. ... If there's a golf writer well-named to report on my erratic game, it has to be Damon Hack of Newsday. ... Barney Reed has been suspended after testing positive for steroids. His sport? Table tennis. ... We all have our favorite all-time sports movies, mine being Bang the Drum Slowly, but I'm not sure what it says when The Waterboy, starring goofball Adam Sandler, is the category's highest grosser at $161-million. ... I'm so old I knew Tommy John when he was a player and not a surgery.

Whatever happened to Candy Maldonado?

-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail mmizell02@earthlink.net or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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