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Cults, Tara Lipinski & Baseball

As baseball fans in the UK we all have that story, the one where we discover baseball. Whether it be from a family member or seeing the game on TV in a moment of insomnia.

My story starts on the 30th March 1997. The news was reporting the aftermath of the mass suicide of the 39 Heaven’s cult, in Ireland in the previous month they had legalised divorce and Tara Lipinski at 14 became the youngest women’s world figure skating champion.  However British TV was changing with the launch of Channel 5 but it was not without controversy.

In the run up to the launch they ran newspaper and billboard adverts announcing how “Baseball was the new cricket”. The cricket fans within the UK where up in arms. How dare Channel 5 suggest baseball was a replacement for such a national institution.

In 1997 I was 15 and already a fan of American football. I was taken in by the chance to see more American sport. I had to wait a whole two weeks after launch day for our video to retune but once we had Channel 5 I tuned in the next Sunday to watch live baseball.

At that point it was presented by Tommy Boyd. Maybe it was the nostalgia for seeing Tommy Boyd back on TV (he used to present children’s programmes on ITV) or it could have been the chance to see live American sport other than the NFL. Either way I was hooked into a lifetime of insomnia from watching baseball.

After a few weeks it was clear I was going to need a team to support. It was an easy choice. As an NFL fan before watching baseball I supported the 49ers so I became a Giants fan.

The timing was great for Channel 5 to provide American sport on British TV as the signal for US Armed forces radio was getting weaker and weaker. The times I spent around my parents’ kitchen balancing the radio in dubious positions as it was the only place I could get the signal.

While Channel 5 has grown up into Five TV and has now dropped its American sport coverage the question is how we start encouraging new people to the sport.

The main difference between 1997 and 2010 is the internet.  In 1997 there was an average of 1,681,868 websites compared to over 206,675,938 in 2010.  People have access to a lot more information and more importantly access to live streaming via the internet. I think younger generations will find out about baseball but not in the way that we have in the past due to using new technologies.

How did you become a fan of baseball?

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3 Responses to “Cults, Tara Lipinski & Baseball”

  1. I failed to get into baseball on two occasion before I finally cracked it. I was 15 in the summer of 1997 as well, and in the early years of Five’s coverage I did stay up once or twice to take a look at this new sport. The problem was that the mate I watched it with and I would carefully watch the action and then talk away during the breaks, thus missing the invaluable instruction provided by Five’s presenters. So we never really found out what was going on. Baseball players are trained to avoid showing too much emotion (both to hide weakness and to avoid unsportsmanlike gloating), so you can’t rely on facial expressions to tell you which team a particular play benefited. It’s the same with trying to learn what’s going on in a tennis match (the players rarely show enough emotion on an individual point for a new spectator to work out who the outcome favoured).

    I tried a second time to get into the sport in 1999 by searching the internet, but never really found a site that explained it properly for Brits (Matt, where were you when I needed you!).

    I describe how I finally succeeded in getting into the sport here: http://www.baseballgb.co.uk/?p=1850

    Essentially, to get into baseball I had to understand the sport on a level where I could begin to appreciate its subtleties.

    March 28, 2010 at 9:45 pm Reply
  2. Like Joe I had a few false starts with Baseball.

    My first proper experience of the game was watching the 1985 World Series, which was re-televised on Channel 4 over the Christmas/New Year holidays that year. With my family being half-American I was already hooked on watching NFL games on the same channel too.

    The Royals became my team of choice and with my family connections in the same part of the USA, it wasn’t long before I was sporting a KC Baseball cap and Starter jacket with hopes of playing the game!

    A Baseball bat, ball, glove and rule book quickly followed via airmail. However, it was the rule book that eventually killed off my passion for the game, it was just too daunting for an everyday 13 year old kid from the UK!

    Bo Jackson did his best to keep me interested in the sport, as did ScreenSport’s coverage during the early days of Satellite TV (pre-Sky sports). But without an appreciation of those ‘subtleties’ referred to by Joe (and with the Royals becoming also-rans once again!), I found the watching experience quite unfulfilling.

    From around 1992 all interest in Baseball and American Football had faded in favour of the Boston Celtics. Which is quite ironic as like the Royals, they too went a considerable slump after becoming my team of choice!

    It was a long wait for a true marquee player to come along and replace the legacy of Larry Bird, but finally with the emergence of Paul Pierce, along came new hope.

    A life’s ambition was fulfilled when I went to Boston in 2006 specifically to watch the Celtics play. Again, this was hugely ironic as The Truth was in fact injured in the game before, and couldn’t play against the Heat (Shaq was also out for the same reason!)

    The Baseball season had just started in Beantown and it didn’t take long to realise how much of a big deal this was in the City…..far bigger than the Celtics! So we grabbed tickets for the Red Sox at Fenway the following night and the rest as they say is history. I was completely consumed by the sights, the sounds, the smells – Boston lost, but it didn’t matter as I had finally ‘fallen’ for Baseball!

    I since heard about the British Baseball scene via the MLB coverage on Channel 5 and joined my local team 2 years ago. My near 25 year wait to actually play the game was finally over!

    March 29, 2010 at 1:40 pm Reply
  3. “No one will ever grant me the power to manipulate time but the recollection of the past will forever remain captured in my conscious reflection of it”

    P.Figueras

    This is my story, which emcompasses the strength of a talented youth baseball team worthy of a place in the real world of Disney and its magic domain, says I.

    A stolen kiss at the left side of the ballpark!

    Throughout the existence of organised baseball, teams, like New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeless Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, and players, like Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Luis Aparicio and Ted Williams, must have been visited, at one time or another, by dreams of “The Hall of Fame” and stardom. It would have been a sin, from the human point of view, if they had not done so before they made it into the Majors. Having said that it is very easy, at times, to fail to remember that baseball, for many, it’s just a pastime, which for good or ill, entails a contest between two sides in a match to the last inning. It is also about a magical attractionl, which has brought people from different walk of life together in attachment with the game of baseball. From my own point of view, it is not that simple to explain the reasoning behind my extreme zest for baseball but I can unreservedly tell you that the power of words is not sufficient to weigh the passion that my affection for the game carries. I sometimes wonder if my achievements in the game would echo across the time to come and wonder again if the new generation of players would hear my name after I have ceased to exist and think who I was, how pluckily and competitively I played; which was hard but fair, as I never failed to give my very best in every game. A game or two was won or lost, a slippery plank at times I walked but no force ever conquered my competitive spirit and my flagstaff was always flying my corsairs’ flag as I wandered the innings in search of outs and runs as plunder for my team’s cause.

    Indeed, great sporting memories can never be erased by the passing of time since they represent endurance, ability and total commitment to a cause and they will always remain registered in the minds of the participants and aficionados as a monument to competence and endeavour. Equally, there are also memorable moments in one’s life that are utterly unforgettable, especially those which one has kept, for one reason or another, vivid in one’s mind. However, it must be said that all good memories remain fresh when they have been good and this story is about a momentous time in my sporting life that the sand of time with all its mighty has failed, so far, to obliterate from my mind. Certainly, a good sportsman always has direct personal participation in the foundation of his experiences on the field of playing and for all time those experiences remain engaged in his mind as a monument to endurance, hard work and ability. Still, I must confess that I loved to indulge in idle fantasies when I was a young man as I was often visited in my dreams by visions of notability’s status; but I cannot tell a lie for I enjoyed my indulgences as they gave me feelings of happiness and satisfaction. Certainly, at times, my heart gets absolutely filled with ecstasy when my memories convey my thoughts to August 1971 as I and fourteen other people drunk from the cup that cheers but does not inebriate. Indeed, we drank to celebrate a remarkable year for baseball in the Aragua State in Venezuela. Nonetheless, it must be said that the content was not champagne but grape juice from the grape bear vines of Ignacio Ramirez’s vineyard in Turmero as most of the guests were under sixteen years of age. Indubitably, 1971 was an outstanding year for baseball in this region since its junior team became National Champions of the 1971 Criollitos de Venezuela National Championship held in Puerto Ordaz – Bolivar State – in Venezuela.
    The Story
    1971 was a difficult year in the financial front in Venezuela since the country was going through a period of economical instability which brought great unhappiness and hardship to most of its inhabitants as the new government had once more ignored the plight of the have not and had instead concentrated its effort in helping those who had more than they could ever need in their life time. Indeed, the changes that the new elected Social Christian Party had promised before the election had not been delivered and there was a lot of discontentment among those people who had voted for the promise of change. Perchance, this is the main reason 1971 has been consistently undervalued as a vintage year in this part of the world. Nevertheless, 1971 was a very important year for baseball in Turmero, a little town in the Aragua State, as its junior team became National Champions. Still, it is August 1971 which always strikes a responsive chord in my heart for it never fails to hoist my spirit to the contentment that I felt then when victory was ours in the 1971 Criollitos de Venezuela National Championship celebrated in Puerto Ordaz. I feel privileged to have been a member of that winning team to which Ignacio Ramirez and William Castillo were appointed to manage and coach respectively by Victor Martinez who was then the representative of the Criollitos de Venezuela League in the Aragua State.

    My mind floats over with excitement as it battles the sand of time with apprehension at the prospect of my remembering my teammates’ names since I have not seen them for nearly thirty-nine years. A distempered mind is mine but at the present time it is my office to recall those distant names. Team Aragua’s Roster – Pitchers: Alonzo Acosta, José Morgado, Orlando Martinez, Jose “El Zurdo” Ochoa, Pedro Figueras. Catcher: Ramon Moreno. First Baseman: Alonzo Acosta played this position when he was not pitching. Second Baseman: Toribio Barbosa. Short Stop: Ali “Maquinita” San Casimiro. Third Baseman: Luis Rojas. Left Field: Gustavo “El Turmereño”. Center Field: This is me (Pedro Figueras) as I played this position when I was not pitching. Right Field: “Guabina” Villa de Cura. Substitutes: Alirio “Turmero”, “El Enano” Turmereño, “Picure” de Maracay.

    August 15th 1971, Team Aragua with all the good gifts of a winner – talent, determination and resilience, all imbued in a group of fresh-faced youngsters, eager to be a great success with the ball, bat and glove – left Turmero on an old bus for Puerto Ordaz in the Bolivar State. It took us nine hours and thirty minutes by road to reach our destination. At our arrival we were informed that the participant teams had been split into two groups. Group A was the group they put us in. Albeit, Group A had been deemed, by many, as the group of death, the mood was buoyant in team Aragua since they were all eager to impress. Team Zulia, Team Miranda, Team Federal District, Team Lara and Team Yaracuy were the other competitors in Group A and if the experts were going to be right the winner of the Championship would come out of this group. Group B, if my memory serves me right, was made of: Team Anzoategui, Team Bolivar, Team Carabobo, Team Monagas and Team Nueva Esparta.

    Our first game of the tournament was against Team Miranda and Ignacio Ramirez, the manager, decided to open the game with José “The Punisher” Morgado as we used called him. Morgado dutifully rose to the occasion as he pitched seven innings conceding two hits and one run while striking out ten batters. Ramon Moreno and myself hit two-run homers respectively during the game and Toribio Barbosa hit a double with runners in second and third. Final Score: Team Aragua 7 Team Miranda 1.

    Our second game of the tournament was against the mighty Team Distrito Federal and Ignacio Ramirez, the manager, decided to start the game with me on the mound. It has to be said that Ignacio Ramirez was one of the best coaches I have ever played under and his remarkable ability to put up with the sort of things that others simply could not cope with was admirable. Indeed, he had great strength of character. His knowledge of the game together with his great managerial skilss were second to none as it was him who put together this fabulous team, which in my opinion was one of the best team I have ever played for. Certainly, Ignacio Ramirez was fully aware that discipline, hard work, know-how, and preparation were fundamental in the creation and of a winning team as he understood that it was not about the nine players that took to the field at any one time for it was about the team as a whole, playing for each other and supporting one another as a unit in pursue of the same goal – success. His decision to put me on the mound paid full dividend since I struck out fifteen batters while allowing Team Distrito Federal a mere one hit and one run in seven innings. I also helped my own cause with the bat as I went 2 for 3 and two RBIs. Final Score: Team Aragua 5 Team Distrito Federal 1.

    Our third game of the tournament was against Team Yaracuy. Certainly, we had a momentum going into this game as we were buoyed after winning our first two games. Southpaw pitcher, Jose “El Canoso” Ochoa was selected by the manager to start the third game. Indeed, Jose Ochoa was eager to impress and he certainly did so on a bright and warm morning of August 1971 as he challenged himself that day to deliver a splendid performance on the mound. The game became a seven innings’ “mano a mano” affair between Jose “El canoso” Ochoa and his counterpart the Yaracuyan pitcher whose name I can’t, for the life of me, remember. The game was scoreless at the bottom of the seventh inning when Ochoa had to leave the game as he could only pitch seven innings owing to the tournament rules. Ochoa felt really upset about having to leave the game and as he did so he vented his feelings by uttering a strong word to the organisers of the tournament which prompted me to put my hand over his mouth in an attempt to hush him as he would have been ejected from the tournament if his ranting had been heard by the officials. He was still boiling over with indignation when Orlando Martinez replaced him on the mound in the eighth inning. Orlando stood as tall as he could on the mound as he threw himself into the game. Indeed, the eighth inning was a very exciting one since it yielded, in my opinion, the best play of the tournament as Team Yaracuy threatened to steal the game from us. There were two outs and there was a runner on second base when a line drive single to center field, where I was playing, produced the best play of the entire game at the plate; upon gathering the ball I quickly made the throw to home plate in order to stop the runner from second base scoring a run and as the throw came in Orlando Martinez, instinctively, made the cut-off and relayed the ball to home plate where Ramon Moreno, our catcher, made the tag to produce the out. The strength of emotion felt by all those people connected with Team Aragua was tangible at that moment in time, so much so that a well-favoured girl ran onto the field from the main stand and planted a kiss on me as I was making my way to the dugout. In all honesty, I was surprised and confound, to say the least, by her audacity since I hardly knew the girl and I certainly did not know that she had feelings for me but I must confess that her daring and resolute won my heart; her name was Marlene Perez, and after the game she became my candy girl. A picture was taken of her kiss to me and I vividly still record that that picture made the front page of one of the local newspapers. The headline read: “A stolen kiss at the left side of the ball park”. However, the game was not over by any stretch of the imagination, as further drama would unfold at the bottom of the eighth inning as Toribio Barbosa our third batter in our line-up hit a double to the furthest part of the right field. I was the next batter in the line-up and as the Yaracuyan pitcher threw me an outside pitch I sort of followed the direction of the ball and as I swung at it the impact produced a gargantuan line drive to the furthest part of the right and center field that developed into a triple which in turn brought Toribio home with the walk-off run. The spice was right as my emotions border on the blissful and I felt I could walk on air, at that moment in time, for this was one of my finest hour in the tournament in which I delivered the antidote to the pressures of batting four in the line-up and, of course, my revealing a natural and distinctive talent for attracting the attention of the opposite sex. Final Score: Team Aragua 1 Team Yaracuy 0.

    Our fourth game of the tournament was against Team Lara and Alonzo Acosta was selected to open the game. It has to be said that Alonzo’s effort that night simply exemplified our courage and determination to succeed but unfortunately, defensively, the team was not at its best that night as it failed to offer the support that Alonzo’s performance deserved that night. Indeed, our energy levels appeared to have deserted us since we looked utterly spent and as it was expected Team Lara with a very strong line-up took full advantage of our lack of strength and made us looked pedestrians. In the end, Team Lara ran away with the game and left us feeling sorry for ourselves. For the record, it must be said that I did not take part in that game for I was suspended owing to an argument I had with an official of the tournament in which we agreed to disagree. Indeed, the strength of my willingness to voice strong opinions attracted media attention as my outburst with the official reached the organisers’ ears that decided to make me pay for my right to speak my mind and suspended me for a game. All the same it pained me to watch helplessly my team to lose that particular game. Final score: Team Lara 8 Team Aragua 1.

    Our fifth game of the tournament was against Team Zulia, which in the mind of many were the odds favourite to win the tournament. Indeed, the odds were against us since Team Zulia had won their previous four games to seal their place in the play-offs and they were trying to secure a victory against us that night in order to accent their seemingly superior adroitness over the rest of the competitors. Our loss to Team Lara had certainly forced our vessel of good form from its course as many members of our team looked like lost souls in desperate need of guidance since that game against Team Zulia was one we could not afford to lose as we would have been eliminated from the competition and sent home. I have always had a tendency to take the most hopeful view and somehow I was convinced that that day we were going to get that winning feeling back after all the good things we achieved earlier in the tournament. Nevertheless, Ignacio Ramirez deserved praise for his wisdom since he knew how to make practical use of what he had to his best advantage at that moment in time so he decided to open the game with José “The Punisher” Morgado who was in my view the best pitcher in the tournament. Morgado lived up to our expectations as he wiped the self-satisfied smirk off Team Zulia as he conceded two runs and two hits while striking out sixteen batters in seven innings. Toribio Barbosa, Ramon Moreno and myself helped Morgados’ cause as we went 2 for 4 with two RBIs respectively. It has to be said that in every competition there have to be winners and losers and I would be the last person to gloat at the adversity of my competitors but I must confess that I felt good about myself when we defeated Team Zulia. Indeed, that game stood somewhat apart from all the others as it was enthralling and entertaining all the way through for we put pay to Team Zulia’s myth of invincibility, which enable us to reach the play-offs. Final score: Team Aragua 6 Team Zulia 2.

    The Play-offs

    Our first game of the Play-offs was against Team Zulia whose manager promised to make the blue sky of Puerto Ordaz red for us that night. His unnerving boastful statement did not frighten us since we were still feeling jubilant about our last win against his team. Ignacio took the decision to open the game with me on the mound. Alas, Team Zulia had an excellent day with the bat and hit me at will. Mind you, I had an excellent day with the bat too as I went 2 for 3 but it was not enough to aid my team cause and in the end the best team on the night won the match. Final score: Team Zulia 9 Team Aragua 2.

    Our second game of the Play-offs was against Team Anzoategui, which had qualified for the Play-offs as the Group B winners. Team Bolivar was the other qualifier from Group A. Certainly, our little adventure in Puerto Ordaz was on the brink of collapsing, as the team morale was low after we lost our first game of the Play-offs to Team Zulia. Needless to say that the team was in desperate need of a lift in order to regain its confidence and the man Ignacio chose for that task was Jose “El Canoso” Ochoa. It must be said that Ignacio’s choice did not surprise me at all since Ochoa was well among the best pitchers of the tournament and as it was expected he intrepidly accepted the challenge. After a little prayer to the heavens, which he used to say as a way to divest himself of his fear before each game, he began his task on the mound and with every pitch he seemed to grow as tall as he physically could. Indeed, he utterly overwhelmed Team Anzoategui with his repertoire of curves, sinkers and changers all night long. Certainly, Ochoa had dauntless risen to his challenge in a manfully manner and with great assurance as he ultimately became an instant hero for us on a night when we were in need of one. Toribio Barbosa, Ramon Moreno and myself were the main contributors to the win with the bat as we went 2 for 3 with two RBIs respectively. Final score: Team Aragua 7 Team Anzoategui 0.

    Our third game of the Play-offs was against Team Bolivar, the host, which was undefeated in the Play-offs after having defeated the mighty Team Zulia and Team Anzoategui. José “The Punisher” Morgado was selected to pitch the game. Jumping promptly to his feet and in high spirit he welcomed the challenge with a meaning grin. A persistent drizzle threatened to obliterate the earlier pleasant afternoon and the game. In spite of the spray the game went ahead and we defeated Team Bolivar at their den. Once again Morgado proved his worthiness to Team Aragua as he allowed the hosts a mere four hits and two runs while striking out twelve batters in seven frames. Third baseman, Luis Roja and catcher, Ramon Moreno were the main contributors to the score as they went 2 for 3 respectively. Catcher, Ramon Moreno, yielded three RBIs to secure the win for Team Aragua. Final Score: Team Aragua 3 Team Bolivar 2.

    Our Fourth game of the Play-offs was against Team Bolivar as they had an identical record as us in the Play-offs. Having said that there was another game taking place that night between Team Anzoategui and Team Zulia and the news was an excellent one since Team Anzoategui had utterly deflated Team Zulia in their final game. Final score: Team Anzoategui 6 Team Zulia 2. This result meant that both teams were eliminated from the tournament and consequently had to go home. So it was all down to the final game of the tournament and we certainly had nothing to fear going into that game since we had already defeated Team Bolivar in our last outing. Indeed, the omens were good for us to win the tournament but we needed to formulate a plan to thwart Team Bolivar’s ambitions at their place. A sudden vivid flash of lightning yielded a crash of thunder and I sort of cursed the weather, not loud but deep, as a very light rain began to fall. Ignacio cordially appeared to endorse my remarks as he eyed the sky keenly. Fidgeting uneasily while searching for inspiration, Ignacio made the decision to open the game with Orlando Martinez on the mound. Orlando did not disappoint his manager and his team since he duly took his opportunity to shine and delivered a great performance on the mound for five innings in which he allowed four hits and two runs. The score was 2 – 2 when Orlando left the game; I was asked by the manager to step on the mound for the last two innings. Ignacio’s decision paid off handsomely since I struck out the three batters I faced while throwing nine consecutive strikes. The top of the seventh inning became a good one for us as we besieged the game and rocked Team Bolivar while scoring eight runs in the process. There was no way to stop us in the final game and like a dog with a bone I did not let this one lay, and at the bottom of the seventh I struck out the first batter I faced. One down, two to go. The next batter hit a fly ball to left field to yield the second out and it made me feel good about myself. Tears of mortification spelt tragedy for the home fans as their team were in the throes of debacle at the last huddle of the competition. Jerking himself up, the third batter I faced, more in fear than in anger, lifted arrogantly one of his fingers up in my direction. With a challenging smile I turned my back on him. My first pitch was a head maker, which narrowly missed the target; still, he winced as if the ball had struck him, his movement on the floor were far too hilarious for words. However, the umpire was not amused by his absurd pretence and asked him to get up and get on with the game. Staggering to his feet nervously perhaps he resumed his batting. There was not any doubt that the stars were glowing for me that night, as they seemed to have come out to watch the game and judge my total commitment for the cause of my team. Indeed, the force was with me and with every throw I made from the mound to the plate my confidence appeared to reach an orbit that was far from the conventional levels that I had experienced in the past. The heart of the matter, as far as I was concerned, was to go for broke as this game represented the ultimate challenge in our quest to be victorious and take the National Title home with us, and, course, I was mighty determined to ensure that no divine intervention was going to prevent me from achieving that goal. Certainly, I used my practical know-how to my advantage and utilised it and the time I spent on the mound to good purpose as I killed any forlorn hope that Team Bolivar might have had when I struck out the third batter who was on full count before he swung at the last pitch I hurled and which in turn delivered the coup de grace to the host team and their fans. Indeed, It was a real debacle for Team Bolivar as they had great hopes of landing the title. On the other hand, we had risen to the occasion and made our common dream a reality, as Team Aragua became National Champions of the 1971 Criollitos de Venezuela National Championship. Almost instinctively, Marlene, ravishingly beautiful, ran towards me on the mound where I remained after the final out. Indeed, this victory became a source of great pleasure for all those connected with team Aragua. Needless to say that I grabbed the limelight with my staggering display on the mound against the host team but it was Ignacio Ramirez we thanked most as it was him who created a winning mentality within the team which enable us to win the tournament. Orlando Martinez, Marlene and myself posed on the mound for the photographers with one of those photographs making the first page of The Universal, one of the national newspapers in Venezuela, and the headline read “Cayo el telon Aragua campeon” (“Curtains down Team Aragua are the champions”). The morning after the night before was a painful affair since arrangements had been made for us to leave that morning. It meant that I could not say goodbye to Marlene and that broke my heart. The very first thing I did at my arrival in Turmero was to write a letter to Marlene who I was missing badly. My letter was never answered and I lost all contact with the love of my live. I still remember the very first kiss she gave me when the strength of her emotions made her to leave the stand and ran towards me when I was making my way to the dugout. For the records,Toribio Barbosa and myself went 2 for 4 respectively at that final game.
    Final score: Team Aragua 2 Team Bolivar 10

    1971 Team Aragua Line-up

    1. Toribio Barbosa 2B 4
    2. Luis Rojas 3B 5
    3. Ali “Machinita” SS 6
    4. Pedro Figueras CF 8
    5. Ramon Brown C 2
    6. Alonzo Acosta 1B 3
    7. Gustavo “El Turmereño” LF 7
    8. Guabina of Villa de Cura RF 9
    9. José Morgado P 1
    By P.Figueras

    June 12, 2010 at 2:40 pm Reply

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