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This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Dave Roberts

     (Born May 31, 1972) -- Dave Roberts was one of the best base-stealers in Buffalo Bisons' history. Apparently he was taking notes while he was in town, because he'll forever be remembered for one of the most famous stolen bases in baseball history.

     Roberts was born in Okinawa, Japan, and started his professional career in Jamestown in 1994. He crawled up the minor-league ladder and arrived in Buffalo in 1998.

     Roberts' playing time with the Bisons went up in 1999. He hit .271, but his most amazing stat that season involved his feet. He was 39 for 42 in steals. The outfielder continued to display his speed in Buffalo through 2001.

     Roberts finally got a chance to play full-time in the majors in 2002 with the Dodgers, and stole more than 40 bases in both of his two full seasons for Los Angeles. In the middle of the 2004 season, Roberts was traded to the Red Sox.

     That year in the playoffs, when Boston absolutely needed to have a base stolen in Game Four of a series with New York, Roberts was ready. He swiped second base in the bottom of the ninth, and scored the tying run moments later on a single by Bill Mueller. The Red Sox went on to beat the Yankees in that game, and eventually erased a 3-0 series lead by New York. Since then, he has not had a day go by where someone hasn't thanked him for that swipe.

     Roberts finished his career with the Padres and Giants.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Sam Rogers

     (Born May 30, 1970) -- Sam Rogers probably was thrilled to be drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1994. After all, the team had been to the Super Bowl for the previous four years. He must have figured he was joining a dynasty.

     Oops. Rogers came out of Colorado, and was taken by the Bills late in the second round. By the way, Western New York native Vaughn Parker was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the choice before Rogers.

     The linebacker needed some time to work his way into the starting lineup. He didn't get a start in his rookie season, in which the Bills went 7-9. Then he got eight starts in 1995, when the Bills won the AFC East.

     Then Rogers moved into status as a full-time starter. He spent five years as a regular, and made 228 tackles in 101 games as a Bill.

     But leaving town didn't work out so well. He landed in San Diego in 2001, but didn't start a game. Rogers' career had a bit of revival in Atlanta in 2002, as he finished with 6.5 sacks, but saw little action in 2003 and was done with football.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Jason Dawe

     (Born May 29, 1973) -- The hockey career of Jason Dawe divides up pretty neatly into halves. His problem is that the first half, the one that involved Buffalo, was by far the best half.

     Dawe played junior hockey in Peterborough, Ont., and developed a scoring touch in 1990-91. The right winger had 43 goals in 66 games that season, and it helped get him taken in the second round of the NHL draft by the Sabres.

     Dawe broke the 50-goal mark in his final two seasons in junior hockey, and then reached the pros. He split two seasons between Rochester and Buffalo, but seemed to find a spot in the Sabres' lineup with 25 goals in 1995-96. He had 22 more goals on the Sabres' 1996-97 team that won the division title.

     But late in the 1997-98 season, Dawe was traded to the New York Islanders for Paul Kruse. The forward never found his scoring touch after that, and bounced from the Islanders to the Canadiens and the Rangers with plenty of minor league time along the way.

     He finished his playing career with the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL in 2005. He's said to be a youth hockey coach there now.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Randy Mearns

   (Born May 28, 1969) --- If there's something Randy Mearns hasn't done in the sport of lacrosse, let him know about it. He'd probably like to add it to his resume.

   Mearns has spent much of his life associated with the game. The St. Catharines native played junior lacrosse for several seasons, and scored 101 points in 18 games playing for his hometown team in 1990.

   Then it was on to Canisius College, where he was an All-American and finished as the all-time leading scorer in Golden Griffins' history. From there it was on to the pros, which began with a brief stop with the Buffalo Bandits in 1993.

   Mearns resurfaced in the pro game in 1995, when he joined the Rochester Knighthawks. He came back to the Bandits in 2002 and had a career-high 38 points.

   These days, Mearns serves as the head coach of the Canisius team. Meanwhile, he's the popular color commentator on the Bandits' radio broadcasts. Mearns found time in 2006 to be inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Terry Collins

     (Born May 27, 1949) -- Terry Collins took a long, long road to his current job as manager of the New York Mets. It included a good-sized stop in Buffalo.

     Collins was a shortstop at Eastern Michigan University, where he helped his team win an NAIA national championship in 1971. He's a member of that school's Athletic Hall of Fame.

     From there it was on to a career as a professional player. Collins was drafted by the Pirates and spent 10 years with that organization and with the Dodgers. Then it was on to managing in the minors.

     Collins was the skipper of some good Bisons teams from 1989 to 1991, and is well-remembered by fans of those teams as a good manager. People figured he'd wind up in the major leagues some day, and that's just what happened to him.

     Collins was hired as the manager of the Astros starting with the 1994 season. He spent four seasons there, and didn't have a losing record. Then he landed with the Angels, resigning in midseason in 1999 after two-plus years.

     After some time managing in Japan, and a stint in the Mets' baseball organization, New York hired him in November 2010 to be their manager. There he has worked with several young players who passed through Buffalo on their way to the majors ... just like Collins did.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Tom McMillen

     (Born May 26, 1952) -- Tom McMillen didn't just have an interesting career in professional sports. He had an interesting life. It included a stop in Buffalo.

     McMillen certainly is the best basketball player to come out of Mansfield, Pa. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated then, one of the few prep athletes to have that honor. McMillen landed with the University of Maryland, where he was part of some great teams under coach Lefty Driesell.

     McMillen graduated in 1974, and was a top player coming out of college. By chance, Braves' owner Paul Snyder's hometown was also Mansfield. Everyone figured the 6-foot-11 forward would be a good fit for the Braves, and that's where he went in the NBA Draft. Buffalo outbid the Virginia Squires for McMillen's services.

     The forward didn't come to Buffalo for a year, accepting a Rhodes scholarship instead. He averaged about 5 points per game in a season plus 20 games here, and then was traded with Bob McAdoo to the New York Knicks for John Gianelli and a pile of cash. McMillen went on to play with Atlanta and Washington in an 11-year career.

     McMillen went on to serve three terms as a Congressman. He is believed to be the tallest member of the House of Representatives in history. At last report, McMillen was the chairman of Homeland Security Capital Corporation.

--- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Cookie Gilchrist

     (Born May 25, 1935) -- The word "colorful" doesn't begin to describe Cookie Gilchrist as a player or a person. It's a good start, though.

     Gilchrist came out of Pennsylvania and signed an illegal contract with the Cleveland Browns, so he made the jump to Canada. Eventually he played for Hamilton, Saskatchewan and Toronto in the Canadian Football League, and was an all-star at both running back at linebacker.

     In 1962, the Buffalo Bills hoped to sign Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis at running back. Davis signed with Cleveland, so the Bills added Gilchrist as a free agent as a "Plan B." He became the first 1,000-yard rusher in American Football League history in 1962, and was named the most valuable player.

     The next year, Gilchrist ran for 243 yards in a game to set a professional football record. The fullback also was a big part of the 1964 Bills' team that won a championship. However, Gilchrist sometimes clashed with Buffalo's management, and was traded to Denver for Billy Joe. He also played with Miami around the end of his career.

     In 2011, Gilchrist died in Pittsburgh. He was later diagnosed with stage four chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

--- Budd Bailey

(Know a local sports figure worth saluting in this column? Send it to me at bbailey@buffnews.com, with his/her birthday, and I'll look into it.)

Post Time: Early Belmont contenders

By Gene Kershner

We’re 15 days away from the final jewel of the Triple Crown, and for the first time since 2008, we will have an attempt by I’ll Have Another to sweep thoroughbred racing’s three classic races. The contenders are starting to line up to become the latest spoiler of Triple Crown glory. I’ll Have Another will be the 12th horse since Affirmed captured the Triple Crown in 1978 after beating his rival Alydar for the third straight time.

Let’s take an early look at the contenders and start weighing in on each horse’s chances to knock off the Flower Alley colt on June 9.

Alpha.  The Bernardini colt finished in 12th in the Kentucky Derby at 19-1 odds after breaking awkwardly, and never was a factor in the race. He has three firsts and two seconds on New York tracks, including a second place finish in the Grade 1 Champagne last year at Belmont behind Union Rags. Ramon Dominguez will ride for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.  From a pedigree standpoint, Alpha has the bloodlines to handle the Test of a Champion. His sire, Bernardini won the Grade 1 Preakness and Jockey Club Gold Cup (at Belmont) and his sire, A.P. Indy won the Belmont Stakes.

Alpha’s female family has just as prestigious qualifications. His broodmare sire Nijinsky II is the most recent horse to win the English Triple Crown: the Two Thousand Guineas at a mile, the Epsom Derby at 12 furlongs, and the St. Leger at 14 furlongs. Alpha’s dam, Munnaya, won only one time in four starts, but it was in a listed stake at 11½ furlongs.   Spoiler Possibility: High.

Atigun. He comes out of a win in a Churchill allowance race for trainer Kenny McPeek. In 2002, McPeek’s Sarava upset War Emblem’s chances at a Triple Crown, so he will be trying to knock off another hopeful, 10 years later. Passed a number of rivals late in the Arkansas Derby, but still finished over 11 lengths behind the victorious Bodemeister. Nothing thrilling in his pedigree, his sire Istan won nine of 21 career races, the best being two, Grade 3 wins. His grandsire, Gone West, had some success on the Belmont track, but nothing that would suggest he will handle the 12-furlong Belmont distance without issue. Spoiler Possibility: Lukewarm.

Dullahan. The third place finisher of the Kentucky Derby was flying late and will come in with 5 weeks rest off the Derby effort. Posted a solid 5-furlong workout at Churchill on Preakness day and is the horse most pundits are pegging as the main threat to I’ll Have Another. His route to the Derby was almost identical to that of the great turf horse, Paddy O’Prado, via the Palm Beach Stakes on the turf to the Blue Grass on the poly at Keeneland. His half-brother, Mine That Bird won the Derby and finished third in the Belmont, mainly because jockey Calvin Borel moved him way too soon.

Dullahan is from the fourth crop of Even the Score, son of Unbridled’s Song, who won the Grade 2 Californian Stakes (nine furlongs) and finished third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup (10 furlongs) at 5. Mining My Own, the dam of Dullahan, is an unraced daughter of Smart Strike, who was the dam of Curlin who won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), and the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes, all at 10 furlongs. He also lost by a head to Rags to Riches in the 2006 Belmont Stakes in a classic stretch duel. Spoiler Possibility: High.

Five Sixteen. A long shot contender sired by the Breeders’ Cup champion, Invasor. Rosie Napravnik gets the call to ride, after it appears her original mount Mark Valeski will pass on the race. Highest Beyer speed figure is 31 points less than I’ll Have Another’s Preakness fig. Spoiler Possibility: Non-Existent.

Guyana Star Dweej. In his nine race career, he has never run 9 furlongs, let alone 12 furlongs. His sire, Eddington ran in the Belmont against Smarty Jones and was pushing the pace that day, but faded. It took him eight races to break his maiden. He appears to be overmatched at first glance. Spoiler Possibility: Low.

Optimizer. Certainly has the breeding to run all day, being by distance specialist English Channel. His dam sire is A.P. Indy, winner of the Belmont.  He just hasn’t proven that he can get it done in his last two efforts on the Triple Crown trail. Has shown flashes (see Rebel Stakes) of brilliance, but has been mostly inconsistent. He could pop one on everyone, but not sure I’d count on it. Spoiler Possibility: Medium.

Paynter. Wouldn’t it be something if Baffert ended up ruining I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown hopes after two devastating losses from Bodemeister? This one was uber-sensational on the Preakness undercard running away with an allowance race by street blocks. Mike Smith will get the ride and his third shot at his nemesis. His sire, Awesome Again won at classic distances winning the Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Foster, Whitney and the Hawthorne Gold Cup, so the distance shouldn’t be an issue. His dam, Tizso, is well-bred and is a full sister to Tiznow, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (once at Belmont) twice.  Spoiler Possibility: High

Rousing Sermon. The Lucky Pulpit colt finished eighth in the Derby after taking back at the start of the race and made up several lengths but never threatened the leaders. Another California horse that looks to be better suited at 9-furlongs. Good chance he’ll be a buzz horse due to his closing style, which isn’t always the way the Belmont is won. He has a relatively new sire, with only two starters out of mares by Deputy Minister-line stallions. Spoiler Possibility: Lukewarm.

Street Life. Both his sire (Street Sense) and dam sire (Grindstone) were Derby winners and his grand sire, Street Cry (IRE) was a $5 million earner and won the Dubai World Cup. He finished third in the Grade 2 Peter Pan, so he does have a trip over the track. The Chad Brown colt could be a factor if he stays close to the pace, and this is a race where anything can happen. Spoiler Possibility: Medium high.

Union Rags. The current buzz horse on the interwebs is Union Rags. He had the nightmare trip in the Derby and recovered to seventh. He gets Johnny Velazquez in the irons, replacing Julien Leparoux and five weeks rest to take aim at the Triple Crown contender. His sire, Dixie Union won the Grade 1 Haskell, and excelled at shorter distances. Will have his word cut out for him at 1 ½ miles. He is an imposing physical specimen that hasn’t lived up to his 2-year-old hype. Will this be the race where he shows his class? Spoiler Possibility: Medium.

Unstoppable U.  The Exchange Rate colt has only two lifetime starts to his resume. He won an optional claimer at Belmont and trainer McPeek will be taking a big shot with this one. His sire was more of a miler, but his damsire Point Given did win the Belmont. It is certainly a big step up in class with Junior Alvarado in the irons. Spoiler Possibility: Lukewarm.

Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.

Running notebook: Going the distance

It's marathon weekend. Many hundreds of runners will be going through the streets of Buffalo on Sunday morning. I'll talk to the only person who has done all 22 Buffalo Marathons in my preview article coming up before the race.

Meanwhile ... there's another interesting race that will be held on Monday afternoon that sort of slipped under the radar. It's in Gasport, up in Niagara County, and it features a unique idea.

Dire Straits once recorded a song called "Telegraph Road" that lasts 14 minutes and 18 seconds. In Monday's race, all runners will be asked to have some sort of music-playing device (iPod, mp3) with that song downloaded. Everyone hits play and then takes off down Telegraph Road in Gasport, with a turnaround at Route 31. When the music stopped, musical chairs style, the person who covered the longest distance wins.

What a great idea for a race. I'm not sure 3 p.m. is a great time for the race, since many might not be able to make it because of Memorial Day plans. Still, this has a chance to catch attention. Can't wait for the In-a-gadda-da-vida Run of 20-plus minutes.\

Here's the holiday race schedule, courtesy of buffalorunners.com:

* Run for Justice 5K, 6320 Main St. in Williamsville, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 361-9050. This new race's director is Ann More, who you read about around the holidays. She's done many races over the years, so she knows what works and what doesn't.

* Buffalo Marathon and Half-Marathon, Hyatt Hotel in Buffalo, 7 a.m. Sunday, 694-5154. This race keeps getting better and better. We'll see how the slight course adjustment works out.

* Telegraph Road Race, 9058 Telegraph Road in Gasport, 3 p.m. Monday. No entry fee.

-- Budd Bailey

This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Swede Youngstrom

     (Born May 24, 1897) -- Pro football historian Jeffrey Miller has called Adolph "Swede" Youngstrom Buffalo's first football superstar. Let's find out why.

     Youngstrom grew up in Waltham, Mass., and wasn't permitted by his family to play high school football until his senior year. He turned out to be pretty good, and went on to enroll at Dartmouth College starting in 1914. In his senior year in 1919, he blocked nine punts, including three in one game against Colgate. That made him a Walter Camp All-American.

     Youngstrom opened up a candy store in Hanover, N.H., when representatives of a pro football team from Buffalo dropped by with a sweet offer to play for the 1920 season. Youngstrom, a 6-foot-1, 187-pound player, signed the deal.

     He helped Buffalo win plenty of games during the next several years. He blocked nine more punts in 1920 alone. The All-Americans, as the team was called, came close to a title but couldn't claim it.

      Youngstrom moved on in 1925, and played a couple of more years elsewhere. He's one of the greatest guards of that era in NFL history. The lack of a championship ring in Buffalo might be what kept him out of the Hall of Fame in Canton.

--- Budd Bailey

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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