By Bill Campbell

An interesting week on the sports beat – it’s pitchers and catchers time – the Flyers make a big hockey trade – while Villanova drops from Number 9 to 15 in the polls after losing to Rutgers and Pittsburgh. Villanova is 7-5 in the Big East, 19 and 6 over all with a tough week ahead.

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Albert Pujols is the only player in major league history to hit 30 or more home runs in each of his first 10 seasons. Evan Babe Ruth never did that. Not even Bobby Bonds, with or without steroids. Pujols has had 100 RBI’s in all 10 seasons and has scored 100 runs in all but one. In 2007 he tallied just 99 which tells you all you need to know about why the Pujols contract negotiations have become so involved and lengthy. But there is another reason in my judgment that supersedes everything: Pujols has always been a Cardinal, is regarded almost unanimously as the best player in baseball today. And it would be next to impossible to sell Cardinal baseball without him. St. Louis is a great baseball town, regarded almost everywhere as the best baseball town in America. But Cardinal baseball without Albert Pujols would be a tough sell indeed. St. Louis officials and Pujols have agreed to extend their negotiations till noon on Wednesday out of respect for the all-time greatest Cardinal, Stan Musial, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday. Out of respect for Musial, no one wanted to do anything that would detract from Stan the Man’s big day in Washington. Pujols is due to make $16 million this season with $4 million of the total deferred. At the age of 31 he’s seeking a possible 10 year deal that would let him retire as a Cardinal and as the second greatest player in Cardinal history.

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Come to think of it, speaking contract negotiations, Charlie Manual doesn’t have one either, which does seem a bit strange.

But for me the sports story of the week is being written by an 18-year-old right here in Philadelphia – a swimmer who has been blind since the age of 4. Her name is Lilly Asadullina, a member of the swim team at Archbishop Ryan High School, who swims the 50 meter freestyle of the 200 medley relay. She spent her first 3 high school years at Cardinal Dougherty which closed last year. That in itself would have discouraged a lot of kids but not Lilly. She just transferred to Ryan – new teachers, new coaches, everything – and just forged ahead. Her only desire is to do what “normal” kids do. She wanted to try track and field but she was encouraged to swim because the swimming pools have boundaries, ropes that separate the lanes in the pool. At first some of her primary teachers didn’t want to take the time with her simply because she was blind, and they thought her future in the sport was Zero. But she kept practicing on her own, received better instruction and persevered. Lilly was born in Russia. Her eye problems began there and she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma – cancer of the retina in both eyes — at the age of 2 ½. Her family immigrated to Philadelphia in 1995 for medical care. The tumors were very advanced and she lost complete sight at age 4 ½. Additionally, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone tumor, when she was 14. The bone tumor was at the base of her right eye socket, which required intense chemotherapy and 2 surgeries. One of her coaches described Lilly perfectly when he referred to this phenomenal competitor as one who has been swimming in the dark all these years intent on qualifying as a legitimate competitor. Lilly doesn’t feel like she’s doing anything out of the ordinary. In her words, “If you’ve been blind all your life, what I’m trying to do is really no big thing. I just want to keep working at this and get better and help my team win.” It might also be mentioned that she has 4.0 GPA and has applied to 11 colleges. She is my nomination as the competitor of the week, if not the year.

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And then there is Tiger Woods, who shot that horrendous 75 in the closing day of a golf tournament in Dubai on Sunday. He tumbled down the leader board from one shot off the lead to a tie for 20th – hardly the Tiger we used to know. It has been over a year since he won anything and there doesn’t seem to be much daylight ahead. He has now gone 16 months and 15 tournaments without a victory after previously winning 14 majors and 82 lesser tournaments. He excited fans last week when he hit a 3 wood 250 yards to the 18th green to move to within 1 shot of the lead. But then he shot that awful 75 to fall into that tie for 20th.