Buckner's made a hit out of an error

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

Bill Buckner long since has come to terms with . . . well, you know. Among other things, he said, "Card shows paid for my kids' college education. I deserved something out of it, right?''

Now 25 years after . . . well, you know, he is preparing for an entirely new professional baseball experience: managing the independent Brockton (Mass.) Rox.

"I thought it would be fun,'' Buckner, 61, said. "I still have a lot of good friends in that area, and the fans there were good to me.''

Buckner, who lives in Idaho, was in New York Tuesday for an event promoting an MSG series about the 1986 Mets that will run March 1-4. He said he has no trouble discussing, um, his past in the city.

"To me, it's just baseball history,'' he said. "It's not a bad thing. It's something that happened . . . A lot more people know who I am now because of what happened and say, 'He was a pretty good player.'

"It's amazing it's lasted this long. I got to a point where I said, hey, it's not going away so deal with it and make it a positive.''

LeBron rates

Through Jan. 31, the Heat led the NBA with a 118 percent increase in local television ratings compared to last season, according to Sports Business Journal. The Cavaliers had the biggest fall, minues 53 percent.

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Hmm. Now why would that be? See, class, understanding ratings isn't so complicated after all!

The Spurs had the highest average local rating with 10.01 percent of homes. The Nets were last - by a wide margin - on YES with a paltry 0.29.

So Spurs games average a percentage of their market 35 times higher than the Nets attract in theirs. Ouch. Calling Dr. Erving!

In the NHL, the Islanders were down 23 percent on MSG Plus compared to last year. But their average of 0.30 percent of homes did not land them in last place. The Thrashers (0.26) and Panthers (0.19) were lower.

Wilbon in the House

Some journalists watch the Super Bowl alone in their basement, trying to be clever on Twitter while pondering whether Fox's red carpet itself knows more about football than does Harrison Ford.

Others go to Super Bowl parties at the White House.

"Tens of thousands [at least] of Super Bowl parties were thrown across the nation this year, but it is hard for me to imagine a cooler Super Bowl party than this one,'' ESPN's Michael Wilbon wrote in his detailed account, which he said was his first Super Bowl party of any kind.

The less-than-healthy menu (don't tell Michelle!): bratwurst, kielbasa, cheeseburgers, deep-dish pizza, Buffalo wings, German potato salad, twice-baked potatoes, potato chips, pretzels, dips, salad, ice cream.

Sigh. That's OK. Mrs. WatchDog's nachos were excellent.

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Keith's father inspired

Nearly 50 years later, Keith Hernandez still can hear his father, John, addressing his Little League team on the first day of practice, urging the players to embrace the game and its possibilities.

"He said, 'Someone in this group right here could be the next Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays,' '' his son recalled Friday. "Why don't you make it you?' ''

It turned out Keith was the one bound for glory, and he has not forgotten the role youth baseball played.

In the late 1950s his father and others in Pacifica, Calif., built a complex of fields from scratch out of a cow pasture. In 1983 John and Jacquelyn Hernandez were named Little League Parents of the Year.

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Now their son is participating in an SNY program called "Play Ball!'' in which the network will choose six local youth leagues in under-served areas or with financial needs to receive $5,000 grants apiece.

Those selected also will be invited to a Mets game. To apply, see www.sny.tv.

No NFL, no problem!

NBC is marking the first NFL-free weekend since July by carrying the USA Sevens Rugby tournament from Las Vegas - a U.S. network TV first.

Rugby players and Vegas? What could possibly go wrong?

The action on the field might be interesting, too. Sevens is a form of the sport in which each team uses only seven players; it is the version that will be played in the Olympics beginning in 2016.

The fun concludes with the final at 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Unless there is a party afterward.

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