Warren Sapp files for bankruptcy, claims he lost Super Bowl ring

Warren Sapp, a future Hall of Famer and current NFL Network analyst, has filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Florida on claims he racked up millions in debt to several creditors.

Most surprising about Sapp’s filing is that he notes he lost his 2002 Super Bowl ring from a championship with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 1991 National Championship ring he won as a collegiate with the Miami Hurricanes, according to a TMZ.com report.

In the court documents, Sapp says he has $6.45 million in assets — including items such as 240 pairs of Jordan sneakers and sandals, a lion skin rug, and a boxing glove signed by Muhammad Ali.

Sapp says ... he's pretty sure he lost the Super Bowl ring while traveling a few years ago ... because the last time he saw it was right before a trip.

Sapp says he never really wore the ring ... so he's not bothered by the loss.

Ditto for the college ring ... Sapp tells us, "Have you ever seen the Miami Hurricanes championship ring? It was 10 carats of cubic zirconia and yellow gold. it might be worth 300 bucks."

Sapp owes more than $6.7 million in debt to creditors and back child support and alimony. The outstanding amount outweighs Sapp’s 6.45 million in assets, which will be liquidated as a result of his filing for Chapter 7.

Sapp's average monthly income is $115,881, according to the filings, and includes $45,000 for a final contract payment with Showtime; $48,000 for an appearance with CCA Sports; and $18,675 as an advance for a book deal. His contract with the network expires in August 2012. Over a 12-year NFL career, Sapp made well over $40 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders.

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All Canes Radio With Matt Bosher

Every Thursday Night proCanes.com joins All Canes Radio to bring the latest news on not only current Hurricane football but also proCane news and exclusive interviews with current and former proCanes live from the All Canes Store in Coral Gables. Click here to listen to this week’s show and hear our exclusive interview with proCane rookie Matt Bosher of the Atlanta Falcons. Bosher was drafted by the Falcons last year and won the starting punting, holder and kick off duties. Bosher talks about the ups and downs of his rookie year, his days as a Hurricane and much more!

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AFC West Teams Interested in Lamar Miller & Sean Spence

Lamar Miller, Miami
Round range: 2
Possible interested teams: Denver

Sean Spence, Miami
Round range: 3-4
Possible interested teams: Oakland, San Diego

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Road to the Draft: Sean Spence

Sean Spence, LB, Miami
5-foot-11, 231 pounds
Draft projection: Third or fourth round

Lowdown: Spence is one of this year’s case studies of “Production vs. Potential.” On the field, Spence had a wonderful career for the Miami Hurricanes. He was a four-year starter, and he made more than 100 tackles his junior and senior seasons. He’s a smart, instinctive player. He was first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference as a senior and the Hurricanes’ co-MVP as a junior. He was durable. He played in 47 of 51 games in college, missing three with a bruised knee and one as part of suspensions handed out in The U’s booster scandal. He can play all three linebacker positions, and he made tackles sideline to sideline in college. He ranked second in college football last season in career tackles for loss (47). He earned his degree in December. Spence always has been a gamer. When he was 6 years old and 50 pounds, he played up at the 85-pound level in little league football.

In shorts and a T-shirt, he’s a little less impressive. He’s a tad undersized. He ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.71 at the NFL Scouting Combine. That was 13th best at his position. (Bills inside backer Kelvin Sheppard ran 4.70 last year.) At the combine, he bench-pressed 225 pounds only 12 times, the fewest among linebackers. But there was a reason. He said he sustained a bone bruise in his shoulder during the Senior Bowl.
Spence expressed frustration at all the attention post-season shorts workouts get when asked about it during Miami’s pro-day session. “It makes me feel like I shouldn’t have played football,” said Spence, according to the Palm Beach Post. “I should have just worked on the combine and been a workout warrior.”

You like to root for prospects like Spence. He would be a worthy target for the Bills in the third or fourth rounds.

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Saints prepare for life after Jon Vilma

Although we don't know for sure which New Orleans Saints players will be suspended -- or for how long -- for their roles in the now-infamous bounty program, it appears the team is preparing for life without Jonathan Vilma.

The three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker has become the on-field face of the bounty scandal, having been accused by the NFL of offering $10,000 to any teammate who knocked Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game and appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated the week that magazine featured a story detailing the allegations. So it stands to reason that Vilma -- who led the Saints in tackles three straight seasons before an injury-plagued 2011 -- will draw a lengthy suspension and perhaps a large fine.

To that end, the Saints have signed three linebackers in the last two weeks. Curtis Lofton and Chris Chamberlain joined the team from Atlanta and St. Louis last month, while Seattle veteran David Hawthorne signed Tuesday.

Hawthorne has led the Seahawks in tackles each of the last two seasons, and would seem primed to replace Vilma in the middle of the Saints defense. Chamberlain essentially traded places with Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who signed with St. Louis after starting five games during Vilma's absence last season.

Although Saints general manager Mickey Loomis -- who is set to serve an eight-game suspension of his own -- has said the team has no interest in cutting ties with its veteran linebacker, Vilma hasn't helped himself with his public comments since the scandal. Among other things, he engaged in a war of words on Twitter with Sports Illustrated NFL reporter Peter King Tuesday night.

Vilma turns 30 in less than two weeks, so it would seem he's got several productive seasons ahead of him. However, he also has a history of knee injuries going back to high school.

Vilma missed most of the 2007 season -- his last with the New York Jets before being traded to New Orleans -- with a knee injury, and sat out five games with a similar problem in 2011. Though his tackle numbers have dropped for three straight seasons, he's still a productive player when healthy and has been regarded as the emotional leader of the Saints almost from the day he arrived.

Any credibility Vilma might have lost among teammates after the bounty scandal is probably overstated. Many of their reputations will wind up publicly damaged as well once NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is done handing out penalties, whenever he decides to do so.

Few outside Saints country will cry for Vilma if his days as an NFL star are over. But in reality, he's just one in a long list of villains in what has been a dirty, embarrassing chapter in Saints history.

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Ed Reed wants respect and money

The genius of Ed Reed lies on his ability to get in the heads of quarterbacks. But getting in the head of Reed is laborious, frustrating and often pointless.

In Ed Reed's latest interview (on a local Baltimore radio station), one point is clear: he is unhappy.

Reed wants respect. And how teams show players respect, according to Reed, is to pay them. Reed, who is entering the final year of his contact, feels he should get paid more than every defensive back because, well, he's Ed Reed.

But it's so hard to analyze his comments because, as owner Steve Bisciotti said this year, Reed doesn't give definitive answers.

Just listen to Reed's answer when he was asked yesterday if he plans on playing in 2012.

"I plan on playing, but everybody in the world knows plans can change," Reed told 105.7 The Fan. “I got some unfinished business. I got a lot on my mind I’ve been thinking about. The truth of the matter is, it’s about respect. It’s about getting respect, and it’s a business.”

My guess is his "unfinished business" has something to do with a new contract. What the Ravens are going to do with Reed long-term is going to be a major storyline next offseason. He said last week that he thinks he could play four to five more years.

Reed said he tried to rework his contract with the Ravens last year but “took the back seat” when negotiations didn’t go the way he expected.

“My plan when I went to negotiate was always, it’s always to help the team. I was not trying to break the bank," Reed said. "Do I deserve a good substantial amount? I mean you look at Peyton [Manning, Broncos quarterback]. Peyton got five [years] for $96 [million]? I know I’m not a quarterback, but at the end of the day … They pay certain positions certain ways. I’m different, man.”

Reed is scheduled to make $7.2 million -- which, by most bank accounts, is not disrespectful -- in the final season of a six-year, $44.4 million contract. But Reed could be feeling left out because the Ravens are in contract talks with quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice, as well as cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams.

“Honestly, I got to take a look at myself from the outside in,” Reed said. “For what I offer on the football field, for what I give on the football field, and for what they know they’re going to get, it’s much more than these young guys out here today and what they’re getting. And I’m talking about at any defensive back position right now.”

Reed also mentioned that he's been dealing with some comments made "from people who I work with."

"Whether they know it or not, they made them,” Reed said. “Whether you think I’m a business-minded man or don’t listen to you, I do. It’s not bad, but it’s something that you take to heart, because at the end of the day, I know I’m giving everything, and they know I’m giving everything on that football field.”

The Ravens face a major decision next year when Reed becomes an unrestricted free agent. Judging from his comments, Reed isn't going to be giving any hometown discounts.

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Greg Olsen restructured deal

Very quietly, the Carolina Panthers have restructured the contract of tight end Greg Olsen.

The deal was done several weeks ago, but I haven’t seen it reported anywhere. The Panthers have made other moves since Olsen’s restructure and they currently are the only team in the NFL with less than $1 million in salary-cap space.

The Panthers dropped Olsen’s salary-cap figure from $4.125 million to $2.4 million by converting $2.3 million of his scheduled base salary into a signing bonus that will be pro-rated over the life of his contract. The Panthers also converted a $2.5 million option bonus into a signing bonus that also will be pro-rated over the rest of Olsen’s contract.

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Kenny Phillips Q&A

Kenny Phillips is in his fifth season with the Giants. The team’s first-round draft choice in 2008, he has been a fixture in the secondary since his arrival and a starter since his second year. At Carol High School in Miami, Phillips was regarded as the best safety prospect in the country. He played three seasons at the University of Miami, where he was the school’s ninth safety earn All-America honors. The Giants selected him with the 31st overall selection of the 2008 draft. He was the first safety selected by the Giants in the first round of the NFL Draft since Shaun Williams in 1998.

Q: Did you grow up in Miami?
Phillips: “I was born and raised in Miami, by Carol City. I’ve spent my whole life in Miami. Never (lived) outside of Miami. I went to high school there.”

Q: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Phillips: “I have one younger brother, who is two years younger than me. He was playing at Florida International. He’s about to graduate now from there.”

Q: Is it fair to assume that since you’re both athletes, you were competitive with each other?
Phillips: “We’re both athletes, but we both play on defense, so it’s not like he’s on offense and  I’m on defense. We’re competitive, but at the same time have a great relationship.”

Q: Are you named after your dad?
Phillips: “Funny story. My name is Phillips. My dad’s name is Wilson, my mom is Wilson, my brother’s Wilson. But at the time I was born, my mom’s name was Phillips. They weren’t married, so they gave me her last name. Then they got married, so everybody in the house is a Wilson. But I’m still a Phillips.”

Q: Well, that’s a little odd.
Phillips: “Yeah, it’s weird. Everyone calls my parents Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, because they think that’s their last name. But it’s actually Wilson.

Q: How old were you when they got married?
Phillips: “I was in high school. I thought about changing my name, but he knows I’m his first son, his junior, so I didn’t figure I needed to go through all of that. I have his first and his middle names, just not the last.”

Q: What did your dad do when you grew up?
Phillips: “He drives a bus, the metro bus. And my mom, she was a postal worker, but now she’s retired.”

Q: Did you play sports all the time when you were growing up?
Phillips: “I was likely to playing football. Basketball, as a young person I wasn’t really into it because I didn’t really know how to play. I actually played it in high school. I wasn’t a great basketball player; all I did was play defense and get rebounds, so that was about it. Couldn’t dribble, couldn’t really shoot, but I scored points somehow.”

Q: And how old were you when you started playing?
Phillips: “I was eight. I wanted to play before then, but my mom didn’t let me. She was always scared I was going to get hurt playing football. My dad finally convinced her to let me play, so I started when I was eight.”

Q: Once she let you play, did you immediately like football?
Phillips: “Oh yeah, it was fun. My first year I played receiver. I enjoyed it, I really did. I played receiver and defensive end.”

Q: Defensive end?
Phillips: “It was pretty cool. My first year I won a trophy, the Bruce Smith Award. I liked playing end. Receiver, not so much. I also played a little quarterback. You play some of everything when you were in little league.”

Q: Did you follow the NFL when you were young? Were you a Dolphins fan?
Phillips: “My whole family was (Florida) Gator fans, Dolphin fans. Me, I never was a fan of any team. I didn’t have a favorite team. I just liked the certain players.”

Q: Who were some your favorite players?
Phillips: “For some reason I like Shannon Sharpe and Deion Sanders. Those were really the only two.”

Q: Carol City is a pretty renowned football high school. Were you on great teams throughout your high school career?
Phillips: “We lost a little. Not much. My junior year we actually went to the championship game. My senior year we were one game away from the championship. Our coach was Walt Frazier. He’s a great coach, a really disciplined coach, and that’s kind of where I got it as far as being disciplined.”

Q: Was he disciplined like Tom Coughlin is disciplined?
Phillips: “To be honest with you he was sort of like Tom.”

Q: When you were in high school, some of the scouting services rated you as the best safety in the United States. How did that make you feel?
Phillips: “It felt good, but I never read into it. My family wouldn’t let me. My coaches wouldn’t let me. They never treated me special. They treated me just like a normal guy. It never really got to me, but it felt good at the same time knowing that they’re saying you’re this great guy, you possibly can go to any college you want to and play in the bowl games and things like that like. I got invited to the U.S. Army Bowl, which was a nice experience.”

Q: Did you feel like with your physical ability that high school football was easy for you?
Phillips: “I wouldn’t say easy, but it wasn’t hard. I was just having fun. In high school, I didn’t look at colleges, I never thought, ‘Okay, I’m playing football to get a scholarship.’ I was just playing football because I like playing football. I didn’t start thinking about college until maybe my junior year. I started getting letters and stuff like that I was like, ‘Okay, maybe I’ll get a scholarship.’ But for the first few years I was just having fun. I was playing ball.”

Q: Where you a good student?
Phillips: “I was a great student. My GPA was about 3.7 in high school. Yeah, I was a great student.”

Q: Did you like school?
Phillips: “I can’t lie and say I liked it, but I did what I had to do as far as the work and the tests and everything.”

Q: Well, a 3.7 is doing more than you had to do.
Phillips: “I studied when I had to study and did the projects when I had to do them. I never was a fan of just sitting in class. I’ve never been that guy.”

Q: Did you visit other colleges or did you know you wanted to stay home and go to Miami?
Phillips: “I visited other schools. I visited N.C. State. I visited Tennessee, and those were the only two schools before I went to Miami that I was really considering. It was between Miami and Tennessee. They kind of basically were saying the same thing, so it came down to just being close to home, so I just stayed there.”

Q: You never considered the Gators at all?
Phillips: “I didn’t at all. I don’t know why, but I just never considered those guys.”

Q: How do you look back on your time at Miami?
Phillips: “I had a great time in Miami. Just being from home and there were a lot of guys already on that team from home, from Miami, so it was almost like a big brotherhood. As a freshman when you’re going to practice and you’re walking around, you get to see guys like Ed Reed that are coaching you up. That did it for me. I made the right decision. You got guys like Benny Blades coaching you up on the sideline and just coming back teaching you, because they want to see you do well. That was great for me.”  

Q: Miami has had nine All-America safeties. It must make you proud to be part of such an impressive tradition.
Phillips: “It’s great. I feel like It’s an honor and its definitely something that you want to be considered, something that you want to work for. You want to continue to work so you can be mentioned like those guys. They’re all great players. Ed, Sean (Taylor), Brandon (Meriweather) -  they called it ‘Safety U’ at one time, so you have some big shoes to fill. But at the same time it’s an honor.”

Q: A lot of NFL players from Miami return to the school to work out in the offseason. Do you do that?
Phillips: “I do. I don’t go back as much because of where I stay, but for the most part I go back and I still keep in contact with those guys once they’re in the league and even the guys that are there now.”

Q: Give me a play or a game from your career at Miami that stands out to you.
Phillips: “We got into a brawl with the Florida International school, and half our team got suspended. So the coaches came to me and they actually wanted me to play corner in the next game, against Duke. They wanted me to come play a little bit of corner, so I was going from corner to safety, corner to safety. I wind up getting a pick at corner and two picks at safety. It was a real big game and I just felt great about it just, because I had to step into that role and I kind of lifted up the team.”

Q: When during your time at Miami did you start to think about the NFL?
Phillips: “Right away. As a junior in high school I started to think about colleges. Once I became a senior in high school I said, ‘I’m going to do three (seasons in college) and out.’ That was just my mindset. I said, ‘I’m going to go to Miami, I’m going to do three years, and I’m leaving.’ I said I was going to graduate in three years and I was going to go into the league. My freshman year, our starting safety (Anthony Reddick) got hurt the first game of the season. He tore his ACL. I was actually playing behind him and he tore his ACL the first game of the season and the coaches threw me in there and I never looked back. I was a starter the next three years, and it worked out.”

Q: And did you graduate in three years?
Phillips: “I’m maybe at 12 or 18 hours away from graduating.”

Q: What’s your major?
Phillips: “Sports administration.”

Q: Did you have any idea prior to the draft how high or where you would go?
Phillips: “I think at the beginning of the season they were saying maybe top 15 pick, top 20, whatever, but you never know how the draft works, so I never read too much into it. I just finished the season. I thought I had a pretty good season but as a team we didn’t. I think we won five games, and I felt like the program wasn’t where I needed it to be for me to stay. I felt like we were getting younger, we still had a lot of guys that needed to do some new learning so I figured if I was going to leave then I might as well leave now, when I’m the top safety in the draft. So I just came out.”

Q: Where were you on draft day?
Phillips: “We were at a hotel on South Beach. My family, a lot of family friends gathered around and I didn’t even wake up until it was late. I had a good time that night, so I actually didn’t wake up until they were on pick four or five. I watched until maybe pick 20 and then I stopped watching the draft.”

Q: Were you watching when your name came up?
Phillips: “Nope. I stopped watching after pick 20. I walked around the hotel, went to the pool, just relaxed and then I didn’t even know what round it was in when I got the call – I think it was Coach Coughlin or Mr. (Jerry) Reese that called me - and they said what they said, and the family went crazy, so it was a great feeling.”

Q: Your rookie year you got to play all 16 games. As you look back now was the jump from college to the NFL harder than you thought? Was it easier? Was it what you expected?
Phillips: “I don’t think it was harder, I just think it was different just because there were so many games. At Week 13 I was ready to go home. I really was. We were winning, we were doing well, but I was just tired of playing football. I wanted to go home. That was probably one of the biggest differences, because I wasn’t a starter right away. I played behind Butts (James Butler) which when I look back now as a good thing, because I got a chance to learn from Butler and Michael Johnson. I think the coaches made the right decision keeping me in that role.”


Chris Perez Blows First Save Opportunity

Perez blew his first save opportunity of the season Opening Day against the Blue Jays, allowing two runs to score on three hits. He was pulled before he could get the third out of the inning.

Vinnie Pestano replaced Perez and threw 1.1 scoreless innings as the Jays and Indians played into extras. Perez drew just one swinging strike in his 0.2 innings of work, and this is what happens when relief pitchers allow too much contact: they blow saves. This is why many were worried about his sub-6.0 strikeouts per nine innings rate last season, and if he doesn't fix it soon, it could be Pestano closing games in Cleveland instead of Perez.

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Is Jemile Weeks on the verge of stardom?

As the A's prepare to resume the regular season Friday night against Seattle in their home opener, second-year second baseman Jemile Weeks appears to be priming himself for stardom.

During spring training, A's fans focused most of their attention on the team's newest sensation, Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

Meanwhile, last year's sensation quietly continued to hone his skills for a season that just might draw attention outside of Oakland. Weeks, who hit .303 and stole 22 bases in 97 games after his June debut, had a strong spring. He had a .339 average and looked far better defensively than he did last year, when he led A.L. second basemen in errors with 13.

"I see him improving because Jemile's just a guy who looks to improve every day," manager Bob Melvin said. "I think I'm even more impressed with his defense right now than his offense. When I got here last year, in my opinion he was a well below average defender at second base. But, boy, he has come a long way. He looks like he wants to be an All-Star and a Gold Glover at some point."

Weeks, 25, doesn't know what his ceiling might be. But he definitely doesn't see this frightfully inexperienced A's team finishing in the basement.
"I don't think you can set expectations on this team," he said. "We have so many new faces, and there are so many opportunities out there for us. It's a new group with a lot of different ways to attack. Guys are out there to prove something. You might find the next Manny Ramirez or Albert Pujols. You don't know who it might be, because the team's young. Anything can happen."

Weeks knows he'll have to set a strong tone as the leadoff hitter for the A's to rise above the low expectations outsiders have regarding the team's fortunes this season. He is braced to accept that role, which he did throughout the spring as well as during the offseason, when he consulted Hall of Famer Barry Larkin about how he might improve his defensive skills.

Weeks also put in extra time at spring training working on defensive drills, maintaining proper mechanics, making the routine play and improving his throwing. Almost every day in Arizona, Weeks showed up early in the morning with infield coach Mike Gallego to take extra ground balls, often with shortstop Cliff Pennington.

"The last thing you want is to have a coach have to prod somebody into doing early work," Melvin said. "But it was just the opposite with him. I think the last day before we left for Japan, we had an easy day and didn't have early work scheduled. But Weeks and Pennington both went to Gags and told him, 'We want to continue our program.'"

It has showed in games thus far. Weeks looks smoother, more confident and better able to use his speed to expand his range. His throws are surer and stronger, and he looks more in sync with Pennington around second base.

"I think I just put in the work," he said. "I took a lot more ground balls, but I also worked on quality as opposed to quantity. The more you do that, the better you tend to get. But I have to continue to do it throughout the season. I'm not there yet."

Weeks also knows he has set a formidable bar for himself offensively based on last season. Can he match or exceed the impressive totals he logged in 2011? His high average this spring may have been a positive indicator.

"I think from the outside, people want to see the same thing or better," he said. "For me, it's just a case of putting my best on the field."

Weeks sees the same kind of projection for the team. He thinks this group has more energy than last year's club, simply because it wants to better the low preseason expectations.

"We've got power, speed, all-around game in our lineup, and our pitching should be OK, too," he said. "We can kind of hit you from every angle. It's what you need to compete at the major league level and be a good team. If we can get the best out of each person, I think it could be a special team."

As for becoming an All-Star, Weeks has his work cut out in a league that includes Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler. But he stands out as one of Oakland's potential stars. "I'm ready to go," he said. "We're 1-1, and we've already shown we can make things happen. We had a winning record in spring, and I think that may have surprised some people. Hopefully we can keep surprising them. I think we will."

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Aubrey Huff says he won't try to 'be a hero' in outfield

You will know if Aubrey Huff in left field backfires if Pat Burrell charges out there from the scouts' seats and draws another chalk outline of a No. 17 player in the grass.

The Giants' thinking is simple: If they could win a World Series with Burrell in left field during his last days, they can win with Huff there as long as he plays the outfield more like he did in 2010 than 2011.

Huff wants no guff from Burrell.

"I think I learned last year in right field, don't try to be a hero," Huff said after the Giants held a short workout at Chase Field on Thursday. "Don't try to be a hero. Catch the balls you're supposed to get to and if anything's tailing, sinking, just go into hockey mode and knock it down."

Manager Bruce Bochy said Huff could be a six- or seven-inning player. If the Giants have a lead, Huff will take a seat in favor of Gregor Blanco or Nate Schierholtz.

"He understands that," Bochy said.

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Ryan Braun Speaks Ahead Of Season Opener

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun has kept to himself this spring training. While fans have either loved or hated him since his charge of using a banned substance was overturned, Braun has rarely spoke to the media.

But on the day before the Brewers season opener at Miller Park, Braun sat down with Big 12 Sports' Dario Melendez.

Braun said that he was frustrated with the offseason.

"To be completely honest with you, I went through the whole process," Braun said of his battle with Major League Baseball. "I didn't enjoy it in any way."

But he was quick to credit Brewer fans for helping him through one of the most challenging experiences of his life.

"It meant the world, it really did. It was an extremely difficult situation, but having everyone's support was truly meaningful to me and really meant a lot," Braun said.

Braun's drug test was overturned due to inconsistencies in how the sample was handled before it arrived at the laboratory. Braun maintained his innocence throughout.

"Like I stated from the beginning, I never thought about it, considered it or gave any thought to doing something like that," he said.

As for his speech in Maryvale after the decision was announced, Braun said he spoke largely off the cuff.

"Honestly, I didn't know what I was going to say," he said. "The only things I had written down were the things I wasn't allowed to talk about."

Melendez asked Braun if he is excited to be playing in front of the home crowd a little more this year because of some of the booing he dealt with in Arizona.

"I kind of look forward to that. I don't know. It's motivating. I'm excited to have an opportunity to obviously to play here in front of our fans and to play on the road. T be in that atmosphere and that environment, that motivates me," Braun said.

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NFL.com Ranks Lamar Miller & Brandon Washington in the Top 50 Draft Prospects

24. Lamar Miller, RB, Miami: Explosive runner with the speed and quickness to score from anywhere on the field. Scouts question Miller's durability, but it is hard to ignore his natural talent as a difference maker in the backfield.

47. Brandon Washington, G, Miami: Size, strength and athleticism are essential along the interior, and Washington displays a skill set that should lead to instant success as a pro.

See the full rankings here

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Antrel Rolle's New Super Bowl Tattoo


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Jonathan Vilma, SI's Peter King get into Twitter war

NEW ORLEANS - With the signing of linebackers David Hawthorne, Curtis Lofton and Chris Chamberlain and "Bounty-Gate" hanging over New Orleans, the natural question is, will Jonathan Vilma be cut by the Saints?

Well, Sports Illustrated's Peter King certainly thinks so and Jonathan Vilma did not appreciate King's thoughts and it quickly lead to a war of tweets:

          Peter King on the signing of David Hawthorne:
@SI_PeterKing: Curtis Lofton, Chris Chamberlain, David Hawthorne. Get the message, Jonathan Vilma?"that u know how to type peoples names??

Vilma quickly responded to King's tweet:

@SI_PeterKing reckless journalism is beneath you sir. You've become a glorified blogger

          King of course, wasn't just going to let this go:
RT @JonVilma51: Reckless journalism is beneath you sir. You've become a glorified blogger ... It's the NFL investigation, Jonathan. Not me.

          Vilma ended the quick exchange of words:
@SI_PeterKing the nfl investigation has NOTHING to do with ur tweet. You've now turned into a blogger who takes shots at players on twitter
@SI_PeterKing not going to go back and forth with you, enjoy your night sir.

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Santana Moss vs Gaffney

In the past calendar year, the Redskins have drafted three wide receivers in Leonard Hankerson (third round), Niles Paul (fifth), and Aldrick Robinson (sixth) and added two young wide receivers in free agency, Pierre Garçon and Joshua Morgan.

Last summer, in moves that were delayed by the NFL lockout, the Redskins also secured the services of two older receivers in Jabar Gaffney (trade with Denver) and holdover Santana Moss, who had become an unrestricted free agent.

The addition of the five younger players plus the presence of holdovers Anthony Armstrong, Terrence Austin and Brandon Banks and a possible 2012 draft pick set up a chance for a battle between elder statesmen Moss and Gaffney for a roster spot.

Who would have the best chance of winning such a battle? Let’s look at the tale of the tape.

Age: Since this is about a youth movement, let’s get age out of the way first. Moss will be 33 when the season starts. Gaffney will be 31 on opening day and will turn 32 on Dec. 1. Moss is exactly a year and a half older than Gaffney. That’s not a huge difference but still significant.

2011 production: Moss had 46 receptions for 584 yards and four touchdowns last season. He did miss four games with a broken hand, but even if your project his numbers out over 16 games, you get 61/778/5, and even that would represent his worst season since 2002, his second year in the league. Gaffney had career highs in receptions with 68 and yards with 947. He also tied a career high with five touchdown receptions.

Last three years production: Was 2011 just an off year for Moss? Let’s go back a few seasons and see who has been more productive. Gaffney 2009-10 with Denver and 2011 in Washington had 187/2,254/9 (12.1 yards/catch) and Moss 2009-2011 with Washington 209/2,601/13 (12.4 yards/catch). Clearly Moss has had better production in recent seasons.

Run blocking: Everybody knows that this is important in Mike Shanahan’s offense, and if two players are close, it could be the deciding factor in who stays and who goes. The guys at Pro Football Focus rated Moss as about average when run blocking, while Gaffney was scored at -3.7, a couple of notches below average.

Salary cap: Yes, this is as much of a factor as any on-field measurables are. Gaffney counts $2.65 million against the cap, while Moss counts $4.816 million. There would be no dead cap to account for if Gaffney were traded or released. Moss would save $1.484 million if he were traded or released before June 1 and $3.15 million if released after June 1.

The salary cap is important. One of them might not make it to training camp because of that. And, certainly, both players could make it, although we’ll know more about that after the draft.

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Jeff Feagles Speaks at Pancake Breakfast

Ridgewood-NJ-March 31, 2012: The Ridgewood Knights of Columbus Council #1736 hosted a pancake breakfast on Saturday March 31st in the parish center of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. Attendees had an opportunity to meet former New York Giants legend Jeff Feagles, who regaled the audience with stories of his 20-plus years in the NFL. More importantly, he discussed family values, life in Ridgewood, and what it takes to be a success on and off the field. He also reflected on the inspiration he received from Coach Tom Coughlin, who always stayed the course in good seasons and bad.

Feagle’s advice for young budding athletes: “Success begins in the classroom, and you must learn to manage your time efficiently”.

There was also a special appearance from the Easter Bunny. Proceeds from the event will go to fund the Knights’ local charities.

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Jon Jay receives loudest ovation of opening ceremonies

MIAMI -- The introductions of the rosters and starting lineups are underway, done to a percussion beat spiced with whistles, and while the Miami Marlins are being escorted to the field by feather-draped dancers and greeted loudly by cheers, the Cardinals were not without a dash of celebrity in their intros.

Jon Jay, a local and a former University of Miami former, received a loud ovation from the crowd when he was announced as the Cardinals' opening day center fielder and No. 7 hitter.

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Chargers add Roscoe Parrish

Chargers owner Dean Spanos recently explained that, by not re-signing receiver Vincent Jackson, the team was able to bring in multiple additional free agents.

The Chargers have now added their third receiver since Jackson left.

Per a league source, the Chargers have agreed to terms with former Bills receiver Roscoe Parrish on a one-year deal.

Primarily a return specialist, Parrish had spent all seven of his NFL seasons with the Bills after joining the team via round two of the 2005 draft.  He appeared in only two games last season, missing the remainder with an ankle injury.

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Scouts worried about Lamar Miller's intellect

According to CBS Sports' Rob Rang, some NFL scouts worry that Miami RB Lamar Miller will "struggle to handle a complicated playbook" in the NFL.

Per Rang, some scouts "will tell you that Miller could slip on draft day" because of this concern. Miller is considered one of the draft's most explosive backs, and confirmed that by running a 4.4-flat forty at 5'11/212 during the Scouting Combine. We still wouldn't expect Miller to fall out of round two.

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Antrel Rolle Tweets Out A Photo Of Him Getting A New Tattoo


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Saints add another LB with Vilma's future uncertain

In the latest sign the New Orleans Saints are preparing for an immediate future that doesn't include "bounty" scandal heavy Jonathan Vilma, the team has signed former Seattle Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne.

Hawthorne agreed to a five-year deal with the Saints, the team announced Tuesday. The 26-year-old led the Seahawks in tackles in each of the past three seasons. In 2011, he had 115 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions.

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Ravens watching Bryant McKinnie's weight

The Ravens really could have used an upgrade at left tackle this year, but the free-agent pool was small and Baltimore's salary-cap room was smaller.

The Ravens' best option at improving the blind side is to put all of their efforts into making a better Bryant McKinnie.

Ravens officials acknowledged they are monitoring the McKinnie's weight and want their starting left tackle to get in better shape. This isn't a new issue with McKinnie, who was cut by the Minnesota Vikings after last year's lockout ended when he reportedly showed up weighing nearly 400 pounds.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was asked if it was important to see McKinnie before picking up his $500,000 roster bonus on March 16. "It was how much less that we saw of him that was really important," Harbaugh said at the NFL owners meetings last week.

One of the reasons the Ravens signed McKinnie last season was endorsements from safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis. McKinnie wasn't a bust, but he wasn't a total success either.

He was graded as a below-average left tackle by Pro Football Focus. McKinnie struggled at times in run blocking and was uneven in pass protection. He gave up nearly one-third of the Ravens' sacks (8.5 out of 31).

Harbaugh said McKinnie remains at his playing weight from last year (360 pounds), which could be considered a victory considering McKinnie's history. But the Ravens want him to participate in the team's conditioning program and attend the offseason minicamps.

"We still want him to be able to move a little better and get a little quicker," Harbaugh said. "He’s committed to that, he’s excited about attacking that and it’s a big goal of his.”

These are the times when the Ravens really miss Jonathan Ogden. For 11 years, the Ravens never had to worry about the most important position on the offensive line.

The Ravens didn't have to worry about his weight. They didn't have to worry about his work ethic. Ogden, who lived in Las Vegas for most of his playing career, would make the occasional appearance at the team facility during the offseason. Come training camp, Ogden was ready for another Pro Bowl season.

McKinnie, who is entering the final year of a two-year, $7.5 million contract, is the fourth player to start at left tackle for the Ravens since Ogden retired at the end of the 2007 season. Based on what he's given the Ravens so far, the team's search for long-term stability at left tackle will continue next year.

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Devin Hester Likes the New Bears' Uniforms

Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher joined representatives from every NFL team in New York Tuesday as Nike unveiled its Nike Elite 51 football uniforms for the 2012 season.

Nike is billing the line as “the next generation in superior lightweight performance delivering a fully integrated system of dress for athletes at the highest level.” Beginning this season, Nike is taking over from Reebok as the supplier of NFL team uniforms and sideline apparel.

The Bears jerseys feature only subtle changes, with the numbers moving from the sleeve to the shoulder pad and a larger version of the “GSH” initials honoring legendary founder George Stanley Halas.

“The look is kind of similar; they didn’t change too much,” said Bears receiver/return specialist Devin Hester. “It seems like it’ll fit a little tighter, a little more to your body type. I like the pants. It seems like they’re thinner and will allow you to be more mobile.”

Nike boasts that “new innovations include integrating Flywire technology into the neckline to reduce weight and provide a lockdown fit over pads, increasing sleeve articulation for better range of motion, and integrating new four-way stretch fabrication to provide a streamlined shrink-wrap fit.”

“The new uniform is a lot tighter,” said Bears equipment manager Tony Medlin. “It moves more with the body. It’s a lot lighter fabric. It performs better. Some guys have worn this type of uniform in college and they liked the way it performed. It feels like it makes them much faster mainly because of the way that the fabric moves with the body.”

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Andre Johnson throws support behind Schaub

Coming off Houston's first playoff season in franchise history, Texans wideout Andre Johnson doesn't lack confidence in his starting quarterback, Matt Schaub.

Like the rest of us, Johnson heard the offseason rumors linking Houston to Peyton Manning. The thought of Manning pairing up with Johnson, while handing the ball to Arian Foster and Ben Tate -- not to mention that defense -- paints a slightly terrifying image.

Johnson, however, never took the rumors seriously.

"I didn't really look much into it," Johnson told NFL Network on Tuesday at a Nike event to unveil new NFL uniforms. "I didn't think that he would even come to us. ... When they talked about the teams that he possibly had a chance of going to, the two teams that I said was Denver or San Francisco and, as it started winding down, I figured he'd probably pick Denver."

Johnson's highlight-reel career remains directly linked to Schaub, who missed the final six games of the regular season and both of Houston's playoff affairs following Lisfranc surgery on his right foot. Schaub's durability was an issue in 2007 and 2008 before he started 42 consecutive games for the team. Johnson believes Schaub will return to form in 2012, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

"I know what type of player Matt is," Johnson said. "I know when he's healthy, what he can do when he's out on the field. He was having a great year until he was injured."

While Manning significantly changes the scope of Denver's offense, Schaub -- when healthy -- already gives the Texans a top quarterback in this league. He's thrived with Houston, averaging 264.1 yards passing per game over 64 starts, with 92 touchdowns next to 52 picks. Manning is a once-in-a-lifetime passer, but the Texans remain dangerous with or without him.

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Danny Valencia adds a splash of Miami Nice

FORT MYERS, FLA. - Mindy Valencia has tried to gauge her son's standing in the Twins clubhouse the past two years from words spoken and unspoken by manager Ron Gardenhire.

Naturally, she's biased.

Danny Valencia, in her words, is "a really, really good kid. He works hard. He doesn't drink. He doesn't do drugs. He's the most kind, when it comes to the fans."

But after a promising 2010 rookie season, Valencia's performance sagged last year with the rest of the team. There were suggestions the third baseman had grown complacent, and his University of Miami swagger was wearing thin, especially on Gardenhire.

"I'd like to think it's tough love, that Gardenhire thinks he's got the ability to do better," Mindy said. "Do I know? I don't know. But it's a man's world. And in my opinion, men pretty much care about how you perform between the lines."

Valencia's OPS (on-base-plus slugging percentage) was .677 last year, down from .799 as a rookie. Gardenhire sensed he lacked focus defensively, at times, because he was thinking about his at-bats. Valencia committed 18 errors, the most for a Twins third baseman since Gary Gaetti made 18 in 1990.

But on an injury-laden team, Valencia led all Twins in games played (154) and RBI (72). By September, he started regaining his manager's praise.
"Danny made a lot of improvement toward the end of last year," Gardenhire said. "I thought he was handling himself a lot better. He wasn't out there, trying to be in Danny World. He was fitting in really nicely."

Valencia, 27, put himself through a grueling offseason workout routine and arrived at spring training looking stronger and leaner. He worked especially hard on his defense, which seems to have him on the same page as Gardenhire. Only last Saturday, for example, the two spent several moments near Valencia's locker, talking defense.

"Honestly, our relationship's great," Valencia said. "It's not like it's hostile ground. He's the manager; if it wasn't good, I wouldn't be here. Gardy does a good job of managing personalities. He knows how to push guys, and I guess I'm a guy that he feels he needs to push and challenge all the time.

"That works. I like that."

Valencia's outgoing personality has long invited scrutiny.

"He likes attention," Mindy said. "And I think that most people around here [in Boca Raton, Fla.] understand that. Then there are other people who are more conservative and just don't quite get him."

As a rookie, Valencia led the Twins in Kangaroo Court fines, saying he practically financed the team party by himself. His fashion sense is Miami chic. Last week, after a game in Bradenton, Fla., he wore a pair of royal blue pants that were so bright, he said he had to plug them in.

Valencia has a black T-shirt that says "The 'U' invented swagger." That's 'U' as in University of Miami. But his own journey to and from the Hurricanes baseball program is a fairly humble story.

"As much as we get on Danny, he's a dedicated guy with a lot of desire," said Mike Radcliff, Twins vice president of player personnel. "He was not a high-profile, big-time recruit. He deserves credit to get where he's at."

Valencia's parents, Mindy and Michael, met in Chicago when they were both working as accountants for Arthur Andersen. They settled in Boca Raton and raised two children. Valencia's sister, Laura, works in New York for baseball agent Peter Greenberg.

The family always loved baseball. Mindy remembers taking Danny to countless Miami games when he was a kid.

Valencia was a four-year starter at shortstop for Spanish River High School. He was a second-team all-state selection twice but went undrafted out of high school and barely got a look from the state's three biggest college baseball programs -- Miami, Florida and Florida State.

"There weren't many scouts coming to Boca Raton," Mindy said. "They're in Miami, but they're not in Boca."

Valencia went to the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where he was named the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year. When he transferred to Miami, most of the team's scholarship money was taken, so the school covered his books, and he paid the rest with a $30,000 student loan.

As a sophomore, Valencia moved to first base because Miami had a pretty good third baseman named Ryan Braun. As a junior, Valencia batted .324 with nine homers and 61 RBI. But on the first day of the 2006 draft, 18 rounds passed, and Valencia was still on the board.

"You can't imagine the pain of it," Mindy said.

The Twins took Valencia the next day, in the 19th round, with the 576th overall pick, and signed him for $75,000. He rose through their system gradually, stopping at most levels twice, despite never batting below .284.

"I had to play with a chip on my shoulder," he said. "I rubbed a lot of people the wrong way early on because I felt I was always being overlooked. And when you're a 19th-round draft pick, you're one bad year from being released."

After finally reaching the majors in June 2010, Valencia was a revelation for a playoff team, batting .311 with seven homers and 40 RBI in 85 games. Gardenhire often complimented Valencia's defense, as the rookie committed only six errors at the hot corner.

When things went south last year, Valencia didn't mope or pout. In fact, he baffled teammates when he told the Star Tribune, "If this is a bad year, I'm going to have a really bright future."

Maybe he was trying to convince himself.

"This game is so mental," he said last weekend. "I've seen great players get down on themselves to the point where they ruin their careers. No matter how bad you're doing, you've gotta treat yourself with a belief that you can dominate."

Valencia said his defense always will be a work in progress, but he's determined to improve his first-step quickness.

"He wants to be one of the better third basemen," Mindy said. "He doesn't like to be considered a defensive liability."

Offensively, Valencia hopes to use the opposite field more this year. Last year, he tried pulling too many pitches in a quest for home runs, and it backfired. He hit 15 homers but his average fell to .246.

For what it's worth, he's been better this spring. Through Tuesday, he was batting .293 with four homers and an .845 OPS.

Still, Valencia is far from satisfied. He's engaged to marry his high school sweetheart this fall and knows this is a pivotal year in his Twins career.

"I've always been a guy who didn't get in trouble," Valencia said. "I'm not by any means a partier. It's not like I've never had a drink before, but it's just not something for me.

"I'd rather eat healthy and drink water and feel good every single day because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I don't want to look back 10 years later and say I wish I would have done something different."

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Kenny Phillips highlights

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Leonard Hankerson waited 3 months for surgery

Leonard Hankerson didn't have surgery until roughly three months after he tore the labrum in his right hip last November.

Hankerson suffered the injury on November 13. He didn't have surgery until February 21. Coach Mike Shanahan explained that doctors waited to operate because of how they "evaluated his rehabilitation progress," as opposed to a setback. "He should be ready to go, my understanding is, by June 1," Shanahan assured. Hankerson is expected to compete to start with Josh Morgan.

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Lamar Miller possibility for Steelers

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette expects the Steelers to strongly consider using an early-round pick on a running back.

With Trent Richardson sure to be long gone by the time the Steelers are on the clock at No. 24, the Post-Gazette believes the first round "might be out, but after that, all bets are off." With Rashard Mendenhall iffy for 2012, the Steelers lack proven depth behind Isaac Redman, and could consider someone like Miami's Lamar Miller on day two. Using one of their first three picks on a back would increase the chances the Steelers let Mendenhall walk next offseason.

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Ravens Want Bryant McKinnie to Improve Conditioning

Ravens officials obviously were optimistic after their visit a couple of weeks back with Bryant McKinnie, but that hardly means the pressure is off the big left tackle. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said at last week’s owners meetings that McKinnie was in the “same shape he was in when he left.” Obviously, you can take a positive out of the fact that there has been no offseason regression, but team officials want McKinnie to be in better shape than he was in last year. They want him to be able to move better and be a little quicker.  The next couple of months will be huge for McKinnie because I’d be surprised if the Ravens, at some point of the draft, don’t draft an offensive tackle. They also appear to be pretty high on Ramon Harewood, who spent last season on injured reserve. McKinnie is locked in as Joe Flacco's blindside protector this season after the Ravens recently exercised his $500,000 roster bonus, but he isn't signed beyond 2012.

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Kayne Farquharson Leads Team With 4 TDs

There was a scoring frenzy on Saturday night at the Allen Event Center, as the Allen Wranglers beat the Nebraska Danger 86-57 in IFL (Indoor Football League) action.

The scoring started on the third play from scrimmage for the Wranglers, as Terrell Owens received a pass for a 21 yard touchdown from Kacey Printers.

But the Danger answered back just as fast as Rocky Hinds on his second play from scrimmage completed a passes to Kayne Farquharson for an 18 yard touchdown.

The Wranglers ripped off 21 straight points before the Danger were able to get back on the board. The Wranglers were leading as they went into halftime with a 46-34.

The Nebraska Danger were lead by wide receiver Kayne Farquharson had nine catches for 135 yards and four touchdowns. Corey Surrency had eight catches for 92 yards and four touchdowns.

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Commissioner Coletta to Present Edgerrin James with Proclamation

Collier County issued as follows press release:

District 5 Commissioner Jim Coletta ‘re going to present a proclamation to previous NFL great Edgerrin James long before the opening of James‘ 3rd yearly young people soccer go camping in Immokalee. The proclamation rite is timetabled for Monday, July 25,. at the Immokalee Sports Complicated - 505 Escambia Street Collier County Parks and Hobby is hosting the rd yearly Edgerrin James Speed and Agility Soccer Go camping on Monday The free go camping provides regional those under the opportunity to study soccer ability from NFL professionals.

This proclamation knows Edgerrin Jamess generosity and commitment to his homeland of Immokalee mentioned Commissioner Coletta The young people soccer go camping persists to grow in fame and I think through this past go camping to be an additional thrilling day for the teens of Immokalee and the encompassing zones Edgerrins go camping engages each participant from a beginer about the more seasoned athlete providing them with an opportunity to realize their certainly likely in a secure and gladness ecosystem Edgerrin James and the go camping teachers probably will be recommended for their commitment to positively influence teens.

Edgerrin James was born and raised in Immokalee and recruited from Immokalee High School to play for the College of Miami In Edgerrin was drafted th all in all by the Indianapolis Colts and was named AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the days He holds the Colts group record generally in most job over all yards hurrying Edgerrin also played for the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.

On the part of the Eastern Collier Chamber of Trade ECOC and myself i personally would love to thank our Commissioners for acknowledging one in every of our regional heroes who has go back to support give our young people a far greater opportunity to be victorious mentioned ECOC President Fred Thomas Jr.

The Edgerrin James Speed and Agility Soccer Go camping is for schoolaged those under age six and up consisting of high school learners Last days participants joined in the go camping Walkin motor homes are greet.

Each camper would be placed in teams based on similar age size andor experience grade The go camping emphasizes the elemental basics and maneuver development necessary to getting better soccer performance Motor homes are going to gain valuable instruction on maneuver
enhancements teamwork sportsmanship and academic life ability
Edgerrin James will supply nutriment and drinks for the motor homes across the day The go camping would be retained Monday Those under must wear comfy athletic apparels and shoes.

Tracking the soccer go camping Moms and dads would be invited to engage in just as well.

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Kellen Winslow Not on Trading Block

He didn’t win a lot of games, but former Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris easily was the best quote among the four NFC South coaches.

In the media business, it’s always helpful when a guy is a good quote. New Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano probably never will be as animated or open as Morris. But, early on, I’m sensing a lot of depth out of Schiano and that can be a good thing.

Take the case of Schiano being asked at the owners meetings last week why there aren’t a lot of great tight ends in college football and why the NFL seems to turn to former basketball players (see Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates) to play tight end. Schiano provided some pretty strong insight into why so many potential tight ends opt to play basketball in their teen years.

In Tampa Bay, Schiano has Kellen Winslow as his top tight end. Winslow comes from a unique background. He’s the son of former NFL great Kellen Winslow Sr. and was schooled in football from an early age. At 6-4, Winslow has good size and his athleticism, at times, appears to match that of any of the former basketball players. There’s been some speculation the Bucs could look to trade Winslow, who will turn 29 in July, has chronic knee problems and is coming off a relatively quiet 2011 season. Some of the speculation also has pointed to the fact that new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan is coming from the New York Giants, who didn’t throw to their tight ends a lot last season.

But I’m not so sure Winslow is on the trading block. Butch Davis, a special assistant to Schiano, recruited Winslow when he was head coach at the University of Miami. Davis also drafted Winslow when he was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Schiano and Davis have access to all the medical reports on Winslow’s knee. They may try to add some tight end depth in the draft. But I think they realize they have a tight end that has been a productive pass-catcher in the draft. Unless they’ve got their eye on some former basketball player and somehow plan to use their tight ends the same way New Orleans uses Graham, I expect they’ll stick with Winslow.

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John Salmons (hip) to be out a while

John Salmons (hip) will not play on Monday and will reportedly "be out a while" according to beat writer Jason Jones.

This isn't exactly surprising and owners will want to watch Terrence Williams during the Kings' five-game week. He probably needs one more injury in front of him to hit the fantasy scene in standard leagues, but as we've all discussed numerous times, the upside is there if his head is screwed on straight.

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Ryan Braun needs to step out of the gray area

The Brewers open the season Friday. Along with the usual festivities, St. Louis pitchers are going to pound Ryan Braun inside with impunity unless the leadoff hitters can do a little something about it by getting on base.

Then the Brewers are going to Wrigley Field, where Braun will hear the first of many times just how much opposing fans object to him being free to swing a bat and stand out there in left.

This is just the beginning of the trial by fire that 2012 is going to be for Braun, so you've got to wonder:

Why is the guy making it harder on himself from the start?

Just the other day, after the Los Angeles Dodgers and their supporters were doing their best to simulate regular-season conditions for him, Braun was given yet another chance to explain his side of the story regarding Major League Baseball's only positive-drug-test overturn.

"It's over, man," he said. "I'm not going to back into it. It's not good for baseball, it's not good for us, it's not good for me, it's not good for anybody."
And that would have been an ideal way for Braun to have ended that portion of the interview.

Instead, he went on for another couple of hundred words, revisiting the shadowy tones with which he occasionally tints his speech whenever the topic arises. Such as . . . "The people that are close to me - my friends, my family - know the truth."

You can appreciate that Braun is willing take questions, however repetitive and occasionally pointless they have become. Yet, how it is helping him to respond in such a way is beyond me.

He will have enough problems besides not hitting in front of Prince Fielder anymore. Why compound the challenge to come by allowing his critics to jump all over his story as if it were a hanging curveball?

By being so actively evasive and coy about a story that somehow needs to be put to rest, Braun is only giving his detractors more ammunition to assume he's hiding something.

It is almost as if Braun wants "the real story" as he perceives it to emerge, but not from him. He has already floated the conspiracy theory, but so far nothing has stuck to the person who handled his urine sample. In fact, that line of defense is looking less relevant with the passage of time.

As well as Braun handled himself at his first news conference, in retrospect maybe he would have been better off by not mentioning others at all.
So unless a lawsuit is going to be filed by Braun, what harm would come from him telling the story as he sees it? It's true, no matter what he says, the verbal firestorms that are about to emanate from Wrigley and beyond won't be quelled, no matter what Braun says.

Still, he's down to two choices with this episode. Say nothing at all or completely open up in an effort to explain there was more to his exoneration than a third arbitrator allowing him to avoid a 50-game suspension on a technicality.

Braun said he was "tempted" to reveal more, but he is not doing so for concern that it would cause an even bigger story. He also said that full disclosure on his part "really wouldn't do any good."

Unless he's got something to rival alien autopsies at Area 51, I'm not sure how the story could get bigger than it will be next Monday in Chicago, where the ears of baseball will be gathered to hear the reaction from one of the Brewers' biggest rivals.

A simple explanation from Braun might even help.

As for no good coming from Braun opening up, Brewers fans, who, for the most part are prepared to support him unconditionally, would still like to hear what he has to substantively say on the matter. It is possible some good could come from that.

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Chris Perez Sharp In 2-1 Loss To Reds

GOODYEAR (AP) — Chris Perez is healthy and back as Cleveland’s closer. Sean Marshall now has that role in Cincinnati.

Perez pitched a perfect inning for the Indians in a 2-1 loss to the Reds, after which Reds manager Dusty Baker announced that Marshall will open the year as the closer in place of Ryan Madson, out for the season.

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Nationals officially bring Michaels back into fold on minor league deal

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When the Washington Nationals decided to reassign outfielder Jason Michaels to minor league camp last Thursday, manager Davey Johnson called it the "hardest" cut he had to make that day.

The Nationals liked what Michaels brought as a veteran presence in their clubhouse and the experience he could impart, particularly to Bryce Harper, whose locker his was conveniently located next to.

But as far as an on-field fit, Michaels was beat out by Brett Carroll and late-entrant Xavier Nady for an outfield/bench spot. By the end of the day Thursday, the Nationals had announced they'd released Michaels, making him a free agent who could sign with any team.

Monday morning, he officially chose them to be that team -- even if it meant going to Triple-A a month before his 36th birthday.

"I have a great affection for Jason," said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, the day after the team had released him. "He played great here, he was an outstanding teammate. It was no coincidence he was lockered next to Harper. He just wasn't a fit at this time but I'd love to have him in the organization. I think he'll help us or somebody in the big leagues very soon."

Johnson joins a crowded outfield at Triple-A. Bryce Harper will get most of the reps in center field, sharing time with Corey Brown. Chris Curran and Jesus Valdez are also already on the outfield roster for Syracuse. The Nationals look poised to open the season with Jayson Werth, Roger Bernadina, Carroll, Nady and Mark DeRosa as their primary outfield options with Michael Morse likely to open the year on the disabled list and Rick Ankiel possibly starting there as well. 

Michaels hit .220 with one homer and one double during his time in major league camp with the Nationals. He also dropped two routine fly balls in left field. 

Johnson said on Saturday that he expected Michaels to return to the organization, this move makes that expectation complete. 

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Danny Valencia goes 3-for-4, homers

Danny Valencia went 3-for-4 and homered Monday as the Twins and Rays played to a 6-6 tie.

Valencia wasn't an asset as the Twins' third baseman last year, so he has something to prove entering 2012. He's hit .282 with four homers this spring, which qualifies as a decent start. He actually showed more pop than expected last year, finishing with 15 homers, but his .246 average and .294 OBP weren't at all satisfactory. We're guessing an average closer to .270-.280 is in store for this season.

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Miami Dolphins History of NOT Drafting proCanes

The Dolphins will check out UM draft prospects on Wednesday and Thursday, which reminds us that they have selected only two Hurricanes in the past 20 drafts (Yatil Green in 1997 and Vernon Carey in 2004). “It’s mind-boggling,” Ed Reed said at UM’s Hall of Fame inductions Thursday. “We’re right here!” Bryant McKinnie said. “You would think they would know us better than anybody.”

If the Dolphins sign McIntosh, he would be the only Hurricanes player on the roster - for now - because Carey is not expected to return.
The Dolphins insist they have no objection to drafting UM players, and they are believed to like a few departing Canes, including receiver Tommy Streeter.

Keep in mind this is a franchise that took John Jerry at 73 over Jimmy Graham (who went 95th) in 2010 when Bill Parcells mistakenly thought he could draft Graham in the fourth round; Jamar Fletcher (26) over Reggie Wayne (30) in 2001; selected Jason Allen 16th and traded the 51st pick for Daunte Culpepper in 2006 (instead of signing Drew Brees), thus eliminating any chance of drafting Devin Hester (57) or Eric Winston (66); and took Anthony Alabi over Chris Myers in 2005, among other moves. Choosing solid pro Daryl Gardener at 20 instead of Ray Lewis (26) in 1996 would have been regrettable if Jimmy Johnson hadn’t found a gem in Zach Thomas at No. 154 that year.

McKinnie said he, Reed and Jeremy Shockey used to talk about finishing their careers with the Dolphins, but “the Dolphins wouldn’t do that. In college, we all said we would take pay cuts to come to the Dolphins.”

McKinnie said he doubts that would happen now. "I don't know what direction this team is going in," McKinnie said.

Miami didn’t try to sign McKinnie or Shockey when they were free agents last year, opting for Marc Colombo and Jeron Mastrud. Wayne would have considered the Dolphins last month, “but it didn’t seem like they wanted me.”

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Rocky McIntosh Visits Dolphins

Redskins free agent linebacker Rocky McIntosh visited the Dolphins on Sunday night, agent Drew Rosenhaus said on his weekly segment on WSVN-Fox 7.

McIntosh, 29, has played all six of his NFL seasons with the Redskins, logging time at both inside and outside linebacker. At 6-2 and 242 pounds, he isn't much of a pass-rusher, with just eight career sacks.

A second-round pick out of the University of Miami in 2006, McIntosh had a career-high 110 tackles in 2010.

He started 59 of the 61 games that he appeared in from 2007 through 2010. But he lost his starting job to Perry Riley in Week 10 last season and finished the year with 65 tackles and one sack.

The Dolphins brought in free agent linebacker Philip Wheeler last weekend, but he signed with Oakland Friday night. If McIntosh signs, he likely would compete with Koa Misi for a starting job.

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Jeremy Shockey wants an apology from Sapp, NFL

As of last weekend, former Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey was meeting with lawyers and weighing his options and “hell bent on doing something“after being outed on NFL Network as the bounty whistleblower.  Now, TMZ reports that Shockey wants a retraction and an apology from NFLN and the man who outed him as the whistleblower, NFLN analyst Warren Sapp.

Per the report, Shockey hasn’t ruled out taking legal action, absent said retraction and apology.

If Shockey has indeed requested a retraction/apology, Shockey’s lawyer undoubtedly reduced the demand to writing and sent it to the NFL.  And if all it will take to make this go away is a retraction of Sapp’s comments and a simple “we’re sorry,” a temporary mouthful of humble pie would be a lot cheaper than defending a lawsuit — especially since Commissioner Roger Goodell already has, in a roundabout way, retracted the “report” Sapp made.

That said, it would be wise for the league to get a full release of all claims from Shockey, and the league would be even more wise to kick in a small payment four-figure to cover Shockey’s legal fees.  The league would spend a lot more than that if Shockey sues — and it’s obvious on this one that, regardless of whether Shockey blew the whistle, the league was in the wrong to allow any discussion of the subject on the network owned by the NFL.

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What will Ravens do with Reed long term?

The report that Ravens safety Ed Reed wants to play next season is not surprising. The team confirmed that last month at the NFL combine.

The shocking part is Reed thinking he can play four to five more years. This sounds like Reed is giving a subtle nudge to the Ravens as he heads into the final year of his contract.

What will the Ravens do next year when Reed is a free agent? Reed's 2012 season will go a long way in deciding his fate with the team.

His age (he turns 34 when the season begins) and his injury history suggest that a long-term deal is a risky proposition. He has missed 10 games the past three seasons. And while he played a full season last year, it was one of Reed's most disappointing. He finished with three interceptions, his fewest in a 16-game season, and he acknowledged that he missed tackles in four straight games at the end of the season because of a shoulder injury.

Still, Reed is one of the best safeties to ever play in the NFL and can still change games. In the playoff win over Houston, he made an interception because of great anticipation and broke up three other passes. Reed's instincts and awareness have led to 57 interceptions, the most among active players. And, even though he had a bad year statistically last season, his presence in the secondary is the biggest reason why the Ravens allowed an NFL-low 11 passing touchdowns this season (four fewer than any other team).

Reed has hinted about getting an extension in recent years, but he doesn't have an agent listed with the players union. The other problem is if the Ravens want to give a large signing bonus to a player who has been so indecisive about his future. It was only January 2010 when Reed said he was "50-50" about returning. He has been considering retirement every year since the end of the 2008 season because of a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder.

An eight-time Pro Bowl player, Reed is scheduled to make $7.2 million in 2012, the final year of six-year, $44.4 million deal. Along with Reed, Bernard Pollard, the Ravens' other starting safety, is also an unrestricted free agent next year. That could become a predicament for the Ravens, who lost two safeties that they had been grooming (Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura) in free agency this offseason.

The only thing that's clear at this point is Reed's desire to play in 2012 and beyond.

"There's a lot of talk out there. I'm not going to say I'm 50-50, because I'm not," Reed told the Sun-Sentinel in Miami where he was being inducted into the Hurricanes' Hall of Fame. "I want to play football. But it's something me and my team have been discussing the last couple of weeks. My partners, they do a great job of making sure I know the pros and cons of what's going on with my body and with the organization and where we're at. I plan on doing it, but depending, it could change. ...

"If it was up to me, I'd be with a walking cane out there. I don't know, man. I think four to five years is a reality for me."

By this time next year, we'll find out if the Ravens believe Reed can play that long, too.

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Vernon Carey donates to high school

Vernon Carey has never hesitated to give back to his community.

Around the holidays, Carey usually organizes food drives or hands out turkeys on Thanksgiving.

On Friday morning, the Dolphins offensive lineman gave back to his alma mater in a big way.

Miami Northwestern High inaugurated a new weight room with new equipment donated by Carey, a member of the Bulls’ 1998 undefeated state championship football team.

Carey, members of the Northwestern football team and school faculty were on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“I will forever be grateful, and our athletes will forever be grateful to Vernon and what he’s done for us,” Northwestern coach Stephen Field said. “This school won championships with the way it used to be, but it was a struggle. Today’s all about the appreciation for this man who has done this for these kids.”

Carey donated $20,000, and the process of installing the new equipment took less than two months.

“I’m going to plan a day soon at the school board to honor Vernon [Carey] for his efforts,” said Miami-Dade County school board member and Northwestern alum Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall. “We have an individual like this that has reached out and gone above and beyond to give back to these kids. This is a blessing.”

The room was dubbed the “Vernon Carey Weight Room,” and the equipment was painted in the school’s blue and gold colors with different designs of the Bulls’ logo as well as the team’s slogan “Bull Pride” on some of the machines.

“I saw the weight room, and it was in bad condition,” Carey said. “I come here all the time to come back and to see my name on the weight room, I know I’ll laugh, but to see the opportunity it gives those kids is worth it to me.”

Northwestern alums and football players alike were impressed by the facility.

Northwestern missed the playoffs for the first time in 20 years last season.

Field hopes the new weight room will be a positive start for a program hoping to make a return trip this coming season.

“It made us feel like somebody cared about us,” said offensive lineman Joe Jenkins, who will be a senior this fall. “This gives us the chance to go out and compete with top-notch programs that have the facilities to be good programs year in and year out.”

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Bears to get Devin Hester more involved in offense

Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith indicated the team likely will increase WR Devin Hester's role in the offense this season because he has the ability to make a big play every time he has the ball.

Huddle Up:  We've heard this before, but with Johnny Knox's health and availability a concern the Bears truly need a field-stretching complement to Brandon Marshall. Hester could offer that weapon without dramatically reducing his participation in the return game.

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Ed Reed will keep everyone guessing until the very end

Ravens safety Ed Reed’s comments last night about his future to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, one of The Sun’s sister papers, reminded me of something team owner Steve Bisciotti said last month.

Asked whether he had gotten a definitive indication from Reed that he planned to return for the 2012 season, Bisciotti said Feb. 1 at the State of the Ravens address: “Ed doesn’t give definitive answers.”

Bisciotti then chuckled, but the point remains. Trying to predict what the always-interesting safety is going to say or do next is an exercise in futility.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun to listen to him and to observe him closely for clues. After the divisional playoff victory over the Houston Texans in which he played probably his best game of the season, Reed openly talked about retirement. A week later after the Ravens’ AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots, Reed left the locker room without speaking to reporters. However, he did belt out a couple of lines from the Teddy Pendergrass song, “Love TKO” as he walked out of the building, singing, “I think I better let it go …”

Was that a clue that he was leaning toward retiring rather than coming back for his 11th NFL season? Apparently not because a couple of weeks later, he told Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome that he would play in 2012.

And he sort of confirmed that last night before his induction into the University of Miami Hall of Fame, though not before adding some more ambiguity to his situation.

Asked whether he planned to return for the 2012 season, Reed told the Sun Sentinel, “There’s a lot of talk out there. I’m not going to say I’m 50-50 because I’m not. I want to play football, but it’s something me and my team have been discussing the last couple of weeks. My partners, they do a great job of making sure I know the pros and cons of what’s going on with my body and with the organization and where we’re at. I plan on doing it, but depending, it could change.”

So, there’s that. Reed, 33, followed that up by saying, “If it was up to me, I’d be with a walking cane out there. I don’t know, man. I think four to five years is a reality for me.”

Those comments stand in stark contrast to what Reed has said in the past. Not only has he hinted of retirement, but he has warned that he will not put his quality of life in jeopardy by continuing to play with significant neck and back issues.

Now he’s talking about four to five more years? He’s actually only signed with the Ravens for one more season, and he said last night, “Baltimore is home for me unless they say otherwise.”

Bisciotti was asked about Reed’s future in an interview with The Sun on Monday and said, “We’ll either have to get him signed to an extension, he has to say that he’s done or we have to face the possibility of seeing him play in another uniform. That’s the reality of this.”

The reality is also that it’s not worth fretting over, simply because the Ravens likely have no idea what Reed’s future holds or what he is going to say or do next.  

Sometimes with Reed, it’s just a matter of timing. He can be revealing and charming to the media one day and uninterested and dismissive the next. He’ll heap praise on teammates and opponents one moment, then openly criticize his quarterback shortly thereafter. Heck, he interrupted one post-game interview this season to playfully chastise reporters for not asking him about golfer Fred Couples and his President Cup-winning U.S. team.

The point is that trying to determine what Reed’s plans are by dissecting his latest comments is pointless. You’re better off just focusing on enjoying the time you still have left to watch him play football. Because, as we all know, he might be unpredictable, but he’s always entertaining.

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Catching up with Calais Campbell

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Santana Moss evades foreclosure with short sale

Santana Moss, who was known for evading defenders on the way to the endzone at the University of Miami    , and who is now as a receiver with the Washington Redskins    , has dodged a foreclosure over his Lighthouse Point home.

Moss and his wife sold the house at 3201 N.E. 27 Ave. for $2.1 million to Richard G. Zahn and Michele W. Zahn on March 22. The apparent short sale resolves a foreclosure lawsuit that Duetsche Bank, representing a mortgage-backed securities (MBS) trust, filed in December agains Moss over a mortgage issued for $3.64 million in 2006.

Moss also got a federal tax lien released recently.

Moss bought the 9,304-square-foot home for $5.2 million in 2006, so he sold it for 60 percent less than the purchase price.

Still, Moss has a pretty good income stream. In 2011, he signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Redskins that included a $5 million signing bonus. The Redskins are expected to draft a quarterback with their number two overall pick in April's NFL draft, so his receiving stats might improve.

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Guillermo Diaz' 15 points carries Armia

GEORGIA - proCane guard Guillermo Diaz scored 15 points to help lead Armia to their 110 - 87 win over Batumi on Friday in the Georgian Basketball League.

Diaz played a solid game, contributing to his team’s win by hitting 6 of his 10 shots (0/2 from three-point range and 3/6 from the free-throw
line) and finished with 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in 28 minutes.

The victory enabled Armia to remain undefeated and in first place with a 18 - 0 record.

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Chris Perez lights the city's fire: My Cleveland

Once the baseball season begins Thursday, Indians closer Chris Perez will be storming the mound to the strains of "Firestarter" and seeking the final outs in close wins.

Q. How do you feel about being called Pure Rage?
A. I like it. It's not what I try to portray, but it's what I am. I get fired up.'

Q. How do you like being called the Don of the Bullpen Mafia?
A. The first rule of the club is don't talk about the club.

Q. Oh, talk a little.
A. It's a unity thing. Those guys put in most of the work and make me look good.

Q. How's your left oblique coming along?
A. It's been frustrating having to deal with this injury, but it could be worse. I'm feeling really good and am ready for the beginning of the season.

Q. When was your first glimpse of Cleveland?
A. On St. Louis, we played interleague here in 2009. I said, "This city's not bad. The stadium's beautiful." Two weeks later, I got traded here.

Q. Where have you stayed in town?
A. My wife and I lived in Westlake the first year. Last year, we lived in Lakewood, right on the lake, and got more flavor of Cleveland. We'd walk to a diner or a drugstore. This year, we found a place in Rocky River.

Q. Is our weather hard on a Tampa guy like you?
A. The weather's similar and different than Florida. It's similar because it can be bright and sunny, and 20 minutes later there's a thunderstorm.
It's nice here in the summers. Last April, it was overcast a lot, with cold rain. That's hard for anybody.

Q: Can you handle our midges?
A. One night against Oakland, it was pretty bad. A thousand flew up. You just try to block it out.

Q. How's our scenery compare with Florida's?
A. I lived on the water in Florida, so Cleveland reminds me of home. I like how East Ninth Street dips down toward the water. When the sun hits, it's beautiful.

But I'm used to the water being on the west. The lake being north threw me a little.

Q. What else is different here?
A. I like how many pockets of Cleveland are locally owned. People remember your name. It's a hometown feeling. The dry cleaners remember my order. You stay in your community and shop around the corner.

Q. Any game-day superstitions?
A. Nothing, really. I have more of a routine. After the game, coming off the field, I don't step on the baselines. It's a little respect for the field.

Q. Tell us something quirky about a teammate.
A. Roberto Hernandez, he keeps all the price tags on his hats.

Q. Where do you and Melanie grab a bite?
A. My wife and I go to Tremont, to Lucky's. We like their natural food. They have a garden. In Westlake, we'd eat at the Cabin steakhouse.

Q. Where do you go for ice cream?
A. We like Mitchell's. My wife likes cotton candy, and I usually get a "Browns" brownie with cookies and cream and rocky road, or a chocolate peanut butter shake.

Q. Where for fun?
A. We like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I became friends with one of the curators, Jim Henke. We talk baseball and music.

Q. Do you have a favorite local group?
A. The Black Keys in Akron. In the bullpen, Tony Sipp plays Kid Cudi and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.

Q. Where do you take Maxwell?
A. We took him to the park in Lakewood overlooking the lake last year. He hasn't been in the lake yet. He was too young. Maybe this year.

Q. Where do you get haircuts, if ever?
A. I've gotten haircuts in Norwalk, Ohio. The owners of the Christian Roberts spa are big Indians fans.

Q. How do you like Cleveland fans?
A. They're diehards. They're very loyal. They're really hungry for a championship, but they appreciate good effort.

Q. Do you believe in the Cleveland curse?
A. There's just been some bad luck, and that's sports. Eventually it's going to happen, and Clevelanders are going to be really proud.

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Ryan Braun could clear up suspicions by talking, so why won’t he?

One of prominent themes of the 2012 Major League Baseball season is change. And Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun would love to change the subject that is now his shadow. Did he or did he not take performance-enhancing drugs?

Only Braun knows for sure, and he’s not saying.

Actually, he has sworn up and down that he didn’t. The fact his 50-game suspension was overturned is proof enough. But it came on a technicality only a Tour de France winner could love. Until Braun tells “the real story,” his exoneration will smell like the original O.J. verdict.

“What a joke,” one player told the New York Daily News.

Braun’s appeal was based on a chain-of-custody delay. The collector took the sealed urine sample home over the weekend instead of immediately dispatching it to the lab.He said there weren’t any FedEx offices open within 50 miles. Braun’s lawyers said at least five offices within 5 miles were open.

Whatever the case, it’s impossible to get past one thing: The doping control officer, Dino Laurenzi Jr., had collected more than 600 samples for MLB, as well as other organizations, apparently without incident.

The sample was in a tamper-proof vial. The lab chief in Montreal testified that there were no signs of tampering.

Braun’s ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone was 20-to-1. Anything above 4-to-1 triggers a positive test.

Explanation, please?

“We spoke to biochemists and scientists and asked them how difficult it would be for someone to taint the sample,” Braun, the reigning NL MVP, said in a news conference. “They said if they were motivated, it would be easy.”

But what would motivate Laurenzi to taint Braun’s sample? Is he a closet St. Louis Cardinals fan? Did Barry Bonds come over and inadvertently fill a beaker for old times’ sake? A week into spring training, Braun said people who know the “real story” support him. He then said that story would probably never come out.

Why not?

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Gaby Sanchez's hometown homer not enough to top Yanks

MIAMI— The home run wasn't devoid of significance, but Gaby Sanchez applied the proper dose of perspective. His second-inning blast off CC Sabathia on Sunday was the first ever in a Marlins Park game between big league clubs — albeit an exhibition.

For the Miami-born and raised Sanchez, his first Grapefruit League homer was not enough for the Marlins to overcome the New York Yankees. They scored two in the ninth for a 10-8 victory in the first of two dress rehearsals before Wednesday's official Marlins Park premier.

"It's always nice to hit a home run," Sanchez said. "It doesn't matter when it is. Being in the new stadium, playing against a major league team and doing it definitely felt good, but it's still spring training."

Hanley Ramirez hit the first Marlins homer in the new park during last month's exhibition against the University of Miami. The following night, Emilio Bonifacio put one over the wall against Florida International.

Sunday's contest didn't have a spring training feel until regulars on both sides began trickling out midway through. The Marlins made 25,000 tickets available, all of which were sold. Monday night's capacity is capped at 30,000.

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Unsung Jon Jay quietly does a stellar job

JUPITER, Fla. -- Jon Jay's career has been played mostly in the shadows of others. It's a position he has come to know as well as center field, but not a reality that Jay reflects on with disdain.

Long a complementary piece and rare cornerstone, Jay offers nary a complaint when he talks about his rather uncelebrated past.

A standout player in high school, he was not the star on a Columbus (Fla.) High School team that won a state championship his senior year. At the University of Miami, he found himself immediately playing alongside last year's National League Most Valuable Player Award winner, Ryan Braun.

Now, he's sandwiched between Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, a pair of outfielders who own a combined 11 All-Star appearances, six Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Gloves. It's no wonder why Jay continues to glide under the radar, a spot where he admits he feels he still belongs.

"They deserve to be talked about," Jay said. "They've put in their time in this game. They have the All-Star appearances, all the accolades. ... I'm still trying to survive every day. I still have a lot to prove about myself. I have a lot of confidence in myself, but those guys have been doing this a long time in this game. I'm trying to be consistent like them. That's my goal."

Jay has set some lofty standards and picked out the right players to emulate. But he does carry the pressure of needing to start the season strong in order to hold on to a full-time spot in center. Allen Craig's eventual return -- which could come by mid-April -- will invariably crowd the Cardinals' outfield. Holliday won't be moving out and neither will Beltran -- unless he shifts to his right to play center. That would squeeze Jay out of a spot.

Some sort of platoon scenario involving the left-handed-hitting Jay is also possible.

It's all just additional motivation for Jay to prove that the consistency that defined his first two seasons in the Majors was no fluke.

"I feel like I've had good years where I have been helpful to the team," said Jay, who led the club with 157 games played last year. "But by no means do I feel like I have established myself. I still think I can improve, and I can continue to help the team. Those are my goals."

After batting .300 in his rookie season, Jay returned in 2011 and worked his way from bench player to fill-in corner outfielder to everyday center fielder by the end of the year. He hit .302 in the 107 games he started, and gave the Cardinals stability in center after the organization dealt away Colby Rasmus.

Almost silently, Jay has actually been one of the better hitters to emerge recently in the Majors. He may not flaunt the power or sexy stats of some of the others, but Jay has a .298 batting average that ranks third among all qualifying players with fewer than 750 career at-bats.

His .991 fielding percentage leads all Cardinals outfielders since the start of 2010.

"We've seen him do a nice job quarterbacking in the outfield," manager Mike Matheny said. "I have used that term before -- conscientious -- about how he's thinking ahead and doing more than just standing in the same place every time. He's trying to be prepared to get an edge defensively, and that's a great quality to have from a center fielder."

Jay credits Holliday and Beltran for helping him to continue improving those defensive instincts this spring.

"I'm trying to take command out there," Jay said. "There's a lot of communication going on."

On the offensive side, consistency is once again Jay's aim. He noted that it took him longer than others to regain his timing this spring, and that is reflected in Jay's higher-than-desired strikeout total.

But subpar spring results have actually been the norm for Jay. He combined for a .224 average in Grapefruit League play in 2010 and '11. With two spring games remaining, Jay's average this month sits at .250.

Though the Cardinals are seeking a leadoff hitter, Jay will likely begin the year hitting in the bottom third of the order. It sets up to be another instance where Jay gets buried among the bunch. How fitting, since that is what Jay knows best.

"I have always been lucky to play on some good teams at the level that I've been at," Jay said. "Maybe I don't get talked about much, but we have great players on this team. I just have to play my part and be a part of the big picture. That's fine with me."

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Jason Michaels happy to be with Chiefs

Viera, Fla. – When an 11-year major-league veteran such as outfielder Jason Michaels finds himself in Triple-A, he’s usually not happy.

But Michaels, who was released by the Washington Nationals earlier this week, but signed a minor-league contract to play in Syracuse, genuinely appears happy to have a job.

“I still love the game, that’s No. 1,’’ Michaels said during his first day with the Chiefs. “No. 2 , I still feel like I can contribute in some way. I just need to keep playing and keep my at-bats up.’’

Michaels, 35, has played in the big leagues with Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Houston, He spent the last three seasons with the Astros. When Michaels played for the Pirates in 2008, first-year Chiefs manager Tony Beasley was the Pirates’ third base coach.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson said cutting Michaels was one of the more difficult decisions of the spring.

“I really like him,’’ Johnson said. “He’s a major-league player. He just wasn’t a good fit for us right now.’’

Johnson expressed hope that Michaels would go to Triple-A, which eventually happened.

Michaels said he might even be inspired playing in Syracuse with top prospects such as outfielder Bryce Harper and first baseman Tyler Moore.
“We’ll win some games down here and have some fun,’’ Michaels said. “That’s what I like to do, have fun.

“It looks like we’ll have a good competitive team,’’ Michaels added “I really do look forward to it.’’

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