Archive for July, 2014
ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis Rams players are assigned parking spots outside the training facility based on seniority, and the roster is so heavy on youth, quarterback Sam Bradford is close to the front of the line.
At age 26, the first overall pick in 2010 is a grizzled veteran on this team.
“Yeah, it’s interesting,” Bradford said. “Feeling a little older every year.”
Training camp opened with 62 players age 24 or younger, many of them front-liners. The Rams are counting on the kids to grow up fast and lead the way for a franchise seeking its first winning season since 2003.
“Despite the age on paper, the team doesn’t act that way,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “The team acts much more mature, and will be much more prepared.”
Last season the Rams had the NFL’s youngest team and reached seven wins for the second straight season while accepting mistakes general manager Les Snead calls “spilled milk.” They might be the youngest team again, but with enough experience to withstand the growing pains.
There’s already been plenty of learning on the job, and not just for rookies who arrived last Monday. Snead refers to front-liners who left college early, some of them in their second or third year in the lineup, as “redshirt sophomores and juniors.”
Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis emphasizes to younger teammates that every snap counts, even in practice.
“When it comes down to it, you can’t have repeat mistakes,” Laurinaitis said. “Darren Bates shouldn’t be making the same mistake I made because he should be paying attention and getting those mental reps.”
Outside linebacker Alec Ogletree unseated Laurinaitis as the team’s leading tackler as a 21-year-old rookie last year. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers, 23, is entering his third season.
Guard Greg Robinson, 21, was the second pick of the draft after two seasons at Auburn. Fellow Tigers alum Tre Mason, the youngest player on the roster at 20, figures to be in a job share at running back with grizzled vet Zac Stacy, 22.
The gold standard for players they’ve plugged in early is defensive end Robert Quinn, who set a franchise record and led the NFC with 19 sacks. He’ll be entering his fourth season at age 24.
“You saw what Robert did,” Snead said. “What happens is those guys are maturing, too, and not only physically but also mentally.
“You have got to just let them evolve.”
Wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, both 23, are looking to build on promising rookie years.
Fisher and Snead presided over a roster teardown in 2012 with the Rams coming off a rock-bottom five-year stretch in which they totaled 15 wins. They didn’t necessarily come in with a three-year turnaround plan.
“This isn’t a cookie-cutter league,” Snead said. “If you really feel like you’re progressing, then `Let’s stay the course.’ So that’s kind of where we’re at right now.”
The Rams have only three players age 30 or older – center Scott Wells, backup quarterback Shaun Hill and guard Davis Joseph. They’ll lean on a solid core to help lead the way.
End Chris Long is entering his seventh season, Laurinaitis his sixth and Bradford his fifth. All three have endured extreme lows and are cautiously optimistic this team has the goods to climb the rugged NFC West, which has produced the last two Super Bowl champions.
Expectations were high in 2011 coming off a seven-win season under coach Steve Spagnuolo, followed by a nosedive back to the bottom of the NFL.
“We have a lot of potential, but that stuff has to play itself out on the field,” Long said. “We’ve been here before where we’ve said, `This has got to be the year.’
“Well, it’s got to be the year if we make it the year.”
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Martina Hingis led Washington to its fourth straight World TeamTennis title and fifth in six years Sunday, beating Olga Govortsova 5-2 in singles in the Kastles’ 25-13 victory over the Springfield Lasers.
The Kastles tied the record for consecutive titles set by Sacramento in 2000.
Hingis, the 33-year-old former top-ranked Swiss player, was selected the MVP of the finals
“It was a great day here in Springfield for me, obviously with getting the finals MVP,” Hingis said. “I don’t know if I have been as nervous before in my career with playing in the finals for my team, because you have no time to miss anything. Everything is quick. You have to keep it sweet!”
Washington swept the five matches.
Hingis teamed with Anastasia Rodionova to beat Govortsova and Liga Dekmeijere-Thomas 5-1 in women’s doubles, and joined Leander Paes in a 5-4 victory over Govortsova and Ross Hutchins in mixed doubles.
Bobby Reynolds beat Michael Russell 5-4 in men’s singles, and teamed with Paes to top Russell and Hutchins 5-2 in doubles.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — Before he answered a question at the press conference following the Baseball Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony on Sunday, Joe Torre wanted to address someone he regrettably omitted from his speech.
The former Yankee manager briefly mentioned late owner George Steinbrenner, but forgot to thank him the way he planned.
“I missed mentioning and thanking the most obvious guy in the world when you talk about the Yankees,” Torre said. “It was so obvious that I was going to do it, I went right past it.”
Torre, who won four world championships at the helm of the Yankees from 1996 to 2007, said he felt “terrible” that he left Steinbrenner out of his speech. After being fired as manager from the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, Torre’s path to the Hall of Fame began with the Yankees.
Steinbrenner tabbed the then 55-year-old in November 1995, and Torre’s appreciation for the entire Steinbrenner family is ongoing despite his rocky departure from the team after the 2007 season.
Torre, who compiled a 1,173-767 record as Yankee manager, said neither side knew how to say good bye.
Returning to Yankee Stadium for a memorial honoring Steinbrenner in September 2010 helped mend the relationship between Torre and the team. On Sunday, Torre wanted to make sure his appreciation for the Steinbrenner family was clear.
“They made my whole professional life,” Torre said. “I had a good playing career and all that, but managing the Yankees – what you set out in baseball to do is get to the World Series. To have the opportunity to do that with George so many times was an incredible feeling.”
AWE-INSPIRING CROWD: As the bus he was riding in turned the corner and approached the site of Sunday’s Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Frank Thomas was shocked at the size of the crowd.
Ozzie Smith, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, offered some advice as they neared the field at the Clark Sports Center.
“He said just take it all in,” Thomas said. “‘You’re going to be tough when you get to the stage, but just remember, these are true fans, the world is watching, do what you’ve got to do.’”
As the Hall of Fame welcomed six new members – the most living inductees on the same day since 1971 – around 48,000 people swarmed the sleepy upstate New York town to watch the festivities feting slugger Frank Thomas, pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa.
“It looked the greatest rock concert you’ve ever been to,” La Russa said. “Just the appreciation the fans have for our game, I think that’s what I enjoyed the most. Our game is alive and well.”
Cox managed in the big leagues for 29 years. He said Sunday it wouldn’t have mattered if there were 5,000 or 50,000 people at each game. He was too focused on the game to consider how many people were dissecting his decisions.
That tunnel vision wasn’t as narrow Sunday. An initial “peacefulness” on the stage faded once his right hand started shaking as he tried to turn the pages of his speech.
“It’s pretty difficult to be completely tunneled in on your speech at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown,” Cox said.
Meanwhile ,Torre had his own cheering section. His wife, Ali, has 15 siblings. Each of them flew in from Cincinnati and brought their families. Torre said 1989-inductee Johnny Bench told him not to look at his family once he got on stage or he’d start crying. Torre didn’t listen, but said being the last to make his speech gave him time for his tears to dry up.
Regardless, the overall size of the crowd was overwhelming.
“You can’t ignore it, as Bobby said, they’re there,” Torre said. “And they’ve been there for a few days. We saw all the tents and the chairs. It’s an experience that you’ll never forget.”
THOMAS’S WAY: A year ago no player was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The 2013 class consisted of three men who had been dead for more than 70 years – former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, umpire Hank O’Day, and catcher “Deacon” White.
It was only the second time in 42 years the Baseball Writers’ Association of America failed to elect anyone.
Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens – who have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs – fell far short of the 75 percent needed for election, and their chances of ever receiving sufficient votes narrowed Saturday when the Hall of Fame’s board cut a player’s eligibility on the ballot from 15 years to 10.
Toward the end of his induction speech on Sunday, former Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas mentioned the need to avoid shortcuts to achieve success. But at a press conference after the ceremony, Thomas said induction day wasn’t the appropriate time or place to address PED’s.
“This is a special weekend,” Thomas said. “I just didn’t think that stuff was necessary. We all know what has happened over the last 15 years in baseball. Today was a bright stage amongst heroes.”
Still, he did send a message to young players.
“To all you kids, just remember one thing from today – there’s no shortcuts to success,” Thomas said. “Hard work, dedication, commitment. Stay true to who you are.”
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — Joe Torre, the managerial mastermind of the resurgence of the New York Yankees, has been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
While Torre excelled as a player – in 1971 he won National League MVP honors with a signature season that included 230 hits and a .363 average, 97 runs, and 137 RBIs for the St. Louis Cardinals – he became something special in the Yankees dugout.
Despite mediocre stints managing the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals (five winning seasons in 15 years), Torre was hired by the Yankees prior to the 1996 season. In 12 years with Torre at the helm, the Yankees won 10 division titles, six AL pennants, and four World Series.
Torre is the only man to amass more than 2,000 hits (2,342) as a player and win more than 2,000 games (2,326) as a manager, according to STATS.
FAYETTEVILE, Ark. (AP) – Former University of Arkansas All-American golfer Emily Tubert has picked up her first win as a professional on the Cactus Tour.
Tubert shot a 7-over, 223 in the three rounds of the tournament that ended Saturday in Mission Hills, California.
Tubert will take part in one more event this summer before attending the first stage of qualifying school in an attempt to earn her LPGA tour card.
(Kansas City) (AP) – The Cleveland Indians recalled right-hander Zack McAllister from Triple-A Columbus on Saturday and started him against the Kansas City Royals.
McAllister went 3-5 with a 5.28 in 12 starts with the Indians. He began the season with Cleveland and went on the disabled list May 22 with lower back inflammation and was sent to Columbus after he was activated. He went 5-0 with a 2.23 ERA with the Clippers.
The Indians optioned right-hander Josh Tomlin, who gave up four runs on seven hits, including two home runs, in 5 1-3 innings in a Friday loss to the Royals to Columbus. Tomlin is 5-7 with a 4.47 ERA in 15 games, including 14 starts, for the Indians, losing five of his past six decisions in eight starts.
CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Cubs tried to follow the same script that produced a comeback win the day before. They just couldn’t pull off a similar finish.
The Cubs fell behind St. Louis early and tied it with an unlikely home run, but the Cardinals ended up with a 6-3 victory on Saturday in front of a big crowd divided by fans of the rival clubs.
Matt Adams drove in four runs, A.J. Pierzynski had three hits in his St. Louis debut, and the Cardinals snapped a four-game skid.
“Adams had the day,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “He was our guy. Getting the big hit early on, hitting a couple balls hard with guys in scoring position.”
Cubs starter Jake Arrieta settled in after a two-run first inning and allowed just three base runners the rest of the way. He thwarted threats in the fourth and fifth innings, and a diving catch by left fielder Chris Coughlan helped Arrieta escape the sixth.
“(I tried to) keep the team in the game,” Arrieta said. “We fought back and we made it a pretty close game there at the end. We just came out on the other side.”
Just like on Friday, the Cubs recovered from a first-inning deficit.. Anthony Rizzo had an RBI groundout in the fourth, and Nate Schierholtz hit a solo home run in the sixth, tying it at 2. It was Schierholtz’s fourth career pinch-homer.
With Arrieta out of the game, the Cardinals pulled back ahead in the seventh, scoring four runs against James Russell (0-2). Jon Jay hit a leadoff single, advanced on a sacrifice and stole third. He scored the tiebreaking run on Matt Carpenter’s grounder.
Adams, who hit a two-run double in the first, followed three batters later with a triple to score two runs. Pierzynski capped the inning with an RBI single to make it 6-2.
“Adams put a good at-bat together,” Russell said. “He fouled a lot of pitches off. He ended up getting a mistake and he did what he’s supposed to do with it and put it in the gap.”
Russell allowed four earned runs in his worst outing since July 21, 2012, when he gave up six runs, also against the Cardinals.
“All (the pitchers) have actually done a great job for us, and every now and then you have a hiccup. Today he had a hiccup,” Chicago manager Rick Renteria said.
In his first start since being removed from the rotation on July 10, Shelby Miller allowed two runs and three hits in 5 2-3 innings. He began the game with three perfect innings and retired 16 of his first 18 batters.
Randy Choate (2-2) got the last out of the sixth in relief of Miller. Trevor Rosenthal worked around two hits in a scoreless ninth, earning his 31st save in 35 tries.
The 37-year-old Pierzynski signed with the Cardinals on Saturday, 10 days after he was released by Boston. St. Louis had been looking for a steady presence behind the plate since All-Star catcher Yadier Molina tore a ligament in his right thumb July 9.
Molina had surgery two days later and is expected to miss eight to 12 weeks.
Pierzynski played eight seasons in Chicago with the White Sox.
“That was pretty much a cram session for A.J. there, not just with Shelby but all our guys, and the signs,” Matheny said of the veteran catcher.
Adams doubled sharply in the first, a one-hopper that bounced past Rizzo at first and into right field to score two runs. Despite the rough start, Renteria said the fact that Arrieta was able to hang in showed how he has grown as a pitcher.
“Today was maybe not one of those days where he felt his best, but he actually settled down, worked with what he had today, which is what a pitcher is supposed to do,” Renteria said.
Ryan Sweeney hit a leadoff homer against Pat Neshek in the eighth, his third home run of the season and second of this series.
CHICAGO (AP) — For A.J. Pierzynski, the opportunity for a fresh start with a perennial contender was too good to pass up.
Pierzynski on Saturday signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, choosing them from among several suitors, 10 days after being released by the Boston Red Sox.
The veteran catcher didn’t divulge what other teams showed interest in him, but said playing for a contender was a priority.
“You want to try and find a team that can win. You don’t want to go to the team that’s in last place and just kind of play out the string,” said Pierzynski, who was in the starting lineup and batting sixth for the Cardinals’ afternoon matchup against the Chicago Cubs.
Pierzynski, 37, now with his sixth team in 17 seasons, spoke with St. Louis manager Mike Matheny Friday before signing and expressed his desire to continue playing and willingness to accept whatever role was best for the team.
“I just wanted to make sure he was a good fit,” Matheny said. “Explain to him the lay of the land here, kind of what are expectations are. Also, get kind of a feel of where he is. There are certain guys kind of on that bubble (questioning) `do I still want to keep doing this?’”
The Cardinals have been looking for a steady presence behind the plate since All-Star Yadier Molina went down with a torn ligament in his right thumb on July 9. Molina underwent surgery on July 11 and is expected to miss 8-to-12 weeks.
“Bringing in another talented player to help us try kind of try and put things together and figure out how to take our club to another level,” Matheny said. “We still believe we have to get to another level.”
Pierzynski brushed aside questions about the his reputation as a negative influence in the clubhouse, and Matheny said he told his team to get rid of any preconceived notions.
“People that played with me and know me, know what I’m about and that’s all that really matters,” Pierzynski said.
The left-handed hitting Pierzynski played 72 games this year with the Boston Red Sox, hitting .254 with four home runs. He is a career .282 hitter.
“I didn’t want to end with the bad taste I had in my mouth in Boston,” Pierzynski said “I didn’t want to end like that. I didn’t want to end the season. I didn’t want to end anything like that.”
Pierzynski joined the Cardinals direct from Coopertown, N.Y. and the Baseball Hall of Fame, where he and his family were guests of 2014 inductee and Pierzynski’s former White Sox teammate Frank Thomas.
Catcher George Kottaras was designated for assignment to make room on the St. Louis roster.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid is serious about what he has said about competition at the cornerback position.
Sean Smith, last year’s starter at right cornerback, moved to the second team for the last four days of organized team activities. His status hasn’t changed three days into training camp.
“We look at Sean as a first-team player,” Reid said. “We need all those guys and we need two-deep at the corner where we feel like that two-deep is equivalent to starting players. That’s where we’re looking.”
The Chiefs are in transition following a 2013 season where the defense ranked 25th against the pass (247.6 yards per game).
Another factor for changes may have been the memory of blowing a 38-10 third-quarter lead en route to a 45-44 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Gone from last year’s roster are safeties Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps, and cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Dunta Robinson. Kansas City used a third-round pick on Phillip Gaines and entered training camp with 11 cornerbacks.
Second-year pro Marcus Cooper has moved to Smith’s place with the starters on the right side, with fourth-year pro Ron Parker settling in at left cornerback.
Smith took the demotion in stride.
“At the end of the day,” he said. “I control my own destiny. As long as I come out here and compete, work hard and be the same guy I’ve been in the past, I’ll be all right.”
Smith, who enters his sixth season with 71 career starts, takes on a mentorship role.
“One thing about us,” Smith said, “we’re very tight as a unit. We come out here and compete, we push each other. I’m very supportive regardless who it is. Whether I’m first string, second string, it doesn’t matter.”
“Nothing has changed with us,” Parker said. “We’re still working and competing every day like nobody has a starting job.”
Cooper’s presence with the first-team defense doesn’t come as a surprise considering he started six games in 2013. However, the 26-year-old Parker is another story.
The Chiefs are Parker’s fourth team since he entered the league in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Newberry College with the Seattle Seahawks. He also had stints with the Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers, mostly as a practice squad player.
Parker, who joined the Chiefs on Sept. 1, 2013, off waivers from the Seahawks, has appeared in 26 career games with one start, the latter coming last season in Week 17.
Despite the lack of NFL starting experience, Parker has been with the first team for 10 straight practices since the final week of organized activities.
“It’s meant a lot to me,” Parker said of his opportunity. “I’ve been having sleepless nights this offseason, couldn’t wait to get back just to be out here, ready to take on anything.”
Parker offers versatility as a converted college free safety and he played cornerback in high school. He possesses 4.36 40-yard dash speed.
Parker is confident his experience fits what the Chiefs require of cornerbacks in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme.
“I feel like I can just be interchangeable with anything they ask me to do,” he said.
The Chiefs face some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in 2014, including Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Ben Roethlisberger, and two AFC West meetings against Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.
The Chiefs have time before the start of the regular season to allow the cornerback competition to work itself out.
But knowing what’s in store this season could expedite the Chiefs’ decision to allow the duo to get comfortable.
“It’s real important to come together in the secondary in training camp,” Parker said. “Mainly, we have to get the communication down and everybody get on the same page and play together. Once we get that down pat, that’s what training camp is for.”
Reid likes what he’s seen out of Parker and Cooper with the first-team defense, and Smith with the backups.
“All three I thought did a good job today,” Reid said.
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Robert Quinn set a St. Louis Rams record and led the NFC with 19 sacks last season. The challenge this season is to do even better, without changing a thing.
“I stuck to my same routine. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?” Quinn said. “Of course, I want to push myself harder to be a better player.”
The defensive end was second overall in the NFL, a half-sack behind the Colts’ Robert Mathis, and also was second in the league with seven forced fumbles. He has a number in mind for 2014, but is keeping it private.
“I can’t do that,” Quinn told reporters, “because you’re going to put too much pressure on me.”
Of course, he can’t deny thinking about the NFL record of 22 1/2 sacks by the Giants’ Michael Strahan in 2001.
“Can I plead the fifth?” Quinn said. “I’m sure any D-lineman or anybody going for sacks wants to take down that record, but you have to go one sack at a time.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do to better myself, and I think as a defense we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Rams view the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Quinn as still ascending. Though he’s entering his fourth season, he’s only 24 after leaving North Carolina early.
Plus, this season he’ll have Gregg Williams pushing for more, both on the pass rush and defending the run. Williams is a proven commodity as a defensive coordinator and Quinn has been impressed with the defensive coordinator’s wealth of knowledge on both sides of the ball and knack for exploiting the opponent’s weakness and protecting his own team’s deficiencies.
“His philosophy is to defend every blade of grass,” Quinn said. “That’s how detailed he wants to be about everything, and I think guys are definitely stepping up to the challenge.”
The Rams aspire to top-10 status on defense with a pass rush that was among the leaders with 53 sacks, and has added first-round pick Aaron Donald, a tackle who can pressure the quarterback. They’re getting respect nationally, too.
End Chris Long had 8 1/2 sacks, tackle Michael Brockers had 5 1/2, backup end William Hayes had five and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis had 3 1/2.
Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL, could figure in the mix, too. Sam showed a nice outside rush move in drills against other fellow backups.
“He’s fitting in really well,” Long said. “Like any other rookie he’s unpolished, but he’s eager to learn.”
So, if opponents double-team Quinn, problems are likely to crop up elsewhere.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of great guys that can put up numbers on any given day,” Quinn said. “It’s going to be hard just to focus on one guy, so if teams decide to focus on me you can name any guy on our defense, really.”
Last season, Quinn had a trio of three-sack games. One of the highlights was scrambling on all fours to get to Saints quarterback Drew Brees, stripping the quarterback, recovering the fumble and racing to the end zone for his first career touchdown.
“Robert Quinn is a super hero,” fellow defensive end Chris Long said.
He’s getting that treatment from the team’s promotions department, which concocted a giveaway figure of Quinn bending at the hips and waving his arms during a sack dance named “The Bernie,” which aims to mimic movements made by the cadaver in the film, “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
“It’s definitely funny to put on my mantel – once I get one,” Quinn said. “Hopefully this year I just keep it rolling so I don’t disappoint them.”
The Rams second training camp workout began in 99-degree heat, about a 20-degree hike from an unseasonably cool first day. Coach Jeff Fisher didn’t mind it a bit and pointed out Week 2 is at Tampa Bay.
“We need some heat,” Fisher said. “From an acclimation standpoint, it’s ideal. We’ve become an air-conditioned society.”
Players have one more day of practice without pads before putting them on for the first time for a special teams session Monday morning. The full squad will have its first full-pad practice on Tuesday.