Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Retirement the last thing on Chipper's mind

As his right knee provided daily discomfort through the early portion of November, Braves third baseman Chipper Jones wondered if he had already played the last game of his legendary baseball career.

But as he completed preseason preparations in pain-free fashion throughout January, Jones determined it is still too early for him to be contemplating retirement.

"I sit here with three weeks to go before Spring Training and I'm not ready to say this is it," Jones said. "I still feel I can go out and play a solid third base, which I did last year. And I feel I can still be productive in the middle of the lineup, whether it's in the three-hole, five-hole, six-hole or whatever. It doesn't bother me where I hit.

"I think if I struggle with the knee injuries again and I'm not having fun and the team is struggling, I'll make that decision when it hits me. But as of right now, I'm signed through this year and I have an option for [2013]. I'm certainly going to take everything into account. But my body will tell me when it's time."

With Jones being a little more than two months shy of his 40th birthday and entering the final guaranteed season of his contract, there is certainly reason to wonder if he is preparing for his final season. But while there are plenty of reasons to wonder if Jones will play beyond 2012, it's quite obvious that he has not allowed anybody to start making arrangements for this year to be his farewell tour.

"I'll be 40 years old in April," Jones said. "There's no doubt there will be times when the body is going to wake up in the morning and say, 'Don't you even think about going on that field today.' I know that. I've got to listen [to my body] so I can play the next day. I'm not going to look a week or month or two months into the future. I'm just going to go one day at a time. If I can go out there, I'm going to go out there.

"As long as I stay healthy and I'm having fun, I'm going to keep it going."

Jones displayed his commitment last season, as he managed to play 126 games while recovering from two knee surgeries within an 11-month span. The former National League Most Valuable Player Award winner silenced many doubters when he returned for the start of the '11 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Aug. 10, 2010.

While the left knee proved strong last year, the right knee proved so bothersome that he was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery in July to repair a torn meniscus.

Jones was able to deal with the remaining discomfort through the end of last season. But his right knee once again generated great concern in November, when he stepped in a hole and turned it while hunting in Kansas.

"My knee was killing me," Jones said to provide a better understanding of his discomfort level.

Based on the way he felt that night in Kansas and while playing in Brian McCann's charity softball event around that same time, Jones was beginning to think he would need to retire. Jones returned to Atlanta for an MRI exam, but he chose not to tell Braves general manager Frank Wren or manager Fredi Gonzalez.

Jones said he did not want to add to the worries of Wren and Gonzalez. But at the same time, he seemingly wanted to avoid the reaction fans would have had when they learned he was undergoing an MRI exam.

"You're hearing less and less from me during the offseason and I want it that way, because if you're out of sight, you're out of mind," Jones said. "I'm tired of people speculating when my final days are going to be. I don't want to hear it. I'm not ready to talk about it yet."

Jones' option for the 2013 season will automatically vest if he plays 123 games this year, or three fewer than the amount he played while overcoming a pair of knee surgeries last year.

So while some may have already created the assumption Jones will retire at the conclusion of this season, he is keeping his options open and remaining confident that he can prove as productive as he was last year, when he batted .275 with 18 homers, a .344 on-base percentage and a .470 slugging percentage.

"I've had all my faculties and all my abilities since Jan. 1," Jones said. "It feels good to be able to walk in the cage and be able to work on stuff to get myself in shape without having to worry about how my knee is going to feel."

Cops raid Bronx pot farm

Cops raided a Bronx apartment building today and found it had been turned into a pot farm.

Acting on a tip, police broke down the door at 610 Morri Park Avenue at 1 p.m. and discovered a staggering 600 marijuana-growing pots. They filled all of the top four floors of the five-story building.

Officials estimated there was 1,500 pounds of pot growing in the building, and at $5,000 a pound, it had a street value was about $7.5 million.

Cops also found there had modifications to the ventilation of the building and other changes.

"It was like a pot farm in there," one law enforcement source said. "They were using enough electricity, grow lights and such to power an entire city block."

Three suspects in their 20s were arrested on drug dealing and drug possession charges.

Mariners' truck makes early departure for camp

There's no surer sign that baseball season truly is just around the corner than when a team loads up the moving truck to begin the journey to its Spring Training facility.

That day was Tuesday for the Mariners, who packed everything from training equipment to cases of helmets and bats to bicycles belonging to manager Eric Wedge's kids into an 18-wheeler in preparation for the journey to Peoria, Ariz.

Yup, you need a lot of stuff when you move shop south for two months. About 20,000 pounds of stuff, in this case.

The truck, driven for a fifth straight year by Rick Kraus, will take about 30 hours to make the 1,500-mile trek to the Peoria Sports Complex.

The Mariners expect the gear to arrive in Peoria on Thursday or Friday, where everything will be unpacked in preparation for the staff's arrival.

Because they will begin their regular season in Tokyo against the A's on March 28-29, the Mariners are opening training camp a week earlier than any other team in the Majors. Pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 11, and their first workout will be Feb. 12. Position players must report by Feb. 17, with the full squad hitting the field together for the first time on Feb. 18.

So, yeah, the journey is about to begin. And once again, Kraus and his truck will be leading the way.

New Jersey town denies permit for ‘Shore’ spinoff over 'public safety'

HOBOKEN, N.J. -- "Jersey Shore" stars Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi and Jenni "J-WOWW" Farley are not welcome in at least one New Jersey city.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said Tuesday on the city's website that a film permit request for a spinoff starring the two "Shore" guidettes had been denied.

The decision was made "based on protecting public safety and quality of life concerns for Hoboken residents," Zimmer wrote.

In a letter to Jim Bianco, one of the producers of the as-yet-untitled spinoff, she said he had a right to appeal the decision, but warned him against trying to film without permits as he had admitted to doing in another New Jersey town.

"I write to put you, 495 Productions, MTV and Viacom on formal notice that there will be zero tolerance for this kind of approach in the City of Hoboken," she said. "Any attempts to film in a manner that is not permitted without a permit will be dealt with immediately and aggressively."

The cast of the popular MTV reality series has gotten in trouble both in New Jersey and abroad while filming.

Ronnie Ortiz-Magro was indicted on an assault charge stemming from a 2009 fight seen in the first season of the show, while Polizzi was banned from driving in Italy last year after crashing into a police car while filming the fourth season in Florence.

Granderson thinks Pineda will thrive in AL East

In a rarity, Curtis Granderson was cheered and thanked at Fenway Park on Monday night, when the Yankees' center fielder was in town for a fundraiser benefiting a charity run by Theo Epstein and Peter Gammons.

Before the start of a roundtable discussion that included Boston manager Bobby Valentine and general manager Ben Cherington, Granderson talked about his outlook for the American League East in 2012 and how effective he thinks 23-year-old righty Michael Pineda can be.

"Just a big presence," Granderson said of Pineda. "The fact that this will be his second season, he's got a lot to build on -- from his frame, his size. His numbers speak for themselves. I think he had over 170 strikeouts, so [he's a] definite power pitcher. That was the report on him. He came out, he came right at you."

Pineda struck out 173, walked 55 and posted a 3.74 ERA in 171 innings last season with the Mariners, who dealt him to the Yankees on Jan. 23. Granderson had three plate appearances on the road against Pineda on May 27 -- the only time Pineda faced the Bombers in his rookie season -- and drew a pair of walks after flying out in his first at-bat. Seattle won the game, 4-3, and Pineda took a no-decision.

"I don't remember the exact results of what we did against him, but I knew he was in there, I knew he was confident," Granderson said. "He wasn't intimidated by the Yankees lineup. That's going to fare well for him coming to the American League East."

Coming off perhaps a career year, Granderson acknowledged the Yankees' biggest question last season was pitching, and he feels the additions of Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda have addressed it. Jesus Montero's loss in the Pineda trade was "a tough business decision," said Granderson.

As for the division, Granderson gave a reasoned assessment.

"It's amazing the way this division kind of unfolds playing everybody 18 times over the course of the season," he said. "There's certain teams you play well against, there's certain teams you don't. For example, our record against Boston was bad, our record against Toronto wasn't that good, but then everybody else we played well against, and I'm not sure what the reason, the cause of that was. I think it's going to be very similar this year where no team is going to necessarily dominate in our division. It's going to be a matter of how many games you win outside our division that's going to be the big key.

"I think we have the chance to go in and play well against teams in our division and everybody else, but everybody else is going to be just as confident, too."

Granderson said he'd be surprised if the Orioles didn't make any more moves before Spring Training.

Like everyone else, he also pointed to how strong the AL has become on a whole, not just in the division.

"No matter what, whenever we step on the field, everyone's always looking to go after us," Granderson said. "Now, teams are going to be in the same situation."

The subject of the roundtable discussion was the small market-big market dichotomy. It was a mix of lighthearted talk and deep thought, with Granderson drawing several laughs on a panel that, along with Epstein, Cherington and Valentine, also included former big leaguer Sean Casey and Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. How players handle booing was one of the questions Gammons raised as moderator, and Granderson, who's adjusted marvelously to New York's spotlight after playing in a smaller Detroit market, explained his approach.

"To get booed -- Reggie Jackson told me this -- if you strike out or get booed or make an error and the inning is over, get off the field as soon as possible," Granderson said. "Once you get off the field, they have to stop booing."

Mayor Bloomberg to run anti-illegal gun ad during Super Bowl

The biggest score of all at the Super Bowl might be made by Mayor Bloomberg.

In an unprecedented move, the mayor and his national coalition against illegal guns plan to air a 30-second ad during the big game, which draws some of the highest TV ratings of the year and traditionally serves as a platform for memorable and very expensive commercials.

Bloomberg disclosed today that he and Boston Mayor Tom Menino -- who serves as both co-chair of the mayor's coalition and host mayor of the rival New England Patriots -- have already filmed the ad that's going to be screened in selected regional markets on Sunday.

One of those markets will be Washington, D.C.

"A New York-Boston Super Bowl is a perfect opportunity for the mayors to talk about fixing the nation's backround check system that allow criminals and dangerous people to buy guns illegally," said Bloomberg spokesman Marc LaVorgna.

Bloomberg has been frustrated by Congress' refusal to impose stricter regulations on sales at gun shows, even to the point where he's authorized undercover sting operations in states across the nation to demonstrate how easy it is to circumvent federal weapons regulations.

Aides said the ad is still being edited and wouldn't be finished for another day or two.

They provided a single picture from the shoot, which showed Bloomberg wearing a replica Giants tee shirt over his dress shirt with French cuffs, seated next to Menino in Patriots garb. Both were seated on a couch in front of a table with hats of their respective teams.

"It was very funny," the mayor said of the ad, without providing further details. "You should take a look at it."

Aides offered one hint, saying viewers should expect a play on the rivalry between Boston and New York.

National Super Bowl ads are fetching a record $3.5 million for 30-second spots.

The mayor's ad is expected to cost hundreds of dollars, with the tab billed to Mayors Against Illegal
Guns, which Bloomberg helps fund.

The mayor is traveling to Indianapolis to watch the Giants-Patriots showdown.

Asked if he had any advice for the hometown team, he responded, "Yes, win."

"It'll be a lot nicer trip back if you win," he added.

Sox prepping for Papi, Aceves arbitration cases

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said that arbitration dates have been set for both Alfredo Aceves and David Ortiz, but he declined to specify those dates.

Teams and players typically prefer to avoid a hearing, if possible.

"I'd prefer not to make them public," Cherington said Monday night of the potential hearing dates. "We do [have them], and we're preparing for both. ... I think [Tuesday] is the first date they can be held. We do not have a hearing [Tuesday]. We'll get there. We have two cases, and we're preparing for them."

Arbitration hearings, which are heard in St. Petersburg, Fla., run from Tuesday through Feb. 21.

Ortiz, Boston's designated hitter, and Aceves, a right-hander who can pitch in the rotation and in relief, both present uncommon situations. Ortiz was very productive for a 35-year-old in 2011, posting a .309/.398/.554 line with 29 home runs. Meanwhile, an argument could be made that Aceves was the team's most effective pitcher, with a 10-2 record and 2.61 ERA in 114 innings.

The Red Sox have offered a $12.65 million salary to Ortiz, but he has asked for $16.5 million. Aceves has filed for $1.6 million, and the team requested $900,000. The club remains open to settlement discussions, Cherington said.

"We've had continued dialogue with both guys," Cherington said. "I couldn't handicap it right now. We're just going to prepare for the case. We're a team that will continue to talk right up until the hearing. We'll see what happens. Once you get past exchange, you have to at least prepare to go to the hearing, and that's what we're doing."

In the instance that both cases were to go to arbitration and Boston were also to lose both, the impact on the Sox would not be crippling, Cherington indicated. The difference between losing the cases and winning would be nearly $5 million.

Just how much the team wants to spend at this point in the offseason has come into question following the trade of starting shortstop Marco Scutaro.

"I don't think significant," Cherington said of the hearings' potential impact. "Sure, if you go to a
hearing, there's a chance you win and there's a chance you lose. Depending on the outcome, it changes your payroll to some degree. To that extent, it can affect things a little bit, but I wouldn't say it's significant."

Iran prepared to attack US, intelligence says

Washington- Iran is prepared to launch a terror attack inside this country because they feel threatened by possible US action, the country's top spy chief said today.

Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper made the shocking allegation before the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying Iran is "more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived US actions that threaten the regime," according to The Washington Post.

Clapper, CIA chief David Petraeus and others reasserted their stance that Iran is not building nuclear weapons, in contrast to Israeli officials' statements that Iran could have nuclear capability within a year.

Petraeus said he met with the head of Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, last week to discuss Israel's concerns, but he did not say whether Israel agreed with the US assessment that Iran had not yet decided to make a nuclear weapon.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said last week that Iran is proceeding toward nuclear weapons capability and time is "urgently running out."

Al Qaeda and Iran are part of a mosaic of interconnected enemies the US faces, including terrorists, criminals and foreign powers, who may try to strike via nuclear weapons or cyberspace, Clapper and the others said.

The terror organization still aspires to strike the US, but it will likely have to go for "smaller, simpler attacks" as its ranks are thinned by continued pressure from US drone strikes and special operations raids since Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of Navy SEALs in Pakistan last year, Clapper predicted.

"When you take one, two and three out in a single year," that weakens the force, added Petraeus. The CIA chief pointed out that "four of the top 20 in a single week were captured or killed," last year, leaving the leadership struggling to replace itself.

The intelligence chiefs predicted al Qaeda's regional affiliates will try to pick up the slack for the beleaguered core group in Pakistan — from the Yemeni offshoot al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to Somalia's al-Shabaab. If they can't reach the US homeland, they'll try to attack western targets in their geographic areas, they said, and the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda remains the most likely affiliate to try to attack the US homeland.

The United States continues to put pressure on the Yemeni offshoot, and on Monday mounted airstrikes targeting al Qaeda leaders there, killing at least four suspected militants, according to Yemeni and military officials.

US officials also said there's been no decision on whether to trade five dangerous Taliban prisoners now being held in Guantanamo, as part of nascent peace talks with the Taliban.

Clapper said the White House would first have to determine where they would be held, and how they would be watched after being released to make sure they did not return to militancy.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga) said the five men the Taliban have named are considered too dangerous to release by US counterterrorist authorities, but Petraeus said his agency had run several possible scenarios to figure out how best to free them.

Just below al Qaeda on the list of threats comes the possibility of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, from chemical and biological, to nuclear and radiological. The intelligence community does not believe states that possess them have supplied them to terror groups, but that remains a risk.

Iran has the technical ability to build a nuclear weapon, Clapper said.

If Iran moves to enrich uranium beyond the current level of 20 percent, to a weapons grade level, it would be a sign Iran had decided to move ahead, Petreaus added.

Citing last year's thwarted Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in the US, "some Iranian officials — probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ... are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived US actions that threaten the regime," Clapper said.

The North Korean nuclear weapons program is a continued threat to global security, though the program is intended for self-defense, his assessment states: "We judge that North Korea would consider using nuclear weapons only under narrow circumstances" and "probably would not attempt to use nuclear weapons against US forces or territory, unless it perceived its regime to be on the verge of military defeat and risked an irretrievable loss of control."

China and Russia remain the key threats to the US in cyber-space, with "entities" in both countries "responsible for extensive illicit intrusions into US computer networks and theft of US intellectual property," though Iran is also a player, Clapper said.

He warned of growing cyber-espionage by foreign governments against American government and businesses, and said many such intrusions are not being detected.

"They seem most interested in our technology," he said. "If they can steal it from us, that works to their benefit" so they don't have to spend their own money on research.

Insider threats are another category of risk, in which disgruntled employees like accused Army soldier Bradley Manning allegedly leak information to the public or sell it to competing corporations or nations.

The annual threat assessment looked further afield to places like Afghanistan, where it assessed the Afghan government's progress as fragile, and the Taliban as "resilient."

The group is less able to intimidate the Afghan population that last year, especially in areas where
NATO forces are concentrated, but its leaders continue to direct the insurgency from their safe haven in Pakistan, the report said.

With AP

Montero, D-backs agree to deal at last minute

Moments before a scheduled salary-arbitration hearing Tuesday, the D-backs and catcher Miguel Montero settled on a one-year deal worth $5.9 million.

"I was sitting in the [hearing] room," Montero said by phone from Tampa, Fla. "I was getting a bottle of water right before it was supposed to start and they told me to step outside to talk."

When arbitration numbers were exchanged a couple of weeks ago, Montero filed at $6.8 million, while the D-backs came in at $5.4 million. The arbitrator would have had to pick one of the two figures.

"It feels so nice," Montero said of having the issue settled. "I feel relieved and happy to get it done, man. I can't wait to get to Spring Training and start playing. That's the fun part. That's what it's all about. We're going to have a good team again this year."

"Both sides made concessions to find middle ground, and I think both sides won," D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said.

Arizona's pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 20 and have their first workout the following day.

Montero has said he would like to stay with the D-backs long term, and while the two sides have talked this offseason about a multiyear deal, they have not been able to get one done. Montero will be eligible for free agency following the 2012 season.

"We're open to listen," Montero said. "We're just going to listen and see where we're at. And if it works out, it works out, and if it doesn't work out right now, for sure they're going to be my first option in the offseason."

The sticking point between the two sides is more about dollars than the length of the contract, according to Towers, who said he remains hopeful something can get done.

Both sides said they would like to resolve the talks on a multiyear deal before the start of the season to avoid distraction. Montero said Tuesday that March 20 might be a useful deadline for getting something done or tabling it until after the season.

"That way, I get some time to refresh mentally and just prepare my mind for the season," he said. "I don't want anything to bother me to start my season."

In 2011, Montero led National League catchers in doubles (36), RBIs (84) and slugging percentage (.471) and was second in home runs (18) and on-base plus slugging (.821).

The D-backs have not gone to a salary-arbitration hearing with a player since they lost to Damian Miller in 2001 and have been to a hearing just twice in franchise history. They beat Jorge Fabregas in 1998.

Arizona has just one unsigned arbitration-eligible player left, reliever Craig Breslow, after coming to terms with third baseman Ryan Roberts as well on Tuesday.

"It's a process that's not good for either side," Towers said of salary arbitration in general. "We want the focus to be on the ballclub and preparing for the 2012 season."

If leaving Giants, Jacobs wants to 'go out with a bang'

If Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI is going to be Brandon Jacobs' last game with the Giants, he'd like to leave with a nice parting gift.

“It definitely motivates me to go out with a bang," the running back said Tuesday at Media Day. "If it is, I’ll leave with a Super Bowl ring.”

Jacobs said he doesn't know if he will be back with the Giants next season.

“I’ve never really thought about that, and it doesn’t really bother me," Jacobs said. "I’m sure something is going to get worked out and things will be fine. You just have to let it take care of itself. I am playing in the Super Bowl for the New York Giants, and if that is the way it is, there is nothing I can do. I am trying to do as best I can to help this team win.”

Jacobs restructured his contract prior to this season, so the Giants could re-sign fellow running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Jacobs is owed a $500,000 roster bonus in March and $4 million in salary for 2012, which could cause the Giants to let him go.

He also has upset fans and management at times with off-field comments and on-field antics.

“In that situation, you’ve just got a guy that is out there trying to work hard and win football games. I am upset, they’re upset," Jacobs said of the fans. "It’s just kind of big brother, little brother type things.

"Our fans have been great for us the last two months basically, even with the last couple games of our losing streak. They’ve been with us and supported us. We had a lot of people out in San Francisco. A lot of people came out to cold Green Bay. They have just as much a part of this as us as players.”

When the Giants were in the midst of a four-game losing streak in November, he said the fans were not helping by booing the team, comments he said were embellished by the press.

“It got out of hand so bad. I never meant for all of that to happen,” Jacobs said. “For a lot of things to go that way, I would never talk about our fans … It was just, people blew it out of proportion.”

Monday, January 30, 2012

June re-trial set for city Councilman Larry Seabrook

It could be a long, hot summer for embattled city Councilman Larry Seabrook.

A judge has set June 19 for the start of the Bronx Democrat's re-trial on corruption charges.

Seabrook avoided conviction last year when jurors were unable to decide any of 12 counts against the career pol, who's charged with crimes that include steering more than $600,000 in "slush" funds to his mistress and relatives.

Manhattan federal Judge Deborah Batts also ordered prosecutors to disclose by May 22 which "accomplice witnesses" they intend to call to the stand.

Seabrook's former mistress, Gloria Jones-Grant, got immunity to testify against Seabrook, but once in court recanted allegations that she paid him cash kickbacks.

Jones-Grant also revealed that she had been diagnosed with the "onset of dementia."

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan US Attorney's Office declined to comment.

Start times set for regular-season games

Game times for the 2012 regular season, beginning with the Japan Opening Series 2012 and Opening Night in the United States on April 4, were announced by Major League Baseball on Monday.

The event in Japan, pitting the Mariners and Athletics, will take place on March 28-29. The domestic opener will feature the defending World Series champion Cardinals against the Marlins in the first regular-season ballgame at Marlins Park in Miami at 7:05 p.m. ET.

The final day of the regular season is scheduled to be October 3.

Opening Night in Miami, which will mark the start of ESPN's 23rd season televising Major League Baseball, will also be highlighted by the debuts of new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen and new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, and a pair of former Mets teammates squaring off with their new teams as Carlos Beltran and the Cardinals visit Jose Reyes and the new-look Marlins.

Seven games are scheduled to be played on April 5, marking the second consecutive season in which the traditional Opening Day throughout MLB, excluding special international events, will take place on a Thursday. In addition to 2011, the only other seasons to have started on a Thursday were 1901-1904, 1907, 1912, 1959, 1973-74 and 1976. The first full slate of 15 games will be played on Saturday, April 7.

ESPN will continue its Opening Week coverage with back-to-back doubleheaders on ESPN2 on April 5 and 6. On Thursday, the Boston Red Sox and their new manager, Bobby Valentine, visit the Detroit Tigers at 1:05 p.m. ET, followed by the Marlins at Cincinnati Reds at 4:05 p.m. ET. Friday's coverage includes the San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks at 4:10 p.m. MST/PT, followed by the Kansas City Royals visiting the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at 7:05 p.m. PT in the Angels debut of nine-time All-Star Albert Pujols.

MLB Network will have extensive coverage of Opening Week, featuring the return of its regular-season programming lineup of The Rundown, Intentional Talk, MLB Tonight and Quick Pitch with look-ins at live games in progress, previews, highlights and analysis. MLB Network's regular-season game telecasts will begin on April 5 with the San Diego Padres' home opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers at 4:05 p.m. PT, followed on April 6 with regional coverage of the 2011 American League champion Texas Rangers' home opener against the Chicago White Sox at 1:05 p.m. CT and the 2011 AL Wild Card Tampa Bay Rays' first home game of 2012 against the 2011 AL East champion New York Yankees at 3:10 p.m. ET.

Among the other highlights of the 2012 regular season:
  • The Milwaukee Brewers open their season against the Cardinals at Miller Park on April 6 at 3:10 p.m. CT as the NL Central rivals meet for the first time since the 2011 NL Championship Series.
  • The Dodgers will host the Padres at Dodger Stadium at 1:10 p.m. PT on April 15, which is designated as Jackie Robinson Day throughout MLB.
  • The Tigers will open a four-game series against the Rangers at Comerica Park on April 19 at 7:05 p.m. ET in a rematch of the 2011 ALCS.
  • The 16th season of Interleague Play will feature many renewals of past World Series, including Reds-Yankees and Pirates-Tigers (starting May 18); Mets-Yankees, Phillies-Orioles, Astros-White Sox, Blue Jays-Braves, Tigers-Reds and Rangers-Giants (starting June 8); Yankees-Braves, Pirates-Orioles, Tigers-Cubs (starting June 11-12); Phillies-Blue Jays, Red Sox-Cubs, Royals-Cardinals and White Sox-Dodgers (starting June 15); Cubs-White Sox, Giants-Angels, Braves-Yankees, Orioles-Mets and Dodgers-Athletics (June 18-19); and Cardinals-Royals, Giants-Athletics, Yankees-Mets, Rays-Phillies and Tigers-Pirates (starting June 22).
  • The 2012 All-Star Game is scheduled for Tuesday, July 10, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

Foul-mouthed B'klyn mom busted after abandoning 2 daughters

A Brooklyn woman was arrested after coldly abandoning her two young daughters on the street yesterday afternoon, police said.

Dalisha Adams, 26, was busted at 11:24 p.m. Sunday after cops matched the girls' identities with photo records from ACS, police said.

The girls were bundled up for the weather and were clutching several clean diapers.

Dominae, 5 and Dioni, 3, were deserted at 2:50 p.m. in front of 5994 Shore Parkway in Sheepshead Bay, police said.

The shaken girls were not injured and are currently in the custody of ACS after being taken to Brookdale University Hospital for evaluation.

Cops said the little girls knew their mother's first name, but could not tell cops where they lived.
Adams was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a minor after surrendering to cops.

Neighbors said Adams, who lives in the Breukelen Houses in Canarsie, constantly berated the girls with foul-mouthed rants, often as early as 5 a.m.

"She shouts at them 'Shut the f-- up! Get the f--- out of here.' I heard her cuss out her little baby," said one neighbor. "I hope she doesn't get those kids back. It's not right."

Another neighbor said, "She talks really dirty to her children and treats them very shabbily. She says things like ''l'll kick your f---ing ass.'"

On Sunday, shortly before the girls were found on the street, neighbors heard the final blowup - with the mother saying, "Stop crying. Shut the f--- up. I'm going to get you out of here."

Adams has a third daughter, 8, but she was spared on Sunday because she was with an aunt, cops said.

They said Adams turned herself in Sunday night.

Amaro eyes May return for Howard

Compared to recent winters in Philadelphia this winter hasn't felt much like one at all, but Spring Training is still coming.

Phillies pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout in just 20 days.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., manager Charlie Manuel and right fielder Hunter Pence shared their thoughts on some of the club's more pressing issues at Monday night's Philadelphia Sports Writers' Association banquet in Cherry Hill, N.J.

Here are some highlights:

Ryan Howard's return?
Manuel said Howard's recovery from left Achilles surgery is ahead of schedule, but Amaro said not to expect the Phillies slugger to be ready by Opening Day.

"I think it's more than a reach," said Amaro. "If he's back by sometime in May, I'll be happy."

Manuel could not say who will hit fourth in the lineup while Howard is out, although he mentioned Pence and Chase Utley. Manuel also said John Mayberry Jr. could be his first option to play first base while Howard is recovering. Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome and Laynce Nix also have played first.

Placido Polanco on track for spring
Amaro said Polanco, who is recovering from sports hernia surgery, should be 100 percent or close to 100 percent for Spring Training.

"We'll be cautious with him, but he seems to be doing really well," Amaro said.

Utley's knee issues
"He's doing good. He's feeling well," Amaro said. "We have to keep an eye on his health, and monitor him and make sure we're cautious with how we handle him in Spring Training. Charlie and I have talked about that a little bit to make sure he stays fresh for the season."

Jose Contreras' recovery
"He's throwing from 120 feet," Amaro said of the veteran right-hander who is coming off right elbow surgery. "No symptoms. He's progressing really well. If he doesn't have any setbacks or anything, I think he'd probably close to ready for Opening Day."

Joe Blanton's prognosis
"I guess you have to consider [Blanton's health] a question mark because he pitched so little last year, but at the same time he threw at the end of the year last year, and that was a good sign," Amaro said of the right-hander who missed much of last season with an elbow injury. "We expect him to be in our rotation this year. Hopefully he can get through it in a healthy way."

Pence on avoiding arbitration
"You want to reach a deal in the middle," said Pence, who received a one-year, $10.2 million contract. "You want to be treated fairly, but you also want to get out there and play baseball. You don't want to be in the hearing room. You don't want to be battling over those things. Everything went smoothly. The Phillies treated me great. I couldn't be happier. I'm very grateful."

Improving the offense
Manuel is looking forward to having Thome, Triple-A Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg and Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt in camp to talk to his hitters. There are two Hall of Famers and one future Hall of Famer right there.

"Why shouldn't we listen to what people have to say?" Manuel said. "Why shouldn't we sit down and discuss hitting every now and then?"

The fifth starter
Amaro said it is Vance Worley's job to lose, although others like Kyle Kendrick and Joel Pineiro will be in the mix.

Pat Burrell's retirement
Don't be surprised to see Burrell, who announced his retirement on Monday, sign a one-day contract and retire with the Phillies.

"We are considering it," Amaro said.

MF Global client money feared gone

Nearly three months after MF Global Holdings collapsed, officials hunting for an estimated $1.2 billion in missing customer money increasingly believe that much of it might never be recovered, according to people familiar with the investigation.

As the sprawling probe that includes regulators, criminal and congressional investigators, and court-appointed trustees grinds on, the findings so far suggest that a "significant amount" of the money could have "vaporized" as a result of chaotic trading at MF Global during the week before the company's Oct. 31 bankruptcy filing, a person close to the investigation was cited as saying Monday.

Many officials now believe certain employees at MF Global dipped into the "customer segregated account" that the New York company was supposed to keep separate from its own assets -- and then used the money to meet demands for more collateral or to unfreeze assets at banks and other counterparties as they grew more concerned about their financial exposure to MF Global.

Investigators also are examining other scenarios that have gained traction in recent weeks, such as the possibility that MF Global suffered steep losses on investments made using customer money. Officials investigating the case have looked into whether such investments were appropriate under rules at the time.

As money poured out of MF Global, much of it likely passed through J.P. Morgan Chase and other banks where the securities firm had accounts, as well as trade-clearing partners such as Depository Trust & Clearing and LCH.Clearnet Group, people familiar with the matter said.

Those companies have denied being knowingly in possession of any missing MF Global money, and any efforts to make them fill the hole would face daunting hurdles. And because the firms usually were middlemen between MF Global and other counterparties, the funds they touched were then scattered widely, complicating the search.

Of the $6 billion kept at MF Global by farmers, hedge funds, floor traders and other customers when panic erupted over its exposure to European sovereign debt and shaky financial outlook, about $5.3 billion has been located, according to James Giddens, the bankruptcy trustee for the securities firm's US-based brokerage operation.

But hundreds of millions of customer dollars are potentially snarled in litigation with other parts of MF Global, including its UK arm, and US officials might never be able to recover those funds. As a result, Giddens believes the shortfall is at least $1.2 billion, though regulators at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and CME Group, parent of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and New York Mercantile Exchange, have estimated the total is smaller than that.

Lawmakers have pushed for answers from Jon S. Corzine, the former New Jersey governor and Goldman Sachs Group chairman who led MF Global into its big European bet and was CEO when the company failed.

On Thursday, a House Financial Services subcommittee will zero in on the securities firm's risk-management practices and the role of credit-rating firms in the collapse. Among the people scheduled to testify at the hearing is Michael Roseman, a former chief risk officer at MF Global who raised serious concerns several times in 2010 about the growing bet on European bonds by Corzine.

So far, Giddens' office has returned about 72 percent of the money in customers' US accounts when MF Global filed for bankruptcy at the end of October. Money in accounts outside the US remains frozen, and officials have received few big breaks in the case.

To read more, go to The Wall Street Journal.

V-Mart has successful surgery on knee

Victor Martinez has more damage to his left knee than previously thought and will end up having two surgeries to repair the damage from his workout accident. But the added procedure shouldn't affect his timetable for returning next season.

After getting a second opinion from noted specialist Dr. Richard Steadman, Martinez underwent microfracture surgery and meniscus repairs last Friday and is still awaiting reconstructive surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament. He's still expected to miss the upcoming season, but he should be ready for Spring Training next year.

It's worse than the original diagnosis, but it's not really a surprise. According to multiple sources, it's also not as bad as it sounds. Essentially, the surgeries will get everything repaired around the same time.

Martinez blew out his left ACL little more than two weeks ago, when his right foot slipped during an agility drill. According to Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand, the impact of the fall also caused damage to his medial and lateral meniscus. He also suffered a chondral defect, which Rand compared to a divot on the end of one of the bones in the joint.

"When he tore his ACL, he had some collateral damage," Rand said.

That isn't unusual. Will Carroll, who writes about sports injuries for SI.com, said it's very rare for ACL injuries to not include other damage. He compared the microfracture surgery to fixing the shocks on a car ahead of the other work.

Dr. Victor Khabie, chief of sports medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York, agreed.
"When you tear your ACL, it's not uncommon to also tear some meniscus," Dr. Khabie said in a phone conversation. "What's a little unusual is the microfracture. That's not totally unusual. That just signifies a more severe injury than meets the eye. ...

"A lot of athletes will get microfractures along with the ACLs. It just doesn't get the attention."

If the divot analogy sounds familiar, it's the same type of injury that former Tiger Carlos Guillen suffered when Brett Gardner slid into his knee in August 2010. That, too, required microfracture surgery, albeit from a different surgeon. The relatively new procedure promotes healing by creating small fractures around the injury, promoting the creation of cartilage to cushion the bone.

Dr. Steadman, an innovator in the procedure, operated on Martinez last Friday at his clinic in Vail, Colo. Once Martinez recovers enough from that surgery, a process that's expected to take six to eight weeks, he'll have his ACL rebuilt. By having the microfracture surgery now and waiting on the next surgery, his rehab from the ACL procedure should be easier than if he had both surgeries at the same time.

"Dr. Steadman said you have much better outcomes if you repair the collateral damage first," Rand said.

Dr. Steadman performed microfracture surgeries in 2010 on Tigers outfielder Clete Thomas and Indians All-Star Grady Sizemore. Thomas came back from midseason surgery to full workouts last Spring Training, while Sizemore's recovery took about 10 months.

It's a little less predictable than ACL repairs, but it's becoming more common.

"In terms of science, it's a good operation," Dr. Khabie said. "It's actually withstood the test of time. It's one of the first things you think of when you hear about cartilage damage."

The Tigers were already expecting Martinez to miss the upcoming season, so this doesn't change anything in their plans. Detroit replaced one star hitter with a bigger one last week by signing All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract.

Any thought about Martinez catching again, however, is almost surely gone, though it might be physically possible for him to do it. Tigers officials were already planning on Martinez -- who turned 33 last month -- being a designated hitter for the rest of his contract, which runs through 2014. Former Tiger Gerald Laird returned in November to take over backup catching duties behind All-Star Alex Avila, with whom Laird shared catching duties in 2009 and '10.

Those plans came together soon after Martinez sprained his knee on a slide at home plate last August at Kansas City. Rand said an MRI exam taken near season's end showed no structural damage from that injury, so the Tigers don't believe that injury caused any damage revealed now. When Martinez's right foot slipped during an agility drill two weeks ago, Rand said, his weight all fell on his left leg before he could brace himself.

"It seems that when these things happen, a lot of times they happen not during play, but during workouts," Dr. Khabie said. "With these big guys, when their knees go, they just go."

NY Archdiocese employee accused of swiping over $1M

A 67-year-old Bronx woman who worked as an accounts payable clerk was busted today after authorities accused her of embezzling more than $1 million from the Archdiocese of New York.

Anita Collins worked in the Archdiocese's Manhattan headquarters and never informed her bosses that she'd been previously convicted of grand larceny in another case in 1999 when she worked for a temp agency.

The church never did a background check on Collins.

Joe Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, said church officials reported to the Manhattan DA's office last month that they had "uncovered what we initially believed to be the theft of at least $350,000."

He said the theft was "uncovered by the Archdiocese and our outside auditors following the implementation of enhanced financial oversight controls and safeguards in 2011."

Collins worked in accounts payable for the education finance office and was later promoted to work in its main office and manage the Archdiocese’s finances.

Cops say the fraud was elaborate. She sent the church invoices for fake services, then had the checks deposited into bank accounts she controlled.

Authorities said Collins allegedly issued 450 checks totaling less than $2,500 each to herself. Checks of $2,500 or less did not require approval from a supervisor.

Zwilling said the theft was "committed ... using a sophisticated fraud to manipulate the accounts payable system in the Department of Education Finance Office. As a result of the investigation conducted by the Manhattan DA and with the full cooperation of the Archdiocese, it has been determined that the amount stolen is approximately $1 million."

Collins had been an employee of the Archdiocese of New York since 2003 until her termination Dec. 6, when the fraud was uncovered.

"Because the Archdiocese seeks to always be good stewards of the money entrusted to us, we are continually working to improve our financial controls in order to prevent such occurrences from happening," Zwilling said. "That is why the Archdiocese notified the Archdiocesan Finance Council at the time the theft was uncovered, and continues to follow their advice and counsel.

"Sadly, there will always be individuals who seek to exploit and circumvent whatever system is established, but we will remain vigilant in our oversight."

In 1999, Collins had been convicted of grand larceny. She was sentenced to community service and 5 years probation, records show.

In a 2010 article in the Archdiocese newspaper Catholic New York, Collins was lauded for volunteering at St. Patrick's Cathedral when Archbishop Timothy Dolan presided over a mass welcoming 600 people to Catholicism.

"It's a wonderful day for the church of New York and it's great to see this new blood entering the church," Collins said of her faith. "Seeing people coming into the faith makes me feel good because my faith has always been a steadfast part of my life, and to me it's very heartwarming to see this. I think it's marvelous and I just love it."

Limited Quantities Available of our First Late Night Map

We’ve released the first-ever map showing the scheduled overnight service of the subway system, when three subway lines don’t run, three lines become shuttle trains, six express trains run as locals, and a night-only shuttle appears. The map has a gray background color to prevent confusion with the normal subway map.

The New York City Subway is the only large subway or metro system in the world to maintain service to all its stations around the clock. The overnight service shown in the night map runs generally from midnight to 6 a.m., although certain lines’ overnight service patterns depicted in the map may begin or end slightly earlier or later than these times.

The MTA has printed 25,000 copies of the map in tandem with its normal press run of a million copies of the standard subway and railroad map. The night map is available free of charge while supplies last at the New York Transit Museum, at Boerum Place & Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn, and at the Transit Museum Annex in Grand Central Terminal. The night map, developed in-house by the MTA, is the same size as the standard map and similarly folds into a handy pocket-sized document. In addition to the folded version, 300 pristine, unfolded press sheets of the night map are available for purchase at the Transit Museum Annex for $20 each. It has also been posted to the MTA’s website as a PDF, and can be viewed.

The reverse side of the map shows a work commissioned for MTA Arts for Transit, “City of Glass,” a faceted glass piece by Romare Bearden installed in the Westchester Square station in the Bronx in 1993. For each subsequent night map in the series, a new artwork will adorn the reverse side. The theme for 2012 is “night.” In “City of Glass,” jewel-like colored glass reveals a train wending its way through the canyons of towers and tenements under a full luminous moon. It is a moving work of art in brilliant color, filled with the vibrancy, excitement, and energy of the city, and is Bearden’s only glass art installation.

“The standard subway map depicts morning to evening weekday service,” said MTA Chairman Joseph J. Lhota. “This companion night map will, for the first time, depict service for a particular portion of the day. This is the latest effort we’ve taken to improve the availability of information and detail we provide to our customers.”

“We’ve never had a map showing late night service,” says Chuck Gordanier, senior marketing manager, who came up with the idea for the map and managed its development. “If you needed service information, there is station signage, but only for that station. This map gives you all of the nighttime service in one place.” Gordanier, who manages the MTA’s subway map, worked with NYC Transit’s Operations Planning Department to ensure accuracy of the information. He started the project in summer 2011. The original idea called for simply putting the map on the web for downloading. However, as the time neared to posting the Night Map online, the MTA was getting ready to reprint the regular map (which is done several times a year), and the idea of printing a limited run at the same time was born.

Customers using trains at night should use Trip Planner+ at MTA.info and MTA.info mobile, which also takes into account all planned work diversions.

Crane tells fans: Astros name remains the same

The Astros recently changed owners, will switch to the American League in 2013 and could have new uniforms then as well.

One thing that won't change is the team's name.

In an email sent to season-ticket holders on Monday, new owner Jim Crane informed fans that Houston's baseball team will continue to be known as the Astros.

Crane had hinted during a news conference last week to announce fan-friendly initiatives that management was considering changing the name of the franchise.

The thought of a possible name change caused a stir on Internet message boards and local sports talk radio stations. The majority of fans made it clear that they wanted the club to continue to be called the Astros, a name the team has had since it moved to the Astrodome in 1965.

"You asked for change, and we addressed our fan-friendly initiatives last week, and we hope you liked them," Crane told fans in a videotaped interview. "We will continue to listen and look for additional ways to improve on and off the field. One thing we're not going to change is the name. We received strong feedback and consensus among season-ticket holders and many fans, and we will not be changing [our name]. Astros are here to stay. We appreciate your support and look forward to seeing you at the ballpark soon."

The 2012 season marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise, which began play in 1962 as the Colt .45's.

Crane has held several meetings with season-ticket holders since taking over as owner in November and has been quick to listen to their concerns.

Last week the team announced that prices for more than 5,000 seats at Minute Maid Park have been lowered and also said that more affordable beer prices were going to be offered. And for the first time since Minute Maid Park opened, fans will be permitted to bring in their own food and beverages.
"We feel this is the right thing to do," Crane said during last week's news conference. "It is a way for us to let our fans know how vital they are to our success, and to let them know we've been listening to them."

Crane indicated that a uniform change is something management has been exploring for a while and that if the team does want to make a change prior to the '13 season, it will have to notify Major League Baseball sometime around the start of the '12 season.

If there are indeed new uniforms, the name across the front will stay. The Astros will remain.

Romney makes final pitch to Florida seniors, sings 'America the Beautiful'

THE VILLAGES, Fla. -- In his last campaign stop before results of Florida's presidential primary start rolling in Tuesday night, Mitt Romney led a crowd of senior citizens in singing "America the Beautiful."

Before breaking into song, Romney dealt with some substantive matters.

"I understand a few of you here are on Medicare," Romney joked. "That being the case, I hope you tell your friends … we will never go after Medicare or Social Security."

Romney largely relied on his normal stump speech, though he omitted mention of his primary GOP rival Newt Gingrich in his final event. But when he reached the part where he normally discusses one of his favorite patriotic hymns, "America the Beautiful," Romney sang it instead.

Seniors play an outsized role in Florida's Republican primary electorate because they're such a reliable constituency.

The Villages, a sprawling retirement community that bills itself as "Florida's Friendliest Retirement Hometown," is something of a fantasy-land for seniors. Tricked out golf carts dot the landscape and Monday's event, between the carnival-style stands selling elephant-ear pastries and cash bars, seemed to offer a delicacy on every corner.

The next time Romney will be face-to-face with voters is scheduled to be his Election Night party in Tampa, Tuesday evening. On Wednesday he'll continue his campaign in Minnesota and Nevada.

Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

Sheamus won the 30-Man Royal Rumble Match

ST. LOUIS — WWE fans are going to see a fight at this year’s WrestleMania.

Using his brute strength to triumph over 29 other Superstars, the mighty Sheamus was victorious in the Royal Rumble Match, dumping Chris Jericho to earn a World Title opportunity against a champion of his choosing at WrestleMania XXVII on April 1.

It was a grueling battle for the powerhouse who drew No. 22. Entering before a sold-out crowd that had already witnessed Ricardo Rodriguez rolling to the ring in an ’85 Datsun, Kofi Kingston walking on his hands to avoid elimination and Michael Cole jumping over the top rope to escape the wrath of Kharma,
The Celtic Warrior immediately made his presence felt by launching Kingston out of the ring.

From there, the Rumble became a demolition derby of battered bodies and unpredictable arrivals.

Booker T, Jerry “The King” Lawler and Michael Cole all left the broadcast booth at one point to try their luck in the bout, but were quickly sent back to their announce table with damaged egos. Old school fan favorites like Mick Foley, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and Road Dogg returned to rousing ovations — only to be chucked from the squared circle by dangerous upstarts like Cody Rhodes, Dolph Ziggler and Wade Barrett. Big Show, twice a runner-up in the Rumble, made a huge impact from the 30 spot, tossing Jack Swagger, Rhodes, The Miz and Ziggler in rapid succession.

When the Royal Rumble Match came down to the all-important final four, it was Big Show, Sheamus, Chris Jericho and Randy Orton left standing in the ring. Quickly, though, the 30-man melee was left to two men as The Viper heaved The World’s Largest Athlete only to be immediately eliminated by Jericho.

WWE fans, knowing they would see a first time Royal Rumble Match winner tonight, began to shake the Scottrade Center as Y2J and The Great White waged a dramatic battle for supremacy. When Jericho sent Sheamus over the top rope, the big man hung on and came right back. When The Celtic Warrior dismissed his opponent, Jericho would find a way to return.

The back-and-forth brawl pushed both men to their physical limit before the nefarious Superstar made the mistake of going for his patened Codebreaker. Snatching Jericho in midair, Sheamus deposited the man who promised “the end of the world” over the top rope and then blasted him with The Brogue Kick to make sure he was gone for good.

It was an important victory for the SmackDown Superstar. A year ago, The Celtic Warrior’s WrestleMania XXVI bout against Daniel Bryan was bumped from the card at the last minute. This year, he’ll be competing for a World Title. Don’t expect The Great White to let this opportunity slip through his fingers.

Rangers lock up Washington through 2014

Rangers manager Ron Washington, after leading his team to a second straight American League pennant and a club record 96 wins, has been rewarded with a two-year contract extension.

Washington, who is entering his sixth season as the Rangers manager, is now signed through 2014. The only AL manager with more job security than Washington is Mike Scioscia, who is signed with the Angels through 2018.

"It's a very happy day for all the Rangers," general manager Jon Daniels said. "You can't find a manager more beloved in the community and the organization than Ron. He has been a huge part of our success."

"I'm happy for Wash," infielder Michael Young said. "He deserves it. He's a lifelong baseball man and knows everything we go through. He's loyal, honest and a good communicator. We're a better team with him as our manager."

Washington was hired by Daniels after the 2006 season and is now the third-longest-tenured manager in Rangers history with 810 games. He trails Bobby Valentine, who managed the Rangers for 1,186 games from 1985-92, and Johnny Oates, who managed them for 983 games in 1995-2001.

The Rangers are 427-383 under Washington and have won two straight American League pennants. Both times they ended up losing in the World Series, to the Giants in 2010 and the Cardinals in 2011.
Washington said "trust, opportunity and support," are what comes to mind when he looks back on his first five years with the Rangers.

"J.D. took a chance, looking back five years ago, on a novice manager," Washington said. "He believed I could be the guy who could take this organization in the right direction. We've achieved that, but most importantly we've achieved that as a family and as a solid unit. I don't think our success could have happened without the whole organization being a part of it."

The Rangers were 75-87 under Washington in his first year and increased their win totals in each of the next four seasons. His .527 winning percentage is the highest for a Rangers manager with at least two full seasons. He was second in the voting for AL Manager of the Year in 2010 and third in '11.

"I think, when Wash joined us, he came in right as we were starting a rebuilding program and it was something he embraced wholeheartedly," Daniels said. "This was his first opportunity to manage at the big league level, and some guys might not have wanted to sign on to a long-term project like that.

"Our guys love playing for this manager. You see it every day and a national-baseball audience saw it the last two Octobers. A team takes on the personality of its manager. That's the most important thing for me and our guys really respond to him."

Washington said he continues to get better as a manager.

"I think what causes that improvement is dealing with the fact that you don't know everything," Washington said. "I tell that to my players. I'm open-minded and willing to learn. That's the way I was brought up and the way I am now. I've gained a lot of experience and I try to use those experiences on the field. The longer I'm a manager, the better I'm going to be. As each year comes and goes, the better I'm going to be."

Only five other managers have been with their current team longer than Washington: Scioscia, Ron Gardenhire of the Twins, Charlie Manuel of the Phillies, Jim Leyland of the Tigers and Joe Maddon of the Rays.

Washington will be surrounded with the same coaching staff that finished last season: pitching coach Mike Maddux, bench coach Jackie Moore, outfield coach Gary Pettis, third-base coach Dave Anderson, bullpen coach Andy Hawkins and hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh.

Giants won't take Brady's bait

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Giants don’t expect to make any bold predictions this year, and they don’t think much of Tom Brady’s trash talk, either.

Brady told 25,000 Patriots fans at Gillette Stadium on Sunday that “hopefully we’ll have a lot more people at our party next weekend.” The quote made the back pages but didn’t get much notice from Giants players.

“What is he supposed to say? I don’t think Tom’s doing anything, but getting the fans riled up,” defensive tackle Justin Tuck said a couple hours after the Giants arrived here and made their first media appearance.

Giants guard Chris Snee even agreed with the Patriots quarterback.

“If they win they should have a huge party, that’s the way this thing goes,” Snee said. “If you come out victorious in this game you should celebrate for a long time.”

"I am already, ready," Snee said of the comment providing any extra motivation.

The Giants did that four years ago when they beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. And in the week leading up to the game, then Giants receiver Plaxico Burress predicted his team would defeat 18-0 New England, 23-17. He wasn’t far off as the Giants won, 17-14, but Snee said he nor his teammates won't make a similar call.

“I am not going to do that,” Snee said. "If you need to me motivated by someone predicting a score to get up for this game then you probably shouldn’t be here.

“I’m sure when they heard it they probably laughed it off four years ago and I am sure that wasn’t what got them fired up for the game. That being said, I don’t think anyone on our team will do that.”

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Humber determined to prove himself worthy

The particular question presented to Philip Humber during Friday's SoxFest media session at the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago sent the right-handed hurler into an immediate moment of amusement.

It wasn't an inquiry concerning his present hold on the rotation's fifth spot as Spring Training fast approaches or a request for analysis concerning his breakout effort from 2011. This one elicited a much easier and quicker response.

How was his head?

Not exactly a commonplace line of thought in Major League Baseball circles, but it fit perfectly into the Humber storyline. On Aug. 18, Humber took a Kosuke Fukudome line drive just above the right eye with one out in the second inning of Cleveland's 4-2 victory at U.S. Cellular Field.

Humber flopped back upon contact and clutched his face, a look causing pain for everyone in the ballpark. But he jumped up instantly to search for the baseball and escaped with just a bruise. By Sept. 5, Humber was back on the mound at Target Field.

In probing deeper throughout this moment, it basically serves as a metaphor for Humber's career. The game can take its best shot in trying to knock him down, but Humber simply keeps pitching.

Even with manager Robin Ventura giving Humber the forceful late-January nod to join John Danks, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd and Chris Sale, he won't believe sturdy ground lies beneath him or that he's out of harm's way in securing a regular rotation turn.

"No, I don't look at it that way," said the laid-back but driven Texan. "I look at it like every day I want to prove to myself, regardless of what someone says, whether I have this spot or that spot.

"I want to prove myself that I belong in the big leagues and I belong on this team. I'm going to keep taking that attitude from here on out. But I enjoy the opportunity and then the chance to go out there and show people what I can do."

Just one year ago, these confident but cautious comments probably would have resonated a bit more coming from Humber as he was far removed from a SoxFest presence. He actually was claimed off waivers by the White Sox from the A's on Jan. 18, 2011, almost one month to the day when the A's claimed Humber off of waivers from the Royals.

This third pick overall by the Mets in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft now was a professional simply trying to stick with a team for five weeks. He went into Spring Training with a shot to become a long reliever or potentially a fill-in starter as Peavy recovered from surgery to reattach his lat muscle, but in all honesty, the 29-year-old, who never appeared in more than eight Major League games during a previous single season simply, was grateful for the opportunity.

"There probably were points in years before that that I was thinking, 'I'm not ever going to stick,' and it just didn't look like I was going to get that opportunity," Humber said. "I'm definitely thankful for the White Sox giving me that opportunity and how the year went.

"I'm coming in with the same focus, and I didn't work any differently this year than I did last offseason. I'm going out there like I have something to prove. I don't have anything to lose, and I'm excited to get back."

Humber does have newfound expectations based in results to carry on the heels of his impressive 2011 effort. Take away Mark Buehrle, which the Marlins did through free agency during the past offseason, and Humber was the club's most consistent starting pitcher.

His ongoing first-half success, producing an 8-5 record with a 3.10 ERA over 16 starts, including a one-hitter over seven innings thrown at Yankee Stadium on April 25, forced the White Sox to keep Humber and temporarily move to a six-man rotation. Many believe Humber's exclusion from the Midsummer Classic was a classic All-Star oversight.

That eye-opening excellence turned into a 1-4 record with a 5.01 ERA over 10 post All-Star starts. Those struggles, though, were part of Humber's learning process.

Another phase of that mound growth for Humber is learning to avoid the dreaded comebacker. While pitching in a game for the Triple-A Omaha Royals on June 10, 2010, Humber took a Luis Cruz line drive to the face and ended up getting 18 stitches to the right of his mouth. He got hit in the back during a Minor League rehab start last year but was not hurt.

Let's go back to that original question, though, concerning Humber's head. Did it survive Fukudome's direct hit?

"Honestly, it looked a whole lot worse than it was," said Humber, who is expecting a son with wife Kristan. "I had a little bruise for a while. I kept looking in the mirror like, 'What is that?' Then I would remember, 'Oh yeah. I got hit in the face.'

"Really, it's one of those things serving as a constant reminder. But I got a new glove this year. It's a bigger glove. Hopefully, that will protect my face a little bit better and hopefully I'll be quicker about getting out of the way."

Opposing hitters should know better than to come after Humber. With 130 Minor League games under his belt, of which 120 were starts, and six seasons spent in the Minors before arriving, Humber is the definition of a big league survivor.

No Tiger comeback as Rock wins Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Robert Rock held his nerve Sunday to hold off U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship for the biggest win of the Englishman's career.

The 117th-ranked Rock shot a 2-under 70 for an overall 13-under 275 to beat the 22-year Northern Irishman by a shot and the 14-time major winner by two. Woods finished in a tie for third with Thomas Bjorn (68) and Graeme McDowell (68). Matteo Manassero (69), the 18-year-old Italian, and George Coetzee (70) of South Africa were a further shot back.

Woods started the final round tied for the lead with the unheralded Rock. He appeared poised to win his second tournament in a row after ending a two-year winless drought with a victory last month at the Chevron World Challenge.

But the control Woods displayed for much of the weekend abandoned him Sunday, and it was Rock who held it together down the stretch.

"I didn't hit the ball as well as I would like to," Woods said. "Today I was just a touch off. I was righting the ball through the fairways. I was hitting the ball a little bit further than I thought I would ... So something to look at, and something to try and figure out."

Woods started strong and it looked as though he might pull away from Rock, sinking a 40-footer on No. 2 for birdie and chipping to within a foot of the cup for a second birdie on the 3rd. But Rock — who said Saturday he was a bit overwhelmed to face his idol — didn't blink. He also birdied two of the first three holes to keep pace.

Then Woods began to unravel.

He started spraying his drives into the thick rough and fairway bunkers, resulting in the first of three bogeys. When Woods wasn't missing the fairways, he was scrambling to save par as he did on the 11th when overshooting the green. As he approached his shot in deep rough just off the 11th green, he sighed heavily and let out a stream of obscenities under his breath.

Woods managed to save par on 11 by sinking a 12-footer and Rock just missed a birdie putt. Woods pumped his fist and appeared to be regaining momentum as he pulled within one shot of Rock on No. 13 when the Englishman had one of his three bogeys. But the 34-year-old Rock birdied two of the next three holes to seize control.

Rock wobbled on the 18th when his drive landed in a pile of rocks near the water — forcing him to take a drop. But he recovered beautifully, reaching the green in four and then two-putting for the win.
"It's pretty hard to believe that I managed to win today. Very surprised," said Rock. "I played good. So I guess I had a chance from early on, a couple of birdies made the day feel a little bit easier."

"But it's difficult playing with Tiger. You expect almost every shot to threaten to go in. I felt a lot of pressure and couldn't afford any lapses in concentration at all."

Rock said he drew strength from the struggles of Woods and his other playing partner Peter Hanson (78) and used that to bounce back from several bogeys.

"I was just focusing on trying to hit fairways and then hit my iron shots as good as I have been and give myself chances at birdies," Rock said. "Both Tiger and Peter struggled on occasions on a few holes and I managed to keep my ball in the right position and didn't put myself under too much stress until the last, which was a relief."

It was a storybook ending for Rock, who rose from a club pro to join the tour in 2003 and only got his first tour win last year at the Italian Open. The victory will elevate him into the top 60.

"It doesn't get an awful lot harder than playing with Tiger Woods," Rock said. "So I guess barring a major championship, I know I can handle that again. So that's pretty nice to know."

The loss is the second straight time Woods has failed to win with at least a share of the lead after 54 holes. He lost the Chevron World Challenge in 2010 after going into the final round with a four-shot lead over McDowell.

Woods acknowledged it wasn't the way he wanted to start the 2012 season but said he took solace from the control he showed the first three days and the putts he made over the final three.

"Obviously the ultimate goal is to win and I didn't win," said Woods, who missed out on his 84th career win.

"I hit the ball good enough to win the golf tournament this week," he said. "Today I just didn't give myself enough looks at it. Most of my putts were lag putts. I didn't drive the ball in as many fairways as I should have. Some of the balls were running through. Other balls, I was just missing. It was a day I was just a touch off off the tee and consequently I couldn't get the ball close enough to give myself looks."

While most of the attention was on Rock and Woods, several players surged into contention down the stretch.

McIlroy, playing ahead of Rock and Woods, birdied 18 to move to 12 under and give himself a chance. But he came up short with four rounds of par or better golf being undone by several costly mistakes — the worst coming Friday when the third-ranked McIlroy was penalized two shots for brushing away sand in front of his ball in the rough of the 9th.

"You know, you've got to take the positives," McIlroy said. "It's the first week of the year, and you know, it looks like it's going to be the second year in a row here that I'll finish second. But still a very good start to the season and something I'll build on."

McDowell played the most exciting round of the tournament on Sunday, with an ace on No. 12, a chip-in on 13 and then a shot off the grandstand at 18 that led to a birdie and a tie for third. For the 2010 U.S. Open champion, it was a good way to start the year after failing to win in 2011.

"Any time you come back in 31 shots on a Sunday, semi in the mix is always a good day's work," said McDowell. "It was certainly an eventful last seven holes with a hole-in-one and a nice ricochet off the grandstand at the last."

Mauer declares himself healthy, rarin' to go

After dealing with a range of injuries and illnesses that plagued him during the 2011 season, Joe Mauer said Saturday that his offseason has been going to plan and that he's fully healthy.

Mauer, looking like he's back at his normal playing weight, started baseball activities recently -- he's throwing and hitting off a tee -- and hasn't been bothered by his left knee. He had arthroscopic surgery on that knee last offseason, and tried to come back too quickly, which led to his well-documented case of bilateral leg weakness that forced him to miss 58 games early in the season.

"The knee's been feeling great," Mauer said during a TwinsFest appearance. "The last year and a half, just trying to compensate for that kind of took a toll on my whole body. I don't think it's going to be an issue. I'm feeling good, so I'm excited. This is the best I've felt in a long time. I'm excited about that."

Mauer was just six weeks removed from knee surgery this time last year, and said there's a drastic difference between the way he felt then and how he feels now.

"This point last year, for me it's been night and day physically for how I feel," Mauer said. "I really was just kind of doing rehab stuff with the knee. I don't think I grabbed a bat until, I don't even know, later. I feel good. I'm excited to get out there on the field and move around. Things are a lot better for me physically than they were last year."

Mauer, 28, was limited to 82 games last season, as he missed time with bilateral leg weakness, neck stiffness, a viral infection and an upper respiratory infection that turned into a bout with pneumonia that ended his season on Sept. 14.

Mauer fully recovered from pneumonia in November, and has been working out in Florida under the guidance of Twins strength coach Perry Castellano. He's incorporated a few new workouts into his routine, and also has been doing pool workouts at the club's Spring Training facility in Fort Myers.

He said he started swinging the bat and throwing about a week and a half ago, and that he should be ready to go once pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 18. He said he's looking forward to seeing live pitching once again once camp opens, but that he's not quite at that point yet.

"That's what we're working toward," Mauer said. "I haven't been in that situation yet, but just swinging off the tee, I'm feeling a lot better. Just the work I've been doing to this point, I'm feeling a lot better."

Mauer only started 42 games behind the plate last year and would certainly like to increase that number, but wouldn't get into specifics about how many games he'd like to catch. He caught 112 games in 2010 and 109 games in 2009, when he was named the American League's Most Valuable Player.

"I've never really been a guy to put a number on things, especially like average or home runs or things like that," Mauer said. "I just want to get out there and play. Games played is important to me and one positive I can take out of last year is that I can go over to first base and feel a little more comfortable about that idea. If it keeps my bat in the lineup and helps the team out, that will be good."

Mauer, who played 18 games at first base last year, said he's open to seeing time there again this season because it helps give him a breather from the rigors of catching. But he said he plans on being the club's primary catcher with occasional spells at first base and designated hitter.

He also expressed optimism about the health of first baseman Justin Morneau and center fielder Denard Span, saying he was fired up to hear how they've been doing this offseason.

"Absolutely, especially after the year we had last year injury-wise," Mauer said. "We had a lot of guys not out on the field, so to see those guys smiling and saying that they're healthy is definitely a good thing."

At least 9 die in wrecks on smoke-shrouded Fla. highway

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Hazy fog and heavy smoke from a brush fire clouded a north Florida interstate overnight, leaving drivers blinded and causing wrecks that killed at least nine people, authorities said today.

Photographs taken this morning showed the burned-out shells of at least two vehicles and a tractor-trailer, with gray smoke still rising above the asphalt on an otherwise desolate Interstate 75.

Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Patrick Riordan said the pileups happened around 3:45 a.m. on both sides of I-75 south of Gainesville. All lanes of the interstate — there are three lanes running each direction — remained closed as investigators began trying to figure out exactly what caused the wrecks. Vehicles were still smoldering, and firefighters sprayed foam to try to put out the fires.

Cars appeared to have smashed into tractor-trailers and, in one case, a motor home. Some cars were badly crushed beneath the wreckage of the larger rigs.

Riordan said several people were injured and taken to Gainesville hospitals. Their conditions were unclear.

At least 18 people hurt in the wreck were being treated at Shands at the University of Florida, said hospital spokeswoman Allison Wilson.

Donna Henry told The Gainesville Sun that she was driving south on the interstate at 3:45 a.m. when she encountered the smoke.

"We just hit it, and you couldn't see anything," said Henry, who was driving with friends back home to Palm Bay. She said her car struck a guardrail and ended up sideways in the outside lane. She pulled off the highway and called 911. She told the paper that she could hear the other crashes.

"You heard like 15 times somebody hit, from this side and that, north and south. It was bad."

The visibility was so bad that first responders trying to tend to the wounded could hear the chilling sounds of squealing tires as new crashes were occurring, the Sun reported.

“That's a very scary thing when you can't see anything and hear the squealing of tires and don't know if 2,000 pounds of metal is coming at you,” Alachua County Sheriff's Sgt. Todd Kelly said.

The FHP had briefly closed the highway before the crashes because of a mixture of fog and smoke from a marsh fire in the Paynes Prairie area south of Gainesville. Officers patrolling the highway had reopened the road when visibility improved.

Riordan said he is not sure how much time passed between the reopening of the highway and the first crash.

Riordan said this is the worst accident he's seen in his 27-year career with FHP.

Traffic is being diverted onto U.S. 301 and State Road 27, Riordan said.

Heavy fog and smoke were blamed for another serious crash four years ago. In January 2008, four people were killed and 38 injured in a series of similar crashes on Interstate 4 between Orlando and Tampa, about 125 miles south of Sunday's crash. More than 70 vehicles were involved in those crashes, including one pileup that involved 40 vehicles.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Brother of woman who claims Kelly assaulted her in NYPD

The woman who claims she was raped by the newsman son of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is an aspiring model and actress — with a brother in the top cop’s department, The New York Post has learned.

The 29-year-old woman refused to discuss the allegations as she left her paralegal job at a Financial District law firm — the same office where she claimed Fox 5 anchor Greg Kelly sexually assaulted her last October.

The accuser — whose identity is being withheld by The New York Post — shook her head and walked away when asked about the case, including whether she was happy with how it has been handled by the Manhattan district attorney.

Investigators for DA Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office, including the head of the sex-crimes unit, spent all day Thursday grilling the woman about her story, and believe that she is not credible and that the sex was consensual, sources said.

And there are no witnesses to back up her claims.

“It looks like they’re going to just kick it around until it’s absolutely dead . . . It’s ‘he said, she said,’ ” a source said.

“Everybody [the woman and Kelly] was a happy camper until the boyfriend found out.”

The woman told police that Kelly got her pregnant and that she had an abortion.

Investigators aren’t doubting that story.

They believe her boyfriend grew suspicious because she refused to have sex with him. She finally confessed that she couldn’t sleep with him because she had undergone an abortion.

Angered, the boyfriend confronted Ray Kelly at a public event.

As the DA’s doubts escalated, new details emerged about Greg Kelly’s accuser.

She is a brunette whose brother is a crime-scene investigator for the NYPD.

He’s described by a source as a “hard-nosed hard worker” who had previously worked in the Internal Affairs Bureau.

“We have no comment, thank you,” the sergeant’s wife said at their home.

The accuser has modeling photos on a talent-agency Web site. She is featured in an array of photos, including fashion shots.

The woman’s Facebook page includes photos of her and her boyfriend sitting cozily together.

The unmarried Greg Kelly — a former Marine who co-hosts Fox 5 TV’s “Good Day New York” — has denied raping the woman, and has provided the DA’s Office with text messages that they exchanged after their encounter and which he believes will clear him.

But the 43-year-old Greg Kelly has not denied having sex with her in her law-firm offices after drinking with her in a South Street Seaport bar.

A source said Ray Kelly has seen the bar bill from that night, and has privately said it was “laughably low” — which helps knock down the claim that she was drunk.

The accuser first made the complaint Tuesday at the 13th Precinct station house, and detectives turned the case over to the Manhattan DA to avoid a conflict of interest.

At some point before she went to the cops, her boyfriend accosted the police commissioner at a public function and told him his son “ruined my girlfriend’s life.”

The commissioner told him to write a letter detailing his accusations, though it appears the boyfriend never followed through.

Greg Kelly on Thursday took an indefinite leave of absence from his co-hosting duties on “Good Day New York” on Fox 5.

The station is owned by News Corp., The New York Post’s parent company.

Ray Kelly yesterday refused to answer repeated questions from reporters about his son.

“You’re gonna have to ask the DA,” the commissioner said. “All those questions are for the district attorney.”

Prospect Pomeranz ready to cash in on potential

The Rockies have been lauding left-hander Drew Pomeranz as an important figure in their future from the day they acquired him from the Indians in the deal that sent star pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland.

Turns out Pomeranz doesn't necessarily need to be praised to produce.

"Last year I went to Indians Spring Training, and the first day they sat me down and said, 'Oh, you're not competing for a spot,'" Pomeranz said. "That fired me up a little bit. I was like, 'Oh, really? I'm not?' I went out and didn't give up a hit the whole big league camp."

The Indians certainly had nothing anything against Pomeranz, their top Draft pick in 2010, it was just his first spring camp. But Pomeranz's performance in 2011 -- a dominant year in the Minors and some encouraging late-season outings for the Rockies, even though he was coming off an August appendectomy -- has led to accelerated expectations, and this week MLB.com tabbed him as the 24th-best prospect in baseball.

"This time it's a different kind of excitement, just to know that I can actually be there this time," Pomeranz said. "I'll find a way to get fired up. You don't have to worry about that."

At 23, Pomeranz is young by Major League standards, but he's right in line with the Rockies in their current state. The Jimenez trade, which also brought in 23-year-old Alex White, was the start of a stockpiling of young power pitchers. The Rockies also have traded with the Angels for Tyler Chatwood, 21, and with the Athletics for Guillermo Moscoso, a comparatively ancient 28, and Josh Outman, 27.

Those pitchers are being added to potential ace Jhoulys Chacin, 24; an experienced righty in Jason Hammel, 29; and a set of prospects from within the organization in Juan Nicasio, 25, and Esmil Rogers, 26.

Even though Pomeranz has made four starts in the bigs (2-1, 5.40 ERA), he enters 2012 an unknown at the Major League level, mainly because he was pitching with his timing and health compromised.

The trade with the Indians was on July 30, but Major League Baseball rules prohibit a player from being traded until a calendar year after he signs his first pro contract. Thus Pomeranz was essentially frozen until Aug. 17. Then, three days after his debut at Double-A Tulsa, in which he took a perfect game into the seventh inning and gave up two hits in seven innings, Pomeranz was undergoing an emergency appendectomy.

He recovered quickly enough to throw three innings in Tulsa's final game and join the big club.

Pomeranz threw five scoreless innings in his debut, a Sept. 11 home win over the Reds, and pitched well in every game but one, giving up six hits and seven runs in two innings at Houston. But at no point did he display the high-end velocity, or much else, that had marked his strong Spring Training with the Indians.

"I didn't really have my curveball," he said. "My changeup was all right. I didn't have my best fastball. Surely, I learned a lot from the pitching side of it, having to go out there and pitch when I didn't have my best stuff.

"Last year is the first year that I had a ball that was running a little bit and cutting. I was still throwing a lot of fastballs, but they weren't straight. That helped me out."

Now, not only is Pomeranz healthy, he reports that the movement his fastball had at the end of last year returned with his first bullpen session this offseason at Ole Miss, where he pitched in college. The Rockies hope that he can combine his best fastball with the lessons he learned when he didn't have it.

"I was very impressed with what I saw," manager Jim Tracy said, "but what can he become? He has a chance to become pretty special. It's going to be pretty interesting to watch it evolve."

Exclusive: Soap actor commits suicide after pup's 'forced' euthanasia

A down-on-his-luck soap-opera actor took his own life this week after he was forced to put his beloved dog to sleep under pressure from his Upper West Side condo and became wracked by grief, pals said.

Nick Santino euthanized his dog, Rocco, Tuesday — on Santino’s 47th birthday. That night, his guilt over the gut-wrenching decision became too much to bear.

“Today I betrayed my best friend and put down my best friend,” a despondent Santino wrote in a suicide note, said close friend Stuart Sarnoff.

“Rocco trusted me and I failed him. He didn’t deserve this.”

The Brooklyn-born Santino — a struggling actor whose TV credits include “All My Children” and “Guiding Light” — adopted Rocco from a shelter several years ago.

The man, raised in an orphanage and foster homes, soon began to write about his pet on Facebook, writing, “I did not rescue Rocco, Rocco rescued me.”

But in 2010, his building at 1 Lincoln Plaza announced strict new dog regulations, including a ban on pit bulls.

The ban didn’t apply to pit bulls already in the building, but friends and neighbors said Santino began to be harassed.

“People were complaining about his dog,” said neighbor Kevan Cleary, 63, an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School. “It was open season on him.”

Rocco couldn’t ride in the main elevators and wasn’t allowed to be left in the apartment alone for more than nine hours.

Santino was then threatened with a $250 fine for having a barking dog, neighbors said.

“The dog was not a barker, but somebody complained that the dog would bark,” Cleary said.

“He felt like he was in this battle because he was the only guy in the building with a pit-bull mix,” Cleary added.

Another neighbor, Lia Pettigrew, who runs a pet-care company, said, “Everybody knows that he had been harassed by the building management.”

The building’s management refused to comment yesterday.

After months of increasing anguish, Santino had the healthy dog put to sleep Tuesday.

Neighbors said a tearful Santino brought dog treats to the building’s doorman and said: “Give these to the other dogs. Rocco is no more.”

Dog owner James Steven Grant said Santino left two rawhide bones on his doorstep and earlier was seen tearfully giving away Rocco’s fluffy bed.

“Rocco was the sweetest dog in the world. Rocco wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Grant said.

A veterinarian told Santino that Rocco was becoming aggressive — and Santino blamed it on his own depression.

He spent Tuesday in agony over what he had done to Rocco.

“He was distraught and remorseful about putting down his best friend,” Cleary said.

The last phone call he made was to a former girlfriend at 2 a.m. Wednesday. Later that day, police found his body in his bedroom. He had overdosed on pills.

Rocco has been cremated, and friends said Santino’s remains will be, too, and they will be reunited.

“One way or another, their ashes will be together forever,” Sarnoff said.

On the mend, Morneau starts baseball activities

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau was a walking injury list last season, as he battled concussion symptoms while also undergoing surgeries on his neck, left wrist, left knee and right foot.

But Morneau, who played in just 69 games because of the various injuries, said Friday that he's optimistic he'll be healthy and ready to go once Spring Training starts next month.

"Last year I was more hopeful [than optimistic]," said Morneau, who also missed the second half of the 2010 season with a concussion suffered in early July of that year. "I don't know if there's really a big difference between hopeful and optimistic, but hopeful's kind of wishing everything's going to be really good. I'm optimistic. I think I'm looking forward to it and feel a little more confident that it's going to be better."

Morneau received good news from Dr. Thomas Varecka on Friday, as he's on track to start taking soft toss next week and should be ready to face live pitching by the time he reports to Fort Myers, Fla.

Morneau talked with Varecka about his left wrist, which was surgically repaired on Sept. 30 to stabilize a tendon. Morneau was in a cast for six weeks and a splint for another six weeks after the operation, but he said it's feeling much better.

"I was ahead of schedule, so he's just being cautious, he's just sort of letting me be my guide," Morneau said.

"There's a little bit of tightness on the other side [of the wrist]. Kind of like having a tight hamstring, you wouldn't just try to touch your toes, he doesn't want anything to happen on the other side of wrist."

Morneau said he's already started baseball activities, taking ground balls at first base and hitting off a tee.

He added that the concussion symptoms that were re-triggered last season after a routine diving play at first base in late August have slowly gone away.

"I've been pretty good since December," Morneau said. "I get headaches every once in a while, whether or not they're concussion-related, it's hard to say. I'm sure you get headaches; people get headaches every once in a while. So it's hard to pinpoint that stuff. As far as the fogginess, I haven't gotten to that point where I've overexerted myself. Everything's been built up gradually, so everything's been pretty good so far -- especially since the calendar turned to January."

Morneau has been doing his usual workouts since early January, and said he's recovered from having a cyst removed from his left knee and a bone spur removed from his right foot on Aug. 19. But he said that he still has numbness in his left index finger that stems from a pinched nerve in his neck that was operated on in late June.

He also changed his diet and lost 20 pounds as a result after undergoing a food allergy test, which detected he's sensitive to sugars, gluten and dairy.

But he said his main goal remains to be healthy enough to play first base next season, as there's been talk that he could be relegated to designated-hitter duty if he's not fully healthy.

"I feel like I can help this team the most at first," Morneau said. "I have the most experience at first of anyone on our roster. I said this before, if I'm not healthy enough to play first base then I probably shouldn't be DHing, either. If there's that much risk for me playing first base and just diving for a ball, then the risk of being hit [by a pitch] is probably a lot higher, and the long-term effects would probably be a lot worse."

Morneau, though, received some perspective earlier in the day after meeting with 16-year-old Jack Jablonski, who was paralyzed when he was checked into the boards during a junior varsity high school hockey game in the Minneapolis area on Dec. 30.

Morneau, who was joined by fellow Twins Glen Perkins, Drew Butera, Jason Marquis and Matt Capps, said he was touched by Jablonski's cheerful and optimistic attitude.

"It was amazing to see how positive he was," Morneau said. "They said he'd never move his left arm but we were in there watching him do rehab and he's moving his left arm and shaking our hands with our right hands. It's amazing to see how excited and how positive he was."