Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wild Card expansion for 2012 talks ongoing

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are working toward a Thursday deadline to expand the playoffs by adding two additional Wild Card teams overall, creating a one-game first-round playoff in each league, beginning with the 2012 postseason.

The new format was set late last year for a 2013 inception in the new five-year Basic Agreement between the owners and union. The two sides had a deadline of about two months to negotiate the logistics of beginning it a year early.

A report on Wednesday that the deal is nearly complete could not be confirmed. A highly placed source said negotiations between the two sides were ongoing and that work still had to be done.

The agreement expands the Wild Card by adding two additional teams, one each in the American and National Leagues. The three division winners in each league would await the survivor of the one-game Wild Card playoff, establishing the Division Series field. The subsequent DS, League Championship Series and World Series formats would remain the same.

This has been the logistical problem: The regular season ends this year on Wednesday, Oct. 3, leaving only two days for travel, weather problems, plus season-ending tiebreakers for division titles and Wild Card berths and the Wild Card play-in games prior to the start of playoffs on Saturday, Oct. 6. The World Series is slated to start on Wednesday, Oct. 24.

This year's schedule was long set before collective bargaining ended with a new agreement on Nov. 21.

The expanded playoffs were linked this past November to the sale of the Astros by Drayton McLane to Houston businessman Jim Crane and their move from the NL to the AL, effective for the 2013 season. The Commissioner's Office and the union collaborated on those developments during last year's months of collective-bargaining negotiations.

The Astros' shift from the NL Central to the AL West will give each league 15 teams and all six divisions five clubs.

MLB has been studying how to expand the playoffs for at least two years, and it became a hot topic of discussion in Commissioner Bud Selig's 14-man special committee that has been studying on-field improvements of the sport.

The playoff and realignment matters had to be collectively bargained because they involve scheduling, and the union made it clear that any playoff expansion would be tied to moving a team from the six-team NL Central to the four-team AL West to create better competitive balance.

Michael Weiner, the union's executive director, ultimately said that the playoff expansion wouldn't have happened without the Astros' move into the AL.

The current Wild Card format and three divisions in each league were adopted in 1994. From 1969-93, there were two divisions in each league and a League Championship Series between the first-place teams as a prelude to the World Series. Prior to 1969, only the pennant winners in each league met in the World Series.

The new format means that 10 of the 30 teams make the postseason. The addition Wild Cards will place a premium on winning the division title for several reasons: The division winner will get at least a couple of days to breathe before the start of each Division Series, plus it won't have to burn up perhaps its best starting pitcher to win a play-in game.

Jacobs won't 'sell soul' to stay with Giants

Brandon Jacobs knows the only way he remains with the Giants is if he accepts a cut in salary, and he’s already stated he’s willing to do that. But he will only go so far when it comes to giving back money.

“I want to stay in New York a whole lot, man, because this is where I started,” Jacobs said Wednesday in an interview with Bruce Beck of WNBC-TV. “It’s a great organization. I got wonderful, great teammates. I won a second Super Bowl here with this organization. But I’m not willing to sell my soul, you know? It’s a great organization and I want to be a part of it, but if not, if they’re not feeling the same way, then so be it.”

Jacobs, scheduled to make $4.4 million in 2012, has a $500,000 bonus to be paid on March 17 if he is on the roster. If an adjusted contract agreement cannot be reached before that, it is likely Jacobs would be cut before the Giants opt to pay him the bonus.

NFL free agency begins March 13, so a decision regarding Jacobs is looming in the next two weeks.

“I have no idea,” Jacobs said when asked what he expected will happen. “I don’t know what they’re thinking. I want to be here. If not, there are 31 other teams out there.

“As far as I’m concerned, I got another year left on my contract. I don’t know why I’m sitting here saying all this stuff. If they want it to work out it’s going to work out. If they don’t want it to work out, it’s not going to work out. That’s all I can say.”

Jacobs, 29, accepted a pay cut prior to last season, a move that kept him on the roster. He did not have a big season, rushing 152 times for 571 yards and seven touchdowns. It his least-productive season since 2006.

“I feel like I’m 25 years old,” Jacobs said. “I feel really good. I’m not banged up, didn’t have any surgeries this offseason. I didn’t have any problems. Nothing is hurting me. I feel like I can give somebody about three more years. I’m looking forward to being done after that, but right now I’m not done. I’ve still got a lot of gas in my tank and I’m ready to go.”

Morneau encouraged, feels no symptoms

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins first baseman Justin Morneau has been encouraged by his first five days in camp, as he's yet to suffer any setbacks or miss any workouts due to concussion-like symptoms.

Morneau said Wednesday that he's hopeful that he'll be in the starting lineup on Saturday when the Twins open Grapefruit League play against the Rays, but he's yet to receive official word from manager Ron Gardenhire.

Morneau also wanted to clarify his comments he made on Friday, when he said that if he continues to suffer from concussion-like symptoms, he won't have a career.

At first, he joked when asked if he heard about the frenzy he created on Twitter with fans worrying about his potential early retirement, asking, "What's Twitter?" He then got serious about explaining his original comments.

"I think there was a lot of positive things we talked about," Morneau said. "I was asked a question, I gave an honest answer and that was it. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that if the stuff continues I probably wouldn't be able to play again. It wasn't anything other than stating the obvious.

"I also said that I don't expect that to happen. I don't anticipate that to happen. That's something that's in the back, maybe five percent, of my mind. But you have to look at all the options and everything that's happened. You kind of look to see what you want to be besides a baseball player when you're done playing. Sometimes you have control when that is and most of the time you don't.

"Most of the time, guys are still trying to play and either their body doesn't let them or whatever it is or there's other guys coming along. One of those things where I was wondering what I would be if I wasn't a baseball player."

Morneau, who sustained his initial concussion in July 2010 and suffered a setback in August of last year, added he still hasn't felt any symptoms since January.

And he said he's feeling a lot better than he did at this point last year, because he has a better gauge for how to manage his workload and avoid those symptoms.

"There was a lot more -- I don't know if stress is the word, or unsure or concern," Morneau said about how he felt during Spring Training last year. "Where I was at and how every day was going to be, you know. I think I kinda have a better idea of how I feel and what I need to do every day to try to prepare. Try to take it slowly, force myself to take it slowly because stuffed dragged on longer than it should have. I was trying to get back to full 100 percent feeling like myself the first week instead of just taking it slowly and trying to be ready for the start of the season."

For now, Morneau isn't spending his time worrying about suffering another setback because he's been participating in full workouts with the team without any issues.

He's been working out, doing fielding drills at first and taking batting practice. He also took live batting practice against left-hander Francisco Liriano on Tuesday, and fared well, hitting a homer to center field and another deep drive off the fence on his last swing of the afternoon.

He was particularly happy with hitting the homer, considering Liriano was throwing his full arsenal of pitches.

"I'd never hit a homer in [live batting practice], especially when they weren't telling us what was coming," Morneau said. "I think I've done it once when they were still telling us what was coming, but I was more encouraged by the fact that I was able to react when we didn't know what was coming. That was the positive I'll take out of that, whether the ball goes over the fence or not. It's a bonus if it does. But to stand in there and react to a fastball -- he was throwing pretty firm -- I'll take the positives out of that, and try to ignore the slider I missed by four feet."

So given the way everything has gone in camp, Morneau said he's pleased and the goal remains to continue to stay healthy and get ready for Opening Day. But he also said he'll continue to be realistic and honest about his health, because it's difficult to predict whether the concussion-like symptoms will return again.

"You take positive steps every day," Morneau said. "Obviously, it's always going to be there. You never know what's going to happen tomorrow or a week from now or a month from now, so it's the old cliché, take it one day at a time. That's really what I'm doing. As I build confidence every day and everything's going good, hopefully that stuff will be in the past by the time the season starts."

5 mechanics involved in elevator repair job that led to exec's death fired

Elevator maintenance company Transel said today it has fired five mechanics involved in the botched repair job that led to the death of an ad exec in Midtown.

Michael Hill, accused by city investigators of bypassing a critical safety system in the elevator that killed 41-year-old Y&R exec Suzanne Hart, was among those dismissed, his lawyer confirmed.

The other workers were not identified.

A city investigation released yesterday named six Transel employees who were working on the elevators at 285 Madison Ave. on Dec. 14 in the hours before Hart was crushed to death.

Hill, 46 years old and a 28-year elevator industry veteran, installed a “jumper” wire on the control panel of the elevator that killed Hart, city investigators found.

The jumper wire allowed the elevator to rise with its doors open.

As Hart boarded, the elevator cab shot upwards with its doors open, crushing her between the cab and outside wall.

Hill insists he removed the wire before the tragedy. But city investigators say other evidence contradicts his story.

The city also says Transel allowed the elevators to resume operating without a required Buildings Department inspection.

The Buildings Department has suspended and plans to revoke the private elevator agency director’s license of John Fichera, Transel’s owner.

“Transel continues to maintain service and install elevators in New York City based on the valid licenses individuals in the company hold,” the company said in a statement.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What to expect from tomorrow's storm


Brandon J.'s news signoff for February 28

That is the news for this Tuesday night. I'm Brandon Julien, and i hope to have you back here tomorrow from New York.

Brandon J.'s News commentary: Relationship 101

Written by head writer/reporter Brandon Julien, follow him on twitter @Brandonjnews

In all of the years that i've been alive (and running this blog), more and more teenagers are falling in love and fucking each other at a younger age. But the thing about teenagers is that most of them don't know what a relationship is, but they deside to go "cuffing" instead (don't even ask me what that means, because i don't even know, let alone care). Some of them don't even know what love is, they just fall in love because they look attractive.

So i'm going to do something i never thought i would do. Instead of just letting this slide, i'm going to explain what makes a relationship and what doesn't.

The first thing that makes a relationship is to find a girl that you and her have in common. This isn't exactly something that you need, but something in common could bring the 2 of you closer together. Another thing that makes a relationship is trust. Trust is what ALWAYS keeps a relationship together. Having a relationship with no trust is like having an ice cream bar with no sugar.

One thing that makes relationships break up is having multiple boys/girls at once. I don't know why people do this and think they can get away with it. Girls are not dumb. They're actually smarter than we think they are. That's why girls gave us the name "ho" if we cheat on them. Now boys, if you're reading this, here is the 2 names, you should NEVER, EVER call a girl. You should NEVER call them a "slut" or a "cunt".

If you truely love someone, you should ALWAYS be loyal and comitted to them. You should always want to spend time with them, and show your true feelings for them. THAT is the TRUE definition of a "relationship". Way to many people want to fuck each other and have what i like to call "one night stands". This is the main reason why teenagers are dropping out of school, having kids, and falling behind to get their degrees for college (if they even descide to go).

If people continue to cuff, this country may just spiral out of control. Mabye we can start with more true, long-lasting relationships.

Soon, i'll have another commentary on having safe sex. Don't get me started on that.

On the trail of something completely awsome, i'm Brandon Julien.

Statement regarding Ryan Braun decision

The following statement was issued tonight by Chairman and Principal Owner Mark Attanasio on behalf of the Milwaukee Brewers:

“Since joining our organization in 2005, Ryan Braun has been a model citizen and a person of character and integrity. Knowing Ryan as I do, I always believed he would succeed in his appeal.

“I also want to reiterate my support for Major League Baseball’s strict substance testing program. It is unfortunate that the confidentiality of the program was compromised, and we thank our fans and everyone who supported Ryan and did not rush to judgment.

“The team is looking forward to seeing Ryan in camp. With this now behind us, we return our focus to the ballpark and defending our NL Central Division title."

Knicks' Stoudemire says 'stay tuned' for big second half

Amar’e Stoudemire said the NBA lockout inactivity is the reason for his subpar first half of the season but he declared Tuesday he’ll have a big second half and can regain his explosiveness.

“Stay tuned,” Stoudemire said after Knicks practice Tuesday. “Stay tuned.”

Stoudemire is averaging 17.5 points per game, which would be his lowest in a full season since his rookie year. Last season he posted 25.3 points per game and shot 50 percent from the floor. This season he’s at 45 percent.

“It’s the lockout, man,” Stoudemire said. “The lockout really, it was to my favor to the point I had time to heal [my back]. But I didn’t have time to play basketball. I didn’t do any basketball at all. I played one game, that was in Miami, that charity game. That was the only time I played full-court basketball. The whole offseason was no up and down for me until I got here and played for training camp.”

Stoudemire said the problem is not fatigue or conditioning-related.

“It’s rhythm,” he said. “Whenever you’re away from the game for six months or so, that’s the longest I’ve ever been away from the game of basketball, as far as going up and down and playing. It was definitely a rhythm thing. Now I feel great.”

He added, “Every second half of the year, I’ve got a tendency to turn it up. Because you know how important it is after the All-Star break. Getting that momentum going into the postseason is always very, very key. You want to be playing at your best going into the postseason. It’s going to be an incredible second half of the year for me.”

Ryan Braun's statement on his overturned 50-game suspension

“I am very pleased and relieved by today’s decision.

“It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.

“We provided complete cooperation throughout, despite the highly unusual circumstances.

“I have been an open book, willing to share details from every aspect of my life as part of this investigation, because I have nothing to hide. I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including at least three in the past year.

“I would like to thank my family and friends, my teammates, the Brewers organization led by Mark Attanasio, Doug Melvin, Gord Ash and Ron Roenicke, and other players around the league who have expressed their support and our great fans in Milwaukee and around the country who stuck by me and did not rush to judgment.

“I’d also like to offer special thanks to Michael Weiner and the Players Association for believing in me since day one and to my attorneys.

“I’d like to thank my agent Nez Balelo and Terry Prince of CAA Sports and Matthew Hiltzik of Hiltzik Strategies for all of their help and counsel through the process.

“This is not just about one person, but about all current and future players, and thankfully, today the process worked.

“Despite the challenges of this adversarial process, I do appreciate the professionalism demonstrated by the Panel Chair and the Office of the Commissioner.

“As I said before, I’ve always loved and had so much respect for the game of baseball.

“Everything I’ve done in my career has been with that respect and appreciation in mind.

“I look forward to finally being able to speak to the fans and the media on Friday and then returning the focus to baseball and working with my Brewers teammates on defending our National League Central title.”

Partial remains of September 11th victims went to landfill

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon revealed on Tuesday that some partial, incinerated remains of 9/11 victims that could not be identified were sent to a landfill.

The number of victims involved was unclear, but the report said the remains were from people killed when a terrorist-hijacked airliner struck the Pentagon, killing 184 people, and another crashed in Shanksville, Pa., killing 40, in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

There was no indication that remains from the attack on the World Trade Center in New York were involved.

The report was by an independent committee that had been asked to examine practices at the military's mortuary at Dover, Del., the first stopping point for fallen troops coming home from war overseas.

The panel was formed after an investigation last November revealed "gross mismanagement" at the Dover facility and found that body parts had been lost on two occasions. After that investigation, news reports revealed that some cremated partial remains of at least 274 American war dead were dumped in a Virginia landfill until a policy change halted the practice in 2008.

Tuesday's report was explaining the old policy, which, it said, "began shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when several portions of remains from the Pentagon attack and the Shanksville, Pa., crash site could not be tested or identified."

The partial remains were cremated, then given to a biomedical waste disposal contractor who put the remains in containers and incinerated those. The residual matter was then taken to a landfill, the report said.

"We don't think it should have happened," the committee chairman, retired Gen. John Abizaid, told a Pentagon news conference called to release the Dover report.

It was unclear whether families of the 9/11 victims were aware remains had gone to contractors and then to the landfill. In the case of the war dead, officials previously said that the remains were given to contractors only in cases where families had already buried their loved ones and had informed the military that they did not want to be told if additional remains were later found.

Such a development was not uncommon as the wars wore on in Iraq and Afghanistan, where bombs were the main insurgent weapon.

In the case of 9/11 victims, some remains from the Pentagon, where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed, were buried at Arlington National Cemetery on the first anniversary of the attacks. Three caskets of unidentified remains from the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in a field in Shanksville, Pa., were buried there last September.

Collector of Braun's sample refutes allegations

Five days after Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun won his appeal of a 50-game suspension by blaming a faulty collection process, the collector of Braun's sample responded with a three-page statement.

Dino Laurenzi Jr. defended himself Tuesday, saying he followed Comprehensive Drug Testing protocol in handling Braun's urine sample, and he outlined the process in which he did so.

Laurenzi, who said the situation has taken an emotional toll on him, said he would not comment further on the situation. He has hired an attorney.

"This situation has caused great emotional distress for me and my family," Laurenzi said. "I have worked hard my entire life, have performed my job duties with integrity and professionalism, and have done so with respect to this matter and all other collections in which I have participated."

Laurenzi released his statement just as the Brewers were finishing a light workout at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix, Ariz. Braun returned to the clubhouse and spent several minutes checking messages on his cellphone. Through a club spokesperson, he said he would not comment.

The 2011 National League Most Valuable Player became the first Major Leaguer to successfully appeal a suspected violation of MLB's Drug Treatment and Prevention Program. On Friday, a day after winning the appeal, Braun met with the media, insisting there was a faulty collecting process and that he was innocent. He specifically noted the gap between the collection and shipment of the sample to the testing laboratory in Montreal.

In his statement, Laurenzi detailed his handling of the sample, saying he "completed his collections" from Braun and two other Brewers at approximately 5 p.m. CT on the afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 1.

Laurenzi cited "the lateness of the hour" as the reason for not shipping the samples that day, noting that there was no FedEx office within 50 miles of Miller Park that would ship on that day or the following day, a Sunday. As a result, Laurenzi said he followed CDT instructions in keeping the samples at his house, in his basement -- "sufficiently cool to store urine samples."

Laurenzi said he did not tamper with the samples in any way while they were in his custody, and he said that no one other than he and his wife were in the house while the samples, kept in a sealed Rubbermaid container, were in his basement.

"At no point did I tamper in any way with the samples," Laurenzi's statement read. "It is my understanding that the samples were received at the laboratory with all tamper-resistant seals intact."

Laurenzi said he has been a drug collector for CDT since 2005, and that he has performed more than 600 collections for MLB.

Michael Weiner, the executive director of the MLB Players Association, didn't fault the process, instead noting Braun's innocence and the system's success.

"Any strong program has to to deter use, has to have appropriate penalties and also has to have a fair appeals process," Weiner said. "This doesn't take away from our process. Anybody that wants both a tough and fair program should be satisfied with this result."

Exhibitionist busted for baring breasts at St. Patrick's refuses no-jail plea

A compulsively breast-baring exhibitionist was at it again today -- doffing her shirt outside Manhattan Criminal Court after refusing a no-jail plea deal for parading topless down the center aisle of St. Patrick's Cathedral back in January.

Performance "artist" Holly Van Voast, 46, of The Bronx takes her shirt off in public frequently -- she's gone topless at the Staten Island Ferry, the Empire State Building and Grand Central and on a film premiere's red carpet. St. Patrick's wasn't having any of it when, according to a criminal complaint, she "walk(ed) in the middle aisle talking very loudly and removing her top, exposing her bare breasts."

Mass was not in session at the time, but appalled visitors visibly recoiled, "turning away and walk(ing) away from the defendant." Asked to leave by cathedral staff, she refused, according to the complaint, which charges her with public exposure, trespass, disorderly conduct, and possession of marijuana for a bit of pot allegedly recovered from her bag.

Van Voast guesses she has ben arrested for nudity three or four times -- explaining that she is a performance artist who strips to promote her "brand."

"I think you can imagine how hard it would be for someone to get attention just for being an artist," she said. "I figured I could get mre attention by being topless. To me, it's about branding." She added, "I don't like doing this. It takes a lot emotional effort."

Van Voast doesn't wear bras, but estimates she's a 36-B. "I've been told they're nice. They're kind of like J-Lo's," she told The New York Post. "I'm really lucky."

Her lawyer, Ron Kuby, said his client declined the plea deal because she broke no laws.

"Despite the fact that 'toppal' nudity for women nad men has been legalized for decades, some cops still don't get it," Kuby said. "Breasts inspire odd reactions."

Raw and SmackDown get a General Manager facelift!

Both Raw and SmackDown are about to get extreme makeovers.

In an effort to help determine which General Manager should control both shows, the WWE Board of Directors has decided to switch control of each show next week. SmackDown GM Theodore Long will take control of Monday night’s Raw while Raw GM John Laurinaitis takes the reins of next Friday’s SmackDown.

The decision comes one week after Laurinaitis announced at Elimination Chamber that he will seek control over both shows, bolstered by flattering testimonials by Superstars Mark Henry, Christian and Alberto Del Rio. A perturbed Long made it clear to Laurinaitis that he’s not about to take the threat to his position lying down.

Last week on SmackDown, the two got into a heated argument as they tried to overrule one another during a match between WWEChampion CM Punk vs. World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan. Last night on Raw SuperShow, the two were at it again as tensions continued to escalate.

What will the GMs have in store for their respective rival as they switch roles? And how will each try to outshine the other? Tune into both Raw and SmackDown to see the lengths they’ll go to impress the Board of Directors – and get back at each other.

Mattingly: Dodgers are still LA's top team

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Angels' free-agent spending spree hasn't shaken Don Mattingly's opinion of which is the real Los Angeles baseball team, bankruptcy or not.

"It's like the Mets and the Yankees," the Dodgers' manager said Tuesday. "The Yankees are THE team. I'm not badmouthing the Angels at all and Mr. [Arte] Moreno and Mike [Scioscia] do a great job and had a great run, but we're the Dodgers and that's not going to change.

"We need to play baseball. But at the end of the day, I don't worry about what other teams are doing. This isn't negative at all, but at the end of the day, the Dodgers are the Dodgers."

Mattingly's comments came moments after he held the first full-squad meeting of Spring Training and before his Dodgers held their first full-squad workout of the spring, with only Juan Uribe missing. The third baseman was still in San Francisco, where he's in court being sued for damage to a rented condo. The club expects him back at practice Wednesday.

And Mattingly's comments came despite the ongoing bankruptcy sale of the club that has impacted payroll. Mattingly hasn't spoken to current owner Frank McCourt since last year. McCourt must sell the Dodgers by April 30, as a condition of the bankruptcy.

After practice, Mattingly again praised Moreno, the Angels and even their mascot.

"I kind of like the Rally Monkey, I do," Mattingly said. "It's funny. I tell guys, 'You should like the Rally Monkey. It comes out when we're ahead.' I like when he comes out."

The manager has not convinced Matt Kemp, the National League MVP Award runner-up from whom so much is expected this year.

"I don't like the Rally Monkey," Kemp said. "I'm scared of him. In the outfield, the Monkey pops up on the [screen] and he's scary. The Rally Monkey has got us before. Hopefully, it doesn't happen this year."

While scared of a primate, Kemp seems to have no such fear of 95-mph fastballs. Mattingly is expecting the center fielder, as well as NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, to carry an unfair share of the load in order for the Dodgers to succeed.

Mattingly conceded that while the Angels made a "huge splash" over the winter by signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, his club "tried to put the pieces in place to do what we wanted to do."

What the Dodgers wanted to do -- with the exception of an unsuccessful run at slugger Prince Fielder -- was maximize acquisitions despite a downsized payroll.

To that end, the club replaced Hiroki Kuroda in the starting rotation with Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano, re-signed Juan Rivera to protect Kemp in the lineup, added Mark Ellis to improve defense at second base, turned over the catching to A.J. Ellis and rebuilt the bench by adding Adam Kennedy, Jerry Hairston and Matt Treanor.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti also addressed the team Tuesday and discussed the sale process.

"At this stage, it will be good to get another chapter going," Colletti said. "It's been a different couple years. Change is coming. Again, our focus has got to be on the field and figuring out how to win games, because we've got nothing else we can really worry about or affect change to.

"They shouldn't be worried about it. Nobody knows what's going to transpire in the next month or two. But it's really irrelevant to winning the game. The focus has to be on preparation and getting ready to play."

On the field, Colletti urged his players to build off the last two months of last season.

"To play as well as we played, being as far out as we were, it's not easy to do," he said. "We played the top two teams in every division to do that. I told them to grow close, because we have a lot of new guys in the room, a lot of new free agents and young players. Sports is really about competitive edge."

Mattingly has said he would encourage players to ignore the ownership uncertainty and focus on the job. He added Tuesday that he spoke of the culture he has been striving to create.

"I want guys to be fearless, really," he said. "I want to create an environment for guys to be comfortable and know what we expect from them. When they walk out of [the clubhouse], they know what to expect and we'll put them in an environment to be successful.

"I'm not going to get them all fired up, banging their helmets for one game a week. There's 162 games, that's a lot of getting ready. It's a mental weardown and a battle to push yourself."

Mattingly said he expects improvement from last year's tale of two seasons, in which the Dodgers kicked it into gear after Rivera and Dee Gordon stepped in and the bullpen transitioned from Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo to Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen.

"In the second half, we had a lineup where everybody did his part," Mattingly said. "Matt has to do his thing, but we have to give him help. I like my guys. I'm not going to sit here and say we should win by 20 games or anything silly. If we play the way we're capable of, we'll be there at the end of the year."

Former coach says Tiger Woods considered joining Navy SEALs

Tiger Woods was seriously considering leaving golf to become a Navy SEAL.

That is the stunning revelation made by his former swing coach Hank Haney in an excerpt from the upcoming book, "The Big Miss."

Haney writes that he tried to convince Woods -- whose father, Earl, was a special forces soldier in Vietnam -- not to go on secret training exercises with the SEALs, but that Woods was obsessed with joining the Navy's elite fighting unit.

When he told Woods that SEALs could not be older than 28, hoping to show him it was a pie-in-the-sky ambition, he writes, Woods responded, "It's not a problem. They're making a special age exemption for me."

"I thought, 'Wow. Here is Tiger Woods, the greatest athlete on the planet, maybe the greatest athlete ever, right in the middle of his prime, basically ready to leave it all behind for a military life.'"

According to Haney, Woods undertook dozens of trips to naval bases across the country "in a program that approximated the training for a Navy SEAL candidate."

"To my knowledge, he did training in parachuting, self-defense, urban-warfare simulations and shooting," Haney writes. "I never heard of Tiger doing any training in the water with the SEALs, but he was already a pretty accomplished diver."

According to the book, Woods talked about a three-day trip during which he parachuted as many as 10 times a day and touted his long-range shooting skills.

"He talked all about the different guns and how to allow for wind and the flight of the bullet, almost as if he were describing a golf shot," Haney writes.

Tiger seemed most proud of his self-defense achievements, according to Haney, who writes that Tiger told him "he really wanted to be able to protect his family and his home if anything ever happened."

The more stories Haney heard, the more concerned he became about the golfer.

"When I later learned the full truth about the dangerous exercises that Tiger engaged in with the SEALs, it caused me to question whether the greatest golfer the game has ever seen severely hampered his chance at surpassing one of the most revered marks in all of sports -- Jack Nicklaus' record -- because of his fascination with the military."

To read more, go to FoxSports.com.

Dow closes above 13,000 for first time since May 2008

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed Tuesday above 13,000 points for the first time in nearly four years, a level it hasn't reached since before the financial crisis sent markets reeling.

The Dow ended the day up 24 points, or 0.2 percent, to 13,005. The index hadn't closed above the psychological milestone since May 19, 2008, after attempting and failing to break the barrier in the five previous sessions.

The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index closed up 4.6 points, or 0.3 percent, at 1,372, and the Nasdaq Composite closed up 21 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,987.

Seven of the S&P's 10 sectors finished higher, led by technology and consumer discretionary shares. Blue chips were mostly higher, led by Microsoft, which ended up 1.7 percent, but weighed down by American Express, which dropped 0.8 percent.

Mixed economic data provided conflicting direction earlier in the session.

The Commerce Department's latest report on durable goods showed orders in January fell at the fastest pace in three years, decreasing four percent compared with the 1.1 percent drop expected by economists. And US home prices fell 3.8 percent in December from a month earlier, ending 2011 at the lowest level since mid-2006, according to the Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller home-price index.

But the Conference Board said US consumer confidence rose to its highest reading in a year, lifted by a better outlook on the job market. And a regional Fed measure of economic activity in the mid-Atlantic area expanded for the third month in a row, albeit at a slower rate.

The Stoxx Europe 600 closed up 0.2 percent. Optimism ahead of the European Central Bank's second long-term refinancing operation and Germany's approval of Greece's bailout package provided support, countering Standard & Poor's downgrade of Greek sovereign credit to "selective default," a move that was widely expected.

Asian exchanges were mostly higher, with Japan's Nikkei Stock Average rising 0.9 percent to close at a six-month high and China's Shanghai Composite adding 0.2 percent to post its eighth straight gain.

'Tek supported: Teammates will miss captain

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Right up until word finally broke that Jason Varitek would formally announce his retirement on Thursday, his teammates half-expected they would walk into the clubhouse one morning to find the captain strapping on the gear for one more season.

"Definitely," said slugger David Ortiz. "It's something that we were used to, seeing 'Tek walking around and doing his thing. Usually you walk in here and the first person you see is 'Tek. Walking in this year and not seeing him was something unexpected. Hopefully he feels good and he's been honest with himself. Man, we're going to miss him."

There had been times in the past when it seemed Varitek might be gone. He was a free agent at the end of the 2004 season. However, Varitek not only came back on a four-year deal, but he was named the captain, a role he had effectively served in without the title for several years prior.

Following the 2008 season, when the Red Sox lost a heartbreaking Game 7 of the American League Championship Series to the Rays at Tropicana Field, Varitek shed some tears at his locker not just due to loss, but because he thought he might be through in Boston.

It went down to the wire, but Varitek finally signed with roughly a week to go before Spring Training in 2009. And again after the '10 season, Varitek was a free agent, but the team re-signed him.

This time around, there was no vacancy for Varitek. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the full-time catcher and Kelly Shoppach was signed during the winter to be the backup.

Out of respect for Varitek, general manager Ben Cherington gave him the option to retire on his own or take one last stab at a roster spot by coming to camp as a non-roster player.

"He's an animal," said right-hander Clay Buchholz. "You see every Spring Training what he looks like -- he's just a specimen. I was expecting 'Tek to play until he was 60. He was awesome behind there, and I still think he could be awesome behind the plate and have a job in baseball. That was his and his family's decision."

As awkward as it might have seemed for Varitek to come to camp fighting for a roster spot, it sounded as if his teammates were hoping he would take Cherington up on the offer.

"I know he would've been ready for that," said Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett. "That's kind of why I say I hope he's happy with his decision. It's unfortunate. I think he wanted to play another year, but I don't think he wants to go anywhere else. I can see why."

Varitek spent his entire Major League career in a Boston uniform, and it would have been hard to picture him wearing a different one.

To the Red Sox, the beauty of Varitek's leadership is that he didn't believe in idle chatter. When Varitek delivered a message, be it to an individual or in a group setting, everyone perked up and listened.

"He did say a lot. He did," said Ortiz. "He just always found the right moment to say it, you know what I'm saying?"

While some players drift away as they retire, Varitek is expected to remain with the Red Sox in a yet-to-be-announced capacity. That is welcome news to his teammates.

"'Tek is somebody that I think this organization is going to need forever, especially now that he's going to retire," Ortiz said. "I think he's the kind of person this organization needs to keep very close.

This is a guy who does nothing but add things -- good things. And like I say, it was an honor for me to be his teammate. I learned a lot of good things from 'Tek.

"One of the most important things from 'Tek was the hard work. He based his whole life on working hard and making sure that you were OK. His preparation was so good, it was ridiculous. He was a guy that as long as I watched him play, he wanted to do well, he wanted to do good and he wanted to be prepared for that."

What teammates perhaps marveled at the most was Varitek's was his selfless nature.

"I loved working with him," Beckett said. "I've never had a catcher before that who I felt like cared more about wanting me to be successful even before he wanted to be successful. He's going to be missed a lot in the clubhouse and on the field."

Varitek is the only player in Major League history to catch four no-hitters. He might have caught a fifth if Curt Schilling hadn't shaken him off with two outs and two strikes in the ninth against Shannon Stewart in Oakland in June 2007.

Without Varitek's firm grasp of dissecting the opposition, it's doubtful Buchholz could have thrown a no-hitter in just his second Major League start. That magical night was Sept. 1, 2007.

"There were a couple times early in the game I shook off him and had a couple missiles hit," said Buchholz. "They were caught, but after that, it was just, 'I'm going to throw what he puts down.' The game started speeding up on me a couple times and I remember him calling timeout, running out there, telling me to take a couple deep breaths, throw a pitch down and away and get a ground ball and get out of the inning. That's what I'll always remember about him. He was always the guy that could calm you down when things started to speed up."

One will never know how the Varitek story would have unfolded were it not for a master stroke by Dan Duquette, who convinced the Mariners to trade him two prospects (Varitek and Derek Lowe) for a closer (Heathcliff Slocumb) who was on his way to a sharp decline.

"We were looking for a catcher," said Duquette, now the vice president of baseball operations for the Orioles. "Everybody in the business knew Jason Varitek, because he was drafted twice in the first round. Did we know he'd be with the Red Sox for 15 years and lead the team to two championships? No, but to his credit, he had all the skills and he deserves all the credit for the great work ethic that he developed and his tenacity as a competitor. This kid, whenever we went into Yankee Stadium, he always had a big game. He always did something to help the team win on the big stage."

As the rigors of catching continued to challenge his body, Varitek would often be wrapped up like a mummy as he made his way around the clubhouse in recent years. Ice, heat, tape, heavy wrap -- Varitek was always covered in something. But by the next day, he'd be back in the lineup.

"He's a monster, man. He's a monster," Ortiz said. "I'm telling you. You can tell sometimes when he was hurting. He would still go out there and try to change things around. That's a true teammate right there."

Freeman may miss two weeks with achy knee

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman might be sidelined over the next two weeks as he rests a right knee injury that he suffered during Tuesday morning's workout at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex. 

Freeman's right knee popped out of place as he was attempting to pick a low throw out of the dirt. The 22-year-old first baseman limped off the field immediately and was still struggling to walk as he made his way to a photo shoot early Tuesday afternoon.

"I was just doing pick drills and the knee gave out," Freeman said. "The kneecap went this way and I came back in. When I did this when I was playing in Triple-A, it took me two weeks. So that is what we are going on."

While he was in obvious discomfort, Freeman did not seem worried about the possibility that he will need more than just a couple weeks of rest. His right knee had not given him any problems since he had suffered a similar injury while playing for Gwinnett in 2010.

"When I did it in 2010, I thought I could come back after a week," Freeman said. "But they're obviously going to be cautious with me."

If Freeman misses two weeks, he could return in time to play the final two weeks of the exhibition season. His absence will likely provide Eric Hinske and Ernesto Mejia a chance to get plenty of playing time at first base during the Grapefruit League season's first two weeks.

Freeman is coming off a memorable rookie season during which he hit .282 with 21 home runs and a .448 slugging percentage.

Ohio high school shooter chose victims randomly, prosecutor says

CHARDON, Ohio -- The teen accused of embarking on a shooting rampage at an Ohio high school that killed three and wounded two admitted he chose his victims randomly, a prosecutor said at a court hearing Tuesday.

Ohio Judge Timothy Grendell ordered 17-year-old T.J. Lane to remain in custody for the next 15 days.

Prosecutor David Joyce said at the detention hearing that Lane admitted to bringing a knife and .22 caliber pistol to the cafeteria at Chardon High School where he began his shooting spree.

Joyce said Lane admitted that he "did not know the students and chose them randomly."

Grendell said prosecutors have until March 1 to charge Lane with a crime.

The judge also ruled that the faces of Lane and his family members cannot be photographed or taped by the media.

A hearing in the case has been scheduled on March 6 at 3:00pm to discuss his charges.

Joyce said in court that four of the victims were shot in the school's cafeteria and the fifth was wounded in another school room as Lane apparently fled the scene.

Daniel Parmertor, 16, died Monday hours at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, and 17-year-old Russell King was pronounced brain dead at 12:42am local time Tuesday at the same hospital.

MetroHealth Medical announced that Chardon High School junior Demetrius Hewlin also died from his gunshot wounds Tuesday morning, bringing the death toll to three.

Joyce said in court that one victim remains hospitalized and that the fifth wounded student was released from a hospital Tuesday.

Developing Story: PSE&G Transformer Station fire in Edison

There is a huge fire burning at the PSE&G Transformer Station in Edison, New Jersey.

The fire broke out around 4:30 p.m. at the station on Route 1 and 287 at the intersection with Pierson Avenue.

Drivers are being told to avoid the area at all costs.

Flames are shooting at least 50 feet into the air and smoke can be seen from at least 10 miles away.

There are some 10,000 power outages now reported in Edison and Metuchen.

Monday, February 27, 2012

FASTRACK B, D, F and M Lines - Weeknight Planned Service Change

10 PM to 5 AM, Mon to Fri, Feb 27-Mar 2
No B, D, F, or M service at 6 Av stations:  14 St, 23 St, 34 St-Herald Sq, 42 St-Bryant Pk, 47-50 Sts, and 57 St:
  • B and M service ends earlier in Manhattan.
  • D and F trains are rerouted.
Trains operate as follows:
  • F rerouted via E between W 4 St and Roosevelt Av, in both directions.

D trains rerouted and operate in two sections:
  1. Between 205 St and the 2 Av F station. Via C between 59 St-Columbus Circle and W 4 St, then via F to/from 2 Av, last stop.
  2. Between Stillwell Av and the Whitehall St R station. Via R route between 36 St and Whitehall St, last stop.
Note: D trains run local between 145 St and 59 St-Columbus Circle.

Travel alternatives:
  • Use 8 Av A, C, and E stations to connect with the D (to/from the Bronx only) and F trains to Queens and Brooklyn.
  • D customers traveling to Brooklyn, take the 2, 3, 4, N, Q, or R to connect with D service at Atlantic Av-Pacific St.
  • Take the Q for service to/from Lexington Av/63 St, Roosevelt Island, and 21 St-Queensbridge.
  • Q service is extended to 21 St-Queensbridge via the F after 57 St-7 Av.
  • Free shuttle buses run between the Grand St D station and both the Canal St N, Q, R, 6, and Broadway-Lafayette D and F stations.
This service change affects one or more ADA accessible stations. Please call 511 for help with planning your trip. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, use your preferred relay service provider or the free 711 relay. For more information, click on www.mta.info and read station signs.

Wilpon: Sale of Mets shares approved

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon said on Monday that Major League Baseball has approved the sale of seven shares of the team, which are in escrow, and that at least two more sales are imminent. Wilpon also revealed that his family has purchased two additional shares, potentially giving the Mets as much as a $240 million infusion of cash.

"[Fans] shouldn't be concerned about us owning the franchise," Wilpon said, "because we intend to own the franchise for a very long time."

Added Wilpon: "As long as I can, I plan to be the owner here."

In a rare 22-minute interview at the Mets' Spring Training complex, Wilpon put third baseman David Wright's future in general manager Sandy Alderson's hands, saying that it will be up to Alderson to decide whether to keep Wright in Flushing long term.

Wilpon also insisted that the Mets' payroll decrease has not been due to his ongoing Bernard Madoff litigation, but to a desire to transform the organization's baseball-operations philosophy.

"I was tired of throwing money at something and not getting success," Wilpon said.

At times playful, at others serious during his interview, Wilpon painted an optimistic picture of the Mets in broad strokes. He did not address his own finances or litigation in any great detail, save for the particulars of the team's minority sales.

He and his family purchased two shares from parent company Sterling Equities, Wilpon said, to open the process. Seven more sales -- including four from SportsNet New York, the Mets' partially team-owned cable network -- are in escrow. The Mets plan to close on three additional shares before finalizing the sales, each of which is believed to cost $20 million for a four-percent stake in the team. Two of those are imminent.

The arrangement should allow Sterling Equities to keep a 52-percent controlling share of the Mets.

Wilpon does not plan to sell a greater stake than that, despite the fact that he could retain a controlling interest of the club, even if he technically owns less than 50 percent of it.

Once the Mets close on 12 shares, they plan to use more than a quarter of that money to pay back the interest and principal on a $25 million emergency loan from Major League Baseball and a $40 million bridge loan from Bank of America. The rest, Wilpon said, will give the Mets liquidity to cover operating expenses and shield themselves against future losses.

Wilpon and partner Saul Katz are awaiting a March 19 trial against the trustee seeking to recover funds from Madoff's Ponzi scheme, with as much as $386 million potentially at stake from what was once a $1 billion lawsuit. A federal judge will decide by March 5 whether to proceed with the trial and immediately order Sterling Equities to pay back $83 million of "fictitious profits," or to discard the case altogether.

Regardless, Wilpon spent time Monday insisting that the team's roughly 37-percent payroll reduction has not been rooted in the team's financial issues and pending litigation, but in a shift in baseball-operations philosophy. Standing on a practice field with the Mets in uniform behind him, Wilpon painted a picture of a team waiting for its core to develop before reinvesting money into player payroll.

"We've got to win the fans and customers back," Wilpon said. "They love coming to Citi Field, but we have a diminished population coming to Citi Field. We need that revenue. We just can't do it on air."

The most significant future baseball decision facing the Mets will be whether to trade, retain or ultimately re-sign Wright, whose contract includes a $16 million team option for the 2013 season before he can become a free agent. On that matter, Wilpon deferred entirely to Alderson, much as he did during the club's recent negotiations with new Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes.

"My intention is always to follow what the baseball people [say]," Wilpon said. "Sandy Alderson has a great feel for this. So does [manager] Terry [Collins]. And if it works out, I would be thrilled. I think there's no finer guy [than Wright]. He's just a very fine young man. Any of us who are old enough to have him as a son would be proud to have him as a son."

Told of those comments from an owner who publicly criticized him in a magazine article last May, Wright did not flinch.

"That family has done a tremendous amount for me personally, getting a chance to play baseball for a living and make some good money doing it," Wright said. "It really is a family atmosphere, as far as I'm concerned."

Like his manager, Wright maintained that his concerns lie solely with how the Mets fare on the field -- not on ownership's finances or litigation, or even on the payroll decisions that dictate the roster's composition.

"We're not naive enough to think that it's not getting brought up, not being talked about," Collins said. "And you can't escape it. What you have to do is be able to deal with it."

Polls show dead heat in Michigan, big Romney lead in Arizona

LANSING, Mich. -- Mitt Romney is neck-and-neck with Rick Santorum in Michigan but has pulled far ahead in Arizona on the eve of key primary contests in both states, according to new polls.

The Public Policy Polling survey of likely Michigan primary voters, conducted Sunday, found Romney leading Santorum by a margin of 39 percent to 37 percent -- a difference within the poll's margin of error. Romney's support has jumped six points in the past week, while Santorum has remained level.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul was in third place with 13 percent, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich drew nine percent.

The pollsters said Santorum's recent focus on social issues may be hurting him with Michigan voters.

The poll found that 69 percent of voters are primarily concerned with economic issues and Romney was leading that group with 45 percent to Santorum's 30 percent.

Romney has also cut into Santorum's support among Evangelicals, Tea Party voters, and those describing themselves as "very conservative."

Santorum's lead was about 30 percentage points among those groups just two weeks ago. It has now shrunk to seven points with Evangelicals and Tea Party supporters and 10 percent with 'very conservative' Republicans.

In Arizona, Romney has pulled well ahead of Santorum and the rest of the presidential field, according to a separate PPP poll also conducted Sunday.

The former Massachusetts governor secured 43 percent in that poll, compared to Santorum's 26 percent, Gingrich's 18 percent and Paul's 11 percent.

Also, nearly half of those planning to vote had already cast their ballots, and Romney had a 48 percent to 25 percent advantage over Santorum among that group.

The pollsters said that lead makes it "nearly impossible" for Santorum to catch up.

In Michigan, PPP surveyed 421 likely Republican primary voters. The poll's margin of error is 4.8 percent. PPP polled 515 likely Republican primary voters for its Arizona survey. The margin of error for that poll is 4.3 percent.

Early impressions positive for Darvish, Feliz

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers manager Ron Washington was shaking his head after he finished watching Yu Darvish throw live batting practice on Monday morning.

"He's got some serious stuff," Washington said as he walked from one practice field to another. "He can run his fastball inside, he can run it outside. He can sink it to the left and sink it to the right. He can hang you up with his breaking ball ... he's got the splitter. He can bring heat."

Washington, like everybody else, still isn't sure how many different kinds of pitches Darvish throws.

"He can take his fastball, sink it, throw it inside and make you chase it high," Washington explained. "That's three pitches just right there."

Darvish, who was in the first group of pitchers and threw 34 pitches in his session, was among those Washington wanted to see up close on Monday. Another was Neftali Feliz. Feliz was in the second of four pitchers throwing on four different fields. He was facing the formidable group of David Murphy, Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz.

The Rangers don't know how many pitches Darvish has in his arsenal. The Rangers are hoping Feliz will have at least three. The Rangers know he can throw his fastball but want Feliz to develop his breaking ball and changeup to give him the three-pitch mix needed to be an effective starter.

That's what Washington was looking for as he settled in behind the batting cage. Feliz threw approximately 30 pitches and the best was a changeup low and away that Hamilton chased and missed. Feliz also threw a changeup inside to Murphy, who golfed it over the right-field fence.

"He threw some good changeups ... he's trying to get a feel for it," Washington said afterwards. "He definitely has to work on it. I thought he did a good job and I thought the hitters did a good job staying in there against him."

Maybe Feliz can borrow a couple of pitches from Darvish, if he has extras.

"I feel confident I can throw the changeup," Feliz said. "I've been working hard on it and it will help me this year. It's a great feeling to do that when you're facing a good hitter like Hamilton. That's the feel [with the pitch] that I want this year."

Both Darvish and Feliz have more batting practice to throw on Wednesday. They will also pitch in the intrasquad game on Friday and then pitch back-to-back in the Cactus League next week. Darvish will start on March 7 against the Padres and Feliz will pitch March 8 against the White Sox.

It is still early in camp but Washington likes what he sees from both pitchers, especially Feliz.

Washington said he sees a pitcher who came to camp determined to be a starter.

"He's focused and he's confident," Washington said. "He's getting the opportunity to use all his pitches in batting practice and he's doing it. He has been a leader in his group out there. So far, he seems very happy to be a starter. To me, that is 50 percent of it. The other 50 percent is going out and getting it done.

"He's determined to do well. Let's let it play out. He's going to win some games for us, no doubt about it."

Feliz had a tougher group to face than Darvish. While Feliz had to face the starting outfield from the club's World Series team, Darvish was working against Minor Leaguers here in early camp. They were overmatched and nobody hit one out of the park against him.

"It would have been great to do that," said Mike Bianucci, who hit 30 home runs at Double-A Frisco last season and was one of five hitters to face Darvish on Monday. "But a guy with that much movement, you just want to put wood on the ball."

There wasn't much solid wood put on anything while Darvish was out there.

"The ball felt good coming out of my hand," Darvish said. "The way my body felt, it was very good."

This was Darvish's third batting practice session and he has been trying to adjust to the L-shaped screen placed in front of the mound to protect him from line drives. They don't use those L-screens in Japan, but they helped protect Feliz from two vicious line drives in his throwing session. Darvish hasn't had anything like that hit at him yet.

"The first two times I had the screen, I felt a little uncomfortable," Darvish said. "Today, I made an adjustment [moving the screen slightly], I got better view and I felt more comfortable. Today, I was not working on my pitches. I was more concerned how my body felt and how it was working. I was very satisfied."

So was Masataka Nashida. He was Darvish's manager over the past four seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters and now works for Japanese television. He was in camp to watch Darvish throw on Monday.

"Throwing in the bullpen was not so good," Nashida said. "But live batting practice, throwing to hitters, he had more stuff than in the bullpen session."

Live batting practice is going well for two pitchers who have never started a game in the Major Leagues. The real thing is still to come but they both looked real on Monday.

8-year-old Bronx boy shot by gangbanger will have to live with bullet in shoulder

The Bronx second-grader allegedly shot by a gangbanger will have to live with a bullet in his shoulder because doctors fear complications if they trying to remove it, his family said.

Brave little Armando Bigo, 8, was finally released from Jacobi Hospital today, six days after being wounded in a Bronx bodega by a stray shot fired by one gang member at another.

“He’s doing fine. He’s playing with his toys. He’s having a little pain because they’ve not removed the bullet,” said the child's aunt, Ellie Flores. But she added, “We’re happy he’s doing a lot better.”

Armando was with his mother, picking out a snack in a Soundview store last Tuesday, when perp Eduardo Rodriguez allegedly fired at members of a rival gang clustered at the door and struck the boy.

Rodriguez faces attempted-murder, assault and criminal-possession charges in the case.

During Armando's hospital stay, he asked, “Mommy, can I please go home?” his aunt said.

But although Armando was eager to come home, “He’s scared,” Flores said. “He doesn’t want to get shot again.''

“He told the doctor yesterday he’s afraid to go home because he doesn’t want to get shot again, even though he knows [the bullet] wasn’t intended for him,” she said.

The boy will be home-schooled for a while because the wound left him with trouble moving his neck and arm. He’ll also wear a neck brace for a while, family members said.

Valentine: Banning alcohol not a 'PR move'

What does former Red Sox manager Terry Francona think of successor Bobby Valentine's decision to ban alcohol in Boston's clubhouse for the 2012 season?

"I think it's a PR move," Francona said in an interview with ESPN's "Mike and Mike" on Monday morning. "I think if a guy wants a beer, he can probably get one. You know, it's kind of the old rule ... If your coach in football says no hard liquor on the plane -- I mean, you serve beer and wine -- somebody's going to sneak liquor on the plane. If you furnish a little bit, it almost keeps it to a minimum.

"I don't think it's a surprise that they put this in effect, or the fact they announced it. It's probably more of a PR move just because, you know, the Red Sox [took] such a beating at the end of the year."

Valentine started to issue a no comment, but he then decided to weigh in.

"You need a comment? My opinion, if it was PR move, you mean? I don't know," Valentine said.

"How was it PR? Well, you know, I don't really have a comment on that. It means like 20 teams are looking for PR and that's why they're making good decisions? I don't have a comment on that."

Interestingly, Francona and Valentine have effectively traded jobs since the end of last season. Does Valentine expect awkwardness when Francona broadcasts his first Red Sox game in 2012?

"I don't know. I doubt it," Valentine said. "Remember, you're getting paid over there for saying stuff. You get paid over here for doing stuff. I've done both."

Breaking News: Newark International Airport closed after plane makes emergency landing

NEWARK, N.J. -- Traffic in and out of Newark International Airport was halted Monday night after a plane made an emergency landing because of problems with its nose gear, WNBC-TV reported.

The Shuttle America flight from Atlanta to Newark landed at about 6:40pm, after the pilots informed authorities of the technical problem.

Authorities told the station that the nose gear had collapsed and that passengers on board the plane were forced to exit the aircraft via emergency chutes.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced that the airport would be closed until further notice.

Zumaya unsure if he will undergo surgery

A day after learning he tore his ulnar collateral ligament, Twins right-hander Joel Zumaya said Monday he still hasn't decided whether he'll undergo Tommy John surgery to continue his career.

Zumaya, 27, has already undergone two elbow surgeries, two shoulder surgeries and finger surgery since making his debut with the Tigers in 2006, and he isn't sure if he wants to undergo another one. And even if Zumaya does opt to have the surgery, he's still not sure if he'll try to make yet another comeback.

"That's going to be a family decision," Zumaya said. "Right now, perspective is probably not. I know I'm young, but I'm going to probably be going on six surgeries if I get another one. I'm only 27 years old and I've taken a lot of wear and tear on my body, especially my arm, and then rehab -- it's a lot out of you. So I have a little 2 1/2-year-old; maybe it's time to move on. I'm a pretty dang good fisherman, so I might pursue professional fishing."

Zumaya, who tore the ligament while throwing a curveball to catcher Drew Butera during his first live throwing session of the spring on Saturday, said he expects to inform Twins general manager Terry Ryan of his decision soon.

"My mind isn't quite clear yet," Zumaya said. "I went home, tried to make a decision -- I've got my family here with me -- but it's a tough decision, so I'm going to go on within the next day or two and make a decision. I spoke to Terry and told him that I'll probably give him a call within the next 24 hours to determine if I'm going to [have surgery] or not."

Zumaya met with Ryan early Monday morning to talk about his options regarding the surgery. If he decides to have the operation, he could rehab near his home in Orlando, Fla., or at the club's Spring Training complex in Fort Myers.

As of now, Zumaya is still on the club's 40-man roster, as the Twins could opt to release him or place him on the 60-day disabled list. Only $400,000 of the one-year, $850,000 deal he signed this offseason is guaranteed.

"It was just general information," Ryan said of the meeting. "He's ultimately going to make a decision on which way to go, and then we'll support it. It's tough for anybody involved in a situation when you're talking about a guy going through what he's going to have to go through here. It's a personal decision between his family and people he confides in and so forth."

Zumaya received more than 100 texts from family members and friends, including many of his former Tigers teammates.

He said he's been leaning on his family the last few days, while also asking players about the surgery, including former Tigers pitcher Jason Grilli, who had a similar situation with previous elbow surgeries before ultimately undergoing Tommy John surgery.

"He almost had the same thing as me, elbow surgery and then he had Tommy John," Zumaya said. "So I've been speaking to him, and literally just asking him, 'What's the deal?' The majority of those guys, they said if you get the Tommy John, your chances of coming back are even stronger. I don't know yet. But like I said, it's going to be a couple days before I make this decision and go on about my business."

Zumaya said he could tell right away that he tore his UCL during his throwing session on Saturday.

He left after just 13 pitches, as he tried to throw a few pitches despite discomfort stemming from a curveball he threw to Butera.

"Like everybody says, man, it takes one pitch," Zumaya said. "I was feeling fine. I was throwing quite hard, so the way things were going -- my side sessions, getting to face batters -- was just leaning toward doing fantastic. So it took one pitch; it was one pitch. It bit pretty hard, and I continued trying to throw and you could just tell, I lost velocity, I was trying to get it over the plate. I tried to man up, I tried to do it. Quite a few guys were behind the cage, and a lot of people watching, so I didn't want to just walk off the field like that."

It was the latest setback for Zumaya, who has been through his fair share of injuries since coming up with the Tigers as a rookie sensation in 2006, when he posted a 1.94 ERA with 97 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings.

Since that rookie season, Zumaya has dealt with a finger injury that forced him to miss 96 games in 2007, a shoulder injury in '08 that cost him 72 games and another shoulder injury in '08 that caused him to miss 41 games before undergoing shoulder surgery in '09.

Zumaya, who routinely hit 100 mph on the radar gun when healthy, admitted his arm simply couldn't handle that velocity.

"Like I said from the beginning, I believe 100 is overrated," Zumaya said. "People that throw as hard as me, you're injury-prone. It's hard, man. I guess you're not meant to throw a baseball as hard as I do. This year I worked my tail off the whole year. That's probably why I got picked up. I was throwing the ball great and just these things, these little things happen, and they pop up. You can't fight them. You can't do anything about them, especially Tommy John."

NYPD officer saved as bullet pouch stops shot: police

Another NYPD officer narrowly escaped a bullet today after a firefight erupted in lower Manhattan, police said.

Officers Thomas Richards and Thomas Dunne had just gotten out of their police van at 1:44 a.m. on Columbia Street in lower Manhattan when they were approached by Luis Martinez, police said.

Martinez, 25, began firing at the officers - one shot hit Richards' bullet pouch, narrowly missing his stomach "by an inch" Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said this morning.

"We are lucky again -- another miracle," he added. "If it had been up an inch, it would’ve been right into the officer’s body and this was a fully loaded 9 mm handgun."

The officers chased Martinez for about a block as the gunman continued to exchange fire with the cops, Kelly said.

Martinez was shot in the upper right leg after turning to fire at the officers while fleeing, police said.

Emergency responders said they were able to track Martinez by his blood trail to his apartment in the Baruch Housing complex.

Police recovered Martinez' 9mm Taurus handgun from the building's trash compactor.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said that during the initial confrontation, the shooter fired three times and Richards responded with at least five shots.

One of bullets appeared to strike the shooter, Browne said.

While cops are chasing the gunman, he turned and fired a fourth time -- but the weapon jammed.

Dunne fired a total of 11 times during exchange, police said.

Both officers were taken to Beth Israel Hospital and later released. Martinez was taken to Bellevue Hospital and is in stable condition, police said.

Kelly met with both officers this morning and said they were in good spirits.

"It was a very close call for Officer Richards," Kelly said. "The magazine may have well saved his life."

Today's firefight follows a recent rash of cop shootings.

On Friday, two cops were promoted after both survived being shot in separate incidents.

Detective Kevin Herlihy, 47, who fatally blasted career criminal Michael McBride in Harlem on Feb. 14 despite taking a bullet in the arm, was boosted to first-grade detective.

Detective Kevin Brennan, 29, who was shot in Brooklyn on Jan. 31. Gangbanger Luis “Baby” Ortiz has been accused of pulling the trigger.

Kelly cited Brennan’s “stunning valor” as he promoted the seven-year veteran from officer to detective at Police Headquarters.

In December, Officer Peter Figoski was tragically shot and killed while responding to a call in Brooklyn.

Reds sign lefty Marshall to three-year extension

Reds reliever Sean Marshall has never lived in Cincinnati, but he's been there as a visiting player. It didn't matter that he had yet to pitch for his new team, because he already felt at home.

That's why it was a rather easy decision for Marshall to sign a three-year, $16.5 million contract extension with Cincinnati on Monday. The deal runs through the 2015 season.

"I'm super excited," Marshall said. "Since day one when I came to the new facility here and got to meet my Reds teammates and staff, and got to be back with Dusty [Baker] and the coaches I was with, they were all very welcoming. I've been very excited so far in Spring Training."

Marshall's contract carries a partial no-trade clause and he can earn up to $1 million in bonuses for games finished as a closer, and $1 million for games started should he ever become part of the rotation.

Bonuses aside, Marshall has been one of the top left-handed setup men in baseball the past couple of seasons. And that is his planned role for 2012.

"We're obviously very excited about it," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "When we made the trade for him, we made it intending to extend him. We felt confident we would do that. We wanted to approach it sooner than later. Our goal was to try and get it done before the start of camp, or at least before we started playing games. We did get it done before the games."

Marshall, 29, was acquired by Cincinnati from the Cubs in a Dec. 23 trade for pitcher Travis Wood, outfielder Dave Sappelt and Minor League infielder Ronald Torreyes.

Already set to make $3.1 million in 2012 under his current contract, Marshall could have been a free agent after this season.

"I feel like my deal is just as good as I could get as a free-agent pitcher," said Marshall, who is represented by agent Barry Meister. "It's peace of mind. For me, it's going to ease some pressure off of me and make me perform well. Peace of mind is a good thing to have for my family. I think really highly of the front-office staff for even proposing a long-term extension to me. I am forever thankful for that."

Jocketty credited his strong working relationship with Meister as a reason things went so smoothly with Marshall's signing.

"You never know until it's done. I knew it wasn't going to be a long, dragged-out affair," Jocketty said.
Last season, Marshall went 6-6 with a 2.26 ERA in 78 games, with 17 walks and 79 strikeouts over 75 2/3 innings. He has a 2.45 ERA in 158 appearances over the past two seasons.

Marshall also has the ability to be a closer in games when Ryan Madson is not available. Madson is only signed to a one-year deal, which made adding Marshall long-term even more attractive to the Reds.

"No. 1, he is a quality person and I think he's going to add a lot to our franchise and organization for at least four years," Jocketty said. "You look at the quality of his work. He's one of the top setup guys in the game. And we'll have flexibility with him in the future if we want to use him as a closer. That will be determined as we go down the road."

Echoing a sentiment he expressed at the time of his trade, Marshall on Monday was open to being the guy in the ninth inning at some point. In the short-term, he can fill in for Madson on days he is not available.

"If the opportunity arises and I happen to be handed the ball in the ninth inning or 10th inning, I think I am more than capable of doing it," Marshall said. "I continue to have confidence in whatever inning I am pitching -- the seventh, eighth or ninth."

Marshall, who resided in Chicago when he pitched for the Cubs from 2006-11, visited Cincinnati with his family shortly after the trade. He toured the home clubhouse and found a place to live in Northern Kentucky.

"I've always enjoyed all my trips to Cincinnati," Marshall said. "I know we stay downtown, so we didn't get to see much of the outside of the city. But my family and I are excited to be Cincinnati residents for the next four years. I know it's a beautiful city and we have great fans. They've won some championships. I'm looking forward to playing with this great group of guys and this great group of tremendously talented players. Hopefully we can guide ourselves to the postseason and farther."

1 student killed, 4 others wounded after teen gunman opens fire in cafeteria

CHARDON, Ohio -- An Ohio teen described as an "outcast" is suspected of opening fire on his high school classmates Monday, leaving one dead and four injured before being apprehended near the suburban Cleveland campus.

The alleged shooter was identified by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as Chardon High School student T.J. Lane.

Authorities have not released the suspected gunman's name because he is a juvenile and has not yet been charged, Chardon Police Chief Tim McKenna said.

Law enforcement officials described Lane as a "victim of bullying" and an "outcast," WKYC-TV reported.

The gunman opened fire around 7:30am Monday in the school cafeteria. Terrified students and teachers barricaded themselves inside classrooms and the school was placed on immediate lockdown.

Nate Mueller, a Chardon junior who was in the cafeteria when the shots were fired, told the Plain Dealer that he saw Lane shooting.

"My friends were crawling on the floor, and one of my friends was bent over the table, and he was shot," Mueller told the paper. "It was almost like a firecracker went off. I turned around and saw [T.J.] standing with a gun and I saw him take a shot."

Two teachers reportedly chased the gunman out of the building, which is located about 30 miles outside of Cleveland. The gunman was reportedly apprehended by police about one mile from campus shortly after he fled.

Victims were found in three different locations inside the school, WKYC-TV reported, suggesting the shooter may have targeted and pursued specific people.

Authorities identified the deceased student as 16-year-old Chardon junior Daniel Parmentor.

In a statement, Parmentor's family called his death a "senseless tragedy."

"Danny was a bright young boy who had a bright future ahead of him. The family is torn by this loss," the statement read.

Tuesday classes throughout the entire Chardon district have been canceled, as residents of the town of about 5,100 grapple with the news.

Jeannette Roth said her son Joshua, a student at the school, told her the shooting happened while students were eating breakfast in the cafeteria. Suddenly a boy "stood up and started shooting, and then it was chaos," Roth told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Four ambulances and a medical helicopter arrived at the school shortly after 8:00am local time, according to the Plain Dealer. Sources said three of the students were flown to the trauma center at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

Two of the male victims are in critical condition, another male is in serious condition and one female is in stable condition, McKenna confirmed Monday afternoon.

Students from a nearby middle school were also evacuated and all classes in the district canceled, Chardon Local School coordinator Ellen Ondrey said.

In a statement issued later in the morning, Ohio Gov. John Kasich pledged the state's support to local authorities.

"Please join me in praying for the students who've been injured in this horrible crime," Kasich said.

"Praise goes to the Chardon Police and Geauga County Sheriff's office for quickly getting this situation under control. I've pledged Ohio's full support to them, the school and the local community in this difficult time."

Varitek reportedly to announce retirement

Catcher Jason Varitek, the captain of the Red Sox and a pillar of two World Series winning teams, will announce his retirement on Tuesday, according to The Boston Globe.

Varitek, who turns 40 in April, was offered a non-roster invitation to Spring Training by the Sox, but he did not accept the offer and was widely believed to be headed for retirement after 14 big league seasons from 1998-2011. Varitek never played for another Major League team.

The switch-hitter, born in Rochester, Mich., leaves with a career .256 average, .341 on-base percentage and 193 home runs in 1,546 games. Varitek was a three-time All-Star and reached double-digit totals in home runs 11 times, topping at 25 in 2003 and reaching 11 long balls in his final season.

Amongst players with 1,000 games in the Majors and at least 75 percent of those at catcher, Varitek is No. 16 on the all-time home run list. He was named Boston's captain after helping the team to its curse-breaking 2004 World Series run, a designation he kept through the rest of his time with the club.

Varitek is expected to remain with the Sox organization in some capacity, according to the Globe. His announcement follows closely behind Tim Wakefield's, another Boston veteran who decided to retire this month.

Safety device was disabled on elevator in advertising exec's death: report

Bumbling mechanics overrode the elevator’s safety system and stepped out of the lift just two minutes before it crushed young Y&R ad executive Suzanne Hart to death, a city investigation revealed today.

And afterwards, the Transel mechanic the investigation found responsible, Michael Hill, tried to cover his tracks by telling investigators that he restored the safety system before Hart boarded the lift – an assertion that turned out to be a lie, the city found.

As a result, workers at the elevator maintenance company "failed to follow the most basic safety procedures" when they repaired a midtown lift, officials said today.

The elevator accelerated upwards from the lobby with its doors open, dragging Suzanne Hart, 41, a Young and Rubicam executive, to her death as she stepped inside.

The timing was heartbreaking.

Video security footage from the lobby showed that seconds before Hart tried to walk into the cab, two passengers pressed call buttons prompting the elevator to start moving to higher floors with the door wide open.

Officials said the workers also failed to post signs warning of a repair was in progress and didn't notify the Buildings Department to request an inspection before putting the elevator back in service.

"These workers and their supervisors failed to follow the most basic safety procedures and their carelessness cost a woman her life," said Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri.

"The investigation starkly showed safety protocols were ignored," said Investigation Commission Rose Gill Hearn.

The license of Transel's owner, John Fichera, was suspended pending a hearing where it could be permanently revoked.

The company also faces 23 violations which carry a minimum penalty of $117,000.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Brandon J.'s News intro for February 26

Good afternoon New York on this Sunday February 26, 2012. I'm Terra Anderson, and we have a jam-packed news day in store for you. The Oscars are tonight so we're excied about that, and Brandon has his own picks for who's going to win tonight.

Also, Brandon will have perdictions on the upcoming Mets and Yankees' seasons.

And of course, we'll have the day's news, your weather forcast, and whatever else may come along.

And it's all coming your way next.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Henry to apologize to Crawford about remarks

Red Sox owner John Henry said Saturday morning that he plans to apologize to Carl Crawford for saying in a radio interview that he initially opposed the signing that brought the left fielder to Boston.

"I do," Henry said, when asked if he planned on speaking with Crawford. "I should have never made those comments. It was an off-the-cuff remark I shouldn't have made. When I see him, I'm going to apologize to him for it."

When Henry originally made the comments, he was trying to convey that the move to sign Crawford was a baseball move, not one to increase television ratings. And Henry later said his main motivation for not having full support of the signing is that the Red Sox already had a multitude of left-handed-hitting outfielders at the Major and Minor League levels.

Henry declined discussion of the remarks when asked to clarify again on Saturday.

"No, I don't want to go through it again," Henry said. "I think I've already explained it. People don't seem to want to hear the explanation anyway."

Crawford said earlier this week he was "surprised" to hear what Henry said and that he "wished those words never came out".

One person with whom Henry did clear the air with earlier this week was former manager Terry Francona, who said in a recent interview that he had tried to call his former owner "seven or eight times" since leaving the team, without getting a return phone call.

"We had a long conversation a few days ago after I found out he was trying to get in touch with me, and it was a great conversation -- one we should have had prior to this," Henry said. "As he said in talking about it, we were able to clear the air and talk about it. I think there were points of view that we both had about what happened last year when he left, so it was good. We needed to speak."

City releases performance grades for more than 12,000 teachers

City education officials yesterday released rankings for thousands of fourth- through eighth-grade teachers based on whether they boosted their students’ math and reading scores — giving parents an unprecedented glimpse into how the instructors perform in the classroom.

The release follows a bitter 17-month legal bid by the teachers union to block the city from providing the controversial information to The New York Post.

The unsuccessful lawsuit came after The Post filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Education in August 2010 seeking the performance rankings.

Three courts sided with The Post and the city in the legal fight.

Teachers were ranked on a scale of zero to 99 as compared with colleagues with similar experience levels and who work in the same grade and subject.

The data show:
  • Brooklyn had the most schools with four or more teachers rated in the 90th percentile or above — 42 — followed by The Bronx at 21 and Queens at 16. Manhattan had no schools with that many top-tier teachers, and Staten Island had 1.
  • Brooklyn also had the most schools with four or more teachers in the bottom 10 percent — 25 — followed by Queens with 21, The Bronx with 11 and Staten Island with 9. Manhattan had no schools with at least four bottom-tier teachers.
  • The A-rated PS 86 in Fordham Manor in The Bronx had 13 teachers rank in the top 10 percent — the most of any school.
  • The C-rated PS 89 in Bronxdale in The Bronx had 10 teachers land in the bottom 10 percent — the worst in town.
Overall, DOE officials said they found 521 teachers who were consistently in the bottom 5 percent of teachers — the lowest performance category — for either math or reading.

On the opposite end, they said 696 teachers were consistently rated in the top 5 percent — the highest of the five rating categories.

“The reports will create a new level of accountability that will pressure principals to help bad teachers improve or get rid of them,” said B. Jason Brooks, of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability in Albany.

“[They] will enable New York families to be better consumers of the education being provided to their children.”

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he’s “not necessarily supportive of the names being attached” to the ratings, but he hoped it would spur conversations between parents and principals.

“That type of discussion is extremely important,” he said. “To me, that allows that parent to be an involved stakeholder as far as what’s happening in their child’s or children’s classroom.”

DOE analysis found that schools ranked with “A’s” and “B’s” by the city tended to have more highly ranked teachers.

In 2010, 79 percent of the highest-rated math teachers — those in the top quarter — were in “A” or “B” schools. In English, 77 percent of those at or near the top were in “A” or “B” schools.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and a host of other critics charge that the data are based on state tests that have proven to be unreliable and are derived from a formula that would stump Albert Einstein.

The margin of error for the average teacher’s ranking was a spread of 35 in math and 53 in English, with error margins as high as 75 in math and 87 in reading.

This means, for example, that an English teacher who ranked 50th in reading could actually deserve to be placed anywhere from the 25th to 78th percentile.

“It’s so unreliable. It’s so corrupted,” Mulgrew said. “When we’re arguing about whether the margin of error is 54 or 34, we’re in a surrealistic world.”

Education researchers told The New York Post the city’s formula for calculating the rankings is among the best — if not the best — in the nation.

They say the data are particularly telling at the highest and lowest ends of the spectrum, and when used in combination with other factors like a principal’s observations.

“For most of the teachers, we won’t be far off. The data is usually right,” said Rob Meyer, director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Education Research, which helped design the city’s reports.

He was concerned only with the reliability of the state tests that form the basis of the rankings — and the data being made public with teachers’ names.

“I’m uncomfortable with the release of the data. It turns the data into a nasty thing,” he said. “Parents need to be careful and not overreact.”

Some teachers told The New York Post their individual data reports were rife with errors.

A number said that when they were given the opportunity to review the list of students whose test scores they were held responsible for, they didn’t recognize a host of the names.

Some also said they were given rankings for subjects they didn’t teach.

“If this were something that was true, I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” said Doreen Crinigan, a fifth-grade teacher at PS 48 in Brooklyn who was ranked in the 14th percentile in math in 2007 — even though she teaches English.

“It leaves me with no good feelings toward the DOE — which I’ve worked for for 26 years.”

Hamilton returning focus to baseball

Josh Hamilton spoke to the media on Friday for the first time this spring. He brought a Bible with him and used it to quote from 1st Peter, 2nd Corinthians and 1st Philippians.

Hamilton had multiple Bible verses to share while trying to explain where he is in his recovery from a second relapse in his continuing struggle against substance abuse addiction. His basic message was that he continues to get counseling and that he is doing everything he can to get his personal life in order, especially with his family.

"Things have been really good the past three weeks," Hamilton said. "Everything has been better as far as focusing on my family, focusing on my relationship with Christ, talking to the Lord and listening to him more than talking.

"Don't get me wrong. This is an ongoing process and will be until the day I die. But my relationship with my wife and my kids has gotten a hundred times better the last three weeks."

The relapse occurred on Jan. 30 when Hamilton drank alcohol in a Dallas restaurant and bar. The circumstances of what Hamilton was doing that night remain shrouded somewhat in mystery. His main message has been that he is trying to get his family life back in order and repair his relationship with his wife Katie and three daughters.

"For me, it's communication," Hamilton said. "When I'm at the park, I'm on all the time, and when you get home, you shut down, and your relationship with your wife and kids suffer. My commitment needs to be to them and not everybody else. My priorities need to be flipped.

"I haven't been a zombie, but I let circumstances away from the house keep me from communicating with Katie like I should. We're getting counseling and talking through these things. It's not like I'm fixed or healthy, it's a process, but I want to be on the right track and I want to make good decisions."

Also shrouded in mystery is what exactly will happen with Hamilton's contract. He is a free agent after the season and the relapse came at a time when the Rangers were discussing a long-term contract extension with Hamilton's agent, Mike Moye.

Those discussions came to an end with the relapse and have not resumed. Hamilton had previously established the beginning of Spring Training as a deadline for the discussions, but that is no longer in play. He said he will not discuss the contract during the season. Nobody is quite sure if the discussions will resume in Spring Training.

"It's one of those things ... I hate that this happened," Hamilton said. "The Rangers knew the risk when they took me in '08. I've done a lot of good for them and they've been good to me. There are always ways to work things out. I'm not stressed about the contract."

The Rangers want Hamilton to focus on his recovery and getting ready for the season. That does not change the fact that Hamilton, who won the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player Award, can walk away from the Rangers at the end of the season. At some point, that is going to be a major issue.

"I'll leave that up to my agent," Hamilton said. "I'm not going to jump at the first thing offered and say, 'I better get it while I can.'"

Hamilton also has difficulty agreeing with people who believe he owes the Rangers because the organization took a chance on him four years ago and has supported him through two relapses.

"The Rangers have done a lot for me," Hamilton said. "I have a question. Have I done a lot for the
Rangers? I think I have given them everything I've got. What it comes down to is, people have to understand this is a business. I love Texas, I love the fans, I love the organization and I love my teammates. But I'm not going to sit here and say I owe the Rangers. I don't feel I owe the Rangers."

So at this point, Hamilton has reported to Spring Training and is working out again with his teammates. His family is with him and Hamilton said the low-pressure atmosphere of Spring Training is their favorite time of year. He has a new partner in special assistant Shayne Kelley, a former college baseball coach who also has deep religious beliefs. Hamilton said they have hit it off well.

Hamilton is also physically healthy. He had surgery on Veterans Day to repair a sports hernia on his left side, and that is not longer an issue.

"The rehab went good," Hamilton said.

He has had to deal with significant injuries in each of the past three seasons, and that may be a bigger factor in contract negotiations than any fear of another relapse in his addiction recovery. His health -- just like his counseling, his family life and his baseball career -- remains a day-to-day proposition.

Almost everything with Hamilton is an ongoing process.

But on a cool Friday morning in the desert, Hamilton was all smiles and feeling good, mainly because of what is taking place at home. He said he is trying to move forward and return the focus to the baseball field rather than what happened last month.

"We always have distractions; every Spring Training, there has been something ... now this," Hamilton said. "It's baseball season. We've won the American League championship two years in a row. Let's focus on the positive things that will make us better and help the fans come out to see us."