Back in New York, Beltran takes shots at Mets
NEW YORK (AP) On his first day in Yankees pinstripes, Carlos Beltran had some choice words - for the Mets.
Having signed a $119 million, seven-year contract with the Mets before the 2005 season, Beltran was unhappy about his stay in Queens by the time he was dealt to San Francisco in July 2011.
He felt he was unfairly targeted for taking a called third strike from St. Louis' Adam Wainwright on the final pitch of 2006 NL championship series Game 7. He was blamed for missing a team trip to the Walter Reed Medical Center in 2010 on a day when he had gone back home to Puerto Rico to do some charity work. He wasn't too thrilled when management sparred with him over knee ailments.
And in a 2011 interview with The New Yorker, owner Fred Wilpon said the Mets "paid him based on one series. He's 65 to 70 percent of what he was," a reference to Beltran's eight homers in 12 games for Houston in the 2004 playoffs.
"Trying to put me as a player that I was a bad apple," Beltran said. "I can deal with 0 for 4's, three strikeouts and talking to you guys. I can deal with that. But when someone is trying hurt you in a personal way, trying to put things out there that are not me, then we have trouble. Now it's personal."
"When they say all that about myself, of course I was hurt," he added. "You cannot believe that the organization that signed you for seven years is trying to put you down. In that aspect I felt hurt. I'm a player, but they not only hurt me they hurt my family, the people around me. It's a shame."
Sporting his No. 36 jersey and joined by his wife and two daughters, Beltran talked about how much he admired the Yankees while growing up in Puerto Rico and how close he came to joining them previously.
"Having the opportunity to come back again as a Yankee really means a lot to me. I grew up being a Yankee fan, grew up being a Bernie Williams fan. At one point, I almost got the opportunity to sign with the Yankees. It didn't work out," Beltran said. "But at the end of the day, what is in the past is in the past. I'm looking forward to joining this ballclub, looking forward to the challenges ahead."
Yankees general manager Cashman recalled late owner George Steinbrenner and his propensity for adding ex-Mets such as David Cone, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.
"George Steinbrenner and his family have had a chance to take some players that have been premier players across town with the New York Mets. Later in their careers, they've come over here to continue their successful runs as major league players," Cashman said.
In addition to Beltran, the Yankees gave outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury a $153 million, seven-year contract and catcher Brian McCann an $85 million, five-year deal, moves they hope will replace the offense lost when All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano left for a $240 million, 10-year agreement with Seattle.
Including not-yet-finalized deals with second baseman Brian Roberts and left-hander Matt Thornton, New York's luxury tax payroll is at $177.7 million for 15 players. When benefits are included, they are within $1 million of the $189 million tax threshold for next year.
The Yankees' only hope to get under is if an arbitrator upholds most of Alex Rodriguez's 211-game suspension and they don't have to pay most of his $25 million salary.
New York manager Joe Girardi says the ruling could have a significant impact on the team, which missed the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years.
"That could change what my whole thought process on what our lineup is," he said.
Beltran, who hit .296 for the Cardinals last season with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs, has played with five teams over 16 big league seasons.
He could be shuttled between right field and designated hitter. That would lessen some of the strain on the 36-year-old's knees: he's had two operations on his right, one on his left.
Coming off his first World Series appearance, Beltran hopes the Yankees return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.
"In my case I don't come here to replace nobody," Beltran said. "I come here to fill my own shoes."
NOTES: Gary Tuck rejoined the Yankees on Friday as bullpen coach. The 59-year-old Tuck was Girardi's bench coach in 2006 with the Florida Marlins and was Boston's bullpen coach from 2007-12. Tuck previously worked for the Yankees as a catching instructor, bullpen coach, scout and minor league manager. ... The Yankees also hired Trey Hillman as special assistant of major and minor league operations, Mike Quade as a roving outfield and baserunning instructor, and Matthew Krause as strength and conditioning coordinator.
Notre Dame to play at Fenway Park in 2015
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame won't play a Big Ten opponent in 2015, the first time that's happened in more than 100 years, but the Fighting Irish will play a home game against Boston College at Fenway Park.
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick released schedules for the next three seasons on Friday, saying a goal was to follow the model Jesse Harper started back in 1913 when he scheduled games at Army, Penn State and Texas and helped give the Fighting Irish a national following.
"We play coast to coast. Jesse Harper made that decision a hundred years ago. It changed the trajectory of the football program and the university, and we're not going to stray from it," Swarbrick said.
The 2014 schedule was released so late because Swarbrick had to adjustments when the school agreed to play five games a season against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents after joining the league for most sports other than football. That left the Irish with too many games.
The problem was solved when Wake Forest agreed to move its 2014 game to 2015 and Swarbrick made the game against Boston College a Shamrock Series game, where the Irish play one home game a season at a neutral site.
Swarbrick said that fit in with his goal of playing games in special places. The Irish will face Boston College at the home of the Boston Red Sox - the team Irish coach Brian Kelly grew up rooting for. The field served as the home field for Boston College for 76 games from 1914 through 1956.
Notre Dame already has measured the field at Fenway to make sure there wouldn't be a recurrence of what happened when Northwestern played Illinois at Wrigley Field in 2010 and they had to change the rules so that the offenses would run only toward the west end zone because the east end zone came within a foot of a padded brick wall.
"We spent a lot of time mapping it, staking it," Swarbrick said. "The Yankees will tell you when we went there the first time, we drove them crazy. We had to outline the entire field. We had to walk in and see it."
Notre Dame wouldn't have scheduled the game if officials thought there was any risk to players, Swarbrick said.
The Irish also play Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis next season, Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., in 2014 and 2016, Navy at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., next season and Army in San Antonio in 2016.
They open the 2015 season at home against Texas and open at the Longhorns in 2016.
Swarbrick said when putting together the schedule his other priorities were keeping the model of playing six home games, five road games and the Shamrock Series game, playing on Saturdays, preserving the games with USC, Stanford and Navy, maximizing the school's geographic reach, maintaining a strong strength of schedule and playing other highly ranked academic schools.
Maintaining games with traditional opponents Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan and Pittsburgh weren't as high a priority. Swarbrick said he took it as a compliment so many people got upset the Irish won't be playing them as often.
"I can't think of a higher form of flattery for Notre Dame football, that people got so upset at the prospect of losing games with us," he said.
He said the schedule achieves the geographic reach by playing in nine of the nation's 12 largest cities during the three-year span and nine of the 10 largest Catholic communities.
Swarbrick said a priority moving forward is trying to add a Southeastern Conference opponent to the schedule. He said that's difficult, however, because Notre Dame only has one open spot in its schedule for a road game and that is filled through the 2020 season. The Irish also owe BYU a game there.
The Irish also will be playing more home night games. Swarbrick said in addition to the annual Shamrock Series games being played at night, the Irish have agreed to play three night games every two years in South Bend.
Vikings RB Peterson practices, expects to play
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Adrian Peterson shouldn't have any reason to get "hot" at Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier this week.
Peterson returned to practice for Minnesota on Friday and is expected to play in Sunday's game at Cincinnati as long as he doesn't have any setbacks with his sprained right foot. The league's second-leading rusher, Peterson is listed as questionable for the Vikings (4-9-1).
"I'm looking forward to playing this week," Peterson said Friday. "Get another day to rest tomorrow, which is going to be good. As far as the foot goes, I'll be ready to go."
Peterson missed last week's game after spraining his foot a week earlier at Baltimore. Though he returned to practice on a limited basis last Friday, Frazier held Peterson out of Sunday's 48-30 win against Philadelphia. Frazier said it wasn't an easy conversation with Peterson, who admitted to being "hot" and devastated" about having to sit out.
"Because I felt I was to the point where I was ready to go," Peterson said. "My mind was ready to get out there and play. I'm in game mode and then I find out that I'm not playing. No matter what I had to say, that's what it was. That's why it was tough. But fortunately we got a win, so that kind of ease the pain a little bit."
Frazier expects Peterson to play this week, but wanted to make sure the NFL MVP didn't have any setbacks prior to Sunday's game. Peterson was limited in Friday's practice.
"We didn't have him do every rep, but enough where he would feel confident and we would feel confident," Frazier said. "So it was encouraging with some of the things he was able to do."
Peterson trails Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy by 122 rushing with two games left and said he still feels the rushing title is within his grasp.
"Yeah, it's not over 200 yards, so it's still in play," Peterson said, saying earlier: "I look at it, any competitor would want to be at the top of the game. I play this game to be the best. So with that, leading the league goes along."
Minnesota should also have Peterson's backup, Toby Gerhart, in the lineup after he missed last week with a hamstring injury. He's listed as probable. The Vikings said rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes will be out Sunday because of a sprained ankle. Tight end John Carlson is doubtful after having a relapse of concussion symptoms on Thursday.
DA drops domestic violence case against Avs goalie
DENVER (AP) Prosecutors said Friday that they are dropping a domestic violence case against Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov because they have new information leading them to believe they couldn't win a conviction.
Varlamov was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault after his girlfriend told police he knocked her down with a kick, stomped on her chest and dragged her by her hair at their apartment on Oct. 30.
The girlfriend, Evgeniya Vavrinyukat, also accused him of telling her that he would have beaten her more if they had been in Russia, where he is from, authorities said.
Lynn Kimbrough, a spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney's Office, declined to offer specifics on the new information that led prosecutors to drop the case. She said it surfaced from additional interviews with witnesses.
"This is not an indication that we didn't believe our victim," Kimbrough said. "It is ... simply not having the ability to prove it."
Vavrinyukat's attorney, Robert Abrams, had no comment, his office said.
Varlamov's attorney, Saskia Jordan, called the decision "a just result" and said Varlamov was pleased.
Jordan said Varlamov thanked the Avalanche, their fans and the Russian Federation for their support. A spokesman for the Avalanche declined to comment Friday.
Varlamov, 25, has been free on $5,000 bond and has been traveling and playing with the team. He could have faced a sentence ranging from probation to two years in jail if convicted.
He is 16-8 with a 2.37 goals-against average this season.
Youkilis agrees to $4M, 1-year deal with Rakuten
NEW YORK (AP) Kevin Youkilis is leaving the major leagues after an injury plagued season and heading to Japan.
The three-time All-Star has agreed to a one-year contract with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Pacific League.
"They made it very apparent right from the start they were quite interested in Kevin being there," agent Joe Bick said Friday.
A 34-year-old first baseman and third baseman, Youkilis will have a $4 million base salary and can earn $1 million in bonuses - including some based on walks, a provision not allowed in major league contracts.
After nine seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Youkilis signed a $12 million, one-year deal with the New York Yankees. But his back started to bother him in mid-April, and an epidural injection didn't improve a lumbar spine sprain.
Sidelined from April 27 to May 31, he went back on the DL on June 13, had surgery a week later to repair a herniated disk and didn't return. Youkilis hit just .219 with two homers and eight RBIs over 28 games and 105 at-bats.
"There's no reason to believe he's anything less than 100 percent," Bick said. "Workouts are going normally."
Youkilis has a .281 average in 10 big league seasons with 150 homers and 618 RBIs, and he earned a World Series ring with the 2007 Red Sox.
At Rakuten, Youkilis may become teammates with star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who went 24-0 last season, While Tanaka wants to join the major leagues, Rakuten is reluctant to make him available in the new posting season, and the 25-year-old right-hander can't leave as a free agent until after the 2015 season.
"We were talking with eight or nine other clubs over here," Bick said. "In the final analysis, he said the right thing for my family and me is to go do this. It will be a wonderful life experience."
Eagles QB Foles fined $10K for illegal block
NEW YORK (AP) Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was fined $10,000 by the NFL on Friday for an illegal peel-back block on Minnesota's Erin Henderson during the Eagles' loss Sunday.
Foles went down low at Henderson's knees, drawing a penalty and negating DeSean Jackson's 18-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Arizona's Marcus Benard was fined $15,750 for roughing the passer on a hit on Tennessee's Ryan Fitzpatrick. Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington was also docked $5,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Also in that game, Titans defensive end Kamerion Wimbley was fined $10,000 for hitting Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer in the knee area.
Fined $7,875 by the NFL were: Indianapolis' Gosder Cherilus (for punching Houston's J.J. Watt), Cincinnati's Dre Kirkpatrick (facemask), Baltimore's Matt Elam (hitting a quarterback who slid feet-first) and St. Louis' Eugene Sims (for a hit on New Orleans' Darren Sproles).
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
Hairston's career over at North Carolina
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) P.J. Hairston's career is over at North Carolina.
The school said Friday that it won't seek Hairston's reinstatement from the NCAA after the junior committed several rule violations. Hairston hasn't played all season while the school and NCAA worked to resolve eligibility questions stemming from the use of cars linked to a felon and party promoter earlier this year.
Coach Roy Williams said Friday it was "probably the most difficult and saddest thing I've ever gone through as a head coach."
The news came two days after the school announced the NCAA had cleared senior Leslie McDonald to return after missing the first nine games due to related violations.
"We tried to do everything we could possibly do to get both kids back playing," athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. "... We had enough information that we all agreed upon with the university and the NCAA to submit reinstatement for Leslie, but we just didn't have it for P.J."
Hairston led the team in scoring last year and is a dangerous outside shooter. He flirted with entering the NBA draft before deciding to return, yet he never made it back on the court. He has practiced as a reserve, including Friday after the announcement, and sat on the bench for home games.
Hairston's family said in a statement that he would decide on his plans in coming weeks while wishing the No. 14 Tar Heels continued success.
"We are displeased with the University of North Carolina's decision not to submit the necessary paperwork to the NCAA requesting to have P.J. reinstated," the family said. "This process has been long, and for to end without having a final decision from the governing body is a shame."
Cunningham didn't release specifics, including when asked how much Hairston had received nor whether Hairston had been honest with investigators.
Authorities twice cited Hairston during the offseason while driving rental vehicles linked to Haydn Patrick "Fats" Thomas of Durham to raise the possibility of improper benefits violations.
McDonald's reinstatement letter sheds light on Hairston's case, saying McDonald occasionally drove two rental vehicles - a 2012 Chevrolet Camaro that Hairston was driving when he was cited for speeding in May and a 2013 Mercedes 350 - tied to Thomas as well as a 2008 Audi A4 "associated" with Thomas.
The letter states McDonald shared access to the vehicles with another UNC student-athlete whose name is redacted, as well as Hairston's friend - Elizabeth City State player Miykael Faulcon, who missed the first nine games before returning Thursday - and non-athletes.
According to the letter, the unnamed player was charged with using the vehicles 75 percent of the time he and McDonald had possession of them.
The school has since adjusted the amount of McDonald's improper benefits that he's required to repay to charity, increasing it by about $100 to $1,883.46. The value for McDonald's end of using the shared vehicles and associated unpaid parking tickets is $1,157.50, putting the unnamed player's usage on that part alone to at least $3,472.50.
Bill Thomas, a Durham-based attorney for Fats Thomas, said his client met with school officials Dec. 10 for "an in-depth interview ... to clear up any misconception about the relationship between Haydn Thomas and Mr. Hairston." Bill Thomas said he invited NCAA officials "but they elected not to participate."
Fats Thomas said Friday night he told UNC officials that Faulcon had access to the vehicles and the players apparently shared them among themselves. He said he believed the matter "was blown way out of proportion" and that he was disappointed by the school's decision.
"Like I told UNC's lawyers, I don't have a relationship with P.J. Hairston," he said. "I do have a relationship with his friend, Miykael Faulcon, who had access to those vehicles. Boys will be boys and they hang out together, so I don't know."
Hairston was first cited for speeding in May while driving the Camaro rented under the name of a woman sharing the Thomas' home address. Less than a month later, Hairston was arrested in Durham along with Faulcon and another passenger, and charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession while driving a 2013 GMC Yukon rented under Thomas' name.
Hairston's drug charge was dismissed in July after he completed a drug assessment program. But nine days later, authorities cited Hairston for driving 93 mph in a 65 mph zone along Interstate 85 in Salisbury while driving a 2008 Acura owned by a friend, Randi Lee Furr.
Williams suspended Hairston indefinitely that day before letting him practice with the team in preseason as the "first step toward permanently earning his place back on the roster."
The No. 14 Tar Heels beat highly ranked Michigan State, Kentucky and Louisville without Hairston and McDonald. McDonald scored 15 points with four 3-pointers in his return Wednesday, an 86-83 loss to Texas.
North Carolina plays Davidson on Saturday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
Wisconsin-Whitewater wins Division III title
SALEM, Va. (AP) Matt Behrendt and his Wisconsin-Whitewater teammates spent last year's NCAA Division III playoffs on the sideline, three-time national championship left out of the playoffs, and a chance to win their fourth title in a row,
They started what they hope is a new streak Friday night with a 52-14 victory over Mount Union.
"Talking for the seniors, it was the best thing that happened to our program," defensive end Loussaint Minett said of being excluded from the postseason in 2012. It gave the Warhawks inspiration to make sure it didn't happen again.
Behrendt made sure of it, throwing four touchdown passes while the Warhawks' defense stymied Gagliardi Trophy-winner Kevin Burke and the Purple Raiders, putting the game away with four second-half turnovers.
Behrendt finished 20 for 28 for 249 yards. He also ran six times for 56 yards, often in key situations. It was a tactic he hadn't used much this season, but in a game with the stakes as high as they get, he said he took whatever was available.
`They were trying to double cover our receivers all day, and that opened up lanes for me," he said.
He also seemed to make every throw, a performance highlighted by a scrambling, sidearm laser to Jake Kumerow in the front right corner of the end zone, a play where there was only one spot to throw the ball, and Behrendt got it there.
"When he's on a roll like that, you know it's going to be coming in hot," Kumerow said with a huge smile.
Kumerow and Tyler Huber each caught a pair of scoring passes, and Jordan Ratliffe ran for two for the Warhawks (15-0), who continued their domination of the series between the two powerhouse programs in Division III.
Whitewater, also the champions in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011, have won four straight and five of its last six meetings with Mount Union in the Stagg Bowl. The Purple Raiders have won 11 titles, beating Whitewater in 2005, 2006 and 2008,
The teams have met eight times in the last nine years in the division's championship game.
The Purple Raiders (14-1), national champions last season, suffered their worst loss since falling 48-0 to Wittenberg in 1974. That game took place before their first-year head coach, Vince Kehres, was born.
"The turnovers were tough, but we weren't stopping them very good either," Kehres said.
The Warhawks led 21-14 at halftime behind Behrendt's three TD passes, and took command in the third quarter, turning a fumble recovery into a touchdown and a defensive stand at their 5 into a field goal that made it 31-14.
Another fumble recovery late in the third period set up Behrendt's final scoring throw. The junior quarterback, voted the most outstanding player, finished with 40 touchdown passes and just one interception this season.
"And the best thing about it?" coach Lance Leipold said. "He's a junior."
Mount Union quarterback Burke, who won the Gagliardi Trophy on Thursday night as the top player in Division III, was turned away when he tried to make something happen fast for the Purple Raiders after they went behind 38-14.
Burke threw deep on the ensuing series, and Warhawks cornerback Dylan Morang made a dazzling over-the-shoulder interception near the goal line and returned it to the Whitewater 30. Four plays later, Ratliffe's run made it 45-14.
"They did a good job of taking away what we wanted to do," Burke said. Asked what that was, he replied: "win."
Burke threw another interception on the next series, and Brady Grayvold returned it 37 yards for a touchdown, making it 52-14 with 8:23 remaining and letting the crowd of 5,371 know the outcome was decided.
"It's huge for our program," Minett said. "It's huge to go out on top as seniors."
The game marked the ninth consecutive appearance in the championship game for Mount Union, and its first under the 37-year-old Kehres, who succeeded his father, Larry, as coach after last season. The older Kehres compiled a 332-24-3 record in 27 seasons with the Purple Raiders and won 11 national titles.
The Warhawks dominated most of the first half, but a critical early mistake and a late scoring drive kept the Purple Raiders close. The mistake came when a shotgun snap sailed over Berhendt's head and Alex Kocheff recovered for Mount Union at the Whitewater 5. Burke ran it in on the next play to make it 7-7.
Behrendt otherwise continued a nearly flawless season, throwing touchdown passes of 17 yards to Kumerow, the 18th time they have teamed up this season, and 23 and 7 yards to Huber.
The latter came with 4:09 left on the clock, and Burke was 4 for 4 for 59 yards on the ensuing drive for the Purple Raiders, including a 15-yard strike to Brian Gainer on fourth-and-15 from the Warhawks 26. Mitchell, limited to 6 yards on his first four carries, took it the final 11 on the next play.
Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr
What makes Bode Miller great after all these years?
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. ? Skiing is a mystery to me. This probably has something to do with where I grew up, Cleveland, where snow was meant to be shoveled and scraped off your car and complained about. One year, the Olympic cross-country skier Bill Koch came to our whole school to show everyone how to cross-country ski in a park down the street. The park did not have any hills ? really nothing even resembling a bump ? and the ?skiing? was a lot like walking through snow with sticks on your feet, and I just didn?t get it.
So, I stand at the bottom of the mountain in Colorado ? here at the Birds of Prey World Cup skiing competition ? and dusty snow blows into faces, and the wind chill is minus-3, and Bode Miller is coming down. People are going crazy. Still. Bode Miller is 36 years old. He has skied at every Olympics since 1998 ? just about everybody was still using dial-up Internet then ? and he has won five Olympic medals and he has crashed spectacularly and he still matters.
The question is: Why?
One thing that is plainly appealing about skiing is the friendliness. People are impossibly friendly up here in the mountains. Maybe it?s the cold that brings people together. Maybe it?s the altitude. Whatever, the veterans can spot a novice from a million miles away and they are happy to help out in any possible way. In my short time, strangers walked up to continuously make recommendations about what I should wear (layers), what I should drink (lots of water), what I should buy (new boots) and what I should avoid (running down hills ? I wasn?t planning on it).
So I ask: Why does Bode Miller matter?
?He?s insane,? one guy wearing goggles and a face scarf says.
?He takes more chances than anybody else,? says another.
?He skies for fun,? says a third. ?He doesn?t care about winning. He just wants to go fast.?
And, finally, this from a woman in a full pink and blue ski-outfit that looks like it was just used in a cartoon.
?He?s just Bode,? she says.
* * *
Bode Miller will tell you he?s easy to figure out. This, in part, seems to be what makes him so tough to figure out. Everything Miller says sounds simple and yet seems to shade some deeper meaning, some quiet belief that he might rather keep to himself. Then again, maybe it isn?t. Maybe he just means what he means.
For instance, at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics ? after his much criticized no-medal performance in 2006 in Torino ? he won three Olympic medals including his first, long-awaited, Olympic gold. That was in the super-combined (one run of downhill and another of slalom). When he crossed the finish line, he showed very little emotion. And then, after a second or two, he bowed his head and covered it it with his hands. He looked to much of the world as if all the pressure had lifted and his overwhelming feeling was relief.
Miller smiles when told that. ?I guess it?s like art ? people will see different things,? he says. What he says he was ACTUALLY feeling was not relief at all, but this overwhelming blur of pride and exhaustion and thrill and joy. Or, in Bode?s words,?What I thought,? he says, ?was, ?That was f??? awesome.?
Bode?s childhood is well-covered ground ? he once challenged people to Google his name and ?outhouse? just to see how many hits came up: (Answer: 6,600, but many of these are recounting his Google challenge). He grew up in New Hampshire, in the woods, where there really was no power and an outhouse. His father, Woody, would say that he and Bode?s mother Jo tried to avoid all commercial things, materialistic things, any real need for money. They were children of the ?60s. When the great Marcel Hirscher ? the reigning World Cup champion from Austria ? admitted to having a Bode Miller poster on his wall, Miller said he never had a skiing poster on his wall when he was a kid. He added that he never had anything on his wall.
He was home-schooled until the third grade, and he spent more or less all his time outside picking up lessons from nature. In his interesting and plainly named autobiography ?Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun,? he includes a letter his mother sent to the school district to explain why Bode would be be better off home-schooled.
?There is a young apple orchard, a bunch of small gardens, half-hidden amid the mountainous terrain (our main garden is in the valley below). We have a frog pond, a seesaw, slide, sandbox, playhouse and the clothesline. This is where we live. We love it, and we love learning from it. ? Our children don?t want to go off to school every day and spend most of their time chained to a desk. They need to feel free to explore the world in their own way.?
Miller has never appreciated the way many have missed (or misrepresented) the wonder of his childhood, and the countless lessons he learned from it. He believes growing up as he did brought him closer to important ideas about what really matters in life ? ideas he thinks other people might have missed. He can remember clearly as a small child going half-naked into the cold and breaking the ice on top of a brook so he could see the water go by. He can remember just being outside all the time, seeing the animals, studying them, skiing every day, pushing the limits of gravity, falling, getting up, reaching again and again for that feeling of speed that consumed him.
And, he came out of it all a little bit different from every other world-class skier. They were all thrill-seekers, of course, but someone had to be the craziest of the bunch. That was Bode. He was the one willing to cut the corner a little bit tighter. He was the one willing to hold his top speed a little bit longer. Mel Brooks says that when he was young and he walked into a room of comics, they all bowed to him ? he was the comic?s comic. That?s was Bode. The other skiers were awed by what he could do, and what he tried to do. He was the skier?s skier.
Because of this extraordinary risk-taking he did things almost no one has done. He is one of only five men to win World Cup events in every discipline ? downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G and super-combined. He is a two-time World Cup champion. His five Olympic medals are the most for any American skier, male or female. He is preparing for his fifth Olympics.
But because of this extraordinary risk taking, he has also lost spectacularly. He was leading the super-combined in Torino when he was disqualified, he missed gates in both the slalom and giant slalom. He was criticized again and again for partying too much and skiing too little ? Gwenn Knapp, working for the San Francisco Chronicle, called him the biggest bust in Olympic history. But these sorts of wild swings are part of Miller?s persona. If you Google Bode Miller and DNF (for Did Not Finish) you get 93,900 results, many more than for outhouse.
?I knew I wasn?t going to ski well in 2006,? he says. ?I told friends that before it started.?
This is how he skies. He wins. Or he crashes. He blows minds. Or he slides off course. He does not apologize for it. Heck, it?s part of what makes him so interesting in the first place.
* * *
Miller stands with his wife, Morgan, on the bottom of the hill, and he holds his daughter, Dacey, and he looks happy. People around him talk about how much he has changed in the last couple of years. Bode used to be about Bode, they say. Now, it?s different. He married Morgan last year. He has brought his daughter along to numerous events, and he sometimes holds her while doing interviews He has been in a public battle with an ex-girlfriend, Sara McKenna, over the custody of their 9-month old son ? something Miller admits has embarrassed him ? but they seemed to make some progress last week with a temporary agreement.
?Bode,? one friend says, ?is different. He?s always been fun. But now, he knows what?s important. You see him holding his daughter and you think this is the happiest he?s ever been.?
Miller concedes the point. ?I think about things differently,? he says.
Example 1: In the downhill competition in Beaver Creek, Miller was absolutely electrifying at the top of the hill. He had the fastest time through the first two time intervals ? signaled by green lights on the scoreboard ? and had the crowd in a frenzy. Then, toward the bottom of the mountain, he made a couple of mistakes (?Stupid things I wouldn?t do one time in 100,? he would say) and ended up falling out of the Top 10. It was disappointing, in some ways.. But when he got to the bottom of the hill, Dacey was there to hug him and shout, ?You got two greens!? Miller could not help but smile and admit, sure, two greens was pretty good.
Example 2: In the giant slalom competition, Miller was in second place behind fellow American Ted Ligety after the first run. There are two runs in giant slalom, but already people were congratulating him, patting him on the back, talking about how great it was. Miller had not made a podium ? top three ? in two years. Dacey was excitedly telling Ligety that her father was in second place. ?Not yet,? Ligety said with a smile. And that, Miller admitted, helped clear his head, remind him of what was left to do, and he had a great second run (he ended up second to Ligety).
It isn?t just family, though, that has changed MIller. It is age. It is health. Miller had major knee surgery in early 2012 that many thought would end his career. People wondered if Miller COULD come back from such an injury and, perhaps as much, wondered if he even WANTED TO come back from such an injury. He?d already accomplished just about everything. And the sport is for the young. The aforementioned World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher is 24 ? he was 8 years old when Miller competed at his first Olympics.
?I never doubted that I would come back,? MIller says. He changed his workout program. He changed his focus as a skier. He changed his equipment. It took a long time, but now he says that the knee feels great ? better than ever before. He says that he still has a lot that he wants to do in the sport. The thrill of it still grabs him. The competition still drives him.
?You have to battle guys who are younger and fresher and better skiers in a lot of cases,? he says. ?But, you know, I do have some advantages. My intensity. My ability to test the limits is, if not the best in the world, it?s right there. I know I can get something out of myself that other guys can?t.?
* * *
Nobody really knows how Bode Miller will perform in Sochi. Well, maybe Bode does. But nobody else. He has had some encouraging performances during this season ? particularly in Beaver Creek ? and he had some discouraging ones too. Even the experts who analyze such things do not feel great about making any predictions. ?Bode,? NBC?s skiing analyst Steve Porino says to reporters who ask, ?will forever suspend by disbelief.?
But, in some ways, how he does in Sochi is the last thing that matters in the skiing world. Here at the bottom of the mountain the point is that he?s back, skiing full speed, taking wild risks other skiers wouldn?t take, skiing at breakneck speed for reasons that the skiers here ? the beginners, the experts, the lifers ? all seem to understand.
?I follow a simple plan,? he wrote in his book. ?Go fast, be good, have fun. It isn?t a mantra; I don?t have it tattooed anywhere, or on my license plate. It?s just what I live by.?
Miller says he still lives by that. Go fast. Be good. Have fun. Simple to understand. The only thing: He doesn?t tell you in what order he puts them in.
Gonzalez eager to shine in final NFL road game
ATLANTA (AP) When he first looked at Atlanta's 2013 schedule, Tony Gonzalez was thrilled to see a late December rematch with the San Francisco 49ers.
Gonzalez envisioned the Falcons exacting revenge for San Francisco's victory in last season's NFC title game in Atlanta.
Unfortunately for Gonzalez, the league's record-setting tight end, the circumstances couldn't be much different.
The 49ers are 10-4 and close to securing another trip to the playoffs.
Atlanta, at 4-10, was the first NFC team eliminated from postseason contention, essentially making a disappointment out of Gonzalez's decision to put off retirement and return for a final season.
"Last year was last year," Gonzalez said Friday. "That's in the past."
Even so, the Falcons' freefall in the standings hasn't caused Gonzlaez to close out his career in bitterness.
He has focused instead on the good times, from his first 12 seasons with Kansas City to his last five with the Falcons, and the remarkable consistency as the NFL's No. 2 career-leading receiver.
"That's what separates average players from good players, good players from Pro Bowl players and Pro Bowl players from Hall of Famers," Gonzalez said. "That's what I try to do every time that I'm out there on that field. Every play is a chance for me to go out there on that field and be great."
For the most part, despite only one playoff victory in his career, Gonzalez has done just that.
Only Jerry Rice caught more passes. Only Rice, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Isaac Bruce had more yards receiving. Only Rice, Moss, Owens, Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison had more touchdown receptions.
Gonzalez redefined his position, statistically surpassing the numbers posted by Dave Casper, Mike Ditka, John Mackey, Ozzie Newsome, Charlie Sanders, Shannon Sharpe, Jackie Smith and Kellen Winslow - eight tight ends enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"The great part about him is it doesn't matter if there's two games left or we're in Week 1 or 2 or whatever," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said, "he approaches each one the same way. He's intense, focused and excited, and he's been that way for five years since I've been around him."
With just two games left, Gonzalez almost can't believe the end is near.
On one hand, he's grateful to be almost done because the weekly grind of practice, conditioning and film study is a crashing bore.
"If you ask any player around the league, it's not about what goes on during the week," he said. "That's not the part that you're going to miss. I'm forcing myself to try to enjoy it because it's tough."
The thrill of playing in games, however, still makes him feel young.
"It's only two games, but I still want to go out there and give the very best of me that I can," Gonzalez said. "I don't want to leave any stone unturned, and that's always been my approach. That's not going to change."
He's already feeling nostalgic about returning to the Bay Area, where he began his college career 20 years ago at California and went on to become a first-round draft pick by the Chiefs in 1997.
Gonzalez, a Southern California native, has tried to buy as many tickets as possible for family members and friends.
It will be his last chance on the road to make a positive impression.
"I feel great," he said. "I could play at a good level for at least another year, another two years, maybe even three, (but) it's over as far as I'm concerned."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
AP sports writers Janie McCauley and Charles Odum contributed to this report.
Orioles LHP Patton gets 25-game drug suspension
NEW YORK (AP) Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Troy Patton was suspended by Major League Baseball on Friday for the first 25 games of next season after a positive test for a banned amphetamine.
Patton told The Baltimore Sun that he took an Adderall pill four days before the season finished, trying to improve his short-term focus.
"I took one because I was stupid," Patton told The Sun. "It was the end of the season. It was just a stupid mistake."
"I don't have trouble focusing all the time, it just enhances focus in certain situations, and I was just tired, basically. I don't want to list that as an excuse. I know I took a banned substance. It was just a poor lapse in judgment," he said.
The 28-year-old left-hander, a veteran of five major league seasons, was 2-0 with a 3.70 ERA this year in 56 relief appearances.
Under the drug agreement between MLB and its players' union, 25 games is the penalty for a second positive amphetamine test. A first positive results only in six unannounced follow-up tests over the next year.
Patton said he also tested positive for Adderall during spring training in 2010.
Patton became the 15th player suspended this year under the big league drug program following 14 penalized as a result on MLB's Biogenesis investigation.
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said the team was "disappointed to learn of Troy Patton's suspension."
MLB permits an exemption for players with attention deficit disorder, but Patton told The Sun he'd never been diagnosed with the condition. He said he tried to apply an exemption in 2012 but was turned down after doctors examined him.
The annual report from the drug program's independent administrator, Dr. Jeffrey M. Anderson, said 119 therapeutic use exemptions were granted for ADHD drugs in the year ending with the conclusion of the World Series. There were seven positive tests for Adderall in that span that resulted in discipline.
Kobe likely to miss 6 weeks with fracture in knee
LOS ANGELES (AP) Kobe Bryant is expected to miss about six weeks with an injured left knee, dealing the second major injury setback of the year to the Los Angeles Lakers' superstar guard.
An MRI exam on Thursday revealed Bryant has a fracture in his lateral tibial plateau - the top of his shinbone near his knee.
Bryant made his season debut with the Lakers Dec. 8 after nearly eight months away while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. He apparently was hurt again Tuesday night in Memphis while playing his fourth game in five nights.
After playing six games in 10 days, the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history is out again until February or longer - and the Lakers' already miserable run of injuries got even uglier.
"You hate it for Kobe," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters after practice Thursday. "He's worked so hard to get back, but he'll be back. He'll be back in six weeks. We've just got to weather the storm until he gets back."
The Lakers also announced Steve Nash will be out for at least four more weeks with nerve root irritation, leaving injury-riddled Los Angeles without its top three point guards and Bryant - who filled in at the point in recent games - for at least another week.
On Thursday afternoon, a tweet was posted on Bryant's official Twitter account that consisted solely of the hashtag: BrokenNotBeaten.
"I think he'll be back in six weeks, and he'll be hunting for some bear," D'Antoni said.
The rest of the Lakers found out about Bryant's injury after practice for Friday's home game against Minnesota. The remnants of the Lakers, who have lost four of six since Bryant's return, also will host Miami on Christmas Day.
"It's hard to get this type of news, especially when we've got already so many injuries, when we've been through so many injuries the year before," Pau Gasol said. "It just keeps piling up. It's not the best thing for us, for sure, but we've just got to continue to go forward. We understand it can happen."
D'Antoni immediately faced questions about whether the Lakers allowed Bryant to return too quickly from his torn Achilles tendon. Athletes with an Achilles injury must remain immobile for months, and they typically need several weeks to regain muscle in their legs and get back into game shape.
Bryant pushed himself to return to the Lakers quickly, but his left leg appeared to be visibly smaller than his right leg after months of inactivity and atrophy. D'Antoni and the Lakers' top brass often joke about their inability to control Bryant's relentless determination to play, even at the risk of his own health.
"It could happen at any time," D'Antoni said of Bryant's latest injury. "That's part of it. There's always going to be a risk until he gets used to playing, but the doctors are all over it. That's just bad luck."
Los Angeles signed Bryant to a lavish two-year, $48.5 million contract extension last month, taking him into his 20th season with the Lakers. Most of Los Angeles' roster will be free agents this summer.
Bryant matched his season high with 21 points in the Lakers' win at Memphis, but he went to the floor with 3:25 left in the third quarter. He stayed on the floor briefly before standing up, and Bryant bent over at the waist as he flexed his left leg back and forth. He walked to the bench with trainer Gary Vitti, but returned to the floor following the timeout.
He hit a deep 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter to help clinch the win and finished playing more than 32 minutes. Bryant said after the game that he twisted his knee, but it felt all right.
"I just hyperextended it," Bryant said when asked to describe what happened on the play. "I tend to hyperextend my knees every now and then."
Buried behind the implications of Bryant's latest injury, the Lakers got yet more bad news about the 39-year-old Nash, who has been injured for most of his two seasons in Los Angeles. The two-time NBA MVP has played in just six games this season and hasn't suited up since Nov. 10, repeatedly traveling home to Vancouver to undergo rehabilitation on his perpetually balky back and hamstrings.
Nash made it clear another month off is just a rough guideline for his return.
"I think I'm making strides for sure," Nash said. "I think the biggest thing is durability. There's such a fine line when I do get up to speed where I can do a lot of stuff. To be able to sustain it is the key right now. I know I can get back to an acceptable level of movement. It's just a matter of how long I can sustain it."
Xavier Henry, the 6-foot-6 shooting guard who has been a pleasant surprise in his first year with Los Angeles, is the Lakers' new starting point guard, D'Antoni said. While Nash, Bryant and Steve Blake are out with long-term injuries, Jordan Farmar will be re-evaluated Tuesday in his return from a torn hamstring, with the Lakers hoping he'll be back before January.
Rodman in NKorea to prep for game on leader's Bday
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea on Thursday to meet leader Kim Jong Un and put the finishing touches on plans to bring 12 ex-NBA players to Pyongyang for a Jan. 8 exhibition game marking the leader's birthday. Rodman said the game is on track despite the recent execution of Kim's uncle in a dramatic political purge.
Rodman's visit comes less than a week after North Korea announced the execution of Jang Song Thaek, an unprecedented fall from grace for one of the most powerful figures in the country. Jang's execution sparked speculation by foreign analysts over the future of the Kim regime.
But officials in Pyongyang say Jang's removal has not caused any instability. Rodman's visit - should it proceed uneventfully - could be a sign that Kim is firmly in charge.
Rodman told The Associated Press in a brief interview at his Pyongyang hotel that he was undaunted by the recent political events.
"I can't control what they do with their government, I can't control what they say or how they do things here," he said. "I'm just trying to come here as a sports figure and try to hope I can open the door for a lot of people in the country."
Rodman and Kim have struck up an unlikely friendship since the Hall of Famer traveled to the secretive state for the first time in February with the Harlem Globetrotters for an HBO series produced by New York-based VICE television.
He remains the highest-profile American to meet Kim since the leader inherited power from his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011.
"I've come over to see my friend, and people always give me a little hard time about me saying that," said Rodman, who was given the red carpet treatment at the airport by Vice Sports Minister Son Kwang Ho and O Hun Ryong, secretary-general of the North Korean Basketball Association. "I'm very proud to say he's my friend, because he hasn't done anything to put a damper, to say any negative things about my country."
Rodman has not yet announced the roster for the game. He is also expected to train North Korean basketball players during his several-day stay in Pyongyang and to meet with Kim, though he did not give any details about what his plans are. He said, however, that if after the 12 former NBA players go home they say "some really, really nice things, some really cool things about this country," then he has done his job.
Known as much for his piercings, tattoos and bad behavior as he was for basketball, Rodman has mostly avoided politics in his dealings with the North. He's mainly focused on using basketball as a means of boosting understanding and communication and studiously avoided commenting on the North's human rights record or its continued detainment of an American, Kenneth Bae, for allegedly committing anti-state crimes.
"North Korea has given me the opportunity to bring these players and their families over here, so people can actually see, so these players can actually see, that this country is actually not as bad as people project it to be in the media," he said.
In Washington, the State Department distanced itself from Rodman, and reiterated U.S. concern about human rights in North Korea and its nuclear program.
"What we focus on is not an ex-NBA player from however many years ago who decides to take a trip to North Korea, it's on what the North Korean government is doing on its brutality, on its continued violation of international obligations. That's what we're focused on here, not what Dennis Rodman is or isn't doing," Harf said.
However, she said the department would be open to speaking to Rodman on his return.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.
Jim Harbaugh would like to stay put with 49ers
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Yes, Jim Harbaugh wants to coach the San Francisco 49ers for years to come. No, he doesn't want to discuss a contract extension in a public forum.
Harbaugh twice said he "absolutely" wants to stay put coaching the 49ers for the long haul. The third-year NFL coach signed a $25 million, five-year contract when he left Stanford to take over the 49ers in January 2011. As far as an extension, 49ers CEO Jed York said on KNBR-680 radio this week that he would like to hammer out a new deal for Harbaugh during the offseason.
"When it comes to talk about contracts, I've always felt it's in nobody's best interest to publicly discuss things," Harbaugh said Thursday.
He wouldn't say whether he looks forward to sitting down with York to discuss the future.
Harbaugh earned NFL Coach of the Year honors in his first season of 2011 while leading the 49ers back to the playoffs following an eight-year stretch without a playoff berth or winning record. Last season, the 49ers returned to the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years. They lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens and his older coaching brother, John.
There has been speculation Texas might pursue Harbaugh to replace Mack Brown.
"In Judge Judy's court, hearsay is not admissible evidence," Harbaugh said. "I watch a lot of Judge Judy."
In addition, when asked Thursday about his relationship with general manager Trent Baalke and any differences in philosophy or thoughts on players, Harbaugh said all was fine between them.
"Good, it's the 49er way," Harbaugh said of working together. "It's the team, the team, the team. Everybody does a little and it adds up to be a lot. Nobody above the team, nobody more important, nobody less important."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
Jets' Mornhinweg: Geno can be 'a really good one'
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Marty Mornhinweg knows a few things about developing NFL quarterbacks.
After all, he's been around Brett Favre, Jeff Garcia and Michael Vick, to name a few. And, the New York Jets' offensive coordinator sees promise in Geno Smith, despite the rookie's struggles this season.
"I don't think there's any question," Mornhinweg said Thursday. "I'm even more certain now than I was earlier that he could be a really good one."
That might seem to some a curious statement, considering the ups and downs Smith has had and the uncertainty as to whether he could be the Jets' quarterback of the future. But to Mornhinweg, Smith has the skillset to improve in a big way.
"He's got skill and ability," Mornhinweg said. "He's a bright young man. We've talked about this before, but he's got instincts. So he's got a lot of things, really good things, and they show. Now, from afar or if you're not really in it, it's probably hard to see the great progress.
"He's certainly progressed," Mornhinweg added.
The numbers don't necessarily bear that out, especially with Smith's 21 interceptions ranking him second only to the 25 thrown by the Giants' Eli Manning for most in the league. His 62.9 rating is also lowest among starting quarterbacks, impacted largely by a brutal seven-game stretch in which he had just one touchdown pass and 11 interceptions.
Smith, who has 10 touchdown passes overall, has just two games in which he hasn't been picked off at least once.
"He, as a quarterback, has taken some pretty good steps forward and then we've taken some steps back and then taken some steps forward," Mornhinweg said. "I felt like we had to restart almost a few weeks back."
That's when Smith was benched in favor of backup Matt Simms, and some fans and media clamored to have Simms get a shot at the starting job. Instead, Mornhinweg and coach Rex Ryan stuck with Smith, wanting to see the rookie try to climb out of the hole he was in.
He has, in fact, played better the last few weeks, throwing for 386 yards with two TDs and two INTs, while also rushing for 94 yards and a score on 11 carries.
"Everybody progresses at a different rate at really all positions, but particular the quarterback," Mornhinweg said. "There's a select few who come in seamlessly and are on, typically, fantastic football teams, these types of things. And there are others that, man alive, it might take a year or two.
"Shoot, there have been some really good quarterbacks where it's taken longer than that."
In other words, sometimes the team gets better as the quarterback gets better and progresses.
"And you've got something special," Mornhinweg said. "So, that's sort of my vision on that type of thing."
The Jets will have to make a decision as to whether they'll go into next season with Smith in mind as their starter for the present, or if they'll look elsewhere. It's likely New York will either pursue a proven veteran or look at drafting a quarterback in the first round to compete with Smith next summer.
"I'm not focused on next year," Smith said. "I have a game coming up this Sunday and that's more important than anything outside of what I'm focused on."
Smith, a second-round pick, was thrust into the job after Mark Sanchez went down during the preseason with a season-ending shoulder injury. It appeared to many that Sanchez was ahead in the competition, but it all became moot when he was hurt.
So, Smith has had to learn on the job, and it has had predictably inconsistent results. Smith became the first quarterback since the 1970 merger to lead four winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his first seven games. He also broke Sanchez's record for yards passing by a rookie.
The miscues and constant criticisms - he locks on receivers too much, he can't read defenses good enough, and so on - are the counterpoints the Jets will need to consider in the next several months.
But Smith believes he is continuing to get better, and refuses to dwell on the mistakes he has made or what people's opinions of him might be.
"That's pretty much the goal every single day, to go out and try to improve in some way, shape or form," he said. "I've been trying to do that every single game, every single day in practice. It's been working for me, I've shown progress. That's something that's a good sign.
"But I have to keep climbing and not focus on where I am now, but where I want to be in the future," he said.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org