Athletics

LeBron remains 'optimistic' about NBA season

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LeBron remains 'optimistic' about NBA season

From Comcast SportsNet Tuesday, August 9, 2011
AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- LeBron James stood before 360 third-graders on Monday, telling them their futures are bright. Plenty of ominous signs notwithstanding, he believes the same is true for the NBA. In an interview with The Associated Press, the Miami Heat forward said he is not considering offers to play internationally during the NBA lockout -- with one catch. He's committed to the 2012 Olympics and trying to help the United States defend the gold medal he helped win at the Beijing Games. "I'm optimistic that we will have a season this year," James said. "Very optimistic." A little anxious, too. He's working out twice a day, trying to erase some of the sting that's still there after the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals. "Right now I've just been focusing on being a better player, working on my game every single day," James said at a news conference before the AP interview. "Like I said, the Dallas Mavericks were a great team and they deserved to win that championship. And I'll just use that as motivation coming into this season." He's also trying to deliver on his vow to be even better whenever the Heat resume play, saying he's been in Houston at times this offseason to learn post play from one of the game's all-time greats, former Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon. "I look at what he was able to do throughout his career," James said. "Unbelievable talent. Multiple champion. Just to see how he was able to dominate in the low post, for me as an individual, I just try to look at some of the things I feel I need to get better at and hit home at it. Our team becomes better if I continue to get better and that's what it's about." So even with signs of major trouble afoot in the NBA -- union chief Billy Hunter told a conference of attorneys in Baltimore last week that he would bet against there being a 2011-12 season "at this moment" -- James remains hopeful. He said he understands why someone like star guard Deron Williams would feel compelled to seek a deal overseas and why Kobe Bryant appears to be flirting with the notion. It's just not for him, he said. "We all love the game of basketball so much," James said. "And the love of the game is always going to be there. Guys love the game." The Olympics count as a motivating force as well. And in time, he hinted he may even try recruiting some of his NBA pals in an effort to convince them to play in London next summer. Not yet, though. "I love representing my country and doing it the way I love to do it and that's playing the game of basketball," James said. "So I would love to be a part of the 2012 team traveling to London and defending our gold medal." James was in his hometown Monday to open "Wheels for Education," a program he's doing in conjunction with corporate partners State Farm, HP and Nike to provide hundreds of third-graders from Akron Public Schools academic tools they need. The program will follow those kids through their high school graduations in 2021, and James wants the initiative to continue growing annually -- plus even sees a chance to take it beyond his hometown, maybe to South Florida, maybe even internationally. Doused by rain on his 2-mile bike ride through Akron with 22 children ambassadors for the program pedaling alongside him, James said it still resonates deeply within in when he hears screams of joy in his hometown. Some people carrying signs in support of James showed up at the event more than two hours beforehand, hoping just for a glimpse of the two-time NBA MVP. "He just lives in Miami," said Doris Thomas, who brought her grandson. "He's one of us. He's Akron." The kids all get a laptop, a backpack with school supplies, and a bike. "I believe LeBron is a better person than he is a basketball player," Akron Mayor Donald Plusquellic said. "And I believe he's the best basketball player that ever lived. So that puts it in perspective, because he cares. He gives back. He doesn't have to do this. Riding around the city street, taking a chance on falling or something, giving back here and having some jerk yell something like they yell at me ... there's a sincerity inside of him." Monday's event was part of a busy two days for James: On Tuesday, a new 240,000 clubhouse -- some of the 3 million generated from his Decision' show last summer -- at Akron's Boys & Girls Club will be named in his honor, and later that night James and four of his high school teammates will be added to the athletic Hall of Fame at their alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. "I'm just using what I have, using my ability, for better and good," James said. James touched on a variety of other topics in his interview with The AP, including: -- How he finds motivation to work, even with many people expecting the NBA season to be delayed, at least: "I believe that Billy Hunter and the owners and (NBA Commissioner) David Stern are going to work toward having a season this year. And I'll be ready for it." -- His upcoming trip to China, which starts later this week: "I look at it as an opportunity for me to go there and to continue to see the growth of the game of basketball. I've been there, I think this is going to be my fifth time being there and every year I continue to see the growth of the game and how inspired they are by the game of basketball. And mostly the game is played outdoors. That's another thing that I hit home ... when I grew up, that's all we had." -- How he is still overwhelmed by the reaction when he makes appearances in Akron and around the world, especially from kids: "It's very humbling that not only I can get a great reception here in my hometown but also when I travel abroad I get the same reception. It was never like a dream of mine, but at the same time, it's very satisfying to see that these kids love the way I play the game of basketball and respect the way I play the game of basketball every night." James seemed completely relaxed. He was surrounded Monday by nearly his entire inner circle: Longtime girlfriend Savannah Brinson, his mother, his two sons, many of his closest friends and advisers, even former teammates like Damon Jones. He urges fans to relax as well. James had a message for NBA fans, suggesting they not abandon hope for the season. "Stay positive," James said. "The game of basketball, we all love it. And we're going to try everything in our power to make sure that this game stays at a high level. And for me personally, I do it because of the fans. Every night I go out on the basketball court, I try to showcase my talent at the highest level because of the fans. They are our league. Our fans are our league."

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

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A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.

 

As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

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As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

LOS ANGELES — The Giants left their dugout quickly after Friday’s loss, escaping a celebration on the mound and a fireworks show in the sky. As Dodger Stadium shook with cheers, Bruce Bochy sat in the visiting clubhouse and smiled. He nodded at his laptop, which earlier had been used to pull up highlights of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. 

“He’s good,” Bochy said, laughing. “I absolutely would play him every day.”

Earlier in the week, when it became known that Bobby Evans and Jeremy Shelley were headed to Japan to scout Otani, Bochy said he couldn’t imagine a player pitching and then moving to the outfield between starts. What changed? 

Perhaps it was the tape Bochy saw. Otani throws 100 mph and hits homers with ease. Or perhaps it was the game he watched Friday. The Giants lost for the 94th time, with the big blow coming from a 22-year-old Dodgers star. Cody Bellinger’s blast was the difference in a 4-2 win, and the Giants don’t have a Bellinger, or anything close. Otani, 23, is a long shot for a team that very well could finish with the worst record in baseball. Still, he’s the kind of talent that could help pull the Giants closer in a hurry. He’s the  kind of talent they haven’t developed in years, and Bochy certainly sounded a bit wistful as he talked of the power Bellinger has put on display. 

“You call up a guy and he does that — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a rare deal.”

The ninth inning of the Dodgers’ clincher reinforced that point for the Giants. They got a homer from Pablo Sandoval, but he’s playing only because Christian Arroyo — the Giants’ best prospect bet this year — is hurt. Ryder Jones, their 23-year-old prospect, struck out to end the night, dropping his average to .180. 

That set off a celebration for Bellinger and the Dodgers. They have won five straight NL West titles, with three of the last four clinched against the Giants. 

“Congrats to them,” Bochy said. “They’ve had a tremendous year across the board, and they’ve played great baseball. They brought some guys up that really did a great job for them. It’s well deserved.”

Bochy said it was not difficult to watch this one. The division has been wrapped up for months, with only a September slide keeping the Dodgers from clinching earlier. 

“We knew what we were facing here,” Bochy said. 

The Giants have two more against the Dodgers and then six more before a long winter. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will host an NLDS series here at Dodger Stadium. Both Bochy and starter Jeff Samardzija made the same observation, that the Dodgers will have a hard time cutting their deep roster down to 25 postseason players. 

That’s a nice problem to have. It’s a foreign one right now for the Giants, who have a serious talent gap and no clear solutions internally. It’s no wonder, then, that Bochy has all of a sudden become so intrigued by a wondrous talent overseas.