Say hello to America's newest Olympic treasure

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Say hello to America's newest Olympic treasure

From Comcast SportsNet
LONDON (AP) -- Gabby Douglas believed two years ago, when she convinced her mother to let her move halfway across the country. Martha Karolyi became a convert over the winter, when the bubbly teenager with the electric smile developed the tenacity required to be a champion. Under the brightest lights, on the biggest stage, that belief shattered a glass ceiling. Even if the first African-American to win an Olympic all-around title didn't quite realize it. "I kind of forgot about that," Douglas said with a laugh. Don't worry, Gabby, the world is going to have fun reminding you. Douglas soared her way into history Thursday night, leading the whole way to climb a mountain paved by Ron Galimore, Dominique Dawes and a handful of others who showed the sport isn't just for the white or the privileged. "How inspiring is that?" said Natalie Hawkins, the woman who allowed her then 14-year-old "baby" daughter to move from Virginia to Iowa in 2010 after Douglas convinced her that she was good enough to compete at the top. She didn't have to wait long to find out. Douglas was still trying to get used to the feeling of having her second gold medal in three days around her neck when Oprah chimed in. "OMG I'm so THRILLED for Gabby. Flowing happy tears!!" Winfrey posted on Twitter. Karolyi, the U.S. women's team coordinator called it "history made" while Liang Chow, the coach who channeled Douglas' precocious talent, believes his star pupil is "ready to move onto higher things." She certainly looked like it on a flawless night in which Douglas grabbed the gold during her first event and never let silver medalist Viktoria Komova of Russia come close to wrenching it from her hands. Explosive on vault and exquisite on uneven bars, Douglas never trailed. Though she sealed the third straight women's all-around title for an American with a floor routine that delighted the O2 Arena crowd, it was her pretty set on beam that provided the difference. The event is a 90-second test of nerves, a twisting, turning ballet on a 4-inch slab of wood 4 feet off the ground. And for months, Douglas struggled to find a rhythm on it. She led the national championships after the first day, only to hop off the beam moments into her first rotation of the finals, opening the door for world champion and friendly rival Jordyn Wieber to claim the title. Wieber watched the Olympic finals from 20 rows up in the stands with the rest of Team USA after failing to make it out of qualifying. Teammate Aly Raisman never really recovered from a workmanlike set on bars and an uncharacteristic wobble on beam. Raisman ended up tying with Russia's Aliya Mustafina for third, but the steely Russian earned the bronze on a tiebreaker, a wrenching setback for the American captain, an integral part of the group that won the first U.S. team gold in 16 years on Tuesday. There were no such technicalities involved with Douglas, not even on the beam. She dazzled with a sparkling 15.5, never wavering, never wobbling, never losing focus. This was the same girl who was so out of sorts when the team arrived in London a couple of weeks ago that Karolyi ordered Chow to give her a little pep talk? Chow's message that day wasn't complicated. He urged Douglas to ignore the pain in her leg from a minor muscle strain and get down to business. "He just said that everyone has pain, so just go out there and you know, why are you focused on that?" Douglas said. "He said, 'You're at the Olympics, and put that behind you, and, if you don't push it now you don't have a chance, you'll regret it.'" She didn't. Not after winning her mother over with the idea her future lay in Iowa with Chow instead of her family's home in Virginia Beach. Not after those long days in the gym when she would ask herself, "Why do I have to do this?" only to go and do it anyway. And not after a little boost from Karolyi. The legendary coach made Douglas a surprising choice for the American Cup in New York in March. At the time, Karolyi said she just wanted Douglas to get some needed experience against a talented field. But she knew. She'd known for months. She'd seen it during the training camps at the Karolyi Ranch north of Houston, where Douglas started to showcase the world-class talent Chow had spent a year unlocking. Douglas went and won the whole thing that day at Madison Square Garden as an alternate, the asterisk next to her name officially making her ineligible for the title actually won by Wieber. Still, the message had been sent. Douglas was ready. "I foresee it," Karolyi said. "She charged every single competition she did better and better." By then, Douglas' mom was won over. She raised four kids largely on her own, and tearfully made the decision to let her youngest train with Chow. She doubted herself but looked at the list of "pros" and "cons" her eldest daughter wrote up, and understood go she had to let go. Just a little. Even if it hurt. "I must have lost my marbles," Hawkins said. "But she wanted this more than anything." And Douglas worked like it. Chow believes she just needed time to grow up. She's just 16. Funny, she certainly looked all grown up on Thursday night. On a night that would turn most girls her age to tears, Douglas smiled. She laughed. She acted as if she expected to be here all along. "She demonstrated she is an Olympic champion," Chow said. One that could have a major influence on her sport. Unlike some of her peers, Douglas looks like she's having fun out there. There is no drama when she competes, just joy. She has an energy that will make advertising executives swoon and likely turn her into a millionaire in the near future. But this was never about money. It wasn't even about breaking down barriers. It was simply about challenging herself. She never doubted she could be the best. Even when she was the only one who thought so. "I wanted to seize the moment," she said. History was just a bonus.

A's spring training update Day 6: Davis savors winter in Oakland

A's spring training update Day 6: Davis savors winter in Oakland

MESA, Ariz. — Khris Davis enjoyed quite an offseason travel itinerary, checking out Toronto, taking in the beaches of Hawaii and dining on lobster in Belize.

However, it was the time spent in his adopted hometown of Oakland that most struck a chord with the A’s left fielder. After finishing his first season with the A’s, Davis followed through on his plan to make his offseason home in Oakland, and he was glad he did.

“I got to just feel the heart of the city,” he said upon arriving at camp Sunday. “That was basically the purpose of why I was there. … I wanted to feel Oakland. I love it, honestly. I love the city.”

He trained at Dogtown Athletic, a gym in West Oakland. He took part in the A’s holiday party for kids at the Oakland Zoo, joined by A’s Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, who grew up in the city.

“Just to feel these kids’ happiness,” Davis said. “They didn’t look at me as a baseball player. They just looked at me as a role model kind of.”

It should be music to the ears of A’s fans that the team’s most dangerous hitter has a love affair with the city he plays in. If the A’s ever entertained the idea of trying to sign Davis to a multi-year extension, and that’s purely hypothetical here, it would help that Davis feels comfortable in his surroundings.

Even when he described Oakland in edgy terms, such as when he said it “has its dark side,” he seemed to find it endearing.

In return, Davis felt the love from the fan base in 2016, hitting a career-high 42 homers with a team-best 102 RBI. That was despite the awful start he got off to, hitting .143 and mustering just one RBI over his first 12 games.

Obviously, any chances the A’s have of improving last year’s American League-worst offense rely on the 29-year-old Davis having another big year. But over-analysis is one thing he tries to avoid.

“I don’t want to get caught up in last year — the slow start and the strong finish, whatever,” he said. “However it was, I’m just ready to do this year.”

Davis decided to back out of his plan to play for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, saying his main priority was preparing for his A’s season.

“My main focus is to perform for the organization,” he said. “I feel like I want to get off on the right foot this year.”

NOTEWORTHY: Heavy showers continued to pelt Mesa on Sunday, spoiling the A’s first full-squad workout. The hitters were relegated to swinging in the cages and playing catch, while pitchers were scheduled for a day off from throwing on the mound anyway.

“If ever there was a day, at least for the pitchers, that you don’t need to (work out), it’s today,” manager Bob Melvin said. “But when you have everybody there on the first day, you wanna get out on the field and do everything. Hopefully we can incorporate everything tomorrow.”

The A’s have a whopping 70 players in camp, more than in any other spring Melvin can remember as a big league manager. He addressed the full team in a meeting Sunday morning.

His message?

“We’re gonna have to outwork, out-hustle everybody like we have in the past,” he said, “and get back to playing the game with the same tenacity that we did a couple years ago.”

FAMILIAR FACE: Longtime A’s second baseman Mark Ellis is back for the second year in a row as a spring infield instructor. The plan is for Ellis to spend a week with the team now, then another week later in camp.

“I’ll take Mark Ellis as many days as I can have him,” Melvin said.

LIGHTER SIDE: Nursing his broken right foot, starting pitcher Daniel Mengden has been making his way through the clubhouse on a knee scooter in order to keep pressure off his foot.

Apparently, it looks more fun than it really is.

“I contribute to society Friday, when I can start walking again,” Mengden quipped.

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days.