NFL makes a decision about the Pro Bowl

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NFL makes a decision about the Pro Bowl

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- After a promise from players that the game will be more competitive, the NFL will hold the Pro Bowl in Honolulu next Jan. 27, a week before the Super Bowl. Commissioner Roger Goodell had made it clear canceling the all-star game was a possibility after the uninspired play of this year's 59-41 AFC victory. Following discussions between the league and the players' union, the NFL announced Wednesday that Aloha Stadium would host the Pro Bowl for the third straight year. It will be the 33rd Pro Bowl in Hawaii. "The players have made it clear through the NFL Players Association that they would like the opportunity to continue to play the Pro Bowl in Hawaii," said NFL executive vice president Ray Anderson. "We will support the players on this initiative to improve the Pro Bowl. We have had many discussions with the players in recent years about the Pro Bowl and they recognize that the quality of the game has not been up to NFL standards. We look forward to working with the players toward the goal of improving the competitiveness of this season's game." The Pro Bowl was held in Hawaii from 1980-2009. In 2010, the NFL moved the game to the week before the Super Bowl for the first time, and it was held in Miami, site of the Super Bowl that year. The Pro Bowl returned to Hawaii for the 2011 and 2012 games but remained one week before the Super Bowl. "The players believe that the Pro Bowl is an important tradition," NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth said. "We worked hard with the league to make sure the best players in the NFL are honored for their achievements on the field." News of the Pro Bowl's return was met with praise by Hawaii tourism officials and Gov. Neil Abercrombie. Both Abercrombie and Mike McCartney, chief executive of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, hinted the state plans to deepen its ties to the league by helping it establish relationships in Asia -- a continent with several major markets for tourism to the Aloha State. "Beyond Hawaii's shores, we look forward to assisting the NFL in expanding upon their relationships in Japan, and help them to establish a presence in China -- both important markets for Hawaii tourism," McCartney said. McCartney said the relationship of more than 30 years goes beyond the Pro Bowl game itself and both the state and the NFL would work on improving the overall experience. "Hawaii looks forward to building upon our long-standing relationship with the NFL Pro Bowl well into the future," McCartney said. Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle said he was "thrilled that the NFL Pro Bowl is going to return in 2013." "Our residents, visitors, military, and many others look forward to this exciting event," he added. "There is electricity in the air when the Pro Bowl is approaching and the festive atmosphere continues even after the game as people stay here to enjoy our beautiful island home. The Pro Bowl has long had the support of the city and county of Honolulu." David Uchiyama, the chief negotiator for the tourism authority in its talks with the NFL, said the state is pushing to follow the current one-year deal with a longer agreement that would put the Pro Bowl in Honululu at least five times in seven years. Uchiyama said the current deal's financial terms were similar to the previous one, with the state paying the league about 4.2 million to host the game. He added his talks with the league have included introducing longer-term ideas that reach far beyond the Pro Bowl, such as establishing a developmental league based in Hawaii. "That's really a dream," he said. Goodell had expressed his displeasure with this year's game several times, acknowledging it could be scrapped if the level of play doesn't improve. "The issue is we recognize it is an all-star game, but we also believe fans expect more from an NFL game," he said recently. "If we believe we can achieve that, we want to give them every opportunity to do that." For last January's game, TV ratings were strong, with 12.5 million viewers, making the Pro Bowl the most watched of all all-star games for the 2011 season.

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Orioles return home from rough road trip looking to improve on stellar home record

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Orioles return home from rough road trip looking to improve on stellar home record

The Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins open a three-game series Monday at Camden Yards with both teams sitting at or near the top of their divisions.

The Orioles put a 1-6 road trip behind them by taking two of three games against the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend. The Twins beat the Royals on Friday before splitting a doubleheader on Sunday, which has created some challenges with their starting pitching.

Minnesota will have another tough test against the Orioles, who are 15-4 at Camden Yards this season -- the best home mark in the majors.

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Baltimore, however, had a setback Sunday when third baseman Manny Machado was hit on the hand by a pitch from Toronto reliever Joe Smith in the eighth inning. Machado is expected to have X-rays as a precaution.

"It's always scary for any player," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "There's no fake drama after that like you get sometimes and some places. It was what it was. You're not trying to hit him."

Baltimore also placed utility infielder Ryan Flaherty on the 10-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation Sunday. To fill the void, the Orioles recalled infielder Paul Janish from Triple-A Norfolk.

Baltimore right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (1-2, 6.52 ERA) takes the hill in the opener against Minnesota. Jimenez is having another uneven season that has jeopardized his spot in the rotation. He has 29 walks and 23 strikeouts in eight appearances, including seven starts.

Jimenez, however, has been solid against the Twins over his career, going 5-3 with a 2.49 ERA in 11 appearances. The key for Jimenez is to find some consistency and go deeper into the games to take some of the pressure off the bullpen.

"Quite frankly, it seems like it's that way in all of baseball, all around the league," Showalter said. "Getting to the seventh inning is at an all-time low in Major League Baseball history right now. It's tough. (Jimenez) is capable of better."

Twins manager Paul Molitor had held off naming a starter for the series opener against the Orioles until after the second game Sunday against the Royals. Minnesota played two doubleheaders in four days, putting a strain on the pitching staff.

After the nightcap vs. Kansas City, the Twins announced that Phil Hughes, the Game 1 starter and loser, would be placed on 10-day disabled list due to shoulder discomfort. Hughes allowed five runs in four innings and served up three home runs.

Hughes' injury created a roster spot, so the Twins plan to recall Kyle Gibson (0-4, 8.20 ERA) from Triple-A Rochester to start the opener in Baltimore.

"It's very frustrating," Hughes said. "I thought, hopefully, that a lot of this was behind me. So, to have this sprout up again is frustrating. Hopefully, it's a somewhat easy answer and something I can bounce back from."

Hughes was 0-2 despite a 2.92 ERA in two starts for Rochester the past 10 days. He is 1-1 with a 3.58 ERA in five career starts against the Orioles.

Rain is expected in Baltimore on Monday. If there is a postponement, the teams share a mutual off day Thursday.

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Caps players acknowledge there is a mental block holding them back

Caps players acknowledge there is a mental block holding them back

Barry Trotz does not think the Capitals’ history of playoff struggles has created a mental hurdle for the team to overcome.

“I think they’re all past that now,” Trotz said to reporters at the team’s breakdown day. “I think it’s so overworked by [the media] and everybody else that it’s actually becoming a joke to the guys.”

Well, the Caps weren’t laughing after their Game 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In some ways, Trotz is correct. Losing to Jaroslav Halak in 2010 is not why Washington lost to Pittsburgh this year. Giving up a 3-1 series lead to the New York Rangers in 2015 is not why the Caps were shutout in Game 7 by the Penguins.

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But there does seem to be a mental hurdle the team has not been able to overcome and the players feel it.

“I just think mentally we have to just get over it and stop crumbling in certain situations,” John Carlson said.

“I think that a lot of it's mental,” Matt Niskanen said. “It's pretty clear that we could play really well in the regular season. It's either a mental thing or how we're built or how we play the game or something. We can't play well enough to advance as is.”

Even a player like Kevin Shattenkirk, who does not share the team’s history and was new to the Caps as a trade deadline acquisition talked about the cloud that seems to hang over the organization.

“You can feel it,” Shattenkirk said. “Of course you can feel it. It’s everywhere surrounding this team. It’s media. It’s the fans. It’s the players.”

Even before the players spoke, given how the Penguins series played out, it was clear the Caps were struggling with the mental pressure of the playoffs.

Washington lost its first two games against the Penguins, their archrivals and the defending Stanley Cup champions. Facing a must-win situation in Game 4 to avoid a 3-1 series deficit and with no Sidney Crosby, the Caps laid an egg and lost 3-2 in a game in which they never led.

Things changed when Washington went down 3-1. At that point, everyone assumed they were going to lose. With no pressure on them, the Caps looked like a completely different team winning Game 5 and blowing the Penguins out in Game 6. Suddenly with the series back within their grasp in Game 7, with all the pressure back on their shoulders, Washington collapsed again and failed to even score in a 2-0 shutout loss.

“I think once we got down 1-0, you almost felt it,” T.J. Oshie said of Game 7. “The building kind of got quiet, we kind of got quiet, and we didn't find a way to regroup and respond in time to win the game.”

Even Trotz, who was adamant this team’s history is not what is holding the Caps back, acknowledged that the Penguins clearly have a “mental edge.”

“They just believe that they can beat the Washington Capitals so that's the barrier, that's their advantage right now just because they've done it,” Trotz said. “… When everything's on the line, they believe they're going to get maybe that break where a team like us who haven't broke through, maybe we don't believe we're going to get that break.”

But here’s the problem: If the past has created a mental block, how can you overcome that? That’s the issue this team is now grappling with as it tries to determine what direction to go in and how much change is needed to finally get over that mental hurdle.

“There's really nothing we can do to change the past unless we do it in the future,” Carlson said. “I think maybe we've got to get over the fact that we haven't had that much success and that's all we talk about.”

“We can't play well enough to advance as is,” Niskanen said. “Something's got to change. I don't know what it is, but as is we didn't play well enough. That's the way it is.”

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