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Athletes, stars lend hands in Super Bowl host city

Athletes, stars lend hands in Super Bowl host city

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Some athletes and celebrities headed to New Orleans for Super Bowl weekend are picking up hammers and packaging food for the homeless in the big game's host city.

The downtown area where most Super Bowl festivities will take place has arguably never looked better, with a renovated Superdome and resurfaced streets and sidewalks. But a closer look reveals homelessness, crime and outer-lying neighborhoods that still bear the scars of 2005, when levees collapsed during Hurricane Katrina and inundated more than 80 percent of the city with floodwater.

One of the city's biggest areas of need is housing. In some areas, flood-damaged houses remain untouched, gutted homes have been abandoned, and many lots are overgrown with weeds where houses once stood.

While in town, some athletes and celebrities are working with Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together to help the city's rebuilding effort. Others are working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Second Harvest, a New Orleans-based nonprofit community food bank.

``Every ounce of support helps,'' said Jon Luther, vice president of the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans, which has been working with the NFL Players Association for months to build homes in the city's Lower 9th Ward neighborhood, which saw some of the worst flooding after Katrina.

``For them to show such interest and generosity of their time to our city, we are so grateful,'' Luther said.

Through the NFL's Touchdown for Homes program, three homes have been built not far from actor Brad Pitt's Make It Right houses. A ribbon-cutting will be held Friday.

This week, more NFL players are getting to work on homes in other parts of the city. Some are working Thursday with Habitat for Humanity to build a new home for a New Orleans resident in the Central City area. On Friday, they'll work on another home in the same area for a local family.

But not all the goodwill is labor intensive.

On Friday, country music star Garth Brooks will join Saints players Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, Curtis Lofton and Deuce McAllister to help the Starkey Hearing Foundation fit more than two dozen local children with hearing aids.

On Saturday, NFL players Larry Fitzgerald, Tommie Harris, Chris Doleman, Craig Stevens, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph and Brian de la Puente will help the Starkey foundation provide about 100 hearing aids to residents, including 12 local musicians.

``Because music is the heart of New Orleans' vibrant culture, and hearing is so vital to music, I can't think of a more perfect setting,'' said Brady Forseth, the foundation's executive director.

This is the fourth year in a row Starkey has conducted a mission in the Super Bowl host city. The group will fit residents at the Musicians Village, a rebuilding effort in the city's Upper 9th Ward headed by New Orleans native jazz musicians Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis.

Portions of proceeds from some of the big Super Bowl weekend concerts also will benefit locals.

The NFL's Super Bowl Gospel Celebration, headlined Friday night by Grammy-winning rhythm and blues singer Fantasia, was launched in 1999 and each year donates a portion of proceeds and hundreds of tickets to local and national charities.

This year's benefactors will include the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation, founded by the New Orleans Saints player, and The Sharper Kids Foundation, founded by Darren Sharper - a former Saints player and brother to former Seattle Seahawks player Jamie Sharper.

Proceeds from the DIRECTV Super Saturday Night concert with Justin Timberlake and Ahmir ``Questlove'' Thompson of The Roots as DJ will benefit the Shriners Hospitals for Children. It is co-hosted by Mark Cuban's AXS-TV.

``Giving back should be natural,'' said Questlove, who lives in New York but has played in New Orleans with The Roots for decades. ``It shouldn't be like a big event or a special thing. It should be natural.''

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All it took for Chris Davis to break out of his slump was a letter from a Red Sox fan

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All it took for Chris Davis to break out of his slump was a letter from a Red Sox fan

Well, dang. We did not expect to need tissues for this video.

When Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was in the midst of the worst slump in Major League Baseball history, it often felt from afar like nothing could pull him out of his doldrums. It was difficult to watch Davis make the worst kind of history, knowing there was nothing fans can do to help.

Apparently, that was a mistake. All it took was a letter.

Henry Frasca, a diehard Red Sox fan, hated watching Davis struggle. So, when the O’s were in town to play his favorite team, he decided to write Davis a letter of encouragement.

The note made its way to Davis, who kept it with him. Inspired by the kind words, Davis had a breakout day at the plate, driving in four runs one his first three hits of 2019. The longtime Oriole has kept the letter with him ever since.

Frasca was unaware of the specific impact his message made, but as the Orioles returned to Fenway Park once again, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime.

This is, frankly, one of the coolest things we’ve seen in a long time. Frasca is just nine years old, but his view on the world and, specifically, helping those in need is both mature beyond his years and inspiring to the adults around him.

The most impressive part of the letter, as Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne highlights in his interview, is the idea that how Davis is playing on the field does not define the person he is off it.

It’s an insightful message, one that’s easy for even grown men and women to forget when cheering on their favorite players from afar. For someone so young, who roots for a rival team, to recognize it so early is mighty impressive.

The video is five minutes long, but well worth every second of your time. Well done to the Orioles, Thorne, Davis, and of course, Frasca most of all.

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Much to his pleasure, Max Scherzer ‘probable’ to start this week

Much to his pleasure, Max Scherzer ‘probable’ to start this week

WASHINGTON -- If you ask Max Scherzer, he is ready. Which is not an upgrade from where he was earlier in the week.

Scherzer felt well again Sunday when he woke up following his second simulation game of the week. His workload increased Saturday, his comfort remained the same and Sunday his body told him he is ready to pitch in a game for the first time since July 25. Davey Martinez agreed -- for the most part. He said Scherzer is “probable” to start Thursday in Pittsburgh.

“I feel good,” Scherzer said. “Kinda do my normal little tests, move my arm and go through the throwing motion, so I feel good. I’m basically sore today the way I should be sore, given that and all the treatment we did yesterday and throwing a sim game. Like everything feels right where it should be. There’s no extra soreness other than what I anticipated. To me, that’s right on par.”

Scherzer remains irritated he was instructed to throw a second simulation game. He understands why. It just was not his personal preference. Part of the reason is in the title of the act. “Simulation” is not reality. For instance, he warned Gerardo Parra a slider was coming in the first simulation game. “Watch your foot,” Scherzer told him out of concern for possible injury. Pitchers are not truly pitching inside during simulations because of that worry. Players could be found to stand in the box without concern of injury. However, they couldn’t competently handle a hall-of-fame pitcher. So, that’s a false test, too. Only being in a game tells the truth.

But this is what Scherzer had to deal with because of the organization managed his return slowly. They focused on the future -- both this season and beyond. Scherzer is much more concerned about the now because, in his view, his rhomboid strain is not a significant injury.

“The long-term health, that’s not even part of the equation,” Scherzer said. “We all know that’s going to be good because we’re dealing with a muscle strain. Every other structure within the back, shoulder, you name it – nothing at play here. It’s literally dealing with the muscle strain and getting through it.”

Knowing this is not a long-term injury has keyed Scherzer’s frustration with the process. He’s felt close, then ready, really close, and again ready throughout the recovery. He’s being teased by the thing he wants to do most: get back on the mound in a real game. 

“Honestly, the toughest part about this whole thing is I feel like the carrot’s right in front of my face,” Scherzer said. “That it’s such day to day that any day it could turn and you always wake up every single day thinking today’s the day that you’re going to wake up and not feel anything and you’re going to go out there and you’re going to throw it and you’re going to feel no pain whatsoever. And you go off running because it’s not a serious injury. That’s been the most frustrating part. 

“If I knew that was going to be however long this is going to take – if I was dealing with, say, a more significant injury where they say, ‘You’re not going to feel good in six weeks’ – all right, you got it. You can easily mentally check out for six weeks knowing I’m not going to be able to throw a ball in six weeks and you can build your rehab around that. That hasn’t been the case. It’s really been day to day: ‘Hey, you might be feeling good here in two days.’ That’s really been the prognosis I’ve gotten from the doctors and everybody about what I’m dealing with. 

“So for me, that’s really been the hardest part mentally. I feel like at any point in time I could be ready to get back out there and at any day everybody’s expecting that this could turn. For me, when you have that carrot right in front of your face and you want to be helping your team, that’s what’s been the most frustrating part for me mentally.”

A bullpen session Monday should be next. After that, a final step to diffuse all of Scherzer’s irritation, his competition-based combat with Martinez and the organization and exasperation with a muscle strain which derailed him for a month can come: pitch one.

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