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Colin Kaepernick picked pro football over pitching

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Colin Kaepernick picked pro football over pitching

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Chicago Cubs scout Sam Hughes watches Colin Kaepernick nowadays and still wonders what the strong-armed NFL quarterback might look like on a pitching mound, as a power arm in the pros. It's hard not to, seeing the zip and accuracy on each throw, the competitive fire and fierce focus.

The Cubs never even watched Kaepernick throw a baseball before drafting him in the 43rd round almost four years ago. They did watch him throw a football for Nevada, and decided that college game told them more than enough.

Ultimately, the Cubs just couldn't lure Kaepernick away from his first love: football. Now, he's headed to the Super Bowl to lead the San Francisco 49ers against Baltimore on Feb. 3.

Hughes, the longtime national cross-checker in the Cubs' scouting department, and several others, including then-general manager Jim Hendry, figured they should give it a shot and hope Kaepernick might reconsider.

``Yeah, that wasn't happening,'' Kaepernick said with a smile Wednesday, shaking his head.

Hughes tried for two weeks to convince Kaepernick, who had made it all but clear he wouldn't sign. He was surprised anybody drafted him at all given he had been so upfront about sticking with football.

But Chicago's NFL sources - Hughes said three different teams - figured Kaepernick would be a late-round pick or even someone who might have to go the route of the Canadian Football League.

That seems so laughable now. The Niners picked Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 draft, made him the starter midseason this year and now will ask him to carry them all the way to the franchise's sixth championship in what will be just his 10th career NFL start.

``I was looking at this tall, kind of gangly at the time quarterback that was super athletic and had this really long throwing motion,'' Hughes said. ``I was talking to some of my buddies at Reno and said, `Boy, I wonder if this kid's ever played baseball, he's got an arm stroke like a pitcher.'''

That sent Hughes on a fun little research project. Kaepernick regularly threw 90 mph in high school, but was now some 40 pounds heavier as a college football player.

He certainly would throw harder.

``So, I was definitely intrigued, bigger, stronger, more athletic,'' Hughes said. ``Colin had no idea we were even considering drafting him. I kind of caught him off guard when I called him after we drafted him. He kind of got a kick out of it and said his phone was ringing off the hook that he'd been drafted by the Cubs. He had no idea.''

Then-Nevada coach Chris Ault had the challenge of developing Kaepernick's football motion - and that wasn't an easy task with the QB having been a pitcher.

``His first two years he was a thrower from his pitching days. It was all sidearm,'' Ault said. ``That was a habit we had to break. You could see his throwing motion, timing and touch was there. His senior year I saw the whole package. He was a guy ready for the NFL who could do all things they'd like him to do plus run. Now I look at him with the Niners and Jim and those guys are doing a super job. He has all the throws. What I really enjoy watching is he really learned to put the touch on the ball when he has to.''

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh can appreciate the Cubs' attempt to recruit Kaepernick to baseball. He would have tried, too, had he been in their position.

``He's a man for all seasons,'' Harbaugh said. ``Tremendous football player, basketball player, baseball player, a tremendous athlete with a lot of gifts of God. And a tremendous competitive fire, readiness and willingness to compete, to be able to make cool-headed decisions under fire. Who wouldn't want a player like that in baseball or football?''

Or basketball, for that matter.

Kaepernick was a three-sport star at John H. Pitman High in Turlock, a couple of hours east in California's Central Valley.

At 6-foot-4 and about 180 pounds as a high school senior, he went 11-2 with a 1.27 ERA with two no-hitters and 10 complete games - now-retired Pitman coach Mick Tate couldn't remember Wednesday if there was a second, but the quarterback sure knew.

``There were two,'' Kaepernick said.

Kaepernick batted .313 with 17 RBIs and a .407 on-base percentage. In basketball, he averaged 15.4 points.

``The thing we're most proud of, those who coached him in high school, is we want to make them better people,'' Tate said. ``We didn't have to work very hard to make him a better person.''

And those close to Kaepernick had a pretty good idea which way he was headed.

``He was a phenomenal basketball player here,'' said Philip Sanchez, Kaepernick's high school guidance counselor who remains a close family friend. ``Don't forget that. People think of it as just baseball-football, no. He went from football, the very next day he was leading his team in basketball. Then the very next day when basketball ended, now it was time to start pitching. That's rare that you get kids who play three sports these days.''

The Cubs figured they had reason to be somewhat optimistic of swaying Kaepernick. They have had success drafting football players, such as pitcher Jeff Samardzija and outfielder Matt Szczur - a pair of former star college wide receivers who picked baseball.

And Kaepernick had tremendous ``upside,'' a common phrase the scouts use to describe potential.

The 49ers saw the same upside. Harbaugh made a midseason switch to him as starter over Alex Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick.

``We're not really surprised at his success, because he's always had success,'' Sanchez said. ``I'm just happy that the world has seen the person that we know.''

At Pitman, they sure appreciate Kaepernick to this day.

So do the folks in Reno.

During the San Diego State-Nevada basketball game Wednesday night, the plan was for everybody to pose Kaepernick style, flexing the right biceps muscle and kissing it - a new sensation known as ``Kaepernicking.''

Even the Cubs folks are cheering for him.

``I've followed him since the first time I saw him. He's a very entertaining, fun guy to watch, great athlete, great competitor, very good arm strength, good touch, good feel,'' Hughes said. ``After I drafted him, I talked to him and his father, Rick, four or five times each throughout a two-week period trying to convince him to give baseball a shot. I got to know him through several conversations and since then I've shot him a few text messages - in college after they beat Boise State, which was huge, and after he got drafted by the Niners. A credit to him, I talked to him over a two-week stretch and he didn't know me from Adam and he has returned each one of my text messages. That says a lot about the young man.''

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AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this story.

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'The holidays mean more,' which is why John Wall gives back this time of year

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'The holidays mean more,' which is why John Wall gives back this time of year

Locals who showed up to Bright Beginnings in Southeast Washington last week didn't need to trot all the way up the hill and into the heated tent to see Wizards All-Star John Wall. With icy rain pouring down, Wall stood on the back of a box truck, handing out turkeys to those in need, just days before Thanksgiving.

Wall has long favored charitable causes that hit close to home for him. That includes a backpack and school supplies giveaway in the summer. He himself was once a young kid who showed up to school unprepared.

The holidays used to be a difficult time for Wall, who grew up in poverty in Raleigh, NC. He knows how much it means to simply have a Thanksgiving meal with family and friends.

That connection is why he shows up every year to distribute turkeys, hoping to make the holiday season a little easier on those who need some help.

"The holidays mean more," Wall said. "Thanksgiving, Christmas, they mean more because it's the time where kids are like 'why I ain't get nothing, why don't I have anything under the tree?'

"I know how I was brought up and where I came from. My mom had to work multiple jobs to try to provide for me and my sisters and brothers. It can be a tough time and I'm in the position where I have the opportunity to give back but also be there and be involved."

Wall has worked with Bright Beginnings for years now. The program helps families with young children who are homeless, in shelters or transitional housing.

Wall has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the initiative and lends his time to events like the turkey giveaway. But according to Bright Beginnings executive director Dr. Marla Dean, Wall's involvement doesn't stop there.

"It is always a great day when John stops by," she said. "He's family to us. He comes in, he stops by to check on us. He checks on families. Today is very important because this is a tough season for people who are less fortunate."

Dean said Wall and others gave out 500 turkeys that afternoon. After handing out food, Wall took pictures and signed autographs with children.

This is an interesting time for Wall. His Wizards are struggling and last week tensions boiled over in a now-infamous practice.

Wall stood and surveyed the room at the turkey giveaway, recognizing the cause he was supporting as much bigger than the game of basketball.

"Whatever ups and downs you go through throughout a season is the course of life. But these types of events around the holidays, that's what cheers you up. They're always going through probably more than we are going through," he said.

"When I have an opportunity to put a smile on their face or uplift them through their problems and take that burden off their back, why not do it?"

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Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny helps take down former team in 4-2 win over Blackhawks

Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny helps take down former team in 4-2 win over Blackhawks

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — Michal Kempny tried to say it was just another game, but he could not keep up the ruse. Playing his former team meant too much. 

The Chicago Blackhawks gave up on Kempny last February. He was traded to the Capitals after months in and out of the lineup. He wondered if his time in the NHL was coming to an end. Maybe it’d be better to just go back to the Czech Republic.

Good thing he didn’t. Kempny found a home in Washington and quickly became a top-four defenseman who helped stabilize the blueline and help the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup. The disappointment upon leaving Chicago was behind him. That didn’t make Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks any less weird.  

“It feels really nice. I have to say it wasn’t an easy game for me to play,” Kempny said. “I know a lot of guys from Chicago. I spent almost two seasons there. But big win for me and our team.”

Kempny made sure of that. He scored a goal at 9:28 of the second period – his first of the season – and that proved to be the game winner in a 4-2 victory against Chicago. It wasn’t quite as big as Kempny’s last goal, which came in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 4 against the Vegas Golden Knights, but it meant something nonetheless. 

“It’s huge. After every practice I see him shooting pucks,” teammate and fellow Czech Republic native Jakub Vrana said. “He works on his shot and today it went through for him. Helps his confidence. I bet it feels pretty good.”

Kempny became the second Caps player in two games to score against his former team. At Bell Centre in Montreal on Monday, Lars Eller was being booed by the fans who used to cheer him there. He promptly scored the game-winning goal in overtime to stick it to them. Eller always loves playing the Canadiens, where he never felt he was given a chance. Kempny was more conflicted. Joel Quenneville, Chicago’s coach when he was there and a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks, was fired on Nov. 6. It wasn’t quite as personal. But like Eller he has landed in a good spot. 

“It always adds a little bit of extra fire to guys,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “I thought [Kempny] was skating well. Great to see him get rewarded with a goal there and I thought he had a strong game. Made some good plays at the end, some good blocks, and his skating was a factor, which is always important. I thought he did a good job of breaking pucks out, but he was ramped up for it for sure and then he settled into it and had a real strong game.”

Kempny almost added a second goal with a chance in the slot in the third period at 9:40. He had a tip on goalie Corey Crawford in the second period. It’s all part of the Capitals asking more of their defensemen given a brief lull in their five-on-five play and without key forwards T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who are out with upper-body injuries. 

After the game, Kempny caught up with his former teammates. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews approached in the hallway outside the Chicago locker room and other former teammates stopped by to say hello. 

“I don’t know. It feels a little bit weird,” Kempny said. “The first period I was really excited from the game. After the first I was trying a little bit to settle down and keep playing my game and help my team to win.”

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