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In dead of winter, baseball right around corner

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In dead of winter, baseball right around corner

ATLANTA (AP) Play ball!

On a frosty winter day, the Atlanta Braves started getting ready for the rites of spring - tossing around baseballs and jumping into the batting cage to take a few swings at Turner Field.

It may seem hard to believe, but spring training is just a few weeks away.

Among those turning out for the informal workouts Tuesday with temperatures in the low 40s: closer Craig Kimbrel, slugger Jason Heyward and recovering starter Brandon Beachy, who is coming off major elbow surgery but hopes to be ready by June.

As with most teams this time of year, there's plenty of optimism. The Braves will have to make do without longtime star Chipper Jones, who retired, but they're looking forward to adding free-agent signee B.J. Upton to the lineup.

``The sky's the limit for us,'' said Heyward, who seems poised to become the Braves' biggest star now that Jones is gone. ``We feel like it's set up pretty well for us.''

Of course, it was a bit strange to see that empty locker on the other side of the room, the spot where Jones held court in the later years of a nearly two-decade-long career.

``We've been preparing for this day as much as anyone could,'' Heyward said, glancing in that direction. ``But it will feel different. For me, being from Georgia, ever since I've been in Georgia, No. 10 has been on the field for the Braves. That's going to be a different feeling for me.''

But, he added, ``Good things do come to an end. I'm just glad he was able to go out on his own terms.''

Kimbrel had a hectic offseason, getting married the first of December and honeymooning in the Dominican Republic.

``We got back in time for Christmas and New Year's,'' he said, ``and now it's baseball season.''

The right-hander will try to follow up one of the most dominant seasons ever by a closer, becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to strike out more than half the batters he faced (116 out of 231).

Kimbrel also is getting ready to play for his country for the first time. He was selected, along with teammate Kris Medlen, to pitch for the U.S. at the World Baseball Classic in March.

``I'm very excited,'' Kimbrel said. ``It doesn't happen too often, and this is my chance to do it. I'm going to do my best and try to help Team USA win.''

Kimbrel and Medlen aren't the only Atlanta players who'll be suiting up in the WBC. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons will play for the Netherlands, while third baseman Martin Prado is part of the Venezuelan roster.

Those four will have to leave Atlanta's camp in the middle of spring training, but general manager Frank Wren said he would never discourage a player from representing his country unless there was some sort of injury concern. In fact, he thinks the experience might actually help someone such as Kimbrel, who wasn't as sharp as he wanted to be at the start of last season.

Heyward passed on a chance to play for the U.S. team, however, feeling it was better to stay with the Braves throughout the spring.

``He sees the long-range benefit of being in our camp,'' Wren said. ``He feels like working consistently with our guys will help him during the season.''

Heyward was a rookie star in 2010, homering in his first big league at-bat and drawing praise as the future of baseball from no less than Hank Aaron. After struggling through injuries and mechanical problems in his sophomore season, he bounced back nicely last year - 27 homers, 82 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.

He feels his career is back on track.

``The biggest thing that's different is I don't feel like I'm searching for anything,'' he said. ``Baseball is a feel game. You need to know what you're looking for. You need to have the right feel for how your swing is broken down: timing, tempo, just things as simple as your stance. I feel like all those things I have now.''

Beachy is taking a different approach this spring, since he's still in the middle of a yearlong recuperation from reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.

For him, the normal routine of spring training won't come until a couple of months into the season.

``I'm not too thrilled about that,'' said Beachy, who was the Braves' most effective starter before he went down. ``I want to feel part of the normal routine as soon as possible.''

For everyone else, it will get here soon enough.

Sure, the Super Bowl is still more than a week away. But the Braves' pitchers and catchers will be reporting to camp in Florida on Feb. 11.

Yep, it's almost time to play ball.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Report: NBA likely to use new All-Star format again, will discuss using it in G-League

Report: NBA likely to use new All-Star format again, will discuss using it in G-League

If you were a fan of the NBA's new format for the All-Star game, which featured a target score to decide the winner instead of a clock, you might be in luck. 

According to Zach Lowe of ESPN, the NBA is likely to use the target score format again in next year's All-Star game. The NBA's president of league operations Byron Spruell told Lowe it's a 'good assumption' we see this format again. 

In its maiden voyage, the target score was a smashing success. The NBA has struggled to make the All-Star game entertaining and intense enough for the best players in the world to try. By adding 24 points onto the leading team's score at the end of the third and saying, "First one to this number wins," it sparked the competitive fire in the league's biggest stars and made for an unforgettable basketball moment. 

The target score is very similar to the "Elam Ending," created by Ball State University professor Nick Elam. The Basketball Tournament, a winner-take-all event held over the summer, has used the Elam Ending for the last two years.

Chris Paul suggested using the format in the All-Star game to commissioner Adam Silver, and now the target score ending has a chance at making it to the G-League. 

Lowe also includes in the story that the NBA will discuss using the target score system in the G-League, the league's developmental league. However, concerns about making G-League play too different from play in the NBA make it unlikely for a full adaptation of the target score system. 

Spruell did say a possible first step would be using the system at the annual G-League Showcase, which usually takes place in December. 

To go even further down the rabbit hole of hypothetical changes to NBA games, the NBA will also reportedly discuss using target scores in the elimination rounds of a midseason tournament. In late December, the NBA propose massive schedule changes to the league's owners including shortening the regular season to 78 games and introducing a midseason tournament. 

The owners still have to approve the changes before any target scoring system can be implemented. 

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A house for mom, dinner for his linemen and a custom Bentley: How Dwayne Haskins spent his first million

A house for mom, dinner for his linemen and a custom Bentley: How Dwayne Haskins spent his first million

Dwayne Haskins learned a lot in his first go-round in the NFL, including just how much work is required to be a successful starting QB and how intense a typical season with the Redskins can be.

He also was exposed to the dark reality of taxes for the first time, which are far scarier than even the most devastating opposing pass rush.

In a video for GQ Sports and their "My First Million" series, Haskins discussed how he, well, spent his first million dollars as a pro. It's an epic tale, one filled with wild stories and useful lessons — including the following relatable take.

"Taxes are no joke, bro," he said.

The biggest choice the first-rounder made for himself was to pick out a custom-made Bentley that cost him $250,000. He loves it and calls it "my baby" and the "Batmobile." He's also now out of the vehicle-purchasing game for a while because of it.

"I'm not buying no more cars," Haskins said. "Not a very great investment to buy cars."

Next up for the passer was to take care of his mom, so he paid for a house that totaled about $750,000. 

"Being able to just, 'Hey mom, I've got a surprise for you, here's a house,'" Haskins recalled. "Definitely made those 14-plus years of hard work worth it."

So, that's all, right? Those two items add up to a million, so we're done here? 

Well, the house isn't technically for Haskins, so therefore, it doesn't take up room on his ledger. So the story continued.

The 22-year-old committed about $70,000 to jewelry and has about $5,000 to $7,000 set aside for a vacation to the Bahamas he's got planned for next month. He also has an estimated $10,000 in murals at his place and spent about $40,000 on clothes, including some suits to wear on game day and to events.

Then, there was a rookie dinner, where he had to treat his offensive linemen to a meal. Those guys didn't go the salad route, either.

"Of course they ordered all the appetizers, all the steaks they can get," he said. "They do not want to go to Applebee's. They want to go to the best steak place they can find... I'll do it again if I have to."

For a guy who didn't have to pay for much in college aside from a car note and maybe some bills at the library, it was quite a transition into adulthood and moneyhood. He's taken steps to hire a financial adviser and put his earnings into "different buckets," though, and seems confident he'll be in good shape for a long time.

Plus, if he excels in the coming seasons, there'll be plenty more millions coming his way. And by then, he won't be surprised when a lot of that goes to taxes.

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