Wizards

Trade show baseball's other high-dollar business

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Trade show baseball's other high-dollar business

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The fluffy green-and-white Phillie Phanatic hat is eye-catching enough. Then, with a simple push of a pump wrapped in red cloth, the furry mascot's red tongue unfurls.

Yes, the Phanatic is sticking its tongue right at you.

``They sell themselves, they really do,'' Rick Maldonado of Forever Collectibles-Team Beans said. ``I mean, there is no pitch behind it. I'm usually wearing it, and I'll talk to my buyers: `Hey, you want something cool?' Then I squeeze it, and then they get that chuckle and it's like, `Wow. What else you guys doing this year?'''

Welcome to the baseball trade show at the winter meetings, where business is everything but the high-profile signing and trading of players.

Companies pitch their wares to both major and minor league teams - from the expected to the outrageous. There are jerseys, T-shirts, trash cans and stadium seating right along with the mascot pump hat that suddenly looks like a must-have item and will be on sale by the time baseball season starts in April.

Collapsible chairs not enough? Now there's a packable coffee table complete with four cup holders for tailgating. New Era's display features a batch of ski caps for the usual cold weather markets like the Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets - right alongside one for the Miami Marlins. That white, orange and black knit cap is sure to keep fans snug even on the chilliest of south Florida days.

Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins was among those on the floor Tuesday. He was working the booth for Outbid, an online auction site for autographs and memorabilia in sports, entertainment and other areas. Jenkins was greeting fans, handing out signed balls and pictures.

``This is my first trade show. They have everything here - bats, balls, mascots, everything. It is unbelievable,'' he said.

There's ``The Cleaning Machine'' made by Sonny Cereneka of Hacienda Heights, Calif., that has been helping scrub dirt off practice baseballs for about 35 years. Marilynn Cereneka said the New York Mets told her husband that machine helped save them $22,000 on baseballs back in 2008.

Hungry? Take a walk around the food exhibits with hot dogs, pretzels and candy. For more haute cuisine, try the garlic fries or chipotle chili aioli offered up by Tulkoff Food Products. This is the second year at the winter meetings for the company, Danielle Hauserman said. Tulkoff picked up the Toledo Mud Hens, Daytona Cubs and Greensboro Grasshoppers after their first trade show a year ago.

``We're a way to kind of kick up your burger or hot dog,'' she said.

Game Wear helps baseball fans show their love of the sport using the ball itself for bracelets, key chains, necklaces and even pet leashes and collars. Frank Cerullo Jr. first carved up a baseball while playing in college at George Washington, and the white leather necklace with the red seam stitching proved so popular he went from working in computer technology for a hospital to starting his company in his parents' basement to office space in Hoboken, N.J.

``What makes our product special is the fusion of taking your team, taking the sport and fusing it together, and I feel that's the magic in our product,'' Cerullo said.

Former big league first baseman Pete LaCock also was on hand, representing Zinger bats before he starts managing next year in the independent America West Baseball League.

``These are fun to come to. You see a lot of old friends,'' he said, moments after greeting Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk, a former Kansas City Royals teammate.

There's so much to see, it can be exhausting.

Luckily, Rawlings Sporting Goods has a big leather chair shaped like a catcher's mitt sitting at the edge of the company's display, which draws people in. Rawlings sells approximately 10 of the chairs each year for $3,200 apiece using the same leather in their gloves as part of a product line that now features luggage and wallets. Names can be monogrammed into the thumb or palm of the chair, too.

Charlette Eastman of American Fork, Utah, whose family recently sold the Zinger Bat Company, sat in the catcher's mitt chair for a much-needed rest after helping promote the company.

``It's wonderful,'' Eastman said. ``I'm just going to see how much I can buy it for.''

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AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker contributed to this report.

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How one half of assertive basketball may turn around the Wizards' season

How one half of assertive basketball may turn around the Wizards' season

The fat lady wasn’t warming up to sing an operatic number, not with 66 games left in the regular season. Then the flailing Washington Wizards, coming off consecutive double-digit losses, came out flat yet again. They trailed the Los Angeles Clippers by 19 points at halftime some 36 hours after the general public heard about their private quarrels and following weeks of basketball nightmares. 

So, she might have at least begun some mental prep for an upcoming performance. Then came the comeback within the comeback. The Wizards rallied for a 125-118 win when all the world was ready to say sayonara. 

Did Washington indeed save its season by outscoring Los Angeles 71-45 in the second half?

Answering 'yes' presumes all is right with the gang that has struggled to defend throughout the season and possibly has chemistry issues even a family therapist couldn’t fix with thrice-weekly sessions. 

The day began with coach Scott Brooks and the team’s stars addressing leaks of intense arguments among players and a scolding by All-Star John Wall directed to the head coach. There was no spark initially, just a dismal first half that saw them down 24 points and 73-54 at halftime.

The first half served as a season-long microcosm. It’s why rumors of breaking up the team seemed plausible. 

Over the remaining 24 minutes, the Wizards finally woke up. They flew around the court defensively and passed to the open man. The stars played like a team wanting to play each other, willing to do whatever necessary for a win.

John Wall finished with 30 points. Bradley Beal scored 27. Otto Porter grabbed 14 rebounds to go with 11 points. Six players scored in double figures. Everybody ate. 

“That’s how we need to play,” Bradley Beal told NBC Sports Washington.

“Not going to say everything is fixed because we were still down [24 points], still have a lot of work to do. Got a lot of to change and get better. Our effort was there in the second half. That’s the type of intensity we have to have for the full 48.”

Numerous moments and performances stood out in the second half beyond the main players. Tomas Satoransky’s hustle helped begin the turnaround. Thomas Bryant, who started with Dwight Howard sidelined, provided interior energy. Jeff Green dropped 20 points. Markieff Morris, coming off the bench for the first time since Feb. 29, 2016, showed more than in recent games.

One play deep in the fourth quarter showed the difference between 16 games of defensive slumber and Tuesday’s resolve. 

The clock ticked under five minutes with Los Angeles leading 109-107. Clippers forward Tobias Harris crushed the Wizards early and finished with 29 points. He had the ball near the left corner when Wall and Beal sprung an aggressive trap as the shot clock wound down. Morris hustled for support. The late arrival helped. Shot clock violation. The Wizards then took the lead with a Morris 3-pointer. They soon pulled away with an 11-2 run. Their main players showed the way.

“We have to,” Beal said to NBC Sports Washington. “When it’s coming from the main guys. John and I have to give more, more and more. That’s something we realize and tell each other that. That’s that only way we’re going to get out of it. We just have to give more.”

The Thanksgiving holiday provides a natural break.

Washington resumes game action Friday at Toronto. At 6-11, the Wizards have to do, but at least they can catch their breath after a surreal span. 

“It’s a whirlwind. It’s a whirlwind,” said Beal, who remained in the game after suffering a cut over his eye following a head-butt collision with Clippers guard Tyrone Wallace. “We embrace it. Everything is a challenge. It’s adversity. We’ve been in this situation before. We’ve been in this situation where everybody thinks we have an issue. I think we did a great job of ignoring it as best we could. Doing what we could to get a win. A  much-needed win at that.”

Clippers coach Doc Rivers monitors the Wizards because of his son, Austin, Beal’s primary backup. More film work came leading into the second meeting between the teams. Los Angeles hammered Washington 136-104 on Oct. 28. Things were only getting worse for the Wizards. Then came the second half.

“They just forgot about the stuff they’re going through and got back to playing basketball,” Doc Rivers said of the Wizards.

“I’ve always thought that’s what you have to do. Every guy out there on both teams, they played basketball all their lives. Then you get all the, what I call ‘stuff.’ The clutter starts affecting your game. Tonight you could see the clutter was killing them early. Then when they saw they had a chance to win, they started playing basketball again.”

Assume nothing but sunshine and swishes going forward if you must. Ideally, the Wizards do not. They have work remaining. In the second half against the Clippers, Wall, Beal, and crew rose up. In doing so, the fat lady took a seat.

We’ll see for how long.

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Markieff Morris unhappy with leaks coming out of Wizards' locker room

Markieff Morris unhappy with leaks coming out of Wizards' locker room

The Wizards had just completed a 24-point comeback against the L.A. Clippers, but something wasn't sitting right with power forward Markieff Morris.

When asked by a reporter if it was nice to get the win given their recent losing and the media controversy surrounding the team, Morris couldn't help but wonder who it was who leaked comments made by players behind closed doors at a practice last week.

There were very specific quotes cited by several media outlets and Morris wants to know where they came from. 

"It's f***ed up what's going on," he said.

"The comments that's coming from the locker room, that's f***ed up."

Morris went on to say that anonymous sources leaking information shouldn't "happen in sports." Many professional athletes see the locker room and team-only events like practice as sacred. Anyone who breaks that code is, in their eyes, a traitor.

If Morris knew who the information came from, it sounds like he would do something about it.

"I don't know who it is, so it's hard to address. But it's messed up," he said.

Which player or member of the organization spilled the beans could be a question for this team all season. It doesn't sound like Morris will forget that it happened.

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