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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Second Rider Is Expelled for a Positive Drug Test

FOIX, France — The French police arrested a Spanish rider for the Barloworld team Wednesday morning after finding banned substances in his hotel room, which they raided after the rider, Moisés Dueñas Nevado, failed an antidoping test during the Tour de France.


Regis Duvignau/Reuters

Moises Duenas Nevado of the Barloworld team during the 4th stage individual time trial of the Tour de France.

The Barloworld team announced on its Web site Wednesday afternoon that the police had found “some banned medicines that were absolutely not supplied or prescribed by the team doctor” in Dueñas Nevado’s hotel room in Tarbes, where the team had spent the previous three nights.

According to a report from the French Anti-Doping Agency, Dueñas Nevado tested positive last week for the blood-boosting drug EPO, which is banned in cycling. The test was conducted after the Tour’s fourth stage, an individual time trial in Cholet, but the results became available only this week.

Dueñas Nevado is the second rider expelled from this year’s Tour de France for a failed drug test. Manuel Beltrán, a Spanish rider, tested positive for EPO after the first stage.

Dueñas Nevado, who did not start the 11th stage Wednesday, was ranked 19th over all after 10 of the Tour’s 21 stages. He was 6 minutes 43 seconds behind the race leader, Cadel Evans, and was the highest-ranked Barloworld rider. On Monday, he finished 11th over all in the difficult climbing stage that finished at Hautacam, just 10 seconds behind Evans, who took over the race lead that day.

Wednesday’s 11th stage, a 104.1-mile ride over one high mountain and into this Pyrenees foothill town, was won by Kurt-Asle Arvesen, the Norwegian national road champion who rides for the CSC team.

Arvesen beat Martin Elmiger of Ag2R-La Mondiale and Alessandro Ballen of Lampre in a photo finish. They were all part of a breakaway group of 12 riders that finished more than 14 minutes ahead of the peloton. Because all of the breakaway riders were more than 20 minutes down in the standings at the beginning of the day, there was no change at the top of the overall standings.

Evans, an Australian on the Silence-Lotto team, remained in first place by a second over Frank Schleck of CSC and 46 seconds ahead of Christian Vande Velde of Garmin Chipotle.

Claudio Corti, the manager of the Barloworld team, said in a statement that the team was unaware of any drug use by Dueñas Nevado before Wednesday.

“We’re absolutely stunned by what is happening and by the behavior of one of our riders,” Corti said. “He seems to have secretly used banned substances, hiding everything from everybody else in the team.”

Corti added, “It’s terribly disheartening, but because the team is not involved in what has happened, we hope that the whole truth can rapidly emerge so that we can take the necessary action and that Dueñas can fully accept responsibility for what he has done.”

The search and detention of Dueñas Nevado is the same procedure applied last week to Beltrán, of the Liquigas team. The antidoping effort at the Tour de France this year is being conducted by the French Anti-Doping Agency instead of the International Cycling Union because of a dispute between the cycling union and the organizers of the Tour de France.

The French police have been cooperating in that effort in an attempt to heighten the perceived penalties for cheating. If Dueñas Nevado possessed or took banned performance-enhancing drugs without a prescription while in France, he might have violated French law. He could face up to five years in prison if convicted of a sports doping offense under French law.

Dueñas Nevado was withdrawn from Wednesday’s race by his team under the terms of a contract that all of the teams signed with the Tour de France. The contract specifies that a team can continue in the race if one of its riders tests positive as long as the team is not involved and it immediately withdraws the rider, without waiting for the results of the test of a second sample of the rider’s urine.

Dueñas Nevado has the right to request the testing of his second sample and to be present during the test. If he declines or if the second test proves positive, he can be suspended for two years and fined a year’s salary, which for a rider like him can total up to about $100,000.

Two other riders on the Barloworld team dropped out of the Tour on Wednesday after a crash that sent one of them to the hospital. Paolo Longo Borghini, an Italian rider, fractured his right clavicle in a crash roughly 35 miles after the start. The crash also brought down his teammate Félix Cárdenas, who sustained contusions to his left knee.

The team’s leader, Juan Mauricio Soler Hernández, crashed heavily during the first stage and dropped out during the fifth stage. That leaves Barloworld, whose sponsor is a South African conglomerate that leases heavy equipment for construction projects, with just five riders in the race.

Christopher Froome, a teammate of Dueñas Nevado’s on the Barloworld team, said shortly before the start of Wednesday’s stage in Lannemezan that team members had not been able to speak with him since about two dozen policemen came to the hotel at about 8 a.m.

“Obviously everyone was really shocked about it,” Froome said. “It’s disappointing obviously, but they still have to test the B sample, and personally I just hope it’s a big mistake. We’ll just have to wait and see. If it’s not, then I’m just really disappointed. That’s just obviously his own choice and it’s affected all of us, unfortunately.”

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AC Milan set to unveil Ronaldinho

Ronaldinho on his arrival in Milan
Ronaldinho enjoys the attention upon arriving in Milan on Wednesday

AC Milan will introduce new signing Ronaldinho to their fans and the media at 1930 BST at the San Siro stadium.

The Brazil forward, 28, opted to join the Italian giants from Barcelona, rejecting a move to Manchester City.

He underwent a medical in Milan on Wednesday prior to signing a contract that will keep him at the Serie A club to the end of the 2010-11 season.

City had reportedly bid £25.5m for the player, but AC Milan are believed to have paid considerably less for him.

Rossoneri fans snapped up 5,230 season tickets on Wedneday alone, following news of Ronaldinho's imminent arrival.

Manchester City boss Mark Hughes said his disappointment at missing out on the star had been eased by the club's show of ambition.

"We presented our case as well as we possibly could and the fact that we are in there trying to get one of the top players in the world shows where we want to go," he said.

"I don't know the finer details of the negotiations, but the way the Ronaldinho deal was constructed was a little bit different by all accounts to an ordinary deal, so my budget would not have been affected as much as people think."

Reports suggest that Ronaldinho's negotiating team were ultimately uinimpressed by a financial package from City that was heavily weighted with clauses relating to performance, success and marketing.

Hughes added: "Obviously, I am being linked with players that I know and possibly have worked with before and then there are others that agents are trying to move on and place.

"There is a lot of that going on at the moment. It is not my way to divulge who were are going after.

"I will keep them under wraps in case someone jumps in at the last moment, but there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes."

Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Milan will pay Barcelona just £14.6m for his services, with the figure likely to be increased by performance-related bonuses.

Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani has been in Barcelona for talks with the club and the player for two days.

The two-time Fifa World Player of the Year's time at Barcelona effectively came to an end in June when new manager Pep Guardiola announced the playmaker was surplus to requirements.

Ronaldinho helped Barcelona win back-to-back Spanish league titles (2004-05, 2005-06) and the Champions League in 2006, but failed to cement a regular place in the starting XI last season because of injury and fitness issues.

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Brazil Wants Its Soccer Team Back

Brazilian Julio Baptista (L) of Spanish Real Madrid vies for the ball with Argentinean Lionel Messi (R) of Spanish Barcelona FC during their FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010 South American qualifying match, June 18, 2008.

Futebol, or soccer, has for a half century been the very heartbeat of Brazilian national pride as generation after generation of exquisitely talented players has donned the national team's canary-yellow jersey and showed the world how the "beautiful game" should be played. And Europe's elite leagues have long honored Brazil's contribution to the game by bringing dozens of Brazilian players to star in their top teams. But Brazil may have been a victim of its own success: Today, the national team is struggling, and the resultant crisis in national pride has enraged everyone from the fans in the cheap seats to President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.

Just 15 minutes into Brazil's recent World Cup qualifying match with Ecuador, when the teams had yet to find their feet and their rhythm, the fans at Rio's legendary Maracanã stadium were calling for the head of Dunga, the single name used by the former team captain who now serves as its coach. Brazil eventually awoke from their sluggishness and scored five goals without reply, and the fans were singing again — but the truce was temporary. A few months later, as Brazil faced its arch-rival Argentina in a 0-0 draw, the coach was again in the fans' cross hairs. "Cheerio, Dunga," they roared, as Brazil struggled to put the ball in the net. "Donkey, donkey, donkey," they chanted, before doing the unthinkable — loudly cheering their opponent's best player, Lionel Messi.

That Dunga is the scapegoat for Brazil's bad run of form is hardly surprising in a country that one of his predecessors once described as having 180 million coaches. But the players he chooses are also coming in for flak in a controversy that has raised the question of just what it means to be Brazilian. Many fans believe that when Brazilian players make it big and are signed to play for major European professional teams, they lose their identity and national pride. (Indeed, there are currently more than ten other countries, ranging from Spain and Portugal to Croatia, Poland and Japan, that have awarded citizenship to Brazilian pros in order to field them in their national soccer teams.) Players earning millions of dollars abroad on their pro teams don't have the same passion for representing the national team as do those that stay close to home, runs the conventional wisdom. "If you look at the Brazilian team there isn't one player who plays in Brazil," President Lula complained bitterly after the Argentina game. "Today, a young player's dream isn't to play for Brazil, it's to play in Europe."

Europe, of course, is where most of the money in international pro soccer is concentrated, which is why the best players from throughout the world tend to earn their wages there. Still, for the President and many other fans, the answer to restoring national pride lies with selecting more home-based players in the Brazil team, the theory being that those closer to home have a greater desire to represent their country than those earning pounds and Euros. Finding such player may be a tough prospect, however, because so many Brazilian players are lured overseas at increasingly young ages: last year, alone, 1,085 Brazilian players were signed by foreign pro teams.

But such is the disillusion with the national team that the suggestion has sparked intense interest. Lance!, the country's biggest selling sports newspaper, has proposed that at least half of the Brazil team should be made up of home-based stars. "We often don't even know some of the players called up to the Brazil squad, and often those that are act like they are doing us a favor," the paper wrote in a front-page editorial. "Today, a player is more likely to get called up if he plays in the Ukraine than if he plays for São Paulo or Flamengo."

The idea of giving preference to home-based players is not new, but it is unworkable, and most people know it. In fact, it was tried in 1990, when coach Paulo Roberto Falcao picked only Brazil-based players for his first five games in charge. The team never won a match — and scored just one goal — prompting Falcao to quickly abandoned the idea. Today, such a strategy has even less chance of success given the rate at which Brazil's international-class players are snapped up by foreign sides. A team of home-based players would struggle against even mediocre European nations, and no coach in his right mind believes that even the most outstanding player from Palmeiras or Corinthians is fit to lace the boots of Kaka or Ronaldinho, the most recent winners of the World Player of the Year award. Of the 11 players who started against Argentina last month, only one, Adriano, played for a Brazilian club, and he was there on loan from Internazionale of Milan.

Quixotic though it may be, the campaign for local lads does serve a greater purpose, explains Juca Kfouri, a well-known broadcaster and journalist. Since the Brazilian soccer federation sold the rights to organize friendly matches to a private sponsor, the team now plays as many games in Europe as in Brazil. And top players such as Kaka, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho have recently put club before country, giving supporters little opportunity to see their national heroes up close. As a result, the historically tight bond between the ordinary fans in the stands and their idols on the pitch has snapped. "There's no link between the fans and the players any more," says Kfouri. "We want our team back. That's what this debate is about."

The irony is that Lula might have a point. Players who play for Brazil's cash-strapped and poorly run pro clubs probably do want to play for their country more than those in the foreign legion. The European-based players have to shlep themselves all the way across the Atlantic every couple of months to join the national squad for World Cup qualifiers against lesser teams like Peru and Bolivia — and even if they make the trip, they aren't even guaranteed a game for a talent-rich squad of 22 of which only 11 can play. And then, if Brazil doesn't demolish its opponent, their own fans assail them as mercenaries or playboys. (That said, the players could do themselves some favors by staying out of nightclubs and laying off the prostitutes.)

But while the young, home-based players are certainly hungrier than the European contingent are to represent their country, their motivation may not be entirely patriotic. Simply wearing the yellow shirt is enough to win them a contract from Europe that will set them up for life — even if it earns them the ire of the fans currently championing their cause.

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7 Reasons Why America Will Never Embrace Soccer

I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my grill flaming. I’m as red-blooded American as they come, and one of the biggest sports fans you will ever meet. I consider myself a human database of football stats, basketball trades, baseball figures, NASCAR victories, and even the current cricket standings.

There is one sport, however, that has always taken a back burner here in America . . . despite being the most popular game in the world.

Soccer, the beautiful game, futbol, football, or whatever accepted term is used to describe it will never be embraced in America. It’s a sad truth, but it’s a conclusion that’s inevitable and can be completely explained.

Admittedly, my passion for soccer was born my junior year of college while playing FIFA 06 with some roommates. Being junior varsity lacrosse and basketball players, we wanted to test our skills against the best of the best just to find out how tough the game really is. Our competitive intramural team name was FIFA 06 (With Multi-Tap), and we got our asses handed to us in the playoff semi-finals.

So after playing “the beautiful game” on the field, on all gaming consoles, and in arenas, I decided I would take a shot at watching a couple of games on the television. I hate to say it, but I just couldn’t take it. HD didn’t even help.

Although the majority of readers will take offense to this article, just hear me out. There are 7 reasons mainstream America will never embrace this game, and they are absolutely undeniable.

1. Americans don’t have the Attention Spans.

Soccer is a continuous game that is heavily influenced by a team’s endurance and stamina. Unfortunately, Americans do not understand that concept. While one of the most popular sports in the United States involves watching a car go around a track for 600 miles, soccer is players running constantly for 90 minutes. Unlike soccer, however, NASCAR also involves the elements of horrendous crashes, pit stops, and fan favorites. Football also stops after every play, and during the four quarters of the game. The same goes for the innings of baseball, and the quarters of basketball.

2. Low Scores.

Because soccer is such a competitive and trying sport, the scores remain relatively few and far between. Americans like scoring, in all ways, forms, and meanings. Look at every other sport and their average scores, and then compare them to a high scoring soccer affair involving 5 – 6 goals. While scoring a goal is exciting, you have to remember spectators endure 90 minutes of passing balls and running in order to witness the goal.

3. Americans are Fat.

The average weight for American men is 191 pounds, which is 20 pounds heavier than men 40 years ago. The childhood obesity problem doesn’t help either, with nearly 20% of children between the ages of 6 – 12 being overweight. Simple logic will tell you that being overweight means being unhealthy, which probably means you can’t perform well in stamina sports such as soccer. Other sports, however, rely on the big man to take the post, block and tackle, or mash a bomb out of the park. Soccer’s not a big man’s game . . . and a nation’s sports interest that is fixed in an unhealthy lifestyle will likely focus on sports that don’t require healthiness or losing weight.

4. There are no Individuals in Soccer.

Although there are players like Henry, Ronaldinho, and Ronaldo the majority of great players and teams rely on teamwork more than any other sport in existence. Football, baseball, and basketball can all stand to have a weak link during game play. Although the weakest link can be exploited in these sports, the offense does not suffer from their mishaps and great players can more than make up for them. Players like Peyton Manning, Lebron James, and Randy Johnson can single handedly take over the game and produce a win. However, soccer requires extreme teamwork and patience. One weak link could mean a collapse in offense as well as defense. Americans like a hero . . . and it’s hard to be a hero on the soccer field without losing it for the team.

5. The Lack of Stats.

In all athletics, stats are crucial for the sports junkie. Being able to rattle off batting, FG, or QB ratings bring joy to millions of Americans. In soccer, the only real stats are passes, tackles, goals, and saves. Of course there are the occasional corners and cards, but the stats simply aren’t as meaningful nor interesting as other mainstream American sports. I could not tell you the passing percentage of Spain in the UEFA Cup, but I can tell you the ERA of most NL pitchers. The same goes for most of Americans that follow any sport closely.

6. No Rivalries in America.

The MLS boasts an unimpressive 16 teams in 16 cities here in America. There are only 2 conferences, and their marketing has done little to focus on city rivalries. In other sports we have Carolina v. Duke, New York v. Boston, USC v. UCLA, and so on. In the MLS, there is hardly any gut wrenching rivalries to partake in. No, Houston vs. Dallas does not count . . . does the nation stop to watch these two teams battle? I think not. In Europe it is the complete opposite, where hundreds of teams have city rivals, as well as their country rivals. Until there’s some flare, American soccer will remain on the back burner.

7. Americans love exactness.

When a player drops a football, fans scream. They also do the same for dropped baseball, pucks, basketballs, or even when a NASCAR driver misses his line and falls behind. We love perfection and our team never turning the ball over. Which explains why Americans could become very frustrated while watching a game of soccer. Because the soccerball is handled by the feet and can be extremely hard to control, precision is hard to come by during a match.

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Concerned about gang signs, NFL reviews tapes

Hand signals captured on videotape are once again being scrutinized around the NFL. Only this time, it's not the New England Patriots studying them for a competitive advantage, but league officials in search of a more sinister message.

The NFL, concerned that some players might celebrate by flashing the hand signals of street gangs, has hired experts to examine game tapes and identify the gestures.

"There have been some suspected things we've seen," said Milt Ahlerich, the league's vice president of security. "When we see it, we quietly jump on it immediately, directly with the team and the player or employee involved to cease and desist. Period."

Ahlerich says the league has long warned its players about the influence of gangs and other forms of organized crime, but that those admonishments have intensified since the 2007 killing of Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams, who was gunned down after an altercation involving known gang members.

The issue of athletes flashing signs gained national attention in April when Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics was fined $25,000 by the NBA for making "menacing gestures" as he walked toward the Atlanta Hawks' bench during a game.

While acknowledging that he wasn't "into the etymology of gestures," NBA Commissioner David Stern took immediate action after league officials examined video of the incident.

"And our decision is that there were two menacing gestures," Stern said at the time.

Speaking broadly, he added, "I guess I would say that the league is sending a message that says you're the best athletes in the world, play the game. OK? And you know what, if you get baited, don't take the bait and let's play. . . . We're not going to let it degenerate into something else, period."

Partly because of that episode, the NFL decided to make the identification of gang signs a point of emphasis this season, and has called on the resources of local and national authorities to learn more about gang culture.

"We were always suspicious that [gang-related hand signals] might be happening," said Mike Pereira, the NFL's vice president of officiating. "But the Paul Pierce thing is what brought it to light. When he was fined . . . that's when we said we need to take a look at it and see if we need to be aware of it."

NFL game officials will not be responsible for identifying gang signals but will alert league headquarters of anything unusual or suspicious they see. League executives declined to outline what action might be taken against offenders, but Pereira said, "it will be dealt with harshly. The commissioner is not going to stand for gang signals on the field."

Ahlerich does not believe the problem to be widespread in the NFL but says the league has spoken to some players about their use of hand signals. He declined to identify the players.

First-year players were counseled on the matter at the recent rookie symposium, and last year a video on the dangers of gangs was required viewing for every player in the league.

The way some players see it, there is guesswork involved, even for the experts who are studying game video.

"Guys come from all over the country, and who knows what they're really doing?" said Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Dennis Northcutt, adding he cannot remember seeing a gang gesture in his nine NFL seasons. "People have got signs for their kids, signs for their fraternities. How do you differentiate who's really throwing up gang signs?"

Northcutt gave an example.

"This is a gang sign," he said, touching his index finger to his thumb to form a squished OK sign. "But at the same time, it's a sign for a personnel group."

Pereira said the gang experts take those factors into account and are very thorough when investigating gestures that appear suspicious. They are on the lookout for "symbols, clothing, jewelry or other items that would signify an association with criminal gang enterprises," Ahlerich said.

That's not unique to the NFL and NBA, nor is it limited to professional sports.

In an e-mail, NHL spokesman Frank Brown said Tuesday his league has "a general prohibition of profane, vulgar or inappropriate gestures (i.e., the throat slash). I am not aware of there ever having been reason to employ a gang expert."

Major League Baseball doesn't study game video, but it does have a policy legislating merchandise. About a year ago, at the insistence of baseball and the New York Yankees, apparel-maker New Era pulled from the shelves Yankees' caps featuring the team's insignia emblazoned with gang colors and logos.

In college sports, the Pacific 10 Conference in 1992 instituted a rule prohibiting football players from wearing bandannas, allowing them to wear elastic skullcaps only if they were in the school's primary colors or black.

Former USC coach Larry Smith was instrumental in the formation of that rule, according to conference spokesman Jim Muldoon, and was acutely aware of gang-related issues.

Former NFL player Marcellus Wiley says he has known players to make gang signs while celebrating big plays, even if they have no direct association with those gangs.

"A lot of guys when they get into the league, they aren't actually throwing up gang signs as if they're still active gang members, or were ever gang members," said Wiley, who grew up in South Los Angeles. "But it's just like Reggie Bush wearing [the area code] 619 under his eyes. It's just kind of to symbolize where you came from."

The irony, Wiley said, is often the athlete flashing the sign was "allowed an opportunity to make it as far as we could without being approached by that lifestyle, that violence, all the stuff that went on in the neighborhood.

"We were given an access pass to get beyond those things. And then we get to the NFL and we want to be tough. We want to get to the NFL or NBA and we want to be hard, get tattoos everywhere, throw up gang signs. . . . And those guys know that. You don't live that lifestyle and graduate out of it.

"Where I'm from," he added, "you're not the one that wants to throw up a gang sign if you're in that neighborhood. Now, in front of millions of people on TV in the middle of the 50-yard line, who's going to attack you? Who's going to do something to you?

"But you do that on Slauson and Crenshaw and see what happens."

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Lakers' Jordan Farmar to go on peace mission to Middle East

Like other NBA players, Jordan Farmar will head overseas this summer, only with a different mission -- to facilitate peace in the Middle East.

The Lakers' guard, who is Jewish, will travel to Israel to run basketball camps for Israeli and Palestinian children in association with the Peres Peace Center. The goal of the camps, which take place Aug. 4 to 11, is to bring Israeli and Palestinian children together through basketball and create a foundation for peaceful relations between them in years to come.

"If you can have a good time with someone you're supposed to be enemies with, and you guys can work together, things can be better for your future," Farmar said.

Farmar, who averaged 9.1 points and 2.7 assists in his second season with the Lakers, also participated in the NBA's fifth-annual "Play for Peace" clinic in 2006, a little more than a month after he was drafted out of UCLA.

"Sports can be a ground where everyone has fun and when you're out there having a good time; you don't really think about everything else that's going on," Farmar said.

The Peres Peace Center was founded by Israeli President Shimon Peres with the goal of fostering peace in the Middle East through social programs, cooperation and interaction between Israelis and Palestinians. Farmar said programs such as the camp are important for promoting peace, because the NBA is popular in both countries.

"For us to come, we're icons in both communities and we're taking time out to go out and show there's something important that needs to be changed," Farmar said.

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Baseball Physics: Deception and Battered Expectations

New York Yankees' Babe Ruth clouts a towering home run in this undated photo. Credit: AP Photo

On fields of dreams, the duel between the batter and the pitcher at times assumes aspects of humiliation and farce. And never more so than when a batter misses a pitch, swinging so forcefully as to nearly sprain something. The culprit in such cases is usually either a rising fastball or a so-called drop curveball.

From the batter's perspective, a rising fastball follows a normal trajectory until it is quite close to home plate, at which point it seems to jump several inches, as if lifted by some mysterious force. A drop curveball, on the other hand, appears to drop straight down right in front of the plate, from twelve o'clock to six o'clock—hence its other name, "12-to-6 curveball."

Any well-thrown baseball (except a knuckleball, but that's another story) does have substantial spin that can bend its trajectory one way or another—depending on how it's thrown—because the ball's uneven surface creates more drag, or air friction, on one side of the ball than the other. A ninety-mile-an-hour fastball, for example, should drop nearly three feet owing to gravity, yet it falls less than two feet thanks to backspin-generated lift. It doesn't rise, though. The perceived pop owes a lot to shattered expectations, as does the drop of a curveball.

I recall watching Kent Tekulve—who played as a Pittsburgh Pirates reliever from 1974 to 1985—use a peculiar underhand, or "submarine delivery," to make a baseball follow what appeared to be a decidedly non-Newtonian path to the batter. As doubtful as it once seemed to me, however, a thrown baseball obeys all the conventional aerodynamic laws of physics. A. Terry Bahill, a systems engineer at the University of Arizona, and colleagues including David G. Baldwin, a former major-league relief pitcher with an engineering degree and a Ph.D. in genetics, have reams of data to prove it. They can demonstrate that the rising fastball and the drop curve are persuasive tricks, caused by the brain incorrectly processing information to predict the location of the pitched ball.

While playing sports, we almost continuously form mental models of motion in our minds. Outfielders can compute where a fly ball will land just a few moments after it leaves the bat, freeing them to devote their full attention to running to the correct spot on the field. Similarly, you might think a batter could guess where a pitch would be likely to cross home plate.

By equipping players with special glasses that precisely track eye and head movements, Bahill has shown that a batter's attention is fixed on the ball as it is released, and for the first two-thirds of its flight path his eyes smoothly track the motion of the ball. During this focused tracking, the eyes gather data that the brain busily assembles into a model of where the ball will be when it gets within hitting range, and when that will be.

About the time the batter starts to swing—when the ball is about nineteen feet from home—the batter's eyes suddenly jump to where he anticipates the bat–ball meeting will take place. Why? Because it's the only way the eye can move fast enough to keep up with the incoming ball. Now that mental model comes into play. Across that brief gap, the ball's arc is computed by the brain without further reference to the real world. By the time the batter's eyes pick up the actual ball again, it's too late in the swing to reposition the bat.

To accurately predict where and when the eye will reacquire the horsehide target, the brain needs position information. As the ball travels toward the batter, its image on the retina gets bigger, and we are very good at translating that change in size into a time of arrival for the ball. For a fastball taking about two-fifths of a second to travel to the plate, the average person can predict its time of flight to within twenty-five thousandths of a second. Although impressively close, that spread in timing would result in a spray of foul balls and misses; there is only a window of plus or minus nine-thousandths of a second for fair balls. Bahill has shown the pros do considerably better at this timing task, estimating the time of arrival to within plus or minus five-thousandths of a second.

It's an oddity of the way our visual system works that batters can accurately model the "when" of the ball's arrival by directly observing it, but the "where" is another matter. That variable depends on knowing things that are hard to estimate visually: the ball's distance from the batter, and the rate and direction of its spin. To put these parameters into a mental model, the batter relies on cues such as the pattern of the moving ball's gray-and-red blur (different angles of spin look different); the posture of the pitcher, especially his arm and hand; the point at which the pitcher releases the ball; and expectations of ball speed derived from previous pitches. Herein lies the secret to that hoppin' fastball.

If the pitcher can fool the batter about the speed of the pitch, even just a little bit, the effect is a startling difference between where the batter expects the ball and where it actually appears. For example, a few ninety-mile-an-hour fastballs set up the batter to expect more of the same heaters. If the next pitch is 5.5 percent faster, at ninety-five miles per hour, the ball will appear at its point of impact with the bat three inches above where the slower pitch would have. A batter using a mental model to follow the ball perceives that as a sudden leap upwards as the ball comes back into his region of focus.

That perceptual jump can also explain the phenomenon of the diving curve. While a curve ball certainly does curve, there is a particular pitch that appears to the batter to behave quite badly. Players often say "that one rolled off a table" to describe a ball that drops, or "breaks hard," just before the plate. Bahill and his colleagues report that in this case, the pitcher has fooled the batter into thinking the ball is moving faster than it is, leading to a perceptual drop when the ball appears below where the batter expects it.

Faced with such deceit, maybe batters would be better off just closing their eyes. Then again, if they keep them open, they can learn the specific tricks a pitcher employs to throw off their clear perception of the ball's flight. That could explain why some hurlers have great success early in their careers, but then lose their mystique as batters catch on to them.

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Receipts reportedly exist showing HGH shipment to Clemens

NEW YORK -- Convicted steroid distributor Kirk Radomski handed over shipping receipts to federal investigators for a package of human growth hormone that he claims he sent to Roger Clemens' home in Texas in 2002 or 2003, The Daily News reported late Tuesday night on its Web site.

Clemens, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner, is under investigation for perjury after telling Congress he never used steroids or human growth hormone. Brian McNamee, Clemens' personal trainer, told Congress that Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs and that he provided them to the 300-game winner.

The Daily News reported, according to sources with close knowledge of the investigation, that Radomski is also believed to have provided the government with new information and receipts for drug shipments to other players.

Radomski is a former New York Mets clubhouse employee whose allegations formed much of former Senate majority leader George Mitchell's report on steroid use in major league baseball. Radomski was sentenced to five years of probation in February after cooperating with government investigators.

McNamee's allegations about Clemens in the Mitchell report led to Senate hearings with Clemens.

The Daily News reported, according to the sources, that the package Radomski sent was addressed to William Roger Clemens, in care of Brian McNamee. The Daily News' sources said McNamee did not sign for the package.

According to the sources, the timing of the shipment to Clemens' Houston home coincides roughly with the dates when Clemens' wife, Debbie, used human growth hormone in preparation for her participation in a pictorial in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. They also expect the evidence to corroborate McNamee's claims that Clemens was behind his wife's use and was present when McNamee injected her just after the drugs arrived at the couple's home.

Clemens' attorney, Rusty Hardin, said he wasn't aware of the government receiving the receipts from Radomski.

"I can't imagine that there's any truth to that at all," Hardin said. "We'll find out one day Roger never received or took the stuff."

Matthew Parrella, an assistant U.S. Attorney from San Francisco, declined comment to The Daily News when contacted about the receipts.

McNamee's attorney, Richard Emery, told The News on Tuesday he had heard that Radomski found new evidence.

"He found a receipt, and from what I'm told, he's turned it over to the feds," Emery said. "I don't think there's any question of its validity. It confirms the story Brian described on the occasion when he was asked to inject Debbie and Clemens presented him with the HGH."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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American League Wins Baseball All-Star Game

NEW YORK -- Justin Morneau slid home on Michael Young's sacrifice fly in the 15th inning Tuesday to give the American League a 4-3 victory over the National League, extending its All-Star unbeaten streak to 12.

[Baseball]
Reuters
The Minnesota' Twins Justin Morneau scored the game-winning run as Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann tried to make the tag in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

In a game that started Tuesday night and faded well into Wednesday, Mr. Young ended a 4-hour, 40-minute marathon at 1:37 a.m. local time, with Yankee Stadium half-empty. It was a good thing, too -- neither team had any pitchers left in the bullpen.

Slated for extinction, Yankee Stadium got perhaps its final moment in the U.S. spotlight, hosting the All-Star as part of its grand send-off.

The NL was given a pre-game pep talk by Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, whose motto is: "Let's play two!" And they nearly did, matching the longest All-Star game ever.

Mr. Morneau started the winning rally with a leadoff single against loser Brad Lidge, and Ian Kinsler hit a low liner to left that Ryan Ludwick caught with a dive. After Dioner Navarro singled, J.D. Drew walked to load the bases.

Mr. Young lofted a fly to right and Cory Hart's throw home took two bounces and was slightly to the first-base side of the plate. Catcher Brian McCann gloved the ball and tried a sweep tag, but Mr. Young sneaked his right foot in, barely ahead of the tag. Plate umpire Derryl Cousins made the safe call, and the AL players left in the dugout rushed out to celebrate.

"Yankee Stadium is tough, I'm telling you," Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said. "Didn't want it to end." The AL improved to 6-0 since the All-Star game began determining home-field advantage in the World Series. And it even ended an old curse -- it had been 0-9-1 in extra innings against its older rival.

Mr. Young got the winning hit off Trevor Hoffman in the 2006 All-Star game at Pittsburgh, and it gave the win to Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir, the 12th AL pitcher.

Mr. Drew was picked as the Most Valuable Player, with his two-run homer in the seventh making it 2-2. Being from Boston, he was booed by the New York crowd when presented with his trophy.

"One of those undescribable events," Mr. Drew said. "To be voted in by the players and to be in this position is really an honor." The only other AL player with an All-Star ending RBI was Red Sox great Ted Williams, who hit a three-run, ninth-inning homer in 1941.

This game tied the NL's 2-1, 15-inning victory in 1967 at Anaheim. It made the AL 10-0-1 since its 1996 loss in Philadelphia and narrowed its overall deficit to 40-37-2.

Matt Holliday and Mr. Drew hit home runs. Houston shortstop Miguel Tejada made a great, falling throw on a slow grounder to deny the AL a win in the 10th after a pair of ugly errors by Dan Uggla, who made a record three botches in all.

The AL stranded the potential winning run at third base in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings. Mr. Uggla twice stranded what would have been the go-ahead run on third.

Colorado's Aaron Cook wiggled out of bases-loaded, no-out jam in the 10th. Grady Sizemore and Evan Longoria grounded into forceouts at the plate, and Mr. Tejada made a charging, flying throw to get Mr. Morneau on a slow grounder.

In the 11th, Pittsburgh center fielder Nate McLouth made a perfect throw to nail Mr. Navarro at the plate on Mr. Young's single, with Dodgers catcher Russell Martin applying the tag.

The NL loaded the bases with one out in the 12th before Kansas City's Joakim Soria struck out Mr. Uggla, and Baltimore's George Sherrill fanned Adrian Gonzalez.

Boston's Jonathan Papelbon gave up a leadoff single to Mr. Tejada, and was booed. Mr. Tejada stole second with, went to third as Mr. Navarro's throw went into center field for an error and scored on Mr. Gonzalez's sacrifice fly.

Mr. Wagner relieved with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, gave up a single to Mr. Sizemore, who stole second and scored on a ground-rule double down the left-field line by Mr. Longoria.

It was the eighth All-Star game in New York and the fourth at Yankee Stadium. In the previous one, Joe Morgan homered on the sixth pitch and the NL took a 4-0 first-inning lead en route to 7-5 win.

A sellout crowd of 55,632 came to honor the 85-year-old ballpark, home to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and the most glittering lineup of greats any team can boast.

"It was pretty special. When I was running from the bullpen to the mound, I was a little bit shaking," said the Chicago Cubs' Carlos Zambrano, who pitched two scoreless innings. "I said, 'Man, six, seven years in the big leagues and you still feel butterflies in your stomach."' Before the game, 49 Hall of Famers led by Yogi Berra and Gary Carter walked in from the bullpens in left-center to their former positions, waved to the sellout crowd and stood as the All-Stars assumed flanking positions alongside them during a half-hour ceremony.

Copyright © 2008 Associated Press

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The Science Behind Breaking Baseball Bats