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Organizers of MLB's season-opening D-Backs-Dodgers series at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia are "upset about comments" disparaging the trip by Dodgers P Zack Greinke, according to Mark Saxon of ESPN L.A. Greinke: "I would say there is absolutely zero excitement for it. There just isn't any excitement to it. I can't think of one reason to be excited for it." Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten said, "Zack has this endearing, contrarian quality to him that we all know and love about him. He's famously focused and meticulous about his training regimen. It's what makes him so good and such a great teammate. This is clearly going to alter his routine. I understand that aspect of it. ... As an organization, we couldn't be more excited about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." Saxon noted the season-opening series was "planned between" Australian officials, MLB, the MLBPA, the Dodgers and the D-Backs. The teams "open their seasons more than a week before the other MLB teams." Meanwhile, the Dodgers have considered holding P Clayton Kershaw "out of the games in Australia so they could use him" in their March 30 U.S. opener against the Padres and their April 4 home opener against the Giants (ESPNLA.com, 2/23). The SYDNEY MORNING HERALD reports given the "amount of money being poured into opening the season" there, organizers in Australia were "far from thrilled with Greinke's comments and fired off a ‘please explain’ to the MLB and the players’ association." But they were then "assured by officials in America that there is still enthusiasm among the players to spread the gospel of baseball in Sydney and that Greinke doesn’t reflect the overall sentiment of the Dodgers organisation." Still, Kershaw skipping the trip would be "a major blow for the concept, given the MLB would be eager to showcase its biggest stars to a new market" (SMH.com.au, 2/24).
CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH? In L.A., Steve Dilbeck wrote Greinke was saying what "probably most every player was thinking but not espousing publicly." The trip to Australia is "one major injury away from being a complete disaster." Players have "nothing against wanting to help expand baseball internationally, and certainly nothing against Australia." Dilbeck: "Probably all the players would like to give it a visit. Just not officially begin their season there in a chopped-up start that could leave them less than ready to resume it eight days later." The series is "weird and impractical, and with precious little reason for a player to get excited about" (LATIMES.com, 2/23).
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome on Saturday acknowledged that the video showing Ray Rice "dragging his unconscious fiancee from an elevator at an Atlantic City, N.J., casino is a troubling image for the star running back," according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore SUN. Newsome said, "I did (watch the video) online, just like everybody else did, and it doesn't look good. ... The video is what it is. Up until the process runs its course, we, as an organization, will stand down." While Newsome "hasn’t spoken with Rice, he’s been informed of his version of events through Rice's conversations" with coach John Harbaugh, Dir of Player Development Harry Swayne and Dir of Team Security Darren Sanders. Newsome: "Right now, I feel very good about his side of the story, but I also feel very good about what he has done since that to help himself to not allow himself to get in a situation like that again." ESPN analyst and former NFL GM Bill Polian said, "This is a very serious issue. This is a player universally regarded as one of the best players in football, the poster child for what's good about the NFL. So you feel sorry for him and his fiancee. No human being is perfect" (Baltimore SUN, 2/23). THE MMQB's Peter King writes if Rice did lay a hand on his fiancee, he will "be branded an abuser and likely face league or team discipline," and "rightfully so." What is "disappointing for the Ravens, and for Rice, is that he'd become to some the face of the franchise, a leading spokesman in the fight against bullying and an unselfish person in the community" (MMQB.SI.com, 2/24).
BRAND AWARENESS: In Baltimore, Childs Walker noted Rice's sponsors "have offered a mixed reaction." Local used car dealer Carbiz Owner Evan Berney "has stood by" Rice. M&T Bank VP/Corporate Communications Phil Hosmer said the company does not "have enough information to comment right now, but we are evaluating information as it comes in to us." Baltimore-based TBC Advertising Exec VP & Managing Dir Howe Burch: "I can't think of another athlete in the area who has experienced this kind of rapid turn." Newsome said, "I will reserve all of my comments until I get a chance to talk to Ray." Burch said that he would "urge Rice to remain silent as long as his legal situation is in flux." He added, "I don't think he can do himself any favors by talking right now" (Baltimore SUN, 2/23).
TABLOID TV GETTING IT RIGHT? In Baltimore, David Zurawik asked of the release of the casino footage, "Is TMZ doing good work that deserves some of my respect and gratitude? Or are my standards getting lower?" TMZ acknowledges that it "sometimes pays for video but declined Friday to say whether it paid for the footage on Rice last week." TMZ Sports Exec Producer Evan Rosenblum said, "We consider ourselves a very serious news operation. And we vet stories thoroughly and seriously. Our reputation as reputable journalists is the most important thing." He added that TMZ got the video "because it worked the Rice story harder than anyone else." Rosenblum: "Ever since the news broke that Ray Rice was arrested in Atlantic City, we've been on top of the story. Clearly, Ray Rice is a huge star, and this is a shocking incident. We were trying to reach every single person connected to this thing, and you know how it goes in news some times: You talk to one person, who gets you to another person, and another person." Zurawik wrote, "My bottom line: Despite its journalistic sins, TMZ has become an invaluable site on the media landscape" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 2/22).
Bills CFO Jeffrey Littmann, Senior VP/Football Administration Jim Overdorf and Senior VP/Communications Scott Berchtold "still hold too much sway and haven't afforded" GM Doug Whaley or coach Doug Marrone "as much control as either feels he needs to correct a losing culture," according to sources cited by Tim Graham of the BUFFALO NEWS. Key coaching staffers and scouts are "frustrated with organizational fixtures [who are] considered behind the times," as Whaley and Marrone "clearly view football in a fresher way than the franchise is accustomed." The two "want to fix the team's this-is-the-way-we've-always-done-it culture." Sources said that the coaching staff "wants to replace 30-year athletic trainer Bud Carpenter but have run into opposition within the board room." Graham reported the "dissatisfaction doesn't stop there." Scouts and coaches "have been aggravated with decisions" made by Littmann, Overdorf and Berchtold, each of whom have been with the team since the '80s. Littmann "long has set the team's budget" for team Owner Ralph Wilson, while Overdorf "oversees all player contracts." Overdorf, "not Whaley, will handle contract negotiations for Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd," which is the "same as last year." Overdorf "reports not to Whaley," but to President & CEO Russ Brandon. Berchtold is "responsible for helping Marrone and Whaley deal with the media." Bills coaches "refer to Berchtold as the team's 'sports information director,' a term colleges use for their flacks," and Berchtold "doesn't like that" (BUFFALONEWS.com, 2/23).
ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY: CBSSPORTS.com's Jason La Canfora wrote things "are not getting better behind the scenes" for the 49ers, as there was "a persistent rumble throughout the combine about the extent of the rift between coach Jim Harbaugh and the team's front office." It "doesn't seem like it will go away, and there is increasing buzz that the team might have to decide between Harbaugh or GM Trent Baalke." Sources said that the two "are barely speaking," and "almost all communication is through email." Sources added that Harbaugh "also has a strained relationship" with team President Paraag Marathe, and "has clashed with many within the organization." La Canfora: "It could prove untenable. If anything, the impression I got this week was that the situation there is actually much worse than how it has been portrayed in the media" (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/23).
Red Sox President & CEO Larry Lucchino this weekend "was pleased to note the contrast between how the Sox built their roster as opposed to the Yankees," according to Peter Abraham of the BOSTON GLOBE. Lucchino said, "We’re very different animals. I’m proud of that difference. I always cringe when people lump us together, other baseball teams sometimes do that. They are still, this year at least, relying heavily on their inimitable old-fashioned Yankee style of high-priced, long-term free agents. I can’t say I wish them well, but I think we have taken a different approach" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/22). In Boston, John Tomase wrote Lucchino is not "above taking a mild shot at his big-spending rival to the south." This shot "took the form of a philosophical comparison between the team-building approach of the Red Sox vs. that of the Yankees, who returned to their profligate ways this winter." Lucchino: "If you compare what we did last year in the offseason to what they did this year, there’s quite a contrast there" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/22). Yankees President Randy Levine said, "I feel bad for Larry; he constantly sees ghosts and is spooked by the Yankees. But I can understand why, because under his and Bobby Valentine’s plan two years ago, the Red Sox were in last place. Ben Cherington and the Red Sox did a great job last year winning the World Series, but I’m confident [Yankees GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi] and our players will compete with a great Red Sox team to win a world championship this year." In N.Y., Mark Feinsand wrote the "sparks were flying again" between Lucchino and Levine, "setting up what could be a fireworks-filled season between" the two teams. (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/22). ESPN BOSTON's Joe McDonald wrote it "wouldn't be spring training" without Lucchino "taking a shot" at the Yankees (ESPNBOSTON.com, 2/21).
MY NAME IS LARRY: In Boston, Dan Shaughnessy wrote Lucchino on Friday was "relaxed, happy and still jabbing his nemesis." Shaughnessy: "This is why you should be thankful for Larry. He’s been a handy target through the years." Without Lucchino, "the vaunted" Fenway Sports Group "could have splintered and drowned long ago." Meanwhile, Lucchino said of the potential that he would succeed MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, "Some would say that based on my personality I’m a polarizing figure. I’ve been in the game a long time and made a lot of friends that I value and a number of enemies along the way." Lucchino acknowledged that he "wouldn't get the support of every big league team" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/22). The BOSTON HERALD's Tomase reported Lucchino "laughed at suggestions he could be the game’s next commissioner." Lucchino: "I don’t want to go anywhere else, not that I would be anybody’s first choice anyway. ... I don’t think it’s a position that’s right for me. I have a position that I really want to finish my career in right here" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/22).
TO THE VIDEO TAPE! The BOSTON GLOBE's Abraham noted Lucchino praised MLB "for adding more instant replay," and now he "hopes the pace of the game will be improved." He said, "That’s kind of -- and I don’t want to be overly dramatic here -- but kind of a dagger pointed at the heart of baseball and we can’t afford to avert our eyes from it." The commissioner’s office "has asked some teams, including the Red Sox, to come up with ideas to increase the pace of play." Lucchino "mentioned enforcing the rule-book definition of the strike zone as one method." He said, "The game is a beautiful game. The randomness, the dailiness, the unpredictability of it makes it such a great game. Its history makes it a great game. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t change a few rules here and there every once in a while without it being such a dangerous road to hoe" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/22).
FENWAY FRANKS: In Boston, Donna Goodison reported the Red Sox are "seeking city approval for a takeout concession on Lansdowne Street" that would be open during non-ballpark hours. Red Sox Corporate Communications Dir Zineb Curran said that there "are no formal plans yet in terms of what kind of food would be sold" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/22). Meanwhile, the HERALD's Steve Buckley wrote if the Red Sox are "ever going to get a new ballpark," FSG execs are the "guys you should want to build it." But "instead, we get a collective shrug of the shoulders" from John Henry, Tom Werner and Lucchino and their "shared observation that a new Fenway will be a project of the owners of tomorrow" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/23).