Former NL MVP: The 2012 season will be my last

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Former NL MVP: The 2012 season will be my last

From Comcast SportsNet
ATLANTA (AP) -- Flanked by his family, his former manager and a group of teammates he hates to leave behind, Chipper Jones choked up a bit and delivered the news that's been looming for years: It's time to call it a career. This time, he means it. With his 40th birthday approaching and a long string of injuries slowing him down, Jones announced Thursday he will retire after one more season as the Atlanta Braves' third baseman. "I have fulfilled everything," Jones said during a news conference at the team's spring training stadium in Kissimmee, Fla. "There's nothing left for me to do." Jones, who has spent his entire 18-year career with Atlanta, actually planned to retire after the 2010 season, only to change his mind. As he battled leg issues this spring, he openly wondered if he'd be able to make it through the season. So, he'll give it one more year with the Braves, then become a full-time dad to his three children. "I just want to make it final," Jones said. He praised the Braves organization, calling Bobby Cox "the greatest manager any of us will ever know," thanked team executives John Schuerholz and Frank Wren for building a perennial winner and fought back tears as he turned to his teammates. "I've been thinking about this and the reason I stayed around is you guys," Jones said. "I played on teams where clubhouse cohesion wasn't there. That never happened with you guys." Around baseball, Jones was praised for this long, consistent career, which included the NL MVP award in 1999, an NL batting title in 2008, seven All-Star games -- and, quite possibly, will include an induction ceremony at Cooperstown. Even fans of the rival New York Mets, who were continually battered by Jones as crowds in the Big Apple tried to rattle him by chanting his actual name ("Larry! Larry! Larry" was a familiar chant at old Shea Stadium), offered up nothing but respect. Jones already reciprocated by naming one of his children Shea. "He's a great ballplayer who has always been a Mets nemesis," said New York fan John Ring, speaking before Mets' spring training game in Port St. Lucie, Fla. "I mean, he just tore them apart. He's been an asset to the game, but as Mets fans we never wanted to see him in the lineup." Mets third baseman David Wright grew up wanting to be like Jones, which didn't change after they both wound up in the big leagues. "He's been one of those guys where I always looked across and tried to take away some of the things from his game and apply it to mine," Wright said. "He's been so consistent, so good for so long and been part of a lot of great times. It's going be a little odd looking across there and not seeing Chipper in uniform, that's for sure." New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, whose 17-year stint with one team is surpassed only by Jones among active players, has always been impressed by the way the Atlanta player carries himself: a wad of tobacco in his jaw, a batting glove always dangling out of his back pocket when he took the field. "He just looks like a ballplayer, you know? His actions, his mannerisms, everything he does," Jeter said. "I really can't say enough good things about him. The way he's gone about his business, his consistency, how he took care of himself, what he means to the team. He could flat-out hit. He's a Hall of Famer, for sure." He should be a first-ballot selection, according to Cox, who attended the news conference with the only other manager Jones will have in his big league career, current Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez. Schuerholz, the former general manager and now team president, and Wren are the only GMs of the Jones era. Stability meant a lot to the third baseman, who never seriously considered leaving the Braves. "To have two top executives and only two managers at one table after all these years says a lot about this organization," Jones said. "There have been times when I could have gone into free agency to see if the grass is greener, but it never was." While other players came and went, Jones was always the one constant in the clubhouse. "He was the face of the franchise," said former teammate Andruw Jones, who's now with the Yankees. "You don't see it too much any more. It's hard for players to stay with one organization." No matter what happens in his final season, Chipper Jones will go down as one of the game's greatest switch-hitters, a guy who could hit for average (.304 in his career) and power (454 homers and 1,561 RBIs). Shortly after reporting for what will be his final spring training, Jones marveled that he was still with the Braves with his milestone birthday coming up in April. "Never in my mid-20s would I have given myself a snowball's chance to be in camp and have a job at 40 years old," Jones told The Associated Press. "But I like to think I've kept myself in pretty good shape over the years. The skills are still there to go out and get it done. I don't know for how much longer, but we're going to ride it as long as we can." That ride lasts one more season. The Braves said Jones hopes to remain with the organization in another capacity after his playing career ends, but it won't happen next year. First, he plans to spend some long-overdue time with his family. "I just want to be a full-time dad," Jones said. But he'll always stay involved in the game. While Jones has no desire to go into managing, he has indicated a desire to be hitting instructor some day. "I have such a passion for hitting," Jones said last month. "I'm kind of a one-track-mind kind of guy. I can't have my hands in a bunch jars and be delegating responsibility for a bunch of different areas. I'd much rather stay focused on just one area and be able to do that well. While I think I could manage, I really don't have the urge to manage. I'd much rather be a hitting coach than a manager." Jones, the top overall pick in the 1990 draft, was initially pegged to join the Braves' lineup four years later as a left fielder. But he suffered a season-ending knee injury in spring training, delaying his debut. What a debut it was. Back at his natural infield position in 1995, Jones finished second in the NL rookie of the year balloting and helped the Braves win their first World Series title in Atlanta. That remains his only championship, even though the Braves kept right on winning the NL East through 2005 in an unprecedented streak of 14 straight division titles. Jones was on teams that lost to the Yankees in the 1996 and '99 World Series. After the team slumped for a couple of years, Jones was joined by a new generation of players who led the Braves back to the postseason in 2010 -- the final year of Cox's long tenure as manager. Atlanta lost to the eventual champion San Francisco Giants in a tightly fought division series that Jones missed, having gone down in August with the second season-ending knee injury of his career. Now, the Braves have one more chance to send Jones into retirement with a second World Series title. "He's had 18 remarkable years," Schuerholz said, "and I hope his 19th is his most remarkable." Injuries were an unfortunate hindrance to Jones' career, preventing him from reaching 500 homers. In addition to the two major knee operations, Jones had to deal with nagging ailments since 2004. This spring, he reported in top shape but his legs tightened, leading him to question whether he could even make it through the season. "There's not a day goes by that I don't take some kind of pill or injection ... to help me go out there," he said. When Jones was healthy, he was one of game's most feared hitters. His best season was 1999, when he won the MVP award with a .319 average, a career-leading 45 homers and 110 RBIs. Nine years later, at 36, he won his first batting title with a career-high .364 average, which remains the last of his 10 seasons hitting above .300. Despite his impressive power numbers, Jones always considered average to be the most important statistic. "You're never going to convince me I can't hit .300-plus," he said. "Hitting .300 -- that's my benchmark."

Bears approaching 2016 with change in attitude

Bears approaching 2016 with change in attitude

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – When John Fox succeeded Marc Trestman as Bears coach early last year, at the top of his to-do list was changing what was a palpable losing culture that had come to hang over the organization and Halas Hall. That involved changes of personnel, practices and even to the point of placing an emphasis on winning preseason games, not simply treating them as evaluation exercises.

This year, attitude adjustment is the least of his concerns. Besides the improvements even amid a season that ended 6-10 but was within a pair of missed field goals of going past .500, the additions of critical players have brought with them exactly what Fox wants, beginning with inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, bringing a Super Bowl ring from the Denver Broncos.

“I’ve experienced a lot of new attitudes here the past few years,” said guard Kyle Long. “This is above and beyond my favorite attitude that we’ve adopted.

“People throw the word ‘culture’ around, [but] it’s just taking pride in what you’re doing. You don’t get paid to play. You get paid to win. I’ve heard John Fox say that a million times and I’m sure I’ll hear him say it 2 million times this year.”

Culture means nothing unless it translates into wins because of a collective mindset. Trevathan, linebacker Jerrell Freeman, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, offensive linemen Ted Larsen and Bobbie Massie – all came from going to the playoffs at least twice in the past four years, Freeman and Trevathan three times.

The change was particularly evident during offseason sessions when members of the defense worked at a practice level that initially irritated some on offense, with coaches even joining in the chirping.

“I’m all about attitude and hustle and just playing ball,” said Trevathan. “I don’t care what happened before. You can always make up for it, just go 100 miles per hour and have fun.

“This game is short. Your attitude carries over to the team. There’s a lot of time when a team’s down you put your head down. I hate that. Even if we’re down we’re going to fight until the end. That’s what it’s all about, having that band of brothers and that attitude and going to, I won’t say ‘war,’ but going out there and battling together.”

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One word that surfaced from multiple players during offseason sessions was “hungry.” That was not something that was heard even as recent as last season despite the change in coaches. Without that as a starting attitude, mediocrity was not surprising in recent seasons.

“I think with this group the thing that kind of stands out is just how good a group a group of guys it is, and how important football is to them,” said quarterback Jay Cutler.

“I think you look at OTAs and you look at minicamp and you saw how competitive offense and defense and even special teams were. There weren’t any days where guys were laying off of it. Every single day, guys were getting after it trying to get better, and the competition level I felt was extremely high for being in OTAs and minicamp. Whether that’s gonna translate to wins, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

Bears open 2016 training camp with Pernell McPhee, two others on PUP list

Bears open 2016 training camp with Pernell McPhee, two others on PUP list

The 2015 Bears training camp began with rookie wide receiver Kevin White hampered by what would eventually become a season-ending stress fracture of his leg. The 2016 Bears will have White back in uniform but they will start training camp without one of the linchpins of their defense, placing rush-linebacker Pernell McPhee on the physically unable to perform list after he had offseason surgery on his left knee and did not participate in on-field work through final OTA’s and minicamp.

Additionally, the Bears announced that recently signed guard Amini Silatolu, coming off ACL surgery surgery, will also open camp on PUP, along with wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who injured his foot during organized team activities last month.

McPhee, the primary free-agency signing by GM Ryan Pace last offseason, was third on the Bears with six sacks but played a decreasing percentage of defensive sacks as last season wore on. He was deactivated for the St. Louis and Washington games, returned but played no more than 27 snaps in any of the final three games.

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The Bears worked to have him drop upwards of 10 pounds after playing last season at his then-customary mid-280s. That part of the program for McPhee was a success.

“He came in [at] a really good weight right now, really good shape right now,” Pace said. “We just got to acclimate himself into football activities so he’ll work with the trainers. … I know he’s been working hard over the summer so that’s very encouraging. And really in the OTAs, he wasn’t doing a lot of football stuff. He was doing stuff more on the side with our strength and conditioning coaches.”

McPhee is unlikely to play in preseason games although the Bears will not make that decision until closer to the start of games.

Bears QB Jay Cutler: 'You can't' replace Matt Forte

Bears QB Jay Cutler: 'You can't' replace Matt Forte

Jay Cutler spent his first seven seasons in Chicago with Matt Forte lined up behind him, but his eighth one will be a little bit different.

The 33-year-old quarterback reported to training camp in Bourbonnais on Wednesday knowing Forte isn't on his side anymore and knows it will take a collective effort to help ease the loss of a two-time Pro Bowler.

"You can't," Cutler responded when asked how you replace Forte. "Just his knowledge and him being here for so long and experience on the field, experience playing with me. Most times I didn't have to tell him something, I just look at him and he knew exactly what I was thinking, so you can't replace him.

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"We've got a good group of young backs that we're going to develop and we're going to put as much time as we can into those guys, and they'll get there. It's a good group, it's a talented group, so we're still excited about what we have."

With the departure of Forte, Cutler knows he's become one of the most experienced players on the team, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

"I was looking at the roster weeks ago and I feel like there's been a major shift in experience, especially on the offensive side," Cutler said. "I'm at 11 (seasons in the NFL) and then you look down, there's a couple 9s, a couple 8s and then mostly it's five and under, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

"I think a new town, new guys in the building is new energy, new attitude, so I've embraced it, I've enjoyed it. I think the coaching staff has done a great job of getting all these young guys up to speed. It's a good group right now."

Check out the video of Cutler's interview from training camp above.