Maybe the Kings aren't bound for Seattle?

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Maybe the Kings aren't bound for Seattle?

From Comcast SportsNetSACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson had a stern warning for Seattle SuperSonics fans who are excited about the prospect of the NBA returning to the Puget Sound next season."Don't celebrate too early," he said.In front of a cheering City Hall crowd filled with fans and public officials Tuesday, Johnson introduced the first part of his four-step plan to keep the Sacramento Kings in California's capital city.The three-time NBA All-Star guard turned mayor said he has secured 20 investors who have pledged at least 1 million each to be part of a local group to buy the franchise. Johnson said the major partners he hopes will anchor the last-ditch deal to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle will be revealed as soon as this week.A person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press that billionaire Ron Burkle and 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov are in "serious talks" to collaborate on Sacramento's bid, which would include a plan for a new downtown arena. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no agreement has been reached.Burkle, a Southern California businessman and co-owner of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, expressed interests in buying the Kings two years ago. Mastrov was among the final bidders for the Golden State Warriors before Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the team for an NBA-record 450 million in 2010.Offering more hope than substance so far, Johnson remained confident he can save Sacramento's only professional team from relocation again."We've been here before," Johnson said. "Our backs have been against the wall. They told us it wasn't going to happen. But each and every step along the way, as long as there is time on the clock, our community always finds a way to stand up for itself."Unlike the last two years, Sacramento is up against a group that already has signed agreements to acquire the Kings and build a new arena for the franchise.The mayor's announcement came a day after the Maloof family announced a deal to sell the Kings to a Seattle group that includes investor Chris Hansen and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer. The signed purchase agreement is still pending a vote by the NBA Board of Governors.The group will buy 65 percent of the franchise, which has a total valuation of 525 million, and move the team to Seattle and restore the SuperSonics name, another person familiar with the decision said earlier this week. That means the group will pay a little more than 340 million.The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal is waiting to be approved. Hansen's group also is hoping to buy out other minority investors.The main stipulation Johnson is counting on is that the Maloofs are still allowed to receive other offers until the league approves the sale, which the mayor expects to take until at least April, when owners meet in New York. The deadline for teams to file for relocation for next season is March 1, though that has been extended the last two years for the Kings.Johnson said he has spoken with more than one heavy-hitting investor to back the plan and produce a "fair and competitive offer." He also said prominent Sacramento-area lawyers have offered to work pro bono for the city's cause."I just say to the fans in Seattle: be cautiously optimistic. Be smart. But this isn't about our city against their city, or one mayor against another mayor," Johnson said. "We have something that's ours and we want to keep it, and we're going to do everything we can to make Sacramento the final resting place of the Sacramento Kings."The final three phases of the mayor's "Playing to Win" plan are finding the major financers to compete with the Seattle group's offer, demonstrating the city's commitment to a new downtown arena and showing the strength of the Sacramento market. None of those crucial pieces have been announced.Some of the 20 proposed minority investors, two of whom Johnson said chose to remain anonymous, stood next to the mayor and spoke about why they agreed to non-binding pledges.The group includes developer David Taylor, who backed a plan to build a 391 million arena in downtown Sacramento before the deal collapsed last year; Phil Oates, a developer and the son of Sacramento-area real estate pioneer Marvin "Buzz" Oates; and Kevin Nagle, a business executive and co-owner of the Town Center who helped increase Sacramento sponsorship and season-ticket sales when the Kings explored a move to Anaheim two years ago."I'm doing this for one reason: it's time to fight," Oates said. "Somebody wants something that I own. It's mine, and I'm not giving it up easily. I owe it to my kids. I owe to my grandchild that's going to be born in May and named after me. I owe it to my neighbors. I owe it to my friends. I owe it to (Sacramento) to fight and go down swinging."Johnson already has saved the Kings from relocation once.In 2011, the mayor made a pitch to the NBA Board of Governors and bought the city time to broker a deal that appeared to solve the team's arena woes. But brothers Joe, Gavin and George Maloof backed out of the tentative deal for a new downtown venue with Sacramento last April, saying it didn't make financial sense for the franchise.Many of those who participated in that plan, from public officials to private investors, showed up at City Hall to offer their vote -- or checkbooks -- one more time."The reason I'm committed to become a local member of the Kings' ownership is I really feel that we as a community need to get a return on all the hours and emotions that we spent trying to keep the team here," Taylor said. "I think we're owed a return on our investment."Johnson maintains that Sacramento's biggest reason to be optimistic is that NBA Commissioner David Stern has granted him permission to address league owners and present a new ownership group and plan to keep the Kings.The mayor commended Seattle's efforts to be an NBA city again, which includes Hansen reaching an agreement with local governments in Seattle last October on plans to build a 490 million NBANHL arena near the city's other stadiums, CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field. No construction will begin on that project -- which also faces a pair of lawsuits -- until all environmental reviews are completed and a team has been secured.Seattle hoops fans have been reeling since owner Clay Bennett, ironically the chair of the NBA relocation committee now, moved the Sonics to Oklahoma City in 2008."When I played in the NBA for 12 years, Seattle had some of the best fans in the NBA," Johnson said. "No different than Sacramento. Incredible fans. And when they lost their team a couple years ago, it was devastating to me, because those fans fought like crazy and rallied and they cheered on the home team. And I strongly believe they deserve an NBA team at some point. Just not ours."

White Sox expect Chris Sale's return to be 'fairly normal'

White Sox expect Chris Sale's return to be 'fairly normal'

It doesn’t sound as if there’s much ambivalence among the White Sox about Chris Sale’s expected return on Thursday.

Manager Robin Ventura said Wednesday he expects things to be “fairly normal” as Sale is scheduled to pitch the finale of the Crosstown series after serving a five-game suspension for insubordination and destruction of team property. Adam Eaton said teammates should have no reservations about Sale’s coming back after his actions Saturday left them in a bit of a bind. And pitching coach Don Cooper said he’s the first to forgive and that everyone has situations they might later wish they’d handled differently.

“Open arms,” Eaton said. “He’s our teammate. He’s our guy. All of the things that are swelling around about his character, who he is as a player … he’s my brother and I enjoy every second with him on and off the field. Can’t be a better person. I’ll be excited to see him and I’m sure he’ll be in the same form he’s been the entire year — go out and perform and be Chris Sale.

“I’m sure he’ll be well-rested and a clear mind for him I’m sure is going to be a good thing. We’ll welcome him back.”

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The pitching staff could use some innings from Sale without question. When he didn’t pitch Saturday, the White Sox filled those innings with a committee of relief pitchers. Prior to Tuesday’s win, the bullpen had pitched 19 1/3 innings the previous four games.

But the White Sox have handled the drama extremely well. They’re 4-0 with one game left in Sale’s suspension and they look forward to having their ace back. Cooper said he hopes to move on, sentiments that were previously echoed by Ventura and executive vice president Kenny Williams.

“Welcome back, let’s go,” Cooper said. “Let’s go to work. Let’s move on. Listen man, who would want to be held responsible for the (stuff) they did at 22, 24, 26, 27, you know what I mean? He’s way too good of a kid. I don’t think anybody would. Everybody screws up from time to time or has some missteps.”

One of the actions that has caught Sale flack is his criticism of Ventura’s handling of the situation. Neither Ventura or Williams responded to Sale’s comment on Tuesday that “Robin is the one who has to fight for us.” Ventura said he wouldn’t have done things any differently and Williams applauded how Hahn and Ventura handled a difficult, “unique” situation.

Ventura said he doesn’t expect much out of the ordinary.

“I think it’s going to be fine,” Ventura said. “Players always have their teammates’ backs, and that’s no different with our clubhouse, and it’s going to be fairly normal, as far as he’s going to be prepared to pitch and our guys are going to prepare to play and it’s going to go from there.”

White Sox C Dioner Navarro has a good story behind the best game of his career

White Sox C Dioner Navarro has a good story behind the best game of his career

There’s a good story behind the best game of Dioner Navarro’s 13-year career. 

On May 29, 2013, Navarro — then playing for the Cubs — hit three home runs and drive in six in a 9-3 Crosstown victory at Wrigley Field. Both were career highs. 

And Navarro did it without a whole lot of preparation. 

“I got to the ballpark and I didn’t see the lineup, I thought I wasn’t playing,” Navarro recalled. “So we go out for stretch and the first group is hitting and they called my name and I’m like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ And they said ‘You’re playing.’ It was already too late to get into the group so I went inside.”

Navarro only took two rounds of batting practice in his haste to get ready. But he also took those swings thinking right-hander Jake Peavy was going to start for the White Sox, so he hit left-handed during batting practice. 

The White Sox, though, were starting left-hander John Danks, so the switch-hitting Navarro wound up batting right-handed when the game started. 

The pregame mixup hardly hurt Navarro, as it turned out. He homered off Danks in his first and second at-bats, and then launched a three-run homer in the seventh off White Sox right-hander Brian Omogrosso. 

“It was one of the best experiences of my career,” Navarro said.

Navarro is one of a handful of people to play for both the Cubs and White Sox since the two teams began their annual interleague series in 1997 (others include pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Bob Howry, Edwin Jackson and Neal Cotts, among others). His perspective from playing off the Addison and Sox/35th Red Line stops is one he said he’ll cherish after his career is over. 

“I’m really fortunate to be part of it from both sides,” Navarro said. “A little bit bittersweet because the Cubbies had lost 100 games the year before and we were onto our way to lose 100 more games that year (2013). But still the rivalry against this team was something that people always talked about. Being part of it with the Cubs and now being part with the White Sox is a tremendous experience, something I look forward to share with my kids when I get older.”

White Sox happy to retain, and drink beer from, Crosstown Cup

White Sox happy to retain, and drink beer from, Crosstown Cup

The White Sox had a little fun with the Crosstown Cup trophy after securing it for the third consecutive year.

Well, at least one player did for sure: Left fielder Melky Cabrera, according to first baseman Jose Abreu, drank some beer out of the trophy after the White Sox beat the Cubs, 3-0, Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field. 

The White Sox retained the Crosstown Cup by virtue of winning the season series in 2014 (three wins, one loss), splitting in 2015 (three wins, three losses), and assuring themselves of at least a split in 2016 (two wins with two games to play). 

This isn’t like a college football rivalry trophy that gets passed between campuses every year. And baseball players generally aren't keen to over-emphasize four or six games over the course of a 162-game season. 

But the Crosstown Cup is still a trophy, and it’s one White Sox right fielder Adam Eaton appreciated receiving again. 

“Any time you win an award — I don’t care if my grandma gives me an award during checkers, I’m excited,” Eaton said. “I don’t really care. But if you play for anything there’s some extra emphasis there. I definitely do think guys take pride in it for sure. But more pride in it that our side of town is happy with us in that sense that we’ve taken the cup back. 

“You don’t want to put too much emphasis on any particular series. But at the same time, if it makes our fans happy that we got the cup back then that’s what we do.”