It takes some baseball players years to understand the flight of a knuckleball. Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, who hopes to be the backstop for knuckleballer R.A. Dickey this year, doesn't have the luxury of time.

So Arencibia has gone to extreme lengths in an attempt to force himself to learn how to catch a knuckleball. As Chris Jones writes in ESPN The Magazine, Arencibia has ditched much of his normal equipment when he catches Dickey. That includes his shin guards and chest protector, and yes, his cup.

Arencibia has sometimes been labeled a defensive liability, and when they signed Dickey, the Blue Jays brought in Dickey's former Mets catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas as a sort of insurance policy. The message was not lost on Arencibia.

"I don't want to miss every fifth game," Arencibia told Jones. "It also makes you really, really concentrate."

So Arencibia has been through a crash course in the knuckleball, and during the past few weeks he's picked up a thing or two.

"It's like a butterfly, a fast butterfly," Arencibia said of Dickey's signature pitch. "You really just have to let it come to you."

And by "come to you," we take it that Arencibia means come to your catcher's mitt.

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ThePostGame recently caught up with the TNT broadcaster and five-time NBA champion.


ThePostGame: Leading up to Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday recently it seemed everyone wanted to compare him to Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. As a guy who played with Jordan, what do you make of those comparisons?
STEVE KERR: I just kind of laughed. It’s impossible to really compare players, especially from different eras. But they're all phenomenal players in their own right.

They're just different. Each one is a little different from the other. And so it's tough to really just rank them and say, “This guy’s better,” because they’re all different at what they do.

TPG: Speaking of the Bulls, everyone is waiting for Derrick Rose to return. As someone who tore his ACL early in his career, what advice would you give to a guy like Derrick Rose as he returns from such a devastating injury
KERR: These guys all know that everybody comes back from the ACL nowadays and the surgery and rehab are so much better than they were 30 years ago. So it's not a career-ender, it's just a pause.

From that perspective they should be very confident. The biggest thing is just to be patient, and that’s what Derrick Rose is doing right now. He's taking his time as he should. You've got to feel comfortable in every which way, not just with your cutting and running. But with your mind, and your ability to make a basketball play without thinking about it. Those are all things that come with time and with patience, and that's why I like what Derrick and the Bulls are doing right now.

TPG: It seems like so many high-profile players have suffered knee injuries recently -- Rose, Rajon Rondo, Ricky Rubio, Iman Shumpert to name a few -- do you see a trend here or is this just a coincidence?
KERR: I think it's a coincidence, there's always been ACL injuries in basketball. It's just the nature of the body and the game that the body is playing. It does seem like we've had an inordinate number of the injuries in the last two years. But I can't definitively say that it’s for any specific reason. It just feels like this is just, you know, one of those things.

TPG: Another guy who tore his ACL was Kentucky star Nerlens Noel. After that injury people were calling for the NCAA to reconsider the one-year rule. You've discussed how much it helped you to stay in school for all four years. If you were the commissioner of the NBA, would you make any changes to that rule?

KERR: Actually, if I could I would make a change in the other direction. I would add another year, but that's something that's negotiated with the players.

The NBA shouldn’t make any decisions on their league based on whether a kid in college gets hurt or not. The NBA has to worry about itself, and that may sound harsh, but the league is better off with more maturity and more development from the players when they arrive. And as it is right now, you get a lot of players who just aren’t ready.

And so if anything I would add another year and make players stay two years in college.

TPG: The Spurs have one of the longest playoff streaks in NBA history and have been one of the most consistent teams in professional sports. As someone who has played for them and spent a lot of time observing them, what makes that organization unique?

KERR: It's kind of the perfect storm of talent, with David Robinson and Tim Duncan and then later [Manu] Ginobili and [Tony] Parker, with incredible coaching, management and ownership. Those things all came together kind of at the same time at the beginning with [coach Gregg Popovich] and [owner] Peter Holt and Tim and Dave.

And then you add [general manager] R.C. Buford into the mix, and what he's done with the draft and free agency. You've just got the perfect organization. The perfect model for consistency and excellence.

Kerr has been serving on a panel which recently selected the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Allstate NABC Good Works Team. For more information about the squad and its honorees, see here.

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The Super Bowl of NFL Draft Scouting -- the Combine in Indianapolis -- is about to convene later this week (Feb. 23-26) and it can dramatically alter the draft status of aspiring players. Several hundred college seniors and juniors who have declared for the draft are invited to Indianapolis for days of testing. Every NFL scout, Director of Player Personnel, assistant and head coach, team executives, and many owners have assembled from across the nation to assess the potential for a potential draftee to help their team. National print and electronic media now covers this process like a mini-Super Bowl. The NFL Network carries nonstop programming.

When I began representing NFL players in 1975, the NFL Draft was held at the end of January. Players would be scouted primarily on their college careers. There were several All-Star Games, which were held earlier. At the East-West Shrine Game in Palo Alto and the Senior Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, and the Hula Bowl in Honolulu scouts had a week to view players at practice and in the game. They could interact with the players outside of practice. They would then compile a "Draft Board" rating all players numerically, both by positions and overall. And then they drafted.

The process has changed dramatically. Now the draft is held in late April. The second season of scouting has become almost as determinative of draft status as the player's college play is.

This is because the NFL Draft is a projection of how a player will perform over his next ten years, not a merit badge issued for conspicuous college performance. This "second season" commences with numerous All-Star Games, the scouting combine follows it, and players will later be seen again on campus in pro scouting days. Player ratings can rise or fall throughout this process. There are no rules as to what a player is obligated to participate in during scouting. It is the player's choice whether to play in an All-Star Game, perform at the combine or participate in pro scouting day on campus. This is where the agent plays a critical part in helping shape the approach.

Until 1997, players prepared themselves for the testing. Most players used their school trainers for conditioning and their college coaches to sharpen their skills. That year I received a call from an athlete's father who said they were very interested in hiring our firm but wanted to know about my training program. "I don't have a training program," I replied. "Over the period from 1989-2005 I represented the very first player picked in the first round of the draft six out of seven years, and they all trained themselves with help of team trainers, weight coaches and position coaches. Clearly it worked because, they were the very first player picked in the country."

The father told me that a competitive agency had a sophisticated training program and my lack of one caused them to choose the other agent. And a new era of training players began. Now there are dozens of training facilities across the country specializing in preparing athletes for the scouting combine. The players live at or near the complex for a period after the season until they depart for the combine. These groups do an incredible job of turning a weary and beaten post-season player into performance machines. They put players on nutrition programs, and train them for speed, skill, flexibility and strength. They also worked to rehabilitate athletes injured during their college season.

There are position specific coaches; a quarterback will have someone working with him on technique and passing. We had Ben Roethlisberger trained by Doug Hix and mentored by Steve Clarkson. Warren Moon was an invaluable mentor. An agent and the trainer need to access team scouting reports, be aware of the criticisms of a player, and design a program to show his skills off. They need to carefully monitor the training progress of the player so they can select the best forums for display of talent.

The Combine commences with a series of physicals conducted by doctors. The players are weighed and measured. The players endure so many tests on their limbs that I use to joke that if they were not injured prior to the week, they will be after the physicals. Players are tested for banned substances. They are given an IQ test. The Wonderlic is being replaced this year by a new test. Back in 1999 our client Akili Smith had taken the test on campus. He scored a nine. So we had him tutored by someone who prepared college students for the SAT -- he scored a 27.

They need to be prepared to be interviewed by the massive press corps present. Then physical testing begins. The basic tests are a 40-yard dash, bench-pressing 225 pounds, a vertical leap, horizontal leap and lateral-movement drills. For the skill positions and many others -- it's the 40 time that has the capacity to create meteoric movement in draft position. The NFL treasures speed. Sometimes I wonder if they care
whether a fast wide receiver can catch or not -- as long as he runs a 4.3. This is where speed coaching can have a dynamic effect. Our speed coaches divided the distance into quartiles. In 2000 we had the fastest player at the combine who had been taught a technique of counting his steps. Focusing on the "start" can shave time.

The players are invited to one-on-one sessions with coaches and team executives, which give teams the chance to evaluate character and temperament up close and personal. We used a retired NFL executive to prepare the players for the questions. We would videotape the player so he could see how he presented. Teams are placing large at-risk signing bonus in the hands of draftees and want to insure they won’t have extraneous issues. Teams want to see how players spontaneously react to certain queries.

The position-specific displays are last. Lineman are worked out one-on-one and put through a series of drills. Quarterbacks can throw to receivers. Since the entire scouting fraternity is present, someone who performs in a spectacular fashion can draw universal attention. Poor performances are also noted. Players have been put through a rigorous schedule that has them fatigued. This is why some players eschew the Combine drills and choose to do testing on their own campus, or throw to their own receivers on their own friendly campus. The teams are disappointed with players that will not do drills or specific position performances. Nothing can elevate a players’ status more than dramatic performance at the combine. But many are injured and not ready.

Why does all this matter? Players are competing with each other to be rated as highly as possible and drafted as early as possible. Signing bonuses are most heavily concentrated at the top of the first round and decline after that. A difference in 30 draft slots can mean millions of guaranteed dollars in a sport with a high rate of injury. Players selected in the first round are virtually guaranteed to have a roster spot for the next several years. They carry the prestige of draft position with them. The tension and pressure is ratcheted high this week–the great performers will become fixtures in the NFL for years to come.

-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.

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When disaster strikes, most NASCAR racers have a hard enough time checking the human instinct to ease to a crawl, gawk at the twisted carnage, and inquire about a fellow driver's wellbeing.

It might be safe to assume, however, that no driver dreads such a nightmare scenario more than Danica Patrick.

Patrick, 30, recently started dating rookie driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 25, winner of two Nationwide Series titles. The couple will compete against each other this Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, where Patrick recently scored a historic victory, becoming the first woman to secure pole position in the annual NASCAR opener with a lap at 196.34 mph.

While many drivers take care to respect each other's space on the track, wrecks still aren't uncommon. Ryan Newman crashed in practice earlier this week, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. blew out his engine. Last year, Juan Pablo Montoya plowed into a jet dryer containing 200 gallons of kerosene, starting a fire on the track.

Should Stenhouse Jr. ever find himself in such a predicament, however, Patrick insists she wouldn’t let her emotions steer her judgment, she told us in an exclusive Men's Health interview, the day before her historic finish.

"I'm sure somebody would let me know that he'd walked away and was fine. I think I'd be able to focus on the race," she said. "We both understand that this is a dangerous sport. We know that things will happen, and we have faith in the safety of the cars and the tracks and the medical staff. If something did happen to him, there's nothing I could do to help. I'd just have to remember that everything that needed to be done to make him safe was being done.”

Patrick herself isn't a stranger to such a scenario -- in fact, she's known for actively courting such danger. In a highly publicized incident during the Sprint Cup race at Kansas City Speedway, she intentionally wrecked driver Landon Cassill, admitting later that the move was in retaliation for Cassill bumping her.

Asked if she would hesitate to do it again, Patrick said, "Absolutely not. And maybe next time I can take somebody out without wrecking myself. I'm only going to get better at it."

Perhaps Ricky's the one who should be worried about pulling over.

-- Read the entire Danica Patrick interview at Men’s Health.

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ThePostGame recently caught up with San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain, who had just finished testing out some new maps in "Call of Duty, Black Ops II." Cain was topped by fellow MLB All-Star Evan Longoria, three games to none.


ThePostGame: I'm sorry to see you came out on the wrong side of those games.
MATT CAIN: Yeah, it's all right though. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

TPG: What do you think about the new maps in Call of Duty: Black Ops II?
CAIN: It looks good. They're fun. It's amazing how realistic they are. It almost doesn’t make sense. They've almost thought of everything.

TPG: Is spring training a time for you to shut it down, or do you get to play a little bit when you're in Arizona?
CAIN: I haven't played “Call of Duty” in a while, and I think it showed. I haven't played some of my game consoles in a while. Just having a daughter and taking care of that right now, I just haven’t really played.

But I think that it's one of those things that I get into throughout the season and start doing it a lot on the road.

TPG: So who is the stiffest competition in the Giants clubhouse?
CAIN: [Sergio] Romo's good. Timmy [Tim Lincecum] is really good. There are a couple of guys. Hunter Pence, I hear, is really good. I think those guys are really leading the team in their gaming.

TPG: Switching gears, how has the rest of your offseason been?
CAIN: It's been good. I'm cranking it up right now, starting to finish the last month of throwing and getting ready for spring training. But everything is feeling good so far.

TPG: How does all the celebration and fanfare after this World Series compare to winning it all in 2010?
CAIN: I think this time I kind of took it a little easier. I didn't take on as much in the offseason, I tried to lay low a little bit and just enjoyed my time off.

TPG: Now that you've had some time away from the game, what comes to mind when you think about your perfect game?
CAIN: I think it's just kind of grasping the whole idea of the perfect game. I think that's kind of starting to settle in, you start to slip back on it a little bit seeing some of the highlights of it. It's pretty crazy how that all went down. It's kind of surreal, really.

TPG: In the wake of that game, there was a lot of neat honors for you -- parts of your uniform were sent to the Hall of Fame, there was a day named after you in San Francisco –- what was the coolest thing for you?
CAIN: All of it in general, really, is probably the best thing. It's kind of hard to put a stamp on any of it because it all ranks up there.

I mean, I've never had a day named after me. To get stuff in the Hall of Fame ... the whole entire experience has just been pretty awesome.

TPG: Speaking of San Francisco, you’ve been there your whole career. You have a great relationship with the city, you even own a house in the Bay Area. How rewarding has it been for you to stay with the Giants since you came into the league?
CAIN: It's been great. Just being brought up in the organization since 2002. And then going through some rough years and then all of a sudden being able to have it pay off and be at the top of it. It's been pretty cool to see that and see how the organization runs.

They've done a great job of keeping it relaxed and pretty similar from year to year. They've really never tried to drastically overdo anything.

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ThePostGame recently caught up with the Tampa Bay Rays slugger, who had just finished testing out some new maps in "Call of Duty, Black Ops II." Longoria topped fellow MLB All-Star Matt Cain, three games to none.


ThePostGame: What do you think about the new maps in Call of Duty: Black Ops II?
EVAN LONGORIA: I think they're cool. I want to play them more. You can't really know the features until you start playing them a lot, but I think "Hydro" cool's and I think "Mirage" is cool. I like that "Mirage" feels like a tight cornered map, but there's a lot going on.

TPG: How much do you play during the season? Do you bring your kit on the road?
LONGORIA: I don't play during the season. Some guys do bring their X-Boxes with them and play, but I just stay pretty focused on the game. I just play as much as I can during the offseason and spring training.

TPG: Spring training is just a few weeks away, are you excited to get going this year?
LONGORIA: I am, yeah. I'm looking forward to a really good year. Just overall, I have a lot going on. Obviously I'm excited for the baseball season and our team, and that's first and foremost. But we’ve got a lot going on -- I'm due to have a baby here in April and we’ve got a restaurant opening up in Tampa.

A lot going on, all good things, and so I’m excited.

TPG: It seems like with everything going on with you -- you're coming off an injury, you have a new contract, you're about to be a father and you're opening up a new restaurant -- the anticipation must be through the roof.
LONGORIA: It is. I've just got to really remember to take it in stride and take it one step at a time because stuff can get out of control pretty quickly and it can speed up on you. As long as I take it slowly I'll be fine.

TPG: Are you excited to become a father?
LONGORIA: I’m really excited. I think it’s going to be great. I’m pumped to say the least. It’s kind of tough to put into words, but I’m sure it'll be mind-blowing again once [my daughter] gets here.

TPG: Going into the season, how nice is it for you to have the contract talk out of the way?
LONGORIA: I didn’t really have to worry because I was still under contract. It wasn't like I was in a free agent last year, but I love to play baseball so that’s really what I want to focus on.

TPG: The guy you just beat in Call of Duty had a pretty impressive season, which included a perfect game. It seems like there have been more and more no hitters and perfect games over the past few years, so from a hitter's perspective, how hard is it for a pitcher to do that?
LONGORIA: There have only been 23 [perfect games] all time. You never know, we could go 10 years before we see another one. We're in a little spurt where we've seen a couple in the past four or five years.

But it's incredible. It's really, really hard to do.

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