In 2012, as a senior at Florida State, EJ Manuel posted 3,392 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns, 310 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. The Seminoles won 12 games, including the Orange Bowl over Northern Illinois. Manuel's success earned him the 16th pick in the 2013 NFL drafted by the Buffalo Bills.

But Manuel might remember the 2012 season and its aftermath less for his football accomplishments than his mother, Jackie, battling breast cancer at the time. Despite her going through chemotherapy, Manuel kept his focus to register for 291 yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown in the Orange Bowl. Jackie was deemed cancer free in February. In April, she was in New York to watch Manuel become the first quarterback drafted in 2013.

"It definitely put life in perspective on and off the field simply because I never really experienced my parents, or my mom, being seriously sick or ill," Manuel says.

In his professional career, Manuel has not forgotten the struggles his mother endured. In a world where so many children are challenged with the same plight to cope with a parent battling cancer, Manuel wants to do his part. Along with the Redskins' Tyler Polumbus, the Lions' Glover Quin and the Colts' Anthony Castonzo, Manuel is taking part in the 2014 Scoring For Good Program.

Scoring For Good is a program of Camp Kesem, a national organization that provides support to children affected by a parent's cancer. Every summer, Camp Kesem chapters (currently, there are 63 chapters in 29 states) host thousands of children ages 6-16 for an all-expenses paid week of camp. The camps are run by college students who serve as peer leaders during and after the week-long periods.

"I was already an adult when I found out my mom had cancer, so I can't imagine a 13-year-old going through something similar because their parent is the only person they have -- the person they rely on for everything," Manuel says.

Manuel, who is partnering with Camp Kesem for the second straight year in Scoring For Good's second season, will donate $500 for every touchdown -- passing and rushing -- he records in 2014. For reference, Manuel had 11 touchdown passes and two touchdown rushes in 10 games in 2013. Those totals would have warranted a $6,500 check in under this year's pledge. If Manuel plays 16 games, those numbers could earn a considerable bump.

Quin promises to donate $500 for every interception he nabs in 2014. The strong safety had three interceptions in 2013 and has eight career picks in five seasons.

Quin's mother-in-law had a form of lung cancer, and Quin worked with cancer patients in Houston during four years as a Texan. Now, he will translate his on-field performance to his off-field contributions.

"I’m going to go out there and try to get as many interceptions as I can and I’m sure I’ll think about the kids the interceptions help after each game," he says.

Castonzo has pledged his first in-game appearance this season to Camp Kesem and will send a child on Camp Kesem's wait list to camp this August. Currently, 4,000 campers are registered in the 2014 summer with 300 displaced on the wait list. Camp Kesem provides campers with $1,000 to provide one year of services to a child affected by a parent's cancer, while it costs another $500 to give the camper a free week away from home at a chapter.

Polumbus will help support Camp Kesem through his foundation, Tyler's Kids Outreach. Polumbus' organization helps enrich the lives of children through family, faith and personal growth. Polumbus pledges to help support Camp Kesem's new program in Colorado. Like Manuel, Polumbus is a returnee from the first year of the program.

Jim Higley, the chief marketing and development officer for Camp Kesem, notes Camp Kesem, which was founded in 2001, worked with NFL players before the start of Scoring For Good. Initially, Camp Kesem partnered with Tory and Terrence Holt and their Holt Brothers Foundation.

"We saw how the Holts and their fellow NFL players wanted to give back to their communities and were inspired by their work," Higley says.

Higley says Camp Kesem looks for football players with charitable backgrounds in cancer-related causes to join Scoring For Good. Although only four players are signed on now, Scoring For Good is open to including more players as the 2014 season progresses. Higley believes the initial four can spread Scoring For Good's message quickly.

"We hope that our athletes will inspire their fellow teammates this season to join Scoring For Good," Higely says. "Our athletes will all be vocal over social media today and for the rest of the season about their participation and we hope this will raise awareness for the program within the NFL and beyond."

In his sophomore season, Manuel is moving into a more respectful position among his peers. He is primed to spread Camp Kesem's goals.

"WIth my involvement and also being the leader of my team, I want to show my teammates that they should do the same and I wouldn’t be shocked for more guys to get involved with Camp Kesem," Manuel says.

Last season, along with his surface contributions, Manuel hosted a few local families in the New York area for a game and a meet and greet with him.

For now, Scoring For Good only features NFL players, but Camp Kesem will work to expand its reach into other sports. Despite the current limitations, sports fans have an open reach. Scoring For Good now has a mobile app available for free download in iTunes and Google Play. Users treat their phones like footballs, whipping mock spirals. The app can record the virtual distance of the throw, and friends can compete against one another, all the while raising awareness for Camp Kesem.

“Camp Kesem is honored to have such support from our players and the NFL community. By sharing their personal stories (and our Camp Kesem mission), our Scoring for Good players will further advance and elevate the programs that Camp Kesem provides to a population of children who are often over-looked, “ says Jane Saccaro, CEO of Camp Kesem.

Scoring For Good can cut down a large chunk of Camp Kesem's wait list, and it can build a stronger foundation for the organization's future endeavors. Awareness for the 13-year-old summer camp program continues to rise with every social media interaction by one of the four players and the points they score.

"I’m going to try and score as many touchdowns for the Bills as I can this season. I’m sure I will think about Camp Kesem after some of those touchdowns," Manuel says.

For individuals like Higley and Saccaro, the NFL presence is monumental for their organization. Camp Kesem is a good works program benefiting from the guys who play on Sunday.

"EJ, Glover, Anthony, and Tyler have been phenomenal to work with. Each have chosen their own special way they want to participate and we are so grateful for their support," Higley says. "We always aim to build long-lasting and fulfilling partnerships with our athletes and work with them to create programs that work best for their schedules."

There may be an extra pep in the step of Manuel, Polumbus, Quin and Castonzo this season. While every play helps their respective teams, every play can also affect the lives of children dealing with a parent suffering from cancer. Whether in the form of a starting NFL quarterback tossing a touchdown or a child zipping a virtual throw with a cell phone, the word of Camp Kesem will spread in the 2014 season.

For many children, these pigskin moments can improve their summers. And their futures.

For more information, visit www.CampKesem.org/ScoringForGood.

Each summer Green Bay Packers players engage in one of the coolest traditions in professional sports, when they borrow bikes of local youngsters to ride to training camp.

This year rookie center Corey Linsley went above and beyond after meeting his "bike kid," and Linsley's kindness has made waves in Wisconsin and beyond.

Linsley, a fifth-round pick out of Ohio State, befriended a young boy named Travis whose bike he has been riding camp the past few weeks. Linsley discovered early on that Travis' mother was in the hospital with a condition that he declined to discuss with reporters.

On Linsley's fifth ride to camp, he asked Travis for his father's phone number. Together Corey and Travis' father arranged for Linsley to surprise the youngster with a new bike.

"I was just like, you know, I'll befriend this kid and see how much I can help out," Linsley told Fox Sports Wisconsin. "I figured buying a bike would be appropriate for the situation."


Linsley tried to avoid the spotlight and was reportedly even a little disappointed when this story got out. But the ordeal has turned out to be a nice way for the rookie to take his mind off competing for a starting spot.

Linsley has been playing well in camp but has a lot of work to do if he wants to unseat projected starter J.C. Tretter.

"It definitely takes your mind off of the stress and the stuff that goes on here and really grounds you a lot and brings you back to reality," Linsley said. "There's still people that look up to you no matter what."

The best part about all of this for Linsley is that because he shares a bike with Travis, he too will get to test out the new wheels.

"I'm excited to ride it too, I guess," Linsley said.

After California native Max Steinberg was killed July 20 while fighting for the Israel Defense Forces against Hamas, news reports showed a photo from his Facebook account of him wearing a New England Patriots hat.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has funded the growth of American football in Israel, saw the picture, which prompted him to reach out to Steinberg's parents.

Kraft wrote the following letter, which was first reported via Twitter by Jared Sichel of the Jewish Journal:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Steinberg,

It is with a heavy heart that I write to you after having learned about your dear son and distinguished member of the Israel Defense Forces, Max. Although I didn't have the privilege of knowing your son Max personally, I have taken the liberty of reaching out to you since I noticed him wearing a New England Patriots cap in one of the broadcasted photos. He represents the consummate patriot and I am forever grateful for the sacrifices he made to keep our beloved Israel safe. His dedication and loyalty to Israel have not gone unnoticed and I am sure he has left behind a legacy of which you and your family can be proud.

On behalf of the entire New England Patriots team, please accept our most sincere condolences as we are all profoundly saddened by his untimely passing.

Sincerely,
Robert K. Kraft

Then Kraft wrote some additional lines by hand: "We are all Patriots” and "With love of our tradition and the people of Eretz Israel."

Steinberg, 24, and 12 other Israeli soliders were killed in the Gaza Strip.

A native of Woodland Hills, Calif., Steinberg joined Israel Defense Forces in late 2012 after being inspired on his first visit to the country earlier that year. Steinberg had initially resisted taking the trip with his siblings through a foundation called Birthright Israel.

"It was a free trip to Israel, relatives told him, so why not go?," the Washington Post reported. "Eventually, he changed his mind -- and his life would never be the same.

"By the fall of 2012, Steinberg would move to Israel and become a sharpshooter in one of the Israel Defense Forces' most elite units, the Golani Brigade."

In the Jewish Journal, Sichel wrote of Steinberg: "And at just five feet and three inches, he took on nicknames like 'Mighty Max' and 'Little Dynamo.'"

Eric Decker and Jessie James-Decker come from different backgrounds and have different careers. Eric spent his entire childhood in Cold Spring, Minnesota, where he starred in football, basketball and baseball. He now plays for the New York Jets after and previously played for the Denver Broncos.

Jessie was born in Vicenza, Italy, to a military family and bounced around the country during her youth. She is now a country singer/songwriter.

When establishing their own foundation, the two co-stars of "Eric & Jessie Game On" could not narrow their foundation's interest down to one field. They had to make it diverse. It had to fit both their personas.

Eric and Jessie had been devoting their charitable efforts to Deckers Dogs, a subsection of Freedom Service Dogs of America, which strives to "fund the rescue, care and training of a service dog for military veterans returning home with disabilities."

The launched at Eric + Jessie Decker Foundation, launched in July, will incorporate Deckers Dogs into a wider plan of action that includes anti-bullying. The foundation's platform focuses on three areas:

1. Services for U.S. Military Veterans, including through the rescue and training of service dogs via the Decker Foundation's founding program, Decker's Dogs. EJDF is committed to continuing to partner with Freedom Service Dogs of America as well as expanding the breadth of its work with veterans in need.
2. EJDF partners with non-profit organizations committed to putting a stop to bullying and building self-confidence in children who have been victims of bullying.
3. EJDF partners with non-profit organizations which run after-school programs focused on keeping kids off the streets, providing a safe environment and fostering the growth and development of valuable life skills.

"I think being at the level I am as a professional athlete and my wife being able to touch so many people, we want to give back in a way that is important to both of us," Eric says.

Jessie grew up in a military family, as her father, Steve, serves in the U.S. Air Force. She moved around the United States, lacking a definite home. Jessie's hit single, "Military Man" is a tribute to her father, a wing commander in the 914th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

"She, being a military kid, growing up and having to move to a lot of places, it's part of her," Eric says. "Also, just respecting the military's fight for our country -- I think that's made Deckers Dogs fitting."

Deckers Dogs' mission is to rescue shelter dogs and train them to be companion dogs for military veterans. Deckers Dogs has rescued two dogs at a cost of $25,000 each and the organization is close to rescuing a third dog.

For Eric, the anti-bullying aspect of EJDF is also close to his heart. Eric was a junior at Ricori High School at the time of the school's tragic shooting in which John Jason McLaughlin murdered two other students. After the incident, Ricori students described McLaughlin as "quiet and withdrawn."

Decker may be a macho football player on the field, but off the field, this incident still lingers with his psyche.

"I think a lot of those issues stem from being picked on and bullied, whether it's verbal or physical," Eric says. "These kids are being abused in a way. I think it's important to teach those kids and everyone how to have self-confidence and learn to communicate. With social media right now, it's changed the world of how people communicate. I think we need to help kids with their character, values and everything in life."

After getting married in June 2013, Eric and Jessie gave birth to their first child, daughter Vivianne Rose Decker, in March.

"I have a kid now," Eric says of bullying issues. "I'd never want my kid to ever go through with that."

Jessie's Southern Belle beauty and musical fame might suggest otherwise, but as a child, she faced bullying issues as a student. As someone who constantly moved, she constantly faced challenges.

"She always had to make new friends. If she didn't fit in with the crowd, she'd get picked on," Eric says. "It's hard when you're young and still developing and have those experiences."

For the Deckers, it is certainly a plus to be able to launch the foundation in their new home city. While Deckers Dogs had success in Denver, the ceiling is raised in New York. Along with the reach of the New York Jets, the Deckers have a city of 8 million people and more in the suburbs.

"I think the opportunities are endless with how many people are here," Eric says. "The businesses and the military aspect with what happened on 9/11 -- it's close to home out here, especially with some of the bases not being far from New York City. There's the ability to network, to meet people that want to be a part of something special, to give back and to really get that satisfaction of changing someone's life and helping them in their life. I'm excited to use this city to open up those opportunities I may have."

Along with having a charitable presence, the Deckers are ecstatic to embrace New York's deep and diverse population. Eric and Jessie were previously active in the Denver community, but now hope to engage with individuals in New York. This goes along with their Nashville home.

"You play somewhere, you're a figurehead of this city, this team. They want to at least put the face and name together with this person," Eric says.

On July 19, Eric hosted the 2014 Citi Eric Decker Football ProCamp. A few hundred children in grades 1-8 attended the three-and-a-half hour training session at Boonton High School in New Jersey. Decker took the his new students through a series of lessons, drills and games. For many young Jets fans, this was their first opportunity to come face-to-face with Gang Green's newest star wide receiver.

Of the attendees at the ProCamps event, 10 individuals participated thanks to a sponsorship from EJDF and ProCamps. The 10 campers were selected in conjunction with the New York Jets from Ivy Hill of Newark Pop Warner based on their on-field play and sportsmanship.

"When I was 8 years old and 14 years old, I looked up to the high schoolers, college kids and NFL players. I wanted to be like them," Eric says. "If I have a chance to meet these kids, the impact I may have on their lives, whether it is athletically or as a person, is special."

As for his on-field endeavors, Decker and the Jets opened training camp last week in Cortlandt, N.Y. After four seasons for the Broncos, Decker will be playing for a new team for the first time this season. All signs point to Decker being the Jets' No. 1 receiver.

"I think new opportunities and new challenges create excitement," he says. "It's kind of like I'm starting all over again. I feel like a freshman or a rookie. I have to prove myself."

There is an obvious culture shock between the Broncos and the Jets. Denver boasts Peyton Manning at quarterback and a roster with such names as Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, DeMarcus Ware, Ryan Clady and Von Miller. Coach John Fox brought the team to the Super Bowl last season, his second trip as a head coach. As a franchise, the Broncos have two Super Bowl titles in seven appearances.

The Jets enlist a youthful roster with a limited number of household names. Mike Vick and Chris Johnson are probably the two most popular faces, but both appear to be past their prime. Rex Ryan has no journeys to the Super Bowl as a head coach, and his antics sometimes overshadow wins and losses.

"Rex is the best," Decker says. "He's a player's coach. What you see is what you get with him."

The Jets' history is long, but lacks success. Gang Green won its only Super Bowl bout, the 1969 Super Bowl III upset spearhead by "Broadway" Joe Namath. The Jets have only two division titles since the one ring.

Today, the Jets' biggest concern may be choosing a starting quarterback among Vick, second-year arm Geno Smith, sixth-round pick Taj Boyd and Matt Simms.

"We have some things we need to figure out through camp," Decker says. "Every team is in the same boat. It's all about just taking it one day at a time. You're either getting better or getting worse. You don't stay the same. That's how I work, so I'm trying to get better every day."

Decker will make his Meadowlands debut Sept. 7 when the Jets open the season versus the Oakland Raiders, although a few hundred children already got an up-close glimpse at the team's new star.

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For decades, Chicago has faced violence issues. It is no secret "The Windy City," especially its south side, is stricken with grief on a daily basis. According to the Chicago Tribune, as of July 28, there have been 1,254 shooting victims in Chicago so far in 2014. There were 2,185 shooting victims in all of 2013.

One Chicago resident taking a stand is Joakim Noah. The Bulls center brought his intimidation to video with a PSA that aired last Friday. The PSA, filmed in conjunction with Noah's foundation, the Noah's Arc Foundation, and the Chicago Sun-Times, challenged Chicago to "stand-up."

The PSA features Noah, teammate and Bulls superstar Derrick Rose, rapper Common and other Chicagoans speaking against violence. The Noah's Arc Foundation was started by Noah with his mother, sculptor and former model Cecilia Rodhe, and its goal "is to give young people more opportunities to make an impact on themselves and the community." Rodhe also makes an appearance in the PSA.

Noah unveiled the PSA at a Near West Side community center while interacting with a group of local Chicago kids. Alderman Walter Burnett explained to CBS News that Noah's community service is nothing new and that he does not only act in front of the cameras.

"These kids know Noah like he never crossed the street," Burnett said.

Noah has been with the Bulls since 2007 and is one of the most popular faces in the community. The son of Rodhe and French Open champion Yannick Noah, Joakim was born and raised in New York City.

But now, his fight is for The Second City.

"To me, personally, this is just as important as winning a championship," Noah said.

While showing his support for Chicago and trying to help build character in children, Noah hit the hardwood with some kids. As some viral videos showed, Noah did not hold back.

That is one way to show nothing is given.

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It has been a wild 12 months for Dominic Moore. After sitting out the 2012-13 season to be with his ailing wife, Katie, who died in Jan. 2013, Moore signed a one-year contract with the New York Rangers last summer.

Moore shook off the rust to tally 18 points in 73 games on Broadway. The forward proved to be an integral part of the Rangers' run to the Stanley Cup Final, posting three goals and five assists in 25 playoff games. Along the way, he earned the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his "perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey," and an ESPY nomination for "Best Comeback Athlete."

On Thursday night, Moore hosted the third annual Smashfest, a celebrity Ping-Pong tournament at Steam Whistle Brewery in Toronto. The event benefits two charities, The Steve Moore Foundation, an organization founded by his brother Steve that focuses on concussions and head injuries. Steve Moore is known to most hockey fans as the player attacked by Todd Bertuzzi in a 2004 game. Moore's career ended after the "Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore Incident."

The second charity is The Katie Moore Foundation. Established by Dominic, the foundation helps raise money for researching rare cancers like the disease that took Katie's life.

“Both of these causes are for things that are not well understood and definitely under-represented in terms of funding,” Moore said per Sportsnet.

Last year's Smashfest raised $100,000. This year, the event brought in a whopping $140,000, making the total raised $270,000 over the past three events.

The event boasted 23 former and current NHL stars for the night, including Moore, Kevin Weekes, Alex Burrows, Tyler Seguin, Logan Couture, Derick Brassard, Jeff Skinner, Doug Gilmour, Mike Cammalleri and David Clarkson.

"We had an amazing time at Smashfest again this year,” Moore said in an NHLPA release. “The support we received was impressive on all fronts, from the players and guests in attendance, to the NHLPA and all of our partners. I'm proud that $140,000 was raised to further help with research into concussions and rare cancers."


Stephane Veilleux of the Wild repeated as singles tournament champion, knocking off Burrows. However, Burrows' team won the pro-am tournament. Along with the tournaments, guests–more than 650 people were in attendance–had the opportunity to take the table against their NHL heroes.

Seguin, who is reportedly living with free agent defenseman Michael Del Zotto over the summer, raised contributed almost $2,000 himself courtesy of Jose Bautista memorabilia. Seguin bid $1000 each on both a signed Bautista All-Star jersey and a signed Bautista bat.



Moore re-signed with the Rangers, the team that drafted him 95th overall in 2000, for two years at reportedly $1.5 million per year. He is active with both The Steve Moore Foundation and The Katie Moore Foundation during the season.

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When it's all for a good cause, sometimes a crazy idea isn't so crazy. For example, Andy Milovich, general manager of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, allowed himself to get a prostate exam at the stadium during a game Thursday night. Even by the outlandish standards of minor league baseball promotional stunts, this is seriously raising the bar.

"Dollar beers, fireworks and live prostate exams -- what could go wrong?" Milovich told WPDE.

Milovich's exam took place during the seventh-inning stretch of the Pelicans' 5-4 win against the Frederick Keys. He did it from the press box where he could be seen through a window but was covered with a curtain from the waist down. The goal was to raise awareness about prostate cancer and to support a 10-year-old in the local community suffering from a rare type of brain cancer.

Here's more of the background from WPDE:

When the big moment came Thursday night, Milovich delivered a rendition of Take Me Out To The Ballgame while having his exam, which was shown on the stadium video board. WPDE has the footage:

The man who performed the exam, Dr. Glenn Dangi, told ESPN.com: "I did exams in prisons for three years and New York City for 17 years, and this was a first."

The payoff for Milovich will be inspiring men to get checked out before it's too late.

"At the end of the day, if we can allow one child to have the opportunity to play catch with their father growing up, then I'll feel as though we've done a tremendous thing," Milovich told WPDE.

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In February, Dellin Betances reported to Yankees camp with eight MLB games under his belt -- in eight professional seasons. Betances had every reason to be negative. He was turning 26 on March 23, and the once promising prospect had seen much of his career evaporate in the minors.

But Betances did not sulk. The Yankees stuck with him. And this past week, he was the sole Yankees rookie pitcher -- not Masahiro Tanaka -- at the All-Star Game.

"This first half has been a blessing to me," Betances said Thursday from Point Pleasant, N.J., where he was taking part in Pepsi's Real.Big.Summer initiative. "My goal was to try to make the team. Once that happened, I focused on having a key role in the bullpen. I've been off to a good start and I try help the team win in any way possible. Being selected to the All-Star Game was an honor for my family and me."

Betances' Yankees timeline starts long before his recent trip to Minneapolis. Born in Washington Heights, Betances spent parts of his childhood in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. His parents, Jaime and Maria, emigrated from the Dominican Republic. Jaime has driven a cab in New York City for 23 years.

Betances grew up a Yankees fan during the team's dominant late 1990s-early 2000s era. As a 10-year-old, he was on hand for David Wells' perfect game on May 17, 1998, against the Minnesota Twins. He still has the ticket stub. Betances says he went to a "bunch of games" as a child and "always sat in the bleachers." This reputation makes him a bit of a folk hero among the Yankee Stadium bleacher creatures.

"David Wells' perfect game was probably one of the best games I went to," he says. "It was always great being a fan. Now playing for the Yankees, it's an honor for me

Betances starred for four years at Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn. He once struck out 20 batters in a seven-inning game, and as a junior in 2005, he became the first New York City high school player to ever be named an Aflac All-American. He played with fellow all-stars Clayton Kershaw and Tyson Ross on Team USA's 2005 Junior Olympic team.

In the 2006 MLB draft, Betances' commitment to Vanderbilt dropped his stock from a possible first-round selection. However, the Yankees still took an interest in him. General Manager Brian Cashman snatched the hometown kid in the eighth round and gave him a $1 million signing bonus. At the time, Randy Johnson was a Yankee, helping the nickname "Baby Unit" spread for the 6-8 right-hander.

In 23.1 innings, Betances had a 1.16 ERA in one year of rookie league ball. The following year, he was brought up to the Yankees single-A affiliate in Staten Island, one of two boroughs he did not live in. He used part of his signing bonus to move his family from Brooklyn to New Jersey. Before age 20, the parts were falling into place for Dellin Betances.

And then they slowed.

During what would've been his college years, Betances worked his way through the Yankees' farm system from 2007-2011. In 2010, Betances went 8-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 14 starts for A+ Tampa, but his numbers stalled in AA and AAA. Splitting time between the two highest minor league levels in 2011, Betances went 4-9 with a 3.70 ERA in 25 starts.

While some expected an earlier appearance, Betances finally made his Bronx arrival as a big leaguer as a 2011 September call-up. In Betances' first outing, he allowed two runs on four walks and no hits in two-thirds of an inning out of the bullpen. On the final day of the regular season, the Yankees gave Betances the ball to start a meaningless game in Tampa Bay (the Yankees had already clinched the A.L. East title). Betances tossed two innings and allowed one hit and two walks, keeping the Rays scoreless. Later, Evan Longoria blasted a walk-off home run in the 12th inning to send the Rays to the playoffs and cap off one of the most exciting days in baseball history.

In 2012, Betances started the season at AAA Scraton/Wilkes-Barre but remained firmly on the Yankees' radar. That was, until he had an awful first half of the season. He struggled in April and May and a stretch of a 9.00 ERA over five June starts–6.39 overall–sent Betances all the way back to AA Trenton. At AA, he did not fair much better, posting a 6.51 ERA the rest of the season. At 24, Betances was traveling in the opposite direction.

Betances started 2013 with a 2-2 record in six starts at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, the Yankees had new plans for their 25-year-old prospect. Despite having only three professional relief appearances under Betances' belt, the Bombers sent the message to AAA to make Betances a relief pitcher.

It worked. Betances came out of the bullpen 32 times at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and finished the season with a 2.68 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, his highest minor league yearly totals since 2010.

"I began to feel comfortable," he says about the 2010 move to the bullpen. "It's allowed me to be more consistent in my delivery. It's a different feeling coming out of the bullpen. It's allowed me to be more aggressive and that's something that I've embraced."

Betances became a September call-up again in 2013, making six appearances. Although he allowed six earned runs in five innings, he turned heads with ten strikeouts.

By spring training 2014, Betances had new confidence in himself and new confidence from within the organization. His role changed, but he was comfortable with that. When Betances arrived at spring training in Tampa, he earned himself a roster spot from the get-go.

Betances has not looked back. In 40 games and 55.1 innings pre-All-Star Game, Betances is 4-0 with 12 holds, one save, a 1.46 ERA, a 0.70 WHIP and a whopping 84 strikeouts. His ERA, WHIP and strikeouts numbers are well ahead of the next closest rookie. With all the talk about Masahiro Tanaka this season, it is easy to lose track of Betances, the Yankees pitcher with the best chance to challenge the White Sox's Jose Abreu for the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award.

Betances did not get to pitch in Tuesday's All-Star Game, but it was still a worthwhile experience for the 26-year-old.

"Just being there, being with guys from the other teams that you watch play, Jeter's last year, seeing all the guy's families, that whole experience was definitely a blessing," he says. "It's something I enjoyed and for me, it's all about continuing to work hard and get better and better each year, and I would definitely like to be a part of it in upcoming years and hopefully get a chance to pitch."

While Betances has crossed paths with Kershaw and other pitchers in his 26 years, he had his first chance to mesh on the same grounds as other superstars. During warm-ups and down time, Betances gravitated toward two past A.L. Cy Young Award winners.

"The first day, I played catch with Max Scherzer," Betances says. "Talk about a guy who has some pretty nasty stuff. It was cool just playing catch with him and seeing how his pitches move. Felix Hernandez, he's a guy who's been successful since he started. He's someone I looked up to and I got a chance to speak with him."

Of course, for Betances, much of the All-Star affair surrounded fellow Yankees teammate Derek Jeter, a player the New Yorker watched in his youth. Jeter was on the field for Wells' perfect game, as well as most of the games the child version of Betances attended.

"Derek's just a leader, man. He's someone you try to follow in his footsteps. I grew up watching him play," Betances says. "For me to be on the same team as him and be part of the 2014 All-Star Game and watch him get two hits, that was an amazing experience. He's always encouraging me to work hard and just enjoy baseball as much as I can, especially with the All-Star Game. He told me to soak it all in."

Because their positions, Jeter is not the Yankees legend Betances is quickly earning comparisons with. One year ago, Mariano Rivera called it quits after 19 seasons -- 17 as a closer. David Robertson, who has come out of the Yankees' bullpen since 2008, has long been considered the closer-in-waiting after Rivera. Robertson held the job during Rivera's extended 2012 absence and was given the stopper role to start 2014.

Betances' success has Yankees fans changing course a year after the beloved Rivera's retirement. Betances has jumped into the picture a possible option at closer other than Robertson. If age is a concern, Rivera was 27 when he became the full-time closer in 1997.

Betances is not about to call out Robertson, and he is satisfied with his role as the Yankees' set-up man. With that said, Betances expresses admiration for Rivera and any comparisons to "Mo."

"That's somebody I've always looked up to. I enjoyed watching him play. For me to be on the same team and see his farewell tour [in 2013], that was an honor to me. If I could follow in his same footsteps, that would be special," Betances says.

Betances' lone focus right now is on getting the Yankees to the postseason. At 47-47, a very un-Yankee-like All-Star break record, the Bombers have ground to make up in the next 68 games. They do have the satisfaction of knowing the A.L. East-leading Orioles are only five games ahead and the Mariners are three-and-a-half games ahead for the final wild card.

Betances attributes the Yanks' subject first half to injuries and some unlucky bounces. He is confident his team will be around come October.

"We're definitely looking forward to the second half as a team. We are not that far in the division race and the Wild Card race, so we've got to continue to work hard and play hard for one of the last playoff spots," he says. "We hope [Masahiro] Tanaka comes back healthy and we should get Michael [Pineda] back at some point in the season. As long as we stay close enough and then get some guys back, we'll be in good shape."

As for Betances' pitching, an outsider may think it would be easy for him to lose focus. After all, the rookie with eight MLB games under his belt before this season notched an All-Star Game spot. What could stop Betances from feeling too comfortable and losing his edge now that he is proven?

The answer is easy:

"I've been through so much. For me, to have the success I've had, it's something that I'm going to continue to work hard at, trying to get better and better each and every day," he says. "I definitely enjoy playing this game and trying to play at the highest level. I'm looking forward to finishing the season strong and help the team get to the playoffs."

On Thursday, at Pepsi's Real.Big.Summer program on the Jersey Shore, Betances was on hand to witness Pepsi's four-story claw machine that produced "larger-than-life prizes" on Jenkinson's Beach Boardwalk in Point Pleasant, N.J. Pepsi also gave out pizza, a one-week beach rental and tickets to the MTV Video Music Awards. Betances provided a lucky Yankee fan and his mother tickets to an upcoming game in the Bronx.

For Betances, the experience playing for his hometown team is one thing. The experience giving back to his hometown community is another. Thanks to Betances' on-field success, he has that opportunity.

"Pepsi's all about making the summer real big. I'm honored and excited to be here and I get to give out tickets to a Yankees fan," he said before the event. "I'm always about giving back to the community. I'm really excited for this opportunity to team up with Pepsi. To come out there and see the kids smile, giving back, growing up in New York, this is going to be a great experience."

Along with Pepsi's contributions, United Way of Ocean County was on hand to provide a family recovering from the results of Hurricane Sandy with a surprise vacation.

The event was another checkpoint in Betances' breakout All-Star season in New York City, the town he was born and raised in. After toiling in the minors for eight seasons, he now has the resources and recognition to give back to the community that bred him.

Betances will shoot for a series of new checkpoints in 2014 that may include a playoff appearance, rookie records and a possible Rookie of the Year Award. When the season is through, he will have more goals to chase in his future.

Around this time two years ago, Betances was demoted from AAA to AA. Now, he is an All-Star putting up massive numbers.

Betances' major league skills are evident. One might say it is a relief.

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With a bulky book bag strapped to his back and a camera hanging from his neck, Ray Whitehouse sauntered up to the ticket booth outside of Tropicana Field on a steamy Sunday.

"What's the cheapest seat you have today?" he asked the lady behind the glass.

She sold him a $21 ticket to the game, an American League East matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays. Whitehouse, 24, is assigned to Section 311, Row M, Seat 20, but he didn't plan on sitting there.

He didn't plan on sitting at all.

Whitehouse, a graduate school-bound photographer, was on day 59 of an 85-day journey across the country, during which he's photographing a game at all 30 Major League Baseball parks. It's a project he calls the American Baseball Journal.

When he's done, Whitehouse hopes to sell prints and donate the money to MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, a program which he took part in as a child.

So far, he's taken planes, trains and buses to 17 ballparks. He's slept on the couches of strangers in cities far away from his Chicago home for the sake of the project. And though it's his love for the game that sparked his initial interest in the trip, its purpose reaches further than his own curiosity.

"Part of what I want to do with this project is give someone who's in a different city a taste of what it's like to see a game there," he said. "I try to keep that on my mind as something I'm shooting for all the time."

After clearing security, Whitehouse meets a mother with an infant strapped to her, an oversized Rays cap covering his face. Whitehouse stops the woman to photograph her and baby Michael.

First pitch was still a half hour away. For Whitehouse, the game had already started.

***

Whitehouse's first baseball memory isn't even something he can remember. The story has been told to him so many times, though, that the occasion is clear in his mind.

A lifelong Chicagoan, Whitehouse was just an infant when he attended a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field with his father. "Somebody hit a grand slam in the fourth inning," he said. "The crowd was going crazy, and my dad was flipping out because he brought his 4-month-old baby to a baseball game."

Whitehouse -- who proudly displays a scar on his left ankle sustained after breaking the bone sliding into home as a teenager -- began playing baseball at age 5. He remembers playing catch with his father for hours after school in the alley near their home. He went on to play infield and pitcher for four years on the varsity team at Whitney Young High School and on the club team as an undergraduate at Northwestern.

But perhaps the most influential experience he had with the sport was during the three years he played for an MLB RBI team.

Whitehouse participated in the program, which brings youth baseball to diverse communities all over the nation, for three years. When he was 15, his RBI team made it to the league championship game played at Wrigley Field. In his only at-bat of the game, Whitehouse hit a ground ball single down the third-base line.

At 21, Whitehouse stopped playing baseball, but his love for the game kept going.

Whitehouse, who had a 9-to-5 job as a multimedia specialist at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, will attend graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill come August on a scholarship. So with graduate school paid for and one final summer of free time on his hands, Whitehouse decided to go back to his pastime. And America's.

"I wasn't trying to make any money on this project," he said about his planned donation to the RBI program. "It was a good marriage of trying to pay it forward to an organization that helped me out when I was younger."

***

Having now photographed games at more than half of the 30 ballparks, Whitehouse sticks to the same game-day routine.

He'll arrive two hours before a game, spending one hour outside the park capturing photographs of each stadium's unique architecture before spending the next hour taking in the pre-game scenes. Whitehouse especially enjoys capturing players signing autographs for kids.

"Because I had those experiences when I was younger," he said, "trying to shag balls and getting players to sign them."

Once the games begin, Whitehouse walks around the stadium, searching for the things that makes each one unique. He takes his unofficial job seriously, so much so that he's been known to sprint through the stadium to catch a moment on camera -- just like he did while taking in a game at Camden Yards with his girlfriend and fellow photographer, Carolyn Van Houten.

"He just started running," she said, "in the middle of our conversation."

Though he's raised nearly $3,000 from online donations, Whitehouse is financing the majority of his trip through the money he's saved at his job. So that means doing everything he can to spare a nickel.

Whitehouse has stayed in just one hotel along the way -- in Minneapolis after a Twins game on May 16 -- spending every other night at a friend's house or with people he's met through a couch-surfing website. Through the first 17 games of his trip, Whitehouse hasn't paid more than $25 for a ticket, thanks to savvy shopping on StubHub.com -- and even the kindness of a stranger.

"I explained to him the project, and he was like, 'Oh, you can just have it,'" Whitehouse said about his interaction with a Kansas City scalper. "He gave me a $61 ticket for free."

Whitehouse photographed the man and emailed him the picture after the game.

***

After taking photos of Rays outfielder Matt Joyce signing autographs and standing at attention for the national anthem, Whitehouse took a seat just behind the home team's dugout as Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes stepped up to the plate to begin the game.

Though he usually finds himself moving around the stadiums too much to actually watch the games, Whitehouse has one rule of thumb.

"I like to watch the first at-bat," he said. "After that, it gets a little less focused on the game."

The section's usher, who asked to see Whitehouse's ticket, had a different idea.

"You're a long way off," he said, looking at Whitehouse's seat assignment. "Have a good day."

Whitehouse didn't see much action from the Rays' 3-0 victory that day. Instead, he met and photographed 4-year-old Evan -- named after Tampa Bay's longtime third baseman Evan Longoria -- watching as he, flanked by his grandparents, munched on blue cotton candy.

In the Cuesta-Rey Cigar Bar, MLB's one and only, Whitehouse took photos of Dave, a hobby photographer who watched the game while smoking a Brickhouse Might Mighty Maduro.

"He can't smoke in the house at home, so this way he gets a nice leather seat and a cigar," Dave's wife, Diane, said.

As the Rays took a lead early, some fans flocked to the tank of live rays in the outfield, where Whitehouse photographed 7-year-old Evan petting the animals.

He, too, Whitehouse discovered, was also named for the much-adored third baseman.

"Did I even have to ask?" Whitehouse questioned the boy's mother, laughing.

***

It's hard for Whitehouse to pick a favorite ballpark.

He fell in love with the views in Pittsburgh (below), with the way the Roberto Clemente Bridge and the downtown skyline are framed by the walls of PNC Park. He appreciated the memorial to Jackie Robinson within the rotunda at the Mets' Citi Field.

The walk-off Red Sox win he saw at Fenway Park, though, gave the historic park a leg up.

"I feel like that atmosphere, even though they're below .500," he said. "It was still just amazing."

Whitehouse will visit the Marlins, Braves and Yankees in the next week before completing the East Coast portion of his trip. He'll finish the tour with a Seattle Mariners game at Safeco Field on Aug. 8, a day he hasn't even thought about quite yet.

"At this point I'm just going," he said. "I love this game and this project so much, I can be really tired, but once I'm at the stadium, it's another gear you get into."

So until then, it's back to the same routine. Seventeen down, 13 to go.

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Damian Lillard gained lots of fans after he took some Portland kids on a surprise holiday shopping spree at Toys 'R' Us. Lillard, the 2013 NBA rookie of the year, might have earned even more after he stood up for a Special Olympics participant who had been mocked on Twitter.

Here is the sequence of Lillard explaining his pride of accompanying a Special Olympics athlete to the ESPYs, a fan's callous comment and the star's sharp response.




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