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4 Florida top-30 college baseball teams push toward post season

Heading into the final weekend of regular season play, four Florida teams are ranked among the top 30 in college baseball. The Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is one of the tools used to choose the 64-team NCAA Tournament field and barring any disasters, Florida, Florida State, South Florida and Central Florida should hear their names called on selection day in less than two weeks.

In an unusual occurrence, Florida State fans must realize they have seen their team play at Dick Howser Stadium for the last time this year. The Seminoles will most likely make the NCAA Tournament, but their losing ACC record (12-14) is only eighth best and their overall record of 33-20 will have them traveling for any post season play. They are ranked 26th in the RPI.

“We ain’t getting a regional. Sorry,” said FSU Coach Mike Martin after dropping two of three to Wake Forest last weekend.

That will be the first time since 2006 FSU will not host a regional. While they would be grateful for the tournament invite, all they would ask is for the committee not to send them to Gainesville again. The last two seasons have come to an end for the Seminoles in the Super Regional at the hands – and bats — of the Gators at McKethan Stadium.

The Gators know they will be hosting a regional, but this weekend they will be playing to hold onto their position among the top 8 teams nationally. Those 8 will be scheduled to host Super Regionals.

Florida, ranked 5th in the RPI, hosts 7th-ranked Kentucky. A sweep by Florida gives them the SEC regular season crown. The SEC Conference Tournament begins May 23 in Hoover, Ala.

“We haven’t had a whole lot of success against Kentucky,” Gator Coach Kevin O’Sullivan told floridagators.com. “I don’t think it’s going to be easy.”

South Florida and Central Florida are tied at 13-8 for the American Athletic Conference lead heading into a showdown series this weekend in Orlando. The Bulls and Knights are battling Houston (13-8) and Connecticut (12-9) for the top seed in the conference tournament beginning May 23 in Clearwater.

USF, ranked 21st, swept the 27th-ranked Knights in Tampa last month. Both are expected to be on the road for any NCAA Tournament games, but UCF will have some revenge and a regular-season title on their minds.

A few are even making the case for USF to host a regional if they win the conference title. Bulls’ boosters highlight the fact they are 5-0 this season against Florida, Florida State and UCF.

Winning conference tournaments can lead to others getting in. Miami is only ranked 54th and has a 25-26 record making their chances slim. Florida Gulf Coast, Florida Atlantic, Jacksonville, Florida International are all ranked in the top 80.

 

Anxiety over GOP health plan for those with severe illnesses

Unease and uncertainty are settling over Americans with serious illnesses as Republicans move closer to dismantling Democratic former President Barack Obama‘s health care system.

A New Orleans attorney with multiple sclerosis fears he’ll be forced to close his practice if he loses coverage, while a Philadelphia woman with asthma is looking at stockpiling inhalers.

The Republican health care bill pushed through the House on Thursday leaves those with pre-existing conditions fearful of higher premiums and losing coverage altogether if the Affordable Care Act is replaced.

The bill sets aside billions of dollars more to help people afford coverage, but experts say that money is unlikely to guarantee an affordable alternative for people now covered under a popular provision of the existing law that prevents insurers from rejecting them or charging higher rates based on their health.

What happens to those with pre-existing conditions under the Republican plan remains unknown.

Several people unsettled by the prospects expressed these concerns.

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FORMER UTAH CHEF

Jake Martinez said he’s worried about getting health insurance in the future because he has epilepsy, considered a pre-existing condition by insurers.

For the last several years, he, his wife and their three children have settled into a comfortable place using health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. But now the Murray, Utah, residents are worried about what may happen with this new health care bill.

“Today, it really kind of sunk in that not only are we not going to potentially have health care coverage but that it was done as a political win rather than a well-thought-out plan,” said Martinez, a 32-year-old former chef who’s studying social work. “That’s what stings about it.”

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KENTUCKY ATTORNEY

Shortly after being diagnosed with type I diabetes, Amanda Perkins learned about the perils of pre-existing conditions when she starting trying to buy health insurance.

Now she worries that protections under the Affordable Care Act that made sure certain essential health benefits, like insulin prescriptions, could be eliminated.

The new Republican plan would let some states allow insurers to charge higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions, but only if those people had a lapse in insurance coverage. Supporters say those states would need to have programs in place to help people pay for expensive medical treatments, including high-risk pools.

But Perkins said Kentucky’s previous high-risk pool had a 12-month waiting period and was too expensive for her.

“I bought a house just a couple of months ago. Will it come down to me paying my mortgage payment or paying my health insurance so I don’t have a lapse in coverage?” said Perkins, an attorney for a small firm in Lexington, Kentucky.

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KANSAS GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Janella Williams has a rare neurological disorder that forces her to receive expensive IV drugs every seven weeks. Without it, she would not be able to walk.

Williams, who owns her own graphic design company in Lawrence, Kansas, pays $480 under an Obamacare plan. It keeps her out-of-pocket maximum at $3,500 a year and provides her coverage despite her pre-existing condition.

“I’m terrified of becoming disabled. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve thought of ending my life if it comes to that,” she said.

High-risk pools run by the state are not the answer, she says. The Republican plan would also bring back lifetime caps on coverage, which Williams says she would meet after only her first IV treatment. She and her husband both work full time, but wouldn’t be able to afford the roughly $600,000 a year her treatments cost once the cap is met.

“I have really lost my faith in humanity,” she said. “It’s terrible how little we care for the sick.”

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NORTH CAROLINA FINANCIAL ADVISER

John Thompson credits his survival in large part because he bought a family insurance policy through the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Thompson, of Greensboro, North Carolina, was laid off in 2013, lost his employer-backed insurance and diagnosed with cancer during the year he was unemployed.

If the House proposal allowing insurers to make coverage for pre-existing conditions unaffordable takes hold, he fears his cancer history will make him uninsurable if he would lose his current job as a retirement financial adviser.

“Like many of us here, whether you have asthma or a heart condition or diabetes or like me, cancer, any type of pre-existing condition, you go back to the way it was before, you give insurance companies carte blanche to do their underwriting and to exclude you,” Thompson said.

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FLORIDA MOM

Shelby Jehlen, of New Port Richey, Florida, was diagnosed six years ago with leukemia and says she wouldn’t be able to afford insurance if she lost her roughly $400 a month subsidy.

Jehlen saves about $1,000 every three months to see her cancer doctor under her Obamacare plan, but still pays about $1,500 for the check-ups.

She was forced to quit work because of all the X-rays and other chemicals she was exposed to daily as a veterinary assistant and now cuts corners, sacrificing phones and school activities for her two teen daughters, to afford the monthly premiums. The stress has caused her to struggle with depression and anxiety.

“Absolutely, I’m scared. I’m worried I’m going to have to figure out what I’m going to do with all my side effects with my leukemia if they take this away from me,” she said.

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PHILADELPHIA BUSINESSWOMAN

Adrienne Standley has been preparing for the possibility of losing her insurance since President Donald Trump took office.

Three days after the inauguration, she set up an appointment for a birth control implant so she would be covered for four years, no matter what happens.

The 29-year-old operations director at a start-up apparel business in Philadelphia also has asthma and attention deficit disorder.

“I’m looking at stockpiling, making sure I have an inhaler,” she said. “I’m pretty scared to lose coverage.”

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NEW ORLEANS ATTORNEY

John S. Williams says he’ll be forced to close his practice and find a job with a group insurance plan if he’s longer covered under the government’s health care plan

The New Orleans attorney has multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease for which medication alone costs $70,000 a year. He buys insurance for himself on the individual marketplace, and the Affordable Care Act has made that possible, he said.

“We always hear about job growth and business creation — being able to have affordable health care drives that,” Williams said. “Because of the ACA, I am able to employ people and help the economy grow.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Republicans quickly attack Gwen Graham as non-achieving, non-transparent

Republicans wasted little time, setting their sights quickly on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham Tuesday, accusing her of having no achievements in public service, and hiding some of her congressional records.

In separate releases, the Republican Party of Florida said she lacks accomplishments to run on; the Republican Governors Association said the former congresswoman did not release her congressional records before leaving office at the end of December.

The pair of responses may indicate a level of concern the Republicans could have for a Graham candidacy, as neither party organization quickly attacked the announced candidacies of the other two Democrats running for governor, Winter Park businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Graham’s campaign dismissed the charges as typical partisan responses:

“These predictable, partisan attacks are about as standardized and one-dimensional as the high-stakes tests Florida Republicans keep heaping on our schools and kids. Let’s focus on Florida — that’s certainly what Gwen Graham is doing.”

In the RPOF release, Florida Republican Chair Blaise Ingoglia called Graham a product of the Democratic Party’s “cookie cutter machine.”

“Gwen Graham is just another example of what’s wrong with the Democrat Party — a candidate who is running on her father’s name ID, rather than on her own accomplishments. Graham’s only record of achievement is that of non-achievement! said running for office does not qualify you for governing a state,” Ingoglia stated in a release.

“It requires a track record of getting things done,” he added. “Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with Graham, and the people of Florida deserve better and will ultimately choose experience over rhetoric.”

The Republican Governors Association brought up a side effort launched late last fall, when it sent a Freedom of Information Act request to Graham’s congressional office seeking all records associated with her family’s businesses. At that time, her office responded publicly to the media, saying there were no such records, but did not respond to the RGA because congressional offices are exempt from the FOIA law.

The RGA brought it up again Tuesday, in a news release saying she had promised transparency, but failed to deliver.

“Graham’s efforts to hide her congressional records proves she can’t be trusted to lead the state as governor. Floridians deserved to know if Graham used her position in government to benefit any of her families’ companies or affiliated businesses — and she can only prove that by immediately releasing these congressional records and communications.”

Miami’s Brad Kaaya, UF’s Caleb Brantley among NFL Draft’s biggest losers

Most of the Miami, Florida State and Florida players were chosen at or near their projections in the NFL Draft with two glaring exceptions. Yes, Dalvin Cook was thought to be a first-rounder, but the other state players drafted in the second or third round went as expected.

The exceptions were Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya. Brantley was not taken until the first pick of the 6th round by the Cleveland Browns while Kaaya lasted until the 32nd pick of the 6th round and 215th overall.

In the end, Kaaya was probably the only real surprise. After Brantley was accused of punching a woman less than a week before the draft, the question was not whether he would drop, but how far.

The Browns finally pulled Brantley’s ripcord before he hit the ground. His act of rage cost him dearly.

Brantley had every bit of the talent necessary to be a second round draft choice. Some mock drafts had him as a first rounder.

He was a second-team all-SEC in 2016, which is fine when looking at all of the SEC defensive talent in this draft. He was rated the 8th best defensive lineman in the draft, but nearly two dozen were taken ahead of him. By comparison, Florida State’s DeMarcus Walker was ranked below Brantley, but was a solid second round choice.

If he can control himself and use his physical talent in a positive way, Brantley has a chance to earn back the millions he lost with his alleged indiscretion. Whatever he earns, he can, and should, fork over a substantial sum to this woman if found guilty (or settles).

Kaaya’s situation was painful to watch. He was not accused of doing anything off the field.

He wasn’t the best quarterback in the ACC, a conference full of pretty good ones. But coming into the draft, he was the 6th-highest rated quarterback.

Four of those (North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, Clemson’s DeShaun Watson, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Pitt’s Nathan Peterman,) ranked and drafted ahead of him were from the ACC. Three others ranked below him were drafted ahead of him.

He is what NFL scouts look for; a pro-style pocket passer and is good with a play action offense. His 6-foot, 4-inch frame is a prototypical NFL quarterback.

The down side, not to be minimized, is accuracy, which can be improved upon with experience. His arm strength is labeled around average by scouts.

Still, in weighing the upside and downside, Kaaya was projected as a third or fourth round pick. That was clearly not the case.

A lot of young men are happy just to be drafted, including these two. They now know that they have more to prove just to stay in the league.

Kaaya needs to prove he can lead an NFL team, while Brantley has to make amends and show his new teammates he can control himself off the field so he can be there for them on the field.

They should not be surprised about that.

Rob Manfred says 2 groups still in Miami Marlins’ bidding

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says two groups are still bidding to buy the Miami Marlins from Jeffrey Loria.

Former New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are involved in one of the groups. Bloomberg reported Tuesday that the Jeter/Bush group won an auction for the team with a $1.3 billion bid. Manfred said some reports on the sale have been premature.

“There are multiple bidders for the Marlins,” Manfred said Thursday at the groundbreaking for the Jackie Robinson Museum. “There is no agreement in place. We’re working with more than one group, and when we have a definitive agreement we’ll make an announcement.”

Asked about the timeline, Manfred responded: “The timeline is relatively short; it would be measured in days, not months.” He also said, “there is not a signed document on any topic.”

“We still have two groups involved in the process,” he added. “Timing is one of the things that both the buyer and the seller are working through, so it’s just impossible to say at this point, and I don’t want to get into really what the issues are. The only reason I commented on this at all is there had been so much out there that really (is) not quite accurate.”

As Manfred was speaking, ESPN announced it was cutting back its “Baseball Tonight” studio program from all game nights to Sundays and special events. The MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk” will be broadcast on ESPN2 on weekdays from 4-5 p.m. during the season and for 30 minutes during the offseason.

A day earlier, ESPN announced about 100 layoffs amid a loss of subscribers and rising rights fees for live telecasts of games.

“We feel that we’ll continue to get outstanding coverage of baseball on ESPN,” Manfred said.

Manfred also said talks were ongoing with Cleveland Indians owner Paul Dolan about the team’s Chief Wahoo logo, which many find offensive.

“Those conversations have been productive, and when we come to a definitive timeline, believe me, we’ll let you know,” Manfred said.

Protesters gathered outside Cleveland’s Progressive Field before some games to demonstrate against the club’s use of the red-faced, smiling logo, which has been part of the team’s history dating to the 1940s.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Report: State workers to get pay raises, but changes to health benefits could be coming

State workers could get a raise under a proposed budget deal being hashed out by state lawmakers, but it could come at a cost.

The $82.9 billion budget deal is expected to provide an across-the-board raise for state workers — their first in about nine years, according to Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, for whom the raise was a priority.

But according to POLITICO Florida, the Senate has agreed to changes to the state’s health insurance plan and pension plan in exchange for those pay increases.

The health insurance proposal would encompass the changes contained in a House bill (HB 7007) passed earlier this year. The bill allows employees to choose from four different levels of health-insurance beginning in 2020. According to POLITICO Florida, the deal also requires new state employees be placed into a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k).

The Senate, in exchange, would receive the $220 million of state worker pay raises outlined in the Senate’s initial budget proposal.

In the end, Aaron Hernandez squandered his talent, his opportunity

Waste.

The short, violent life of Aaron Hernandez ended Wednesday when he turned his final act of aggression on himself. Hernandez, the former tight end of the New England Patriots and the Florida Gators, died of an apparent suicide Wednesday morning.

And in the end, the final tragedy was the way he threw it all away.

He was young, and he was rich, and he had a family and a big house. He was talented and on his way to being famous. In the end, none of it mattered to Hernandez, who seemed to prefer the thug lifestyle to making catches and scoring touchdowns. He signed a $40 million extension with the New England Patriots. But Hernandez was convicted of one murder (and he was found not guilty on two others).

The final questions about Hernandez are these: How much would have been enough to make him honorable? Who could have gotten to him? Will we ever know?

Even today, after he committed suicide, it has to feel badly for Hernandez. But you can feel badly for the lost talent, and the wasted opportunity, of a young man  who took his good fortune and tossed it into the street. There are a lot of players in the NFL who have overcome worse backgrounds than Hernandez had.

Hernandez seemed drawn to violence with more fervor than he was drawn to end zones. When he was at Florida, he hit a waiter so hard he punctured his eardrum. Police suspected he was the person who had shot into a bar.

Football wasn’t never enough for Hernandez. Nor was fame. Nor was the bond of teammates. Hernandez never wavered from his path of destruction. Think of his teammates: Tim Tebow and Tom Brady. Think of his coaches: Urban Meyer and Bill Belichick.

Some men cannot be changed, however. Some men warm themselves with trouble. Some men cannot turn away from the chaos.

Hernandez was that way. He simply could not turn away from violence.

 

Convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez commits suicide in prison

Former New England Patriot and University of Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez, just days after a legal victory, killed himself in his cell early Wednesday morning.

Hernandez, serving a life sentence without parole, was acquitted in a double-homicide last week. His attorney pledged to fight his prior conviction and expressed confidence that Hernandez, 27, would be free again.

The attorney, Jose Diaz, said he did not believe Hernandez committed suicide. He would conduct his own investigation, Diaz said.

Hernandez hanged himself with his bedsheet, authorities said.

A fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Florida, Hernandez caught 175 passes in three seasons. At one point, he signed a $40 million extension with the team. Upon his arrest, the Patriots released him.

Former Florida coach Urban Meyer attempted to distance himself from Hernandez.

Relating or blaming these serious charges to the University of Florida, myself or our staff is wrong and irresponsible,” Meyer said last week.

Our staff, myself and our families worked very hard to mentor and guide [Hernandez],” he added.

Ex-Gator Caleb Brantley listed as a victim after being struck by a woman

University of Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley is listed as the victim in a police report after an altercation with a Gainesville woman.

Brantley said the woman, Chelsea Austin, struck him in the face. Austin admitted hitting Brantley, saying he had “disrespected” her. Brantley then pushed her away.

Brantley is listed as 6-3, 307. Austin is 5-4, 110 pounds. She had a cut on her lip, but left with friends. Brantley had no visible injuries.

Brantley was second team all-SEC this year.

Report: Carlos Curbelo target of attack ads over attempted Obamacare repeal

A progressive health care group has its sights set on Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

According to POLITICO, Save My Care, a coalition of progressive health care advocacy groups, has launched a seven-figure television ad buy in seven competitive House districts across the country, including Curbelo’s South Florida district. The ad campaign, according to POLITICO, targets five Republican lawmakers from districts won by Hillary Clinton.

Aside from Curbelo, the ad campaign will focus on California Republican Darrell Issa, Arizona Republican Martha McSally, Colorado Republican Mike Coffman, and California Republican David Valadao. The campaign will also target Florida Republican Brian Mast and New Jersey Republican Tom MacArthur. President Donald Trump carried both of their districts.

Save My Care, according to its website, brings together families, advocates and health care providers “to protect the health and financial security of all Americans.” The organization hosted a bust tour, traveling to 23 events to discuss why health are matters with people.

Curbelo is considered a moderate Republican who could be vulnerable in the 2018 mid-term election. According to the recent Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index, Curbelo’s district leans six-points toward Democrats. Mast’s district, the report found, leans five-points toward Republicans.

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