CHICAGO (AP) — The owner made a beeline through the Cubs’ clubhouse looking for his rookie slugger.
“Hey, take it easy,” Tom Ricketts told Kris Bryant, trying not to laugh. “That thing costs a lot of money.”
“Gotcha,” Bryant smiled, trying not to blush.
“That thing” is a brand-new, 4,000-square-foot Jumbotron atop the bleachers and the ivy-covered outfield wall in left, an expensive piece of furniture in Wrigley Field’s $500 million makeover.
In the eighth inning Wednesday night, with Chicago trailing Washington by a run, Bryant patiently turned an 0-2 count against reliever Aaron Barrett into 3-2. Then he turned around a waist-high changeup and launched it 463 feet — or 477, depending on the estimate — into the night sky.
“We thought it was over the board,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon recalled. “Kind of got everyone stirring.”
That the home run — Bryant’s seventh this season — tied a game the Cubs went on to win was good enough for a fan base thrilled with second place in the NL Central, even if it’s only May. That it hit the upper face of the video board while Bryant’s own mug was prominently displayed made it a perfect tableau for the 23-year-old fast becoming the face of a franchise completing a makeover of its own.
Pitchers have the upper hand in baseball at the moment. That’s one reason up-and-coming sluggers like Bryant and Washington’s Bryce Harper — Little League opponents in Las Vegas a dozen years ago — arrive in the majors with more hype than ever.
If the just-ended three-game series matching the two stars were Home Run Derby, it would have ended 2-2. Instead, the surging Nationals took two of three.
Harper, nine months younger, arrived three years earlier and has already established his big league bona fides. Bryant has been there only five-plus weeks — the Cubs left him in the minors until April 17 to delay his free-agent eligibility by a season — but he’s making an outsized impression.
Bryant is hitting a solid .275 with a .393 on-base percentage, along with 31 RBIs in 38 games.
Pairing power with discipline at the plate, he makes nearly every at-bat a test of wills. Armed with scouting reports, pitchers offer precious little to hit.
“It’s the same game I’ve played my whole life,” Bryant said. “I’m trying to hit it in the air. The pitchers want me to hit it on the ground. Up here, that means adjusting not just at-bat to at-bat, but pitch to pitch.”
Across the locker room, veteran teammate Jason Hammel recalled watching Bryant tear through a succession of pitchers in spring training.
“I’d try to figure out how I’d pitch him,” he said. “Pretty much the way guys are trying to get him now — sliders, curves, change-ups — basically, spinners.
“But he doesn’t give in easy,” Hammel added a moment later. “Seems like every time I look up, he’s on a 3-2 count.”
Like every other tool in his bag, Bryant came by his steeliness early. Mike Bryant, his father, recalls Kris banging balls off tees and against the same fences used by the older kids at age 8. Soon after, he sold his furniture business to take a 9-to-5 job and oversee the development of both Kris and older brother Nick.
Mike Bryant, whose own stab at baseball ended after two seasons in the low minors, put up a batting cage with lights in the backyard. Before his stint in the Red Sox organization ended — he hit .204, with four home runs — he had chance to learn the art of batting from Ted Williams himself.
Williams used to work with the minor leaguers, and Bryant distilled that education to a single phrase for his sons: “Hit it hard, and hit it in the air.”
“Williams was 50 years ahead of the curve. All the sabermetric measures bear that out now,” Mike Bryant said. “Kris swung that way naturally from the start. He was intelligent, very visual and I could talk to him about launch angles and such.”
“He understood how the pieces of the swing were connected and how to put them in sequence. Honestly, I wish I had decent videos of his swing when he was 10,” he added, “because if you looked at it, it would look very much as it does today.”
Bryant shies away from comparisons to Williams.
“People made it sound like my dad said, ‘Ted Williams did this or that every minute.’ That’s overblown,” he said. “I watched Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez and lots of other guys, too.”
But Bryant doesn’t deny he knew by age 12 he was capable of similar — if still pint-sized — feats.
“That’s when I started to separate from the other kids. I was bigger. I hit .714, or something like that, and broke the Little League record for home runs. That’s when part of me said, ‘I might be good enough to play in the major leagues someday.'”
Bryant kept breaking records, won nearly every important award youth baseball offers, and grew to 6-foot-5. Cubs general manager Theo Epstein was looking for a “dynamic” position player when he used the second pick in the draft on Bryant two years ago. Even he’s been surprised, though, by how quickly the third baseman has adapted.
“It used to be once around the league before pitchers had enough information to figure out what to throw a hitter. Today, by the time you’ve gone around the Pacific Coast League once, there’s a pretty thorough scouting report,” he said. “What’s unique about Kris is how fast he picks up on even the subtle changes.”
Bryant’s low-key demeanor has been almost as impressive. He’s so humble he’s already getting questions about how he stays that way. Asked whether that towering shot against Barrett and the Nationals was his longest ever, Bryant demurred. Asked whether it was his best since joining the Cubs, he settled instead for calling it the “most meaningful one.”
Videos of the home run, the first ever to hit the video board, went viral soon after. Bryant learned about the fuss largely because of a text from his mother.
Maddon, on the other hand, is already planning for the next one.
“We should have somebody program that board to explode,” he said. “I think we’ll see that a few more times from this kid.”
MIAMI (AP) — President Barack Obama has met with the family of an American journalist who was killed last year by the Islamic State group.
Steven Sotloff was a 31-year-old Miami-area native who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines. He had vanished in Syria, and then last September, militants released a video showing Sotloff’s beheading.
The White House says that during a trip to Florida on Thursday, Obama met with the reporter’s parents, Art and Shirley Sotloff, and sister Lauren.
The White House says Obama appreciated hearing more about Sotloff’s work as a journalist and that the family spoke of Sotloff’s passion for reporting the stories of people who are suffering.
Obama also recognized the foundation the family has formed in Sotloff’s memory to support journalists reporting from conflict torn areas.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A YouTube video shows bounty hunter Stew Peters hot on the chase, weapon drawn as he joins police in apprehending a man with outstanding warrants. Facebook and Twitter photos depict Peters in a dark uniform with a gun belt, bulletproof vest and badge. Some pictures show suspects he’s rounded up, handcuffed in the back of an SUV marked with his company name and a K-9 warning.
Peters views himself as an important cog in bringing bail-jumpers to justice. But some in Minnesota law enforcement cringe at his tactics, apparel and demeanor that they believe suggest he is a sworn officer. And a new state law passed this month with little public airing is aimed mostly at curtailing Peters.
The law forbids bail bondsmen, also known as bounty hunters, from using certain-colored uniforms or vehicles with emblems that the public might mistake for law enforcement. Peters, who runs a company that works with a dozen bail firms, learned of it only after the fact. While he intends to abide, Peters is fuming.
“We don’t represent ourselves as cops. We don’t say we’re cops. We’re proudly bounty hunters,” Peters said, defending the attire he and other company agents wear as critical to their safety when chasing down fugitives. “This isn’t a hobby. This isn’t something I do for fun. I don’t go out to play cops and robbers.”
Goodhue County Sheriff Scott McNurlin, among those who contacted a legislator seeking the restrictions, previously approached Peters about the way he operates and about calls from residents wondering about company agents knocking on their doors or parked on their streets.
“Anybody would think this guy is a cop,” McNurlin said. “He’s very much crowding or blurring the line with impersonating.”
McNurlin said his concerns have grown as he’s seen videos of Peters pointing a weapon or threatening suspects with use of a stun gun if they don’t cooperate. “He’s trying to take it to the next level like Dog the Bounty Hunter,” the sheriff said, referring to the canceled TV show about a colorful bail bondsman.
Peters denies he’s angling for a reality show and says his team uses body cameras for accountability. He said the company follows training protocols and abides by strict policies on the use of force.
The new restrictions originated not with a bill vetted by legislative committees but as a provision added to a larger criminal justice bill. Sen. Matt Schmit, a Red Wing Democrat who made the amendment, said he was worried about giving Peters “undue attention.”
“We don’t want to leave an opening for the public to be fooled or confused,” Schmit said of the law’s intent.
The Minnesota Professional Bail Bonds Association wasn’t involved in crafting the law, and knew little of it until contacted by The Associated Press. Still, group president Kurt Schienbein said he supports the intention because he’s worried about a “Wild West” image of some affecting the overall industry. And Schienbein said many agents are leery of being perceived as law enforcement as they pursue bail jumpers.
“When I go pick someone up I don’t want anything marked on my car. I wear plain street clothes,” he said. “I don’t want them to see me coming.”
Peters is annoyed by how the law was enacted and scoffs at its premise.
“If the concern is that the everyday Joe is going to mistake one of our squad cars as a law enforcement vehicle, my question is ‘So what?'” Peters said, adding, “In today’s climate of law enforcement there are two sides, the good guys and the bad guys. We’re the good guys.”
EXETER, N.H. (AP) — George Pataki, the 9/11-era New York governor who achieved electoral success as a Republican in a heavily Democratic state, announced his candidacy for the presidential nomination Thursday, offering himself as a unifying figure in a divided nation.
Just as he was overshadowed after the 2001 terrorist attacks by Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York City and President George W. Bush, Pataki opened his 2016 campaign in the shadow of better known rivals. Out of office since 2006, he’s a clear underdog in a bustling pack of favorites and longshots.
Pataki told about 150 supporters that an increasingly intrusive government is jeopardizing the freedoms past generations fought for, and he will fight to get government out of people’s way.
“It is to preserve and protect that freedom that this morning I announce I’m a candidate for the Republican nomination for president of the United States,” he said.
The low-key Republican moderate flirted with presidential runs in 2008 and 2012 but stopped short. Now he hopes to reignite the bipartisan unity born in the trauma of 2001.
“While I saw the horrors of September 11 first hand, in the days, weeks and months that followed, I also saw the strength of America on display,” he said. And “I completely reject the idea that we can only come together in adversity.”
Pataki said Americans, with a government that does not restrain freedom, “will once again astonish the world with what we can accomplish.”
Political comity is a tall order in a nation — and a party — fraught with division. But Pataki invokes his record working with Republicans and Democrats alike as a three-term governor who in 1994 defeated Mario Cuomo, the liberal stalwart and celebrated orator many Democrats wanted to see run for president.
Pataki, 69, declared his candidacy in a YouTube video, set in a New York skyscraper, and his rhetoric seemed to echo sentiments of the 9/11 aftermath. “We are all in this together,” he said. “And let us all understand that what unites us is so much more important than what might seem superficially to divide us.”
Without Bush’s bullhorn or Giuliani’s in-your-face crisis management and eloquence, Pataki worked solidly with them to steady a devastated city. He quickly mobilized New York Army and Air National Guard troops. By the evening of Sept. 11, 750 troops had already reported to armories in New York City to support the massive security and rescue efforts.
As governor, he said, “My vision was not a partisan vision, it was a vision about people, about what we could accomplish together.”
He’s been a frequent visitor to New Hampshire and set his announcement event in Exeter because it was the state capital during the Revolutionary War and claims to be the birthplace of the Republican Party.
Despite his centrist leanings, he’s spent recent months promoting his conservative credentials, as those running for the Republican nomination invariably do.
He’s campaigned against President Barack Obama’s health care law and Obama’s executive order to offer protections against deportation to millions of immigrants living in the country illegally. In his announcement speech, he criticized Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton for claiming to represent aspirations of the middle class.
“We are the party of the middle class, unless by middle class they mean someone who left the White House dead broke and 10 years later had $100 million,” he said of Bill and Hillary Clinton. “That’s their party’s candidate. She speaks for the middle class? They are the party of privilege.”
Pataki didn’t directly compare himself with other GOP rivals. But his wife, Libby, acknowledged the challenge her husband faces in a field that includes sitting senators, several current and former governors, business leaders and a renowned neurosurgeon.
“Are we prepared for a struggle and an uphill battle?” she asked. “We are absolutely prepared to enter the fray and fight the good fight.”
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Several Nobel Peace Prize winners on Thursday called for an end to the persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, describing it as “nothing less than genocide,” and appealed for international help for them in Rakhine state.
The appeal came at the end of a three-day conference in the Norwegian capital where participants witnessed video addresses from Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including from South Africa’s retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi and former East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta.
“What Rohingyas are facing is a textbook case of genocide in which an entire indigenous community is being systematically wiped out by the Burmese government,” the final statement said.
Held at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, the conference urged the international community “to take all possible measures to pressure” the Myanmar government to “immediately end its policies and practices of genocide.”
Philanthropist George Soros, who escaped Nazi-occupied Hungary, said that there were “alarming” parallels between the plight of the Rohingya and the Nazi genocide.
Pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi hadn’t been invited to the event, organized by the Norwegian Burma Committee. During her 15 years under house arrest, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate won admiration for her fiery speeches and scathing criticism of the military regime that ruled Myanmar, or Burma, at the time. Her critics note she is carefully choosing her battles, in part because she has presidential ambitions.
In recent weeks, thousands of Rohingya have fled persecution and landed on the shores of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, often abandoned by human traffickers or freed after their families paid ransoms. There are approximately 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims.
This story has been corrected to show the last name of one of the Nobel Peace Prize winners is Ebadi, not Ibadi.
PARIS (AP) — When three British schoolgirls trundled across the Syrian border; when a pregnant 14-year-old ran away from her Alpine home for the second time; when a sheltered girl from the south of France booked her first trip abroad — they were going to a place of no return.
Only two of the approximately 600 Western girls and young women who have joined extremists in Syria are known to have made it out of the war zone. By comparison, as many as 30 percent of the male foreign fighters have left or are on their way out, according to figures from European governments that monitor the returns.
In interviews, court documents and public records, The Associated Press has compiled a detailed picture of European girls and young women who join extremists such as the Islamic State group — a decision that is far more final than most may realize.
The girls are married off almost immediately, either in Turkey or just after crossing into Syria. With an estimated 20,000 foreign fighters — among them 5,000 Europeans — in Syria, there is no shortage of men looking for wives. That number is expected to double by the end of the year. Once among the jihadis, the women are not permitted to travel without a male chaperone or a group of other women and must remain fully covered outside, according to material published by Islamic State and researchers who follow the group. Otherwise, they risk a lashing or worse.
European women who blog about their lives under Islamic State tend to be chipper about the experience, but reading between the lines of an e-book of travel advice shows a life that will be radically circumscribed, with limited electricity, lack of even the most basic medicine, and practically no autonomy. Women do not fight, researchers say, despite the Hunger Games-like promises of recruiters.
“The lives of those teenage girls are very much controlled,” said Sara Khan, a British Muslim whose group Inspire campaigns against the dangers of extremist recruiters. “I don’t think that discussion ever comes up. It’s so romanticized, the idea of this utopia. I don’t even think those young girls have necessarily considered that there’s no way back now.”
The two exceptions to the rule of no return are perhaps most revealing in the very paucity of details about their journey — driving home how murky life is behind the Islamic State curtain.
Sterlina Petalo is a Dutch teenager who converted to Islam, and came to be known by the name Aicha. She traveled to Syria in 2014 to marry a Dutch jihadi fighter there and managed to return months later — apparently making her way to the border with Turkey, where her mother reportedly picked her up and brought her back to the Netherlands. Back home, she was immediately arrested on suspicion of joining a terror organization.
Her family, lawyers and prosecutors refuse to discuss the case. She was released from custody last November and has not been formally charged.
The second woman known to have made it out of the grip of Islamic State reconsidered after just a few weeks. The 25-year-old Briton, whom police have not named, had taken her toddler son all the way to Raqqa, the group’s stronghold, when she decided she had made a mistake and called home. She made her way back into Turkey and her father met her there. How she was able to travel the 250 kilometers (150 miles) from Raqqa to the Turkish border city of Gaziantep is not clear. Back in Britain, she was detained and is now free on bail pending formal charges.
Without knowing how the two escaped, it is difficult to say whether other girls and women could follow their path out of Syria, said Joana Cook, a researcher at King’s College London who studies the links between women and jihad.
“There are clearly many human smugglers working within Syria right now, helping Syrian civilians escape the violence, and I wonder if there is a similar, perhaps even growing market, for those trying to escape after joining ISIL,” Cook told The Associated Press in an email, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State group. “There is great disillusionment for many who have traveled to Syria to join ISIL and you’ll find many stories of those who went abroad noting ‘this isn’t what we signed up for.'”
The question is whether the girls understood from the beginning how limited their choices would be once they crossed the frontier.
The case of a 15-year-old Avignon girl exemplifies such doubts. The girl hid her second Facebook account and Islamic veil from her moderate Muslim family, thereby managing to join a jihadi network, according to the family’s lawyer. Once within a unit of the al-Qaida offshoot Nusra Front, she was not permitted to leave, according to her brother, who went into Syria to fetch her and was turned away by the extremists. A French boy who joined the group around the same time was allowed to go home.
“I think they understand the premise of that, but not that they understand it in reality,” said Melanie Smith, another researcher at King’s College ICSR.
The networks that bring the women into Syria are increasingly organized around the extremists’ dream of building a nation of multinational jihadis, meaning European girls are particularly prized. Each new Facebook post, each new cheerleading Twitter account — and they pop up by the hour — helps them subvert government efforts to prevent young people from radicalizing and leaving.
The doggedness of jihadi methods for recruiting girls can be seen in the case of Amelia, a 14-year-old girl from France’s Alpine Isere region.
Amelia was first contacted on Facebook by a French fighter on Jan. 14, 2014 and within a month agreed to go to Syria and marry the man, who identified himself as “Tony Toxiko.” After she was turned back by airport border police in Lyon on her first attempt, “Tony Toxiko” persuaded another French adolescent girl to join him in Syria.
Amelia, meanwhile, ran away from home to Belgium, where an imam performed a religious ceremony that wed her to a different man, an Algerian jihadi. She returned to France homesick and pregnant, just long enough to speak to investigators building a case against a middleman who helped her run away. This winter, Amelia managed to deceive her family and left again — making it to Syria with the Algerian fighter, who is more than twice her age.
“It’s particularly difficult for these families. For them, radicalization is happening on the Internet and outside the family sphere,” said Sebastien Pietrasanta, a French lawmaker working on a program to de-radicalize young people. “For a girl of 14, I believe we can clearly save her from herself and save her from these barbarians.”
A French journalist got dangerously close to jihadi recruitment methods by creating a fake Facebook account that attracted a marriage proposal from a fighter in Syria.
Under the pseudonym Melodie, the journalist shared a video on the account, almost immediately getting a message from a man identified as Bilel, who asked how she’d liked the montage of him showing off in a 4X4 and with his weapons.
“I passed myself off as a 20-something, not stupid but a little lost, who suddenly found a huge response from a man in Syria,” said the journalist, who wrote a book “In the Skin of a Jihadist” under a pseudonym.
Bilel’s doubts about her began to grow as her reluctance to join him became clear. She ended up getting threats that she said would likely frighten a bewildered young woman into submission. As it was, the journalist, who never met Bilal in person, remains under constant police protection a year later.
“We’ll find you, we have the best operators here, you don’t know what you’re getting into, you’re messing with a terrorist group, you and your family will pay,” the woman said, recounting the litany of threats she received after returning to France. “If they were speaking to a 20-year-old, it would be very hard for her.”
Associated Press writer Mike Corder in Amsterdam contributed.