49ers arrive in New Orleans

963289.jpg

49ers arrive in New Orleans

From Comcast SportsNetNEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Jim Harbaugh stepped to the podium, smirked a bit, and greeted his first news conference as a Super Bowl coach."We're super happy to be here," he said Sunday night as his NFC champion San Francisco 49ers arrived in the Big Easy for the big game."I think this team has the best focus on unity and winning I've ever been a part of."Considering that Harbaugh was an NFL quarterback for 14 seasons and a successful college coach before joining the 49ers, he knows something about winning.Under Harbaugh, San Francisco has been to two NFC title games and, now, to its first Super Bowl in 18 years. The Niners (13-4-1) will play Baltimore (13-6), coached by Harbaugh's older brother, John, in next Sunday's Super Bowl.He is certain his team is ready for the task as the 49ers seek their sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy; they are 5-0 in Super Bowls."These are uncharted waters for a rookie Super Bowl coach," Harbaugh said. "But that's exciting. It's a great thrill, and we have a desire to be in uncharted waters. We always strive for that kind of challenge."Earlier in the evening, with a team flag waving from an open window of their chartered plane, the 49ers arrived in a businesslike manner. The players calmly walked off the airplane -- no video recorders or cameras, no waves to onlookers.Most of the team's veteran players disembarked first, including center Jonathan Goodwin, who won a Super Bowl three years ago with the Saints."You get to go to the Super Bowl with your childhood team, so that's something special to me," he said. "So hopefully I can find a way to win the Super Bowl with my childhood team."Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, wearing a red wool cap sporting "49ers" on it, mouthed the words to a song on his headphones as he walked on the tarmac.He seemed just as relaxed 90 minutes later as he met the media."Pressure comes from a lack of preparation," said Kaepernick, who took over as the starter when Alex Smith got a concussion in November and has been sensational in keeping the job. "This is not a pressure situation. It's a matter of going out and performing."Harbaugh said the 49ers came to New Orleans on Sunday to simulate a normal week. He likened their trip to his strategy the last two seasons when the 49ers spent a week in Youngstown, Ohio, between Eastern games rather than return to the Bay Area.He liked the way the players and coaches bonded during that experience."Same approach," Harbaugh said. "Enjoy the moment and the preparation. I think our team enjoys that the most: the meetings, the preparation and then, especially, the competition."

Dominique Wilkins reflects on his rivalry with Larry Bird

86pod-opp-dl.png

Dominique Wilkins reflects on his rivalry with Larry Bird

During our series discussing the 1986 Boston Celtics, we have sat down with many players from that championship, along with members of the media that were close to the team.

This week features a few of the opponents that were very familiar with the 1980’s Celtics  - Atlanta Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins, former Celtics coach (and Hawk) Doc Rivers, and Lakers great James Worthy.

Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

red-sox-xander-bogaerts.jpg

Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

BOSTON -- Early in 2016 praises were sung around the league that Xander Bogaerts was the best hitter in baseball.

Rightfully so. For a good portion of the season he led the league in both batting average and hits. But between Mookie Betts’ ascension and Bogaerts’ drop in average from .331 on 7/29 to .306 after Monday night’s game, he’s taken a back seat.

But the Red Sox shortstop’s month-long dry spell hasn’t been a straight decline. Although he was held hitless Monday, Bogaerts went 6-for-13 (.462) against Kansas City.

In fact, the 23-year-old doesn’t even consider the recent month of struggles the worst stretch of his career.

“2014 probably,” Bogaerts said, “yeah I had a terrible, terrible few months -- probably three months.”

That was of course the season a lot came into question surrounding the now All-Star shortstop, so he was pretty spot on. In 2014 Bogaerts went from hitting .304 through 5/31, to .248 by the end of June, .244 after his last game in July, all the way down to .224 by the last day of August.

Bogaerts would hit .313 that September and finish with a .240 average -- but more importantly, an appreciation of what he’d experienced.

“That definitely helped me become a better person, a better player -- and understanding from that and learning,” Bogaerts said.

From that experience, he gained a better understanding of the importance of maintaining a consistent day-to-day routine.

“That has to stay the same,” Bogaerts said without question in his voice. “The league adjusted, they adjusted to me. It kind of took a longer time to adjust to them. They’ve just been pitching me so differently compared to other years.”

Bogaerts has had the point reinforced to him throughout, with Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez serving as one voice of reinforcement.

“When you have a routine from the mental side, physical side, when you struggle that’s when you really need that,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been so good with his daily preparation, it doesn’t matter the result of the game. He can always go to something that feels comfortable.”

“He’s been so comfortable and confident with his daily routine and preparation that it allows him -- when he doesn’t get the results he wants in the game -- to have some peace knowing that the next day, we’re going to go back to doing that again.”

It’s clear Bogaerts needs to maintain his daily routine to help work through slumps -- and maintain hot streaks -- but Rodriguez made it clear, consistent preparation from a hitter doesn’t magically cure every problem.

“That doesn’t mean that because you stick with the routine you’re going to have results,” Rodriguez said. “What it means is, [because] you know and believe in that routine that you know you’re going to get out of it.”

Which means in addition to sticking to his normal routine, Bogaerts also had to identify flaws elsewhere in order work through his problems. He came to realize the problem was more mechanically based than mental -- given he’d done everything to address that.

“They pitched me differently, and some stuff I wanted to do with the ball I couldn’t do,” Bogaerts said. “I just continued doing it until I had to make the adjustment back.”

Bogaerts isn’t fully out of the dark, but he’s taken steps in the right direction of late -- and is nowhere near the skid he experienced in 2014. He and Rodriguez fully believe the All-Star’s ability to maintain a clear mind will carry him through whatever troubles he’s presented with the rest of the way.

“The more stuff you have in you’re head is probably not going to help your chances,” Bogaerts explained, “so have a clear mind -- but also have the trust in your swing that you’re going to put a good swing on [the pitch] regardless of whatever the count is.”

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.