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Soccer Stars Visit Newtown Children

Argentina's Lionel Messi poses with the trophy after winning the FIFA Men's World Player of the Year Award during the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2013 held at the Kongresshaus in Zurich, Switzerland,  Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone, Walter Bieri)

Argentina's Lionel Messi poses with the trophy after winning the FIFA Men's World Player of the Year Award during the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2013 held at the Kongresshaus in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone, Walter Bieri)

Newtown, Conn. — The deadly shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was personal for pro soccer star Marcus Tracy. He grew up in Newtown, and his mother once taught at the school.

The San Jose Earthquakes striker joined about 40 other current and former soccer players, including Landon Donovan, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Christie Rampone and Alexi Lalas, yesterday afternoon at the Newtown Youth Academy, playing soccer and signing autographs for children.

About 1,000 children attended the event, which was arranged by Houston Dynamo general manager and Connecticut native Chris Canetti.

Newtown, a community of about 27,000 people 60 miles northeast of New York City, has always been a soccer town, Tracy said.

“It was important to get the young kids out here and show them a good time again and sort of restore that sense of normalcy and see them smile and run around and laugh,” he said.

Several sports stars, including New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, have travelled to Newtown in the weeks since a gunman killed his mother at home before going to Sandy Hook and killing 20 first-graders, six school administrators and then himself.

Messi Wins Fourth Ballon d’Or

Zurich — Lionel Messi became the first four-time winner of the FIFA Player of the Year award after shattering the world record with 91 goals last year for Barcelona and Argentina.

The 25-year-old won for the fourth straight time, beating Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta in voting announced yesterday. His 91 goals topped Gerd Mueller’s mark of 85 for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972.

Abby Wambach became the first American to win FIFA Women’s Player of the Year since Mia Hamm in 2001 and 2002. Pia Sundhage was voted top women’s coach after leading Wambach and the U.S. team to the gold medal at last summer’s London Olympics.

U.S. Roster Announced

Chicago — Los Angeles Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez will return to the U.S. national team after a two-year absence, while Landon Donovan was left off the Americans’ training camp roster.

Gonzalez was among 25 mostly U.S.-based players selected yesterday by coach Jurgen Klinsmann for a camp before a Jan. 29 exhibition against Canada at Houston. The Americans then will call in their regulars for the opening game of the final round of World Cup qualifying, Feb. 6 at Honduras.

The 6-foot-5 Gonzalez, regarded as a top defender of the future, made his national team debut in August 2010 and played against Chile the following January. He tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last January on his first day training with Nuremberg and returned to the field for the Galaxy on July 4.

Donovan was skipped over while he decides whether he wants to keep playing.

Tennis

Radwanska Advances

Sydney — Top-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland extended her unbeaten start to the season to six matches with a 6-4, 6-3 win over 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm today at the Sydney International.

Radwanska, who won last week’s WTA event in Auckland, New Zealand, secured an early break over the veteran Japanese player despite coping with searing temperatures that topped 100 degrees at Olympic Park.

The Sydney tournament has an “Extreme Heat Policy” but it only comes into effect at the discretion of the tournament referee. Tennis officials apply a complex formula to such decisions, factoring in heat, humidity and wind to determine when on-court conditions become too stressful for players.

In other women’s matches, third-seeded Sara Errani of Italy and fourth-seeded Li Na of China easily advanced to the quarterfinals. Errani beat Russia’s Maria Kirilenko 6-1, 6-1, while Li, who was pushed to two sets in beating American Christina McHale in the first round Monday, dominated Ayumi Morita of Japan 6-1, 6-0.

In first-round men’s play, sixth-seeded Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic defeated Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 6-2, 6-3, and Spain’s Feliciano Lopez beat seventh-seeded Jeremy Chardy of France 6-7 (2), 7-5, 6-3.

Top-seeded John Isner of the United States, who received a first-round bye, will play his second-round match tomorrow against the winner of the match between American qualifier Ryan Harrison and Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut.

Baseball

Berkman Passes Physical

Arlington, Texas — Lance Berkman chose the Texas Rangers this time, and is returning to his home state to be their designated hitter in what likely will be the last stop of his career.

The Rangers completed a $10 million, one-year deal yesterday after the 36-year-old Berkman, who played only 32 games last season for St. Louis, passed a physical. The deal includes a $12 million club option for 2014 that becomes a guaranteed $13 million deal if he has 550 plate appearances this season. There is also a $1 million buyout for the second year.

Berkman provides the potential big bat for the middle of the lineup the Rangers were seeking after losing slugger Josh Hamilton and catcher Mike Napoli in free agency. The switch-hitter also adds some versatility to a lineup filled with right-handers, and that works well because Berkman has a .307 average left-handed and .260 right-handed.

Texas also was interested in Berkman when he was a free agent two years ago, after the Rangers made their first World Series appearance. Berkman accepted St. Louis’ offer instead, saying then he thought Texas was going to be an average team. The Cardinals made it to the World Series in 2011 and won the title in seven games against the Rangers.

Berkman is coming off an injury-plagued season in St. Louis, where the six-time All-Star spent nearly a month on the disabled list early because of a strained left calf. Only a week after returning, he went back on the DL for nearly two months after tearing a meniscus in his right knee that required surgery.

His season ended with a second surgery in September, when the meniscus was removed. It was the fourth operation on his right knee.

Berkman, who turns 37 next month, was considering retirement but the Rangers’ offer kept him in the game. Rangers president Nolan Ryan, who also played and worked for the Astros, had publicly expressed his team’s interest in Berkman.

Born in Waco, Berkman went to college at Rice and began his major league career in 1999 with the Houston Astros, who this year are joining the Rangers in the AL West.

After 11 1/2 seasons with the Astros and being part of their only World Series team in 2005, Berkman was traded to the New York Yankees on July 31, 2010. He finished that season with New York, which lost to Texas in the AL championship series, before going to the Cardinals.

Berkman is a .296 career hitter with 360 home runs and 1,200 RBIs in 1,806 regular-season games, all but 214 of those with the Astros. In 34 career games at Rangers Ballpark, Berkman has hit .289 with seven homers and 21 RBIs in 121 at-bats.

The Rangers open the regular season at Houston on March 31, when MLB’s first game of the season will be a Sunday prime-time matchup featuring the new AL West rivalry.

Berkman was an All-Star in 2011 when he hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs in 145 games. His injuries last season limited him to 81 at-bats, and hit .259 with two homers and seven RBIs.

Besides losing Hamilton and Napoli in free agency, the Rangers traded Michael Young — their longest-tenured player after 12 seasons — to Philadelphia.

Texas signed free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a $7.5 million, one-year contract. Pierzynski, who turned 36 last month after signing with the Rangers, is a .284 hitter in 1,629 career games with Minnesota (1998-2003), San Francisco (2004) and the Chicago White Sox (2005-12). He was part of a World Series title with the White Sox in 2005, when they swept Houston in four games.

The Rangers designated left-hander Tommy Hottovy to clear a spot on their 40-man roster for Berkman.