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MLB

30 MLB players we’ll miss watching most on what should have been Opening Day

Today, March 26, was supposed to be Opening Day.

That’s not happening, as you know, but that’s not going to stop us from dreaming about what might have been, even as we watch the smorgasbord of baseball games from the past that are being broadcast all day long. 

Here’s one player from each team we were especially looking forward to seeing perform on Opening Day. 

American League 

Andrew Heaney, SP, Angels

Why him? The Angels wasted no time naming the lefty as their Opening Day starter this spring. This was supposed to be his first Opening Day nod, which is a pretty cool honor for any pitcher, and that’s reason enough to watch (and it’s the reason we’ll pick another couple of players on this list). But, there’s also this: Heaney didn’t hold back when asked for his thoughts about the Astros and their cheating scandal this spring, and guess who the Angels were scheduled to play on Opening Day. The popcorn was already ready. 

Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros

Why him? Because it’s impossible to think about the Astros and their first game of 2020 without thinking of the sign-stealing scandal that broke this offseason. And Altuve somehow became the central figure in this scandal despite the data showing he heard the fewest trash can bangs recorded in 2017. But Altuve hit the home run off Aroldis Chapman in the 2019 ALCS and told his teammates not to rip off his jersey as he approached home plate. And, well, that just seemed all kinds of suspicious. So, to pick one Astros player the most eyes would be on, the nod goes to Altuve. 

And now we’re done with sign-stealing scandal stuff, I promise. 

Mike Fiers, SP, Athletics

Why him? OK, one more, dammit. The A’s hadn’t announced their Opening Day starter yet, but Fiers was certainly a possibility. He got the nod for the first game in 2019 and was a reliable part of the A’s rotation last year, posting a 3.0 bWAR and 3.90 ERA in 33 starts. Fiers, of course, is the player who went on the record with The Athletic and kicked the whole sign-stealing scandal into high gear. So, yeah, his first 2020 start would have been interesting. Worth noting, though, that the A’s host the Astros in the second series of the season, so if the A’s wanted to make sure Fiers wouldn’t face the Astros — seems like an unnecessary early season distraction — they could have pushed him back to start the third game of the year. 

OK, THAT is the last scandal mention. Double promise, pinkie swear. 

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays

Why him? Because he’s kind of amazing and is likely to have a monster season, and popping a couple baseballs over the fence wouldn’t have surprised anyone. 

Shane Bieber, SP, Indians

Why him? Bieber is coming off an outstanding season — fourth place finish in the AL Cy Young award and All-Star Game MVP — and was scheduled to face the rebuilding Tigers at home. Feels like a no-hitter, or at least a shutout, was on the table. 

Kyle Lewis, OF, Mariners

Why him? Lewis, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, skipped over Triple-A last year and posted a .885 OPS in 18 big-league contests for the Mariners last year. He’s likely to have his ups and downs, but he’s an outstanding talent and watching him hit that spring training grand slam was a lot of fun. 

Chris Davis, 1B, Orioles

Why him? Because hope springs eternal, and Davis was on fire this spring. And, sure, spring stats mean very little, but when you’re talking about a player with a -4.8 bWAR and 53 OPS+ over the past two years combined, any little sliver of success is welcome. 

Joey Gallo, RF, Rangers

Why him? Because we were deprived of Gallo for far too much of a 2019 season — his year ended July 23 when he went on the DL with a broken hamate bone in his right hand — that was setting up to his the breakthrough year we’ve all been waiting for. 

Jose Martinez, DH, Rays

Why him? Because Martinez feels like a perfect fit for Tampa Bay, a professional hitter without much of a defensive position who is finally in the American League and can shine, primarily as a DH but also spot starter at first and in right field. And what better way to get going than with two or three hits at his new home against an NL team?

Alex Verdugo, RF, Red Sox

Why him? New face in a new place, replacing a superstar in Mookie Betts. Intrigue. 

Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Royals

Why him? He’s fun to watch, especially when he gets on base. Big season could be in the works, if he figures out how to get on base more regularly. 

Miguel Cabrera, DH, Tigers

Why him? Because, as I said when I watched a Tigers game from the press box this spring, any time you can see a future Hall of Famer play, that’s a good day. 

Jose Berrios, SP, Twins

Why him? His breaking stuff is just mesmerizing. Berrios is coming off back-to-back All-Star seasons and he’s still just 25 years old. Last year, he got the Opening Day nod and struck out 10 in 7 2/3 shutout innings at home against Cleveland. This assignment, at Oakland, would be been a bit tougher but still a chance to shine. 

Luis Robert, CF, White Sox

Why him? The White Sox took “service time” distractions off the table, signing Robert to a deal that guarantees $50 million over six years, and has team options that could add two years and $38 million. All this despite that he’s yet to make his big-league debut, which is why we picked him here. Robert was brilliant in 2019, batting a combined .328 with a 1.001 OPS, 32 homers and 36 stolen bases at three levels in the White Sox organization. 

Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees

Why him? Because he’s pretty much the only healthy starter, right? Really, though, Torres has been exactly the player Cubs fans feared he would be when their favorite team traded him to the Yankees for rental closer Aroldis Chapman (though he did contribute to that little World Series title). 

National League

Ronald Acuña, Jr., Braves

Why him? Because he’s a damn superstar, that’s why. 

Christian Yelich, RF, Brewers

Why him? Has any trade ever worked out any better than the Brewers’ deal to land Yelich? He’s been an incredible player — one MVP award and one second-place finish — and this offseason agreed to a lucrative extension to stay in Milwaukee for a long, long time. The Brewers were supposed to open their season at home against the Cubs, and the home-crowd reception would have been really something. 

Jack Flaherty, SP, Cardinals

Why him? How do you follow up an incredible finish — he had a 0.93 ERA in his last 16 starts — to the 2019 season? Well, that’s why we picked him. 

Javier Baez, SS, Cubs

Why him? He’s a star, with a flair for performing on the big stage. Like, for example, Opening Day 2019, when he popped a pair of homers and had four RBIs in a win against the Rangers on the road. 

Starling Marte, CF, Diamondbacks

Why him? It feels like years ago that the Diamondbacks acquired the two-time Gold Glove winner from Pittsburgh. But he’s coming off back-to-back 20/20 seasons, and all eyes would be on him for his first regular-season game in his new uniform. 

Mookie Betts, RF, Dodgers

Why him? Well, duh. 

Johnny Cueto, SP, Giants

Why him? He’s only made 13 starts the past two years, but he’s healthy and was named the Opening Day starter. Cueto gives a clinic on disrupting batters’ timing, every time out. 

Lewis Brinson, CF, Marlins

Why him? I am going to believe that Brinson can develop into a star until the day he retires, apparently. He’s been, well, not good in the bigs so far, but Brinson was pretty good this spring — .345 average, three homers in 13 games — and I know spring stats don’t mean much, but I would have been watching and hoping Opening Day would have been his new, fresh start. 

Jacob deGrom, SP, Mets

Why him? Because when a two-time Cy Young winner takes the mound, you watch. 

Juan Soto, LF, Nationals

Why him? Soto and Acuña — who finished 1-2 in the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year voting — will be linked as long as they both defy their ages and play like superstars, and they’ll always be worth watching. 

Tommy Pham, LF, Padres

Why him? Pham feels like the perfect addition to a Padres team that’s on the rise, and I’d expect that impact to be obvious from Day One. Or, y’know, Opening Day. 

Bryce Haper, RF, Phillies

Why him? Boring choice? Yep. But you’ll be watching, too. 

Jarrod Dyson, CF, Pirates

Why him? Been a fan of Dyson since his days as the speedster who helped the Royals thrive in 2014-15, and because that’s what speed do. 

Joseph Daniel Votto, 1B, Reds

Why him? Because if the Reds are going to be legitimate contenders in 2020, they need Votto to be the Votto of old. And what better time to start than Opening Day? 

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies

Why him? It was — well, it has been — an interesting offseason for Arenado and the Rockies, and watching him play again would have been great for Rockies fans. 

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Categories
MLB

15 things we miss most about baseball, ranked

2020 has been the Angel Hernandez of years. Just the worst.

Since the day sports stopped, there’s been no shortage of bad headlines, with the delay of the MLB season seemingly at the bottom of the list of worries. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be missed until whenever it does happen.

Today should be a happy Monday. In a normal year, we’d be gearing up for the start of the MLB season, which would be just a few days away. Unfortunately, 2020 is anything but a normal year and Monday, March 23, 2020, sucks more than any normal Monday should.

Sometimes, group therapy is the best kind of therapy — trust me, I’m a sportswriter — so let’s relive the things we miss most about baseball while we wait for the season to kick off.

Honorable mention: Mid-inning activities

Man, I don’t know how I’m gonna go a few months without seeing the presidents race at Nationals Park or the sausage race at American Family Insurance Park/Field/Stadium/Whatever, or watching The Freeze cook fools in the “Beat The Freeze” challenge in Atlanta. Throw in some T-shirt cannons and we’ve got all sorts of entertainment to keep you hooked before the next inning begins.

15. The bases

Baseball without bases is like a cheeseburger without patties. So, yeah, the bases are a good thing to miss.

14. The consistency

Baseball season means having something to watch pretty much every day for the next eight months. For all the time spent that your significant other makes you watch “This Is Us” or “Bar Rescue,” baseball is a very acceptable change of pace for evening programming.

13. The views



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There’s really nothing like the skyline near baseball stadiums. Whether that’s a view of downtown Pittsburgh or the San Gabriel mountains, baseball stadiums across the country lend themselves to beautiful views.

Perhaps the best part of any activity pre-game is watching how finely tuned and manicured the field is 45 minutes before the first pitch. For me, watching a grounds crew work is a therapeutic experience; seeing how each foul line is carefully chalked down, how evenly water is sprinkled on the dirt, how the mound is raked and the infield is dragged. It’s all precisely executed, and it’s almost wondrous in and of itself.

Really, grounds crew members are the unsung heroes of MLB. How the hell do they mow those designs into the outfield? Black magic, that’s how.

12. David Fletcher? David Fletcher.

Fletcher had one of the more interesting, productive seasons in MLB in 2019. While he played most of his time at third base, he had over 100 innings each played in left, at shortstop and at second base, with 17 DRS total between all positions. He had a 4.5 bWAR (3.4 fWAR), and just six home runs on the season, but it’s unfortunate that we won’t get to see his continued growth in the majors just yet.

11. The first pitch

Baseball, for all of the patience it requires, toys with your emotions like a toddler with a cellphone.

That’s why that first pitch is such a weird moment of every baseball game. First pitch for a strike means your team is absolutely winning; first pitch for a ball means get the fire barrel ready, because you’re lighting your team gear on fire. If the first pitch is a ball, then that anxiety doesn’t waiver until there’s a called strike. It’s all a very brutal, emotional experience.

FAGAN: Neutral-site playoffs wouldn’t be ideal, but might be necessary

10. Day games!

Day games!

The day goes by so much faster when there’s an early start for a game. Whether you have the luxury of watching at home or listening on the radio, there’s nothing like day baseball. Really, there’s a lower stress level when watching day baseball, too, and it frees you up to catch up on your shows at night. All baseball is missed, but day baseball especially so.

9. The food

If you want to brave the elements and deal with the crazies fighting in Aisle 13 over the last roll of Charmin, maybe you can head over to the frozen section to pick up a tub of neopolitan ice cream in the process. But there’s a catch, and that’s this: The calories might be the same, but everything at the ballpark tastes better. Hot dogs, beer, chicken fingers but maybe most importantly, ice cream. Plus, you can get ice cream in a souvenir helmet, and who doesn’t want that?

8. Seeing your heroes at the ballpark

Whether its Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre, a young fan seeing a favorite player or this guy and SN’s Joe Rivera, seeing your buddies and heroes at the local ballpark is something that’s going to be missed while the season isn’t happening.

Role models come in many shapes and sizes, whether that’s a baseball player or a baseball writer, so not being able to congregate and witness the masters at work is something that’ll be sorely missed for the time being.

7. The dingers

Had we not seen a metric crapton of home runs hit in 2019, then this would be higher on the list. But there’s a tiny bit of long-ball fatigue right now, which means dingers, homers, slammalamma ding-dongs, taters, big flys, round-trippers, four-baggers, jacks, jimmyjacks and moonshots are still missed, but not as much as they would be in any other season.

6. The voices

Whether it’s solo Bob Uecker, the loaded booth trio of Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, or any broadcaster in between, you probably listen more to these guys than you do your husband or wife throughout the year.

The voices of baseball are familial and inviting, as you spend most of your season with them. There’s a reason that baseball broadcasters are the most beloved among all the major sports — they’re in your ear for 140-plus games a season, so there’s little doubt you miss them as much as much as you miss toilet paper right now.

5. Francisco Lindor’s smile



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There’s probably no baseball player who exudes pure joy, elation and love for the game more than Francisco Lindor. Those pearly whites are among the best set in MLB, and Lindor and his natural charisma are just so, so easy to root for. 

So while the Indians suffer after deciding to move on from Lindor at some point — and another team will surely be happy to have them — we’re all suffering right now by being robbed of Lindor’s 80-grade smile. 

4. The smells

Nothing tickles the olfactory senses quite like hot dogs, garlic fries and fresh-cut grass. More than any other sport, the experience of being at a game is so vital for baseball fans, and the aroma of the sport is one that attendees are going to miss.

3. The sounds

The crack of a bat. The popping of a glove. Jim Joyce’s Strike 3 call.

I’d say close your eyes and imagine it, but if you do that, you might keep them closed and then not finish reading this list. So, don’t do that.

In any case, much like the aromas of the game, baseball has its own unique sounds. A bat breaking, the sounds of slides, the roar of the crowd after a great catch, the whizz of a 98 mph fastball. They’re the sounds of the turning of spring and a soundtrack for the summer.

2. Mke Trout

We are living in unprecedented times. Not because of COVID-19, but because of Mike Trout.

Baseball fans usually know history when they see it, so seeing Trout’s season cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic is a punch in the gut — especially since we don’t know when that season is going to kick off.

But rest assured, whenever the season does get underway, Trout will somehow end up with a 9-WAR year. 

1. Being there

Whether you’re a writer, player, fan, camera person, mascot or beer vendor, there are very few things in sports that match being at a baseball game.

It’s where you can be a fan the way you want to be. You can treat it like a day at the park or dress up like those Oakland A’s diehards with the green afros. You can act a fool in between innings on the jumbotron, or you can laugh at the drunks in Section 113. There’s nothing like taking in a nine-inning game on a warm summer night. 

Despite all its warts — ticket and concession prices, locale — getting out to a baseball game is something so worth the experience. That we won’t be there for a long time is a real downer. 

But hey, it’ll be back before you know it — and we’ll hopefully all appreciate it all the greater.

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Categories
Soccer

Aaron Ramsey set to miss Wales' friendlies due to coronavirus in Italy

Juventus star Aaron Ramsey is set to miss Wales’ friendlies against Austria and United States due to coronavirus lockdown in Italy as Serie A called off

  • Ramsey is unlikely to make the trip home for the games with Austria and the US
  • People in Italy were warned to only travel for ‘normal necessities’ such as work
  • Brits returning from Italy were told by Foreign Office to self-isolate for 14 days
  • Football Association of Wales believe it will be ‘difficult’ for Ramsey to leave Italy

Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey is unlikely to play in Wales’ friendlies this month due to the coronavirus lockdown in Italy.

It is understood Ramsey will not make the trip home for the games with Austria and the US because of the movement restrictions in Italy.

People have been warned they can only travel for ‘normal necessities’ such as grocery shopping, work, family reasons or health emergencies.

Aaron Ramsey is unlikely to play for Wales’ this month due to the coronavirus lockdown in Italy

It is understood that Ramsey will not make the trip home for the games with Austria and the US

Britons returning from Italy have been told by the Foreign Office to self-isolate for 14 days – and Wales’ first March friendly against Austria is only 17 days away.

It is understood the Football Association of Wales believe, given the circumstances, it will be ‘difficult’ for Ramsey to leave Italy and play in the two games.

Serie A, which has been playing games behind closed doors, was suspended on Monday night until April 3 as all sporting activities at all levels were put on hold to contain the outbreak.

Serie A, which has been playing games behind closed doors, was suspended on Monday night

Serie A games were played behind closed doors last weekend amid the panic over the virus

The ban does not cover Italian clubs or national teams involved in international competitions, such as football’s Champions League.

Italy’s Wembley friendly with England on March 27 remains on at this stage, although there are fears the game will be cancelled.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the whole country would be on lockdown from Tuesday morning, with soldiers and police enforcing bans.

Some 9,172 people have been infected with Covid-19 in Italy, with 463 deaths, and there is a growing sense the numbers will only worsen.

Ryan Giggs is due to announce his squad for the friendlies, but Ramsey is likely to be missing

Wales are due to play fellow Euro 2020 finalists Austria in Swansea on March 27 and against the US in Cardiff three days later.

The games are currently still scheduled to be played, although the three football associations involved continue to monitor the coronavirus situation.

Wales manager Ryan Giggs is due to announce his squad for the two friendlies next week, but the 60-times capped Ramsey is now likely to be missing from those games.

Ramsey was in the best form of his Juventus career before Serie A was suspended, scoring in his last two league appearances.

The former Arsenal midfielder, who fired Wales through Euro 2020 qualification in November – by scoring twice in the decisive win against Hungary – scored and claimed an assist in Juventus’ 2-0 victory over title rivals Inter Milan on Sunday. 




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