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Baseball is back with Opening Day

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We made it.

We made it.
Illustration: Getty Images

I spend a lot of time here pointing out everything that’s wrong with baseball. Maybe even most of my time. And for good reason. Baseball is broken, and the latest CBA doesn’t do nearly enough to address the problems. And those who are in a position to do anything about it aren’t interested in doing so, because it might cost them a dollar now. There’s more than a longshot chance that by the time you and I are dead, baseball could become boxing or horse racing.

Of course, I’m biased. I’ve been especially hurt, having the players that brought me a Cubs World Series title, and thus reshaping my entire world view, first unsupported and then ripped from out of our hearts thanks to the biggest shithead owners you can find. It colors one’s view of the entire sport.

But I still care, right? I mean, there’s got to be something that keeps me coming back. I wouldn’t get upset if I didn’t care, if baseball didn’t mean something to me. You wouldn’t be reading this if it didn’t mean something to you. Only those that mean something to you can really make you angry or hurt (as a friend once said to me during a rocky time in a relationship, any woman worth loving is one that can end you at a moment’s notice). We know what baseball can be. What it can stir inside you. How it shapes and influences a summer. What is a summer without baseball? I thought I wanted to find out during the lockout, as the only way to make the massive changes I think MLB needs. But I know I would have been completely lost, too. Without baseball in the summer I would have constantly felt as though I needed to wake up. It wouldn’t have felt real.

So here’s a list of things that still ring a tuning fork within me. They’re in no particular order, and it’s only a sampling, but they’re off the top of my head.

The baseball nap

Ok, it’s weird to start this list with an activity that doesn’t actually involve watching baseball. But if you’re a MLB.TV subscriber, or just wait for your team to play West Coast games, you know. You turn on a Dodgers or A’s or Padres home game on a Sunday afternoon. The windows are open, there’s a slight breeze coming through. Your curtains, if you have them, occasionally billow. You can hear kids around the neighborhood playing in the yard after whatever commitments their family made them go through in the early afternoon. Maybe someone’s got some tunes going as they start grilling. The sunlight is no longer bright or harsh enough to bother you. And you just pass out on the couch from the comfort of it all, the tones of Don Orsillo or Duane Kiper just kind of guiding you off. It’s the culmination of your week. Work is still many hours off, your weekend activities are over, and for just a bit you can calmly sail off.

Matt Olson’s swing

There’s something about left-handed hitters. They’re the only ones with swings that get described as beautiful or art. Maybe it’s because a lot of left handed hitters are actually right-handed the rest of the time, and a lead-arm dominated swing looks better. Maybe there is no reason. Baseball has never consistently needed reason. Julio Franco is about the only right-handed hitter I remember having a silky swing.

The most artful swing was Will Clark’s, even when he was sending a Greg Maddux pitch to Rhinelander in the 1989 playoffs. Ken Griffey Jr.’s is another you’ll see named as the prettiest of all time. So smooth, so direct, so simple. There aren’t as many now. Bryce Harper or Shohei Ohtani have a violence to their swing. Juan Soto’s is a little jerky. Back when Cody Bellinger still was among the living, he had the proper arc, but his swing had a torque to it that gave it a desperation.

Matt Olson is the one who comes closest. Loopy but smooth. No jerk or hitch. It all feels like a flow.

Kris Bryant’s swing

Again, biased. And all his swings won’t mean anything in Denver. But there’s always been a mystery about Bryant’s swing to me. It’s so short, and it doesn’t look all that powerful. Watching on TV the ball doesn’t jump off his bat, at least in the same obvious way as it does others’. It almost looks like Bryant catches the ball with his bat and then flings the ball like it was out of a lacrosse stick. And then the ball is traveling on a line a few hundred feet. It looks the same live, too. So very quick, so compact, you don’t know what’s going on while it happens.

Javy Baez’s tag

Obvious, popular, but still true.

Oracle Park in the daytime

Just looks majestic. Which it is. Almost like a movie set. Feels like something you’d unlock in a video game. You can almost forget it’s in an urban area that’s home to most of the tech bros gobbling up our society in huge chunks.

Any pitcher who begins walking off the mound before a curveball hits the catcher’s mitt

The first I remember doing this was Kerry Wood. There would be two strikes and he would snap off that yakker he had (which eventually destroyed his elbow) and he would get out of his post-delivery bend and start heading to the dugout because he knew he had the batter buckled. By the time the ump was punching the hitter out Kerry was off the mound. Walker Buehler will do this now. Verlander, too. A lot of pitchers bury a two-strike curve in the dirt and there’s the mystery of whether a batter will swing or the catcher will block it, so the pitcher can’t head out early. But on the rare occasion they drop it in for a called strike, and they know they’ve really spun it well, that’s swag.

Anyway, that’s a brief list. If you’re excited for the season to start today, I hope you enjoy Opening Day.

Kick, save…two beauties

Throwing in this to end it from yesterday’s Champions League game between Real Madrid and Chelsea, which Madrid won 3-1. This particular moment is sport at its highest level. We watch to see guys do things only the very rare human can do, and that rush is heightened when it’s two players at the absolute peak of skill facing off directly. In concert, and yet in conflict.

César Azpiliqueta can’t hit this shot any better. He has a defender closing him down, so he’s got little time. And this is headed for the corner. If he could throw it, this is where he would have placed the shot. Even strikers hit a shot this well maybe one out of five times. Or ten. Azpilicueta is a defender who catches this perfectly.

And it spurs Thibaut Courtois to fully outstretch, react insanely quickly. Azpilicueta brings Courtois to the height of his profession. It’s a symphony, brought about by opposing forces. 



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Pedro Porro speaks about Tottenham for first time as flight and medical booked

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I

ncoming signing Pedro Porro has spoken publicly for the first time about his move to Tottenham ahead of boarding a plane to London.

Standard Sport understands the right-back will complete a £39million move from Sporting later on Tuesday, the final day of the January transfer window.

The move was thrown into doubt on Monday after Sporting reneged on the deal by asking for more money, despite Porro having said his goodbyes and with a medical in London booked.

Further talks have revived the transfer and Porro, who was absent from training and understood to be distraught by the hold ups, will now finalise the move on Deadline Day. He spoke to reporters at Lisbon airport on Monday evening.

He told CMTV: “I’m grateful to Sporting, I love the club.

“I didn’t train as I was only focused on the transfer to Spurs but I will always be thankful to the club.”

Porro is expected at Hotspur Way on Monday evening, where he will stay overnight before becoming a Spurs player on Tuesday.



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Derby 0 – 2 West Ham

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West Ham booked a fifth-round FA Cup tie at boss David Moyes’ former club
Manchester United with a comfortable 2-0 win at Derby.

Jarrod Bowen’s third goal in two games gave the Hammers a first-half lead and Michail Antonio headed home their second five minutes after break.

The Londoners made it back-to-back wins after beating Everton 2-0 to climb out of the Premier League’s bottom three nine days go and rarely needed to hit top gear as they halted League One side Derby’s 19-game unbeaten run.

West Ham's Michail Antonio, left, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the English FA Cup 4th round soccer match between Derby County and West Ham at Pride Park stadium in Derby, England, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Image:
Michail Antonio also got on the scoresheet for the Hammers

West Ham boss Moyes now faces a reunion with former side Man Utd at Old Trafford in the last 16 after being drawn to face the Red Devils in the draw just before Monday night’s routine win at Pride Park. The match will take place in the week commencing February 27.

How West Ham eased past Derby

Paul Warne’s side are flying high in fourth place in the third tier and there were high hopes of an upset among the home faithful before kick-off in a Pride Park crowd of 25,308.

Derby forward Tom Barkhuizen wasted no time in breaching West Ham’s defence, scampering clear in the opening minute before his cut-back was scrambled clear.

Bowen shot tamely at Derby goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith soon after, but was not so wasteful in the 10th minute.

Antonio’s ball over the top caught Derby flat-footed and Bowen volleyed home Tomas Soucek’s neat headed pass from six yards.

Derby’s best move of the half saw James Collins volley just off target after Barkhuizen had run on to Craig Forsyth’s dinked pass to pick out the Derby striker with a fine cross.

Barkhuizen and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing offered Derby’s best hopes of getting back on level terms before the break, but they had no shots on target in the first period.

The good news for Rams fans at the break was their side were still in the tie against a top-flight side who were not at their best.

But five minutes into the second period the home side fell 2-0 behind. Derby skipper Curtis Davies’ sliced clearance span into Bowen’s path down the right and his cross was headed in at the far post by Antonio after deflecting off Forsyth.

Warne sent on four substitutes – Eiran Cashin, Liam Thompson, Lewis Dobbin and Tony Springett – soon after and their fresh legs gave Derby a lift.

Haydon Roberts was an inch away from connecting fully with Dobbin’s excellent cross, but the Rams were soon back-pedalling again.

Bowen was denied in quick succession by Wildsmith’s point-blank save and Cashin’s last-ditch tackle before Ben Johnson’s angled drive was kept out by the Derby goalkeeper.

The Rams were full of endeavour until the final whistle and Dobbin was close to being rewarded for an impressive cameo display when shooting straight at Alphonse Areola, but on the night County could not bridge the gulf in class.

Bowen: You’ve got to beat the best to win the cup

Jarrod Bowen said “to be the best you’ve got to beat the best” after West Ham were drawn to face United in the fifth round.

“I found out (about the draw) on the bench. We’ve got Man Utd away so listen it’s never easy and if we want to be successful in these competitions we’ve got to beat the best teams,” Bowen told ITV Sport.

“With respect to Man United they’re a top top team but we’ve been there plenty of times before and you’ve got to beat the best to be the best.”

Bowen added: “It was nice to score against Everton and tonight as well. I think the situation that we’re in, any sort of confidence from any player…

“The last two to be involved with was very good for me but I think for us, two wins on the bounce as well, two good results for us and it’s all about momentum in this game and I think we can use this going forward.”

Warne: We can’t knock the lads

Derby manager Paul Warne told ITV Sport: “In fairness West Ham played a professional performance, at times I thought we went toe-to-toe but I don’t think we did enough to score unfortunately.

“We can’t knock the lads tonight, we asked them to be the best versions of themselves against a Premier League team so not bad.

“But we probably didn’t have enough graft in the final third but I can’t really knock them and we know West Ham haven’t got an easy draw next but I wish them a sincere good luck.

“I thought the lads gave a good account of themselves at times and at times they were punching.”

What’s next?

Derby return to League One action on Saturday at home to Morecambe – kick-off 3pm – before travelling to Wycombe on Saturday February 11; kick-off 3pm.

West Ham’s next game is away to Newcastle in the Premier League on Saturday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 5.30pm.


Saturday 4th February 5:00pm


Kick off 5:30pm

The Hammers then host London rivals Chelsea on Saturday February 11; kick-off 12.30pm.



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NFL’s ratio of Black QBs to Black head coaches is all wrong

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Jalen Hurts

Jalen Hurts
Photo: AP

Marlin Briscoe is smiling in heaven. Doug Williams probably has a huge grin on his face. The first Black starting quarterback in NFL history — Briscoe — and the first Black quarterback to start and win Super Bowl MVP — Williams — are the giants whose shoulders Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts are standing on. And between Rihanna’s halftime performance and the fact that we’re about to watch history made as two Black quarterbacks take center stage in sports’ biggest game — you could make the case that it’s destiny, given that it will all take place during Black History Month.

But, don’t let this moment distract you from the fact that Black coaches are still getting a raw deal at a time in which Black quarterbacks are being elevated like never before. Two things can be true at once, this is why this moment is such a joyous, yet infuriating one.

Sixteen years after we watched Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy make history as the first two Black head coaches to appear in the Super Bowl, we’re watching Mahomes and Hurts do it for Black quarterbacks. But since that February day in 2007, things for Black coaches have seemed to fall apart as they’ve improved for Black quarterbacks.

Eleven Black quarterbacks started Week 1. Now compare that to the three Black coaches who had jobs when the season began — Mike McDaniel doesn’t count, as he chooses to identify as a human being with a Black dad.

When Lovie Smith got fired in Houston, three became two. And as we wait for the remaining hires to be made, there isn’t a track record or feeling that anything will be done in the next few weeks to greatly improve these dismal numbers. We’re at a point in which the league, the owners, and fans are fine with having a Black man be their quarterback — but not their coach.

Over the years, the trajectory for Black quarterbacks has steadily risen in a way that hasn’t happened for Black coaches. By the time we reach kickoff, it will mean that eight Black quarterbacks have started in the Super Bowl. It’s a direct result of evolution over the years. What was started by Fritz Pollard, Briscoe, and Williams led the way for Michael Vick to be the first Black quarterback drafted No. 1 and for Steve McNair to be the first Black quarterback to win MVP — which was followed by Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.

Progress on the field, not on the sidelines

This type of progress isn’t something we’ve seen with Black coaches, though. At roughly this point last year, there were only two Black head coaches in the league — Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh and David Culley in Houston. As we know, Culley would get fired after one season by the Texans and would get replaced by Smith, another Black coach that would be fired after a lone year on the job. Brian Flores’ class-action lawsuit (which was joined by Ray Horton and Steve Wilks) is still hovering over the league. But, you wouldn’t know it the way that Wilks wasn’t able to keep his interim tag — which is a death sentence for Black coaches — with the Carolina Panthers despite doing a wonderful job.

In 2000, Dennis Green (Minnesota) and Dungy (Tampa) were the only two Black full-time head coaches in the NFL. Twenty-three years later, we’re in the same place, but worse. The XFL is just weeks away from rebooting and their eight-team league already has four Black head coaches. It’s a jarring stat that embodies just how big this problem is, despite what Todd Bowles thinks.

“I think the minute you guys stop making a big deal about it, everybody else will as well,” one of the two Black coaches in the league had the audacity to say earlier in the season.

In less than two weeks, a league that’s majority Black will make history when two Black quarterbacks play in a game that will feature entertainment before the game and during halftime from Black performers in a month that’s dedicated to recognizing the contributions to what Black people have made to this country. It will be a joyous occasion.

However, while you’re enjoying the game, I beg of you to ask one question to the company you’ll keep on that day. “If the NFL, America and the world can accept all this Blackness, then why won’t they accept Black coaches?” And while you’re waiting for people to answer that question, realize that “End Racism” was etched on the field all season. 





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