Hank Aaron passed away Jan. 22, 2021. He was one of the most iconic baseball players of all time. More importantly, though, Aaron was emblematic of racial and social justice, playing in the South during a time of racial conflict. He revolutionized the game with both his talent and his leadership. Aaron grew up in Mobile, Alabama, and signed his first professional contract in 1951, according to his biography. While playing with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, Aaron experienced frequent racism. He recalled in an interview with Total Baseball Encyclopedia that a diner shattered its plates after he and his Black teammates ate with them. As Aaron excelled at the plate, he eventually received offers from the Giants and Braves of the major leagues, signing with the latter team and debuting in 1954. The franchise was still in Milwaukee at the time, but moved back to Atlanta later in Aaron’s career. Aaron played at a high level from the very beginning, hitting .280 with a 104 OPS+ in his rookie season. By 1957, though, he was dominant, winning the MVP Award and smashing 44 home runs. Aaron’s career continued to progress into the next decade, where he consistently batted above .300 and was an offensive force for the Braves. In 1966, the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta. Hank Aaron was now the Most Valuable Player of a team rooted in the Deep South. Death threats rolled in as Aaron continued to shine. The racism reached its peak going into the early 1970s, as Aaron’s home run total approached 714, the record held by the iconic Babe Ruth. Aaron said later that he read the letters. He told Sports Illustrated that they “remind (him) what people are like.” On April 8, 1974, Aaron broke one of the most iconic career records in baseball history by hitting his 715th career home run. In the middle of the South, a crowd of mostly white people erupted. People stormed the field. Aaron had set a new precedent for baseball, and a new precedent for America. After his playing career, he acted as vice president for the Braves organization. He was awarded the Springarn Medal by the NAACP. Aaron also received both the Presidential Citizens Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was a national public figure, even receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in January to set an example for those around him. Hank Aaron didn’t just set a precedent, he set examples. He will be remembered as a breaker of social barriers, records, and baseballs.
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The Mercer men’s lacrosse team secured their first win of the 2021 season Saturday, beating the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears by a score of 17-4 in Five Star Stadium. Mercer, now playing under new Coach Chad Surman, showed goal-scoring prowess and played consistent defense over four quarters to beat Lenoir-Rhyne. The scoring was balanced, as five separate Mercer players scored two or more goals. Will McCarthy, Jack McGuire and Collin Stewart all notched three goals and one assist each. McCarthy led the team with 13 total shots, while Stewart continued a hot streak. This is Stewart’s second consecutive game with multiple goals, a result of an 87.5 percent on target rate through two contests this year. The match was close after one quarter, as Mercer only led by a score of 2-1 entering the second quarter. As soon as the second quarter started, however, Mercer began to pull away. Parker Junod scored just 34 seconds into the second quarter, and the lead continued to grow. Mercer’s defense held Lenoir-Rhyne to just a single second quarter goal. By halftime, the score was 7-2. Mercer continued to pull away. The team outshot Lenoir-Rhyne, taking 57 shots to Lenoir-Rhyne’s 17. The shooting difference played a part in Mercer’s ten second half goals. Mercer also outbattled Lenoir-Rhyne in ground balls, notching 33 to their opponents’ 18. The dominant win puts Mercer at 1-1 on the season. The matchup marks the first time the two programs have met, and also gave Mercer its first win of the season. Lenoir-Rhyne is a Division II team and considered the matchup an exhibition, though they ranked eighth in the Division II USILA poll. The men’s lacrosse squad wins this game coming off of a 9-7 loss to Bellarmine in their opening match on Jan. 30. With two games of experience now under their belt, the Bears will look to match the momentum of their shortened 2020 season. Mercer had a 6-1 record in 2020 before the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mercer will look to pull off a major upset next, as they travel to Durham, North Carolina, to play against the #1 ranked Duke Blue Devils Feb. 13.
Major League Baseball’s offseason always throws sparks, but with contracts in limbo due to COVID-19, nothing was certain this past year. The 2020-2021 free agency offseason period for MLB was eventful regardless, so here are all of the moves you might have missed that will bring extreme change to the 2021 season. Padres go for the gusto, chase Dodgers The San Diego Padres broke out during the 2020 season, with stars Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. becoming household names on the diamond. Their newfound talent was not enough to push them past the Los Angeles Dodgers, however, as they lost against their NL West rivals in the postseason. Many teams would be satisfied with such a breakout season. Padres General Manager A.J. Preller was not. San Diego exploded onto the free-agent market this offseason, signing star pitchers Yu Darvish and Blake Snell to new contracts and even landing a significant international free agent in the form of Korean star fielder Ha-Seong Kim. The team also traded for veteran pitcher Joe Musgrove to bolster the rotation. San Diego was short-handed with pitching this year; their two standout pitchers were injured during the postseason. Their bats could carry some of the weight, enough so that they won a postseason series against St. Louis, but the pitching lagged too far behind in their loss to the Dodgers. So what does the Padres front office do? They sign two of the biggest pitching free agents in the entire league. Problem solved? Perhaps, but the Padres and their fans will eagerly await the 2021 season to find out. Blue Jays break into the AL East arms race While most would argue that the Padres and their pitcher signings are the biggest news of the offseason, fans would be remiss to leave the Blue Jays out of the conversation. With the Yankees and Rays dominating the AL East division for the past few seasons, the Blue Jays have slowly been rebuilding their team to make a run at the postseason. This build finally reached its peak in the 2020-2021 offseason. To start, Toronto signed superstar outfielder George Springer to a six-year contract. This filled one of their biggest needs and turned some heads around the baseball world. Then they signed lights-out closer Kirby Yates. After him came shortstop Marcus Semien, who finished third in 2019 MVP voting. As if that wasn’t enough, now they’ve signed starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood and are looking for more. Paired with the outbreak of talent from players like rookie Bo Bichette and breakout hitter Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto has fleshed out its roster in an attempt to become competitive again. While many think they still need to sign some starting pitching to fully make the jump, it looks like the Blue Jays are ready to make noise in their division again. NL East will be a bloodbath Many analysts predicted that if the right signings were made in the offseason, the NL East division would be one of the most competitive divisions in all of baseball. Who knows if these were the changes they expected, but it looks like the teams in the division are going to be neck-and-neck with each other once again. The New York Mets signed generational shortstop Francisco Lindor to a new multi-year contract. The Philadelphia Phillies finally extended J.T. Realmuto, giving him the largest annual average contract for a catcher in the history of Major League Baseball, according to CBS Sports. The Braves signed talented veteran pitchers Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to one-year deals to help shore up their young pitching core. The Nationals acquired fan-favorite sluggers Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber to boost their offense. Even if the Marlins are the outlier because they have not made any moves this offseason, the other four teams in the NL East have all made great offseason moves to keep up with each other in what should be one of the most competitive groups in all of baseball for 2021. With all of these players finding their new homes across the league, there are even more that have still not signed. Two of 2020’s biggest superstar names —Trevor Bauer and Marcell Ozuna — are free agents. Neither has signed with a team. As the 2021 season approaches, fans will watch closely to see what other events will alter the landscape of another exciting year of baseball.
The Georgia sports curse has struck again. Amidst a strange year for humanity and sports alike, one constant remains: a major sports team in the state of Georgia has blown a commanding postseason lead. The Atlanta Braves led the Los Angeles Dodgers by a margin of three games to one in the NLCS this October. Even with this advantage, the Braves lost three consecutive games to the Dodgers and let the lead slip out of their grasp, disappointing fans yet again and beginning another offseason on a bitter note. Set aside this painful ending to a fantastic season for a moment, though: the Braves took the best team in baseball to seven games and were with them every step of the way, even with a major deficit in the pitching department. This is something Braves fans haven’t seen since the dynasty days in the 1990s, as Atlanta hadn’t won a single postseason series since 2001 prior to this year’s playoffs. So, Braves fans: don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. But through that smile, there’s one question Atlanta baseball pundits and fans everywhere should be asking. How can the Braves make themselves even better for 2021? Two words: Marcell Ozuna. Analysts and writers everywhere are making this into a harder decision than it should be. The Atlanta Braves need to re-sign the red-hot bat of Marcell Ozuna this offseason, and there’s no question about it. Ozuna, a one-year signing off of the free agent market this offseason by Atlanta, scorched every team he played against this season at the plate. His .338 batting average, 2.3 WAR and insane 175 OPS+ demonstrate that perfectly well on their own. In case those monster statistics were not enough to prove Ozuna’s offensive worth, he was also inside the 94th percentile or higher in several crucial hitting stats including xwOBA, Hard-Hit %, xBA and the ever-important Exit Velocity, according to SB Nation. Some critics may point to Ozuna’s defense while he played left field for the Braves this year. The outfielder occasionally looked baffled on the left side of the stadium, and his defensive metrics reflect this: his DRS for the year clocks in at -2 while his UZR for 2020 was -2.7, according to FanGraphs. These defensive questions are easily answered by a variety of factors. First, Ozuna’s offensive value for the Braves this season was unmatched by all except potential MVP Freddie Freeman. Second, the DH may be implemented in the National League next year, allowing Ozuna to hit without having to even play in the outfield. Third, the Braves signed Ozuna last year before the DH was going to be a feature in the NL for 2020, so the front office and management were clearly prepared to sacrifice some defensive value for his bat. There’s one asset Marcell Ozuna brings to the Braves’ team, however, that cannot be represented in a statistic or a front office decision: Ozuna brought life to this Atlanta squad. Throughout the entire season, Ozuna fought at the plate and became a fixture in Atlanta’s clubhouse culture. This can be traced all the way back to the earliest parts of the season when Ozuna saved the Braves’ hopes of a win in just the second game of the year. On July 25, Ozuna hit a game-tying solo home run to give the Braves another shot at beating the New York Mets. Atlanta would go on to win 5-3, but something more important lies in the footage of that Ozuna blast in the 9th inning. Go back and find the clip. Watch Ozuna round first base after he smashes the ball out of the yard. Keep an eye on his hands. In the second game of the year, before the Braves’ postseason run, before they lost their ace pitcher, before Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies were injured, before they swept the Reds and Marlins in their first two postseason series to advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2001, something happened. Before all of this, Ozuna started it all. As he trots around the bases after a clutch home run, Marcell Ozuna is mixing it up. This iconic celebration, a staple of the Braves’ incredible season and thrilling playoff run, was not born late in the season. It was not started by team leader and veteran Freddie Freeman or young star Ronald Acuña and definitely not team manager Brian Snitker. One of the defining pieces of the Braves’ identity as a team during this memorable season was started by a player new to the team. This should tell any Atlanta Braves executive, player or fan all they need to know. Ozuna has been at the heart of this team and deserves to be re-signed and kept as a member of the core. Besides, how will the Braves mix it up next year without him?
The 2020 World Series was an exciting one, featuring some excellent individual performances and some inspiring narratives. But if you’re a typical college student or anyone with work to do, chances are you couldn’t catch every iconic moment of the championship games. So without further ado, here are the two best player stories you need to know after the 2020 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays. “Some dude named Randy” is a complete beast While plenty of players stepped up for both teams, Tampa Bay’s star rookie Randy Arozarena continued his insane postseason run during the World Series despite critics citing a “hot streak” at the plate that was bound to end. Despite the Dodgers’ talented pitching rotation featuring accomplished arms like Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, Arozarena managed to hit for a .364 batting average and a whopping 1.234 OPS, leading the Rays for the World Series, according to Baseball Reference. That just continues a streak for Arozarena this postseason, as his stat line for the entire playoffs for 2020 is just as eye-popping. MLB.com shows that Arozarena logged a .377 batting average and 1.273 OPS for the entire postseason in 2020, a set of data even more incredible when you consider he had more postseason at-bats than any other player, according to Baseball Reference. The more astonishing part of this story is that Arozarena was a rookie this season. After playing in only a few games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019, Arozarena was traded to the Rays and exploded once the team made the playoffs. His unknown status prior to the playoffs led to him being dubbed “some dude named Randy” by fans everywhere, making for one of the most exciting underdog tales of this 2020 postseason. Arozarena was flat-out dominant, but who else shined in the 2020 postseason? Corey Seager was a fantastic hitter for the Dodgers, but there is a more important Los Angeles player whose postseason glory was long overdue entering the playoffs this year. Kershaw finally redeems himself If Randy Arozarena’s rise to baseball stardom is the rookie story of the year, then Clayton Kershaw’s redemption arc is the grizzled veteran parallel to it. Kershaw, the Dodgers’ star pitcher who has been dominating in the league for years and is a sure bet to make the Hall of Fame once he retires, has historically struggled in the playoffs. The most recent of these struggles came in last year’s playoffs -- where he allowed back-to-back homers against the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS -- leading to Los Angeles being eliminated from the postseason. These struggles span beyond last year, though. Kershaw has also previously allowed an all-time record of 4 home runs in a single playoff game. Kershaw’s playoff record before 2020 was 9-11 and paired with an ERA over 4, according to CBS Sports. Perhaps the most striking thing about Clayton Kershaw’s lackluster postseason track record, however, is his ERA in elimination games: 5.77 prior to this year. That’s the second-worst ever. But just like Arozarena came from nowhere to write a new narrative, so did the veteran Kershaw. Despite having a slower fastball than ever, despite his team playing in such a strange COVID-19 influenced environment and despite the rampant criticism about his postseason performances in the past, Kershaw dominated in the playoffs. Kershaw notched a 4-1 record while racking up a 2.93 ERA over 30.2 innings pitched. The stats don’t set the world on fire, of course, but they showcase what Kershaw had failed to be in the playoffs until 2020: a dependable and great pitcher. It should be noted that the lone loss came in Game 4 of the NLCS where Kershaw was solid for six innings, only for the opposing pitcher Bryce Wilson to allow just a single hit over his six innings. In every other start of the postseason, Kershaw gave the Dodgers exactly what they needed and helped lead them to a World Series title. Looking back on the 2020 MLB Postseason, it’s safe to say that the narratives and matchups did not disappoint. With the season over and champions crowned, MLB players, fans and executives will look towards the MVP and Awards voting and the offseason in the future.
As the Major League Baseball playoffs approach quickly, more teams than ever are still in the mix for a postseason appearance. This has a lot to do with the new playoff bracket system being used by MLB this year due to the 60-game season. Here’s how the new playoffs for baseball will work and some of the pros and cons of the brand new look. Who gets in? Instead of the tradition 10-team playoff format fans have been accustomed to since it was introduced in 2012, MLB will put a 16-team format into place, as outlined by ESPN. The 16-team template will feature eight teams from the National League and eight from the American League, including the winners of each division: East, Central and West in both NL and AL. The big kicker here is that the second place teams from each division will make the playoffs as well, a development that drastically changes the landscape for the entire league. There will also be two additional Wild Card teams in the NL and AL that are granted a postseason berth based off of win-loss record. Due to the increase to eight teams per league, the Division Series games won’t be the first playoff matchups we see. Instead, there will be four separate best-of-three series in each league, then the four winners will participate in the Division Series. After those initial matchups, the postseason will proceed in the same fashion it has since the Division Series was introduced in 1994. While the first set of games will occur in the higher seeded teams’ home stadiums, all playoff games from the Division Series and onward will be played within a “bubble” similar to the ones used by the NBA and NHL. The NL bubble will be located in both Houstin and Arlington, Texas, while the AL will be located in San Diego, both according to CBS Sports. So these are the teams that make the playoffs this season as we enter the final week of the regular season in late September. But what does this new, short season adjusted bracket mean for baseball this year and in the future? What does this improve? This one has an easy, obvious answer: more baseball. There will be at least two games in every one of those best-of-three matchups, and there’s eight of those total. That’s a guarantee of at least 16 additional broadcast baseball matchups on top of the traditional DS, Championship Series and World Series games fans will get to see. If you’re a baseball fan, this is obviously fantastic news in the short term. But if you’re MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, this means something even more important for the future of the game: more revenue. Since MLB teams have not allowed fans this season, the league has to try and make back as much revenue as possible after not having ticket sales to help fund teams. More games not only means more networking deals and more sponsorships, but more raw exposure for more teams. If a team like the Miami Marlins, a squad projected to flop this year that is now fighting for a playoff spot in the NL East, can make the playoffs, then they can market themselves as a contender and make strides as an organization. How does this hurt certain teams or the entire league? The new playoff system is not without its flaws, though. One major problem lies in the small sample size of those best-of-three series to open the postseason. Take a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have been dominating the NL West and own a Major League leading 38-15 record as of Sept. 20. The Dodgers will have to play a team who have barely scraped into the playoffs as the eight and last place seed in their opening round playoff series. But what if Los Angeles loses just two measly games and are completely eliminated from World Series contention as a result? This has been a season rampant with small sample sizes, but three games for a playoff series is particularly low. It’s entirely possible that the Dodgers could lose to a hot Wild Card team. While some fans might see this as a pro rather than a con, it will undoubtedly be a cause for controversy throughout the league. The upsets will be exciting if they happen, of course, but the what-ifs may haunt certain powerhouse clubs for years to come. Speaking of small sample sizes, the number and variety of teams played for each club could play a negative role in the postseason this year as well. A great example of the schedule anomaly this season is the Chicago White Sox status. The White Sox have fielded one of the most exciting, young lineups this year, notching a 34-18 record as of Sept. 20 and dominating their home AL Central division. While the Sox have been dominant, they have faced the problem of facing limited opponents. Because of COVID-19 protocols, each team has been limited to playing teams only within their own Central region. For the Sox, this means a disproportionate amount of games against bottomfeeders like Kansas City and Detroit, teams that have provided little resistance to Chicago’s high-powered offense. While this is great for the White Sox’s record, it means they lack experience against teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, who are in the AL East. The Rays, who boast a 35-19 record, have had to face a slew of powerful offenses that includes the Yankees, Braves, Blue Jays and Phillies. But the Sox have played mostly middling teams this year so will they be able to handle a squad with the experience of Tampa Bay in the postseason? With all these questions about the postseason in mind, teams across the league will fight for a spot in the new playoff format to conclude the regular season at the end of September. According to CBS Sports, the MLB Postseason will officially begin on Sept. 29.
COVID-19 has meant a lot of industries suffering, but movie theaters are among the often forgotten ways of leisure in the new hyper-serious and uneasy wake left by the coronavirus pandemic. Movie theaters across the country have had to close as a result safety problems due to COVID-19, and the sole movie theater here in Macon was no exception. But as communities everywhere begin to try and establish a new normal, what does a trip to the movies look like as 2020’s chaotic course comes to a close? How safe are the movies? Movies are bound to look and feel a lot different in theaters now, but AMSTAR 16 in Macon seemed serious about abiding by all the measures laid out by their ownership in accordance to CDC Guidelines. Movie-goers must sit three seats apart from anyone that is not in their party. Masks have to be worn everywhere except for in the theater, where they can be removed once you are seated. Social distancing is also required while standing in line at the entrance, concessions and restrooms. Staff are also required to wear masks and complete health check protocols. Along with social distancing guidelines, AMSTAR 16 and other theaters in its chain are cleaning individual auditoriums after each screening. High touch surfaces in the lobby and hallways are cleaned every thirty minutes by staff members. The theater has also installed MERV filters within its HVAC systems. All of these guidelines are mandated and outlined by Grand Theaters, the chain in charge of AMSTAR 16 here in Macon. Now, with all this safety in mind, there is still a considerable risk in going to the movies. Being indoors with large groups of people you have never met before is always concerning in the age of the pandemic, but the limited seating in auditoriums helps a bit. Another thing that can help is timing. Attending a screening of “Tenet” on a random Tuesday at 9 p.m. meant that the rest of the theater was empty. Going to the movies at atypical times means less crowds to deal with, which will certainly help your movie experience and possibly your schedule while you’re at it. So the safety of heading to the movies is being taken fairly seriously by the theater, although the sincerity with which guests treat certain “recommendations” given by the AMSTAR 16 will obviously vary from guest to guest and is dependent on show times. With all of these factors in mind, though, the question remains: what am I even going to watch if I go to the movies? “Tenet” can be hard to follow, but still good fun “Tenet” is a Christopher Nolan spy thriller that has been the main blockbuster charged with bringing audiences back to theaters. Nolan’s films have always attracted a dedicated fanbase, especially after his work on hits like “Inception” and “Interstellar,” so it seemed natural for the film to be the first major summer blockbuster to officially be released in theaters once they reopened. While many reviewers have dubbed “Tenet” to be “Bond on acid,” the film isn’t quite that wild, although it does have its fair share of twists and turns. The plot centers around lead John David Washington’s character, dubbed “The Protagonist.” Washington discovers that there are ways for objects, including humans, to be cast backwards through time. This isn’t time travel, however: the objects literally have to travel through time in order and are not able to jump to specific points in time.This is called “inversion,” and when The Protagonist goes on a quest to solve the mystery, he ends up needing to save the world. That’s the general plot of the film, barring some major spoilers. Overall, the action sequences are fun, Washington has some great moments as the lead of the film and pairs well with sidekick Robert Pattinson and the plot is engaging throughout. The movie even seems slightly aware of the importance of its casting of a Black lead in a suave, UK-style spy flick. Washington and Nolan favorite Michael Caine debate the classiness of Washington’s Brooks Brothers suit and Britain’s “monopoly on snobbery,” and Washington delivers quips that wouldn’t fit in a run-of-the-mill white Bond picture. But while the movie is a fun watch, there are pieces of it that slip through the cracks. The “inversion” of people and objects is explained, but not very well. The movie attempts to fit a lot of plot and time manipulation into a small time frame, and sometimes it falls slightly flat. If the viewer is willing to set aside fully understanding the inversion concept that helps the movie keep moving, it can still be a fun watch. But treating this more ambiguous “science” with the same amount of scrutiny as the hard science in “Interstellar” that was researched by physics scholars will not yield fond results. There are also problems with the audio that have been pointed out by many fans and critics. Articles and reviews by IndieWire, The Guardian and Variety all outline the same issue with the mixing in Nolan’s latest film: you can’t hear what anyone in the film is saying. Forbes film critic Scott Mendelson blasted the film’s audio: “I sat dead center in the third row of an IMAX auditorium while wearing my hearing aides, and I still had a terrible time understanding much of the dialogue,” Mendelson said. “For a film that’s supposed to show audiences that theatrical moviegoing is worth saving, ‘Tenet’ will probably play better on Blu-ray with the subtitles turned on.” While this take is pretty scathing and unforgiving, the audio is a problem. In a movie that relies on gobs of exposition to help the audience keep up, dialogue can’t be hidden beneath sound effects and music. The result is the movie being even more confusing than it should be, and many viewers took note of the problems and lamented, whether they were fans or critics. Overall, “Tenet” is still a fun movie with exciting action sequences, likeable characters and suspenseful plotlines. The film is able to partially overcome its expositional and sonic problems to provide an intriguing escape that can get people back into theaters. If the viewer can suspend their understanding of the time inversion mechanics in the film, it still plays extremely well. Should you prioritize going back to the movies? Perhaps not, but if you choose a less popular time to see “Tenet,” you won’t regret it.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact universities across the nation, college athletics are a hot topic for many schools. The issue of whether or not some schools elect to have events stretches beyond Division I sports, even reaching as far down as the club and intramural levels of college athletics. While the risks of intramural and club sports are still not fully known, there’s still one team here at Mercer University that can easily play their unique sport without putting anyone at risk. Mercer’s club level esports team is still participating in normal tryouts and matchups this year. The team plays a variety of video games competitively against other schools, creating their own schedule and choosing what games they play. All competition can be conducted online through the use of chat servers and custom lobbies. Mercer E-Sports Captain John Bonner, who took over the leadership role prior to the 2020 academic year, says that the ability to conduct the entire season of esports online is a game changer. “I’d say it’s incredibly important,” Bonner said. “Not only can everything be online for competition, everything can be online for practice too. It’s a lot easier.” Bonner, who has played with the esports club team for multiple seasons, explained that the team focuses mostly on the game League of Legends, a strategy-based arena video game that is overwhelmingly popular across the entire world. The game involves two teams of five players competing in an arena using a variety of different characters to battle one another. Despite the game’s clearly competitive nature, many are still somewhat skeptical about the game’s status as a sport. Frequent questions often include, “Why is the game interesting to watch? What makes it a ‘sport’?” “Each player has his own unique job and he does something different from all the other players,” Bonner said concerning the strategy of League of Legends. “Within each position, there are different ways for different types of players to do different things.” In one instance, Bonner compared the flexibility of certain positions and players to ones found on the gridiron in football. “It has well-defined positions similar to a sport like football,” Bonner says. “In football, you can have a quarterback that either focuses on running or throwing. In League (of Legends), you need to be able to do a little bit of everything because it's very unlikely that you'll be able to get really, really good at one thing.” Bonner says that because of this depth and strategy, there are more pieces of the game to consider than some might think. As a result, matches against other universities become intense sports matchups that are streamed online for free. That’s another piece of the puzzle that Bonner emphasized: you don’t need a subscription to watch esports. “If you want to watch a basketball game on your phone, you typically need to have some kind of subscription to something, like ESPN,” Bonner said. “But for something like League of Legends, if you want to check the match and see how it's going, you can just boot up the Twitch free app on your phone and click on the live stream.” With all these factors combined, League of Legends and esports in general have become a huge hit from the professional level to the collegiate level. As the COVID-19 pandemic arrived back in April, ESPN even began showing League of Legends matchups on its flagship TV network in lieu of other sports. Mercer E-Sports is one of many club teams that will be competing with other universities over the course of the semester. Team tryouts will be held on Sept. 26.
Amidst a crazy season with fewer games and strange statistics, former Bears baseball player Kyle Lewis is dominating at the plate. Lewis, a former Mercer outfielder now playing for the MLB’s Seattle Mariners, is batting an incredible .347 over the first half of the season with an accompanying On Base Percentage of .437, both of which lead the American League according to Baseball Reference. The only player in either the National League or American League surpassing that average is Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon, who is hitting .374 so far, but is still behind in OBP, sitting at .422. Lewis’s rampage of the League is a perfect example of how anything can happen in MLB’s shortened season, one featuring only 60 games and some unexpected stars as of late. Lewis is a bright spot on a rather dull Mariners team that has racked up a 13-21 record, but he is already the talk of the league for the Rookie of the Year award, even being compared by some to Hall of Famer and Mariners icon Ken Griffey Jr. While comparing a rookie to a legend like Griffey is putting the cart before the horse, Lewis’s hot streak this season is far from a fluke. Lewis won the Baseball America Collegiate Player of the Year Award in his 2016 season with Mercer, while also snagging the Golden Spikes Award for that season. Lewis’s meteoric rise in the college baseball realm was unexpected considering he was not a top prospect upon graduating from Shiloh High School in Georgia, but the Bears welcomed his talent on their way to a Southern Conference title in 2016. Lewis was then drafted by the Mariners with the 11th overall selection in the 2016 MLB Player Draft. While Lewis played a small number of games at the Double-A level for Seattle from 2016 to 2018, he tore an ACL in a game for the Everett AquaSox in 2016 that limited his playing time, according to SB Nation. After returning from the injury, however, Lewis smashed Double-A pitching and was called directly up to the majors in 2019 after skipping Triple-A level play entirely, a rarity for rookie players. Lewis mashed six home runs in just 10 games to start his career during a short stint in 2019, and has now returned to continue hitting AL pitching hard during the 2020 season. So it seems that Kyle Lewis’s performance at the major league level is not a fluke. Time will only tell if he can obtain the AL Rookie of the Year Award that seems so deserved in the future this season.
As the Atlanta Braves progress past the halfway point of the current MLB season, the postseason playing field looks as interesting as ever. However, the Braves have some adjustments to make. Sporting an 18-13 record as of Aug. 29, the Braves have maintained their grasp on the National League East from last season by staying in first place by a narrow margin. The lead is slim, though, as virtually all five teams in the division are within reach of the division lead. Even the last place Washington Nationals, a team equipped with red-hot star slugger Juan Soto, are only five games behind the Braves. Needless to say, a trip to the postseason is very much up for grabs. As a result, the Braves need to keep making adjustments to others if they want to punch their ticket to the playoffs. Pitching struggling to improve While the Braves starting pitching didn’t look incredible way back in March, it certainly hasn’t improved since the delayed season has gotten underway. The pitching rotation took a major hit due to ace Mike Soroka’s injury. Soroka went down in a heap while pitching in a game against the Mets on Aug. 3. It was later reported by MLB.com that Soroka had torn his right Achilles and that his season was over. The injury, along with newly-acquired pitcher Felix Hernandez opting out and veteran addition Cole Hamels’s persistent shoulder problems that have yet to vanish, left the Braves high and dry early on in the season. That meant that Atlanta’s ace was done. But what about the rest of the rotation? Former All-Star Mike Foltynewicz seemed like a possible answer, but Foltynewicz fell apart quickly, losing velocity on his fastball and getting pummelled by the Miami Marlins in an early start. Touki Toussaint and Kyle Wright were eventually met with the same fate. Atlanta’s front office will need to pursue starting pitchers to help stop the bleeding. But if the starting pitching is so bad, how has the team stayed in first place and kept up a winning record? Offensive prowess keeps the team afloat The Braves at least partially made up for their lackluster pitching with some stellar offensive performances. Shortstop Dansby Swanson has accumulated a whopping .306 batting average while notching an On Base Plus Slugging of .887 leading all Braves hitters in WAR with 1.5, according to Baseball Reference. Swanson’s heroics also include his first career walk-off home run, a two-run blast that led the Braves to a 7-6 win over Washington. New catcher Travis D’arnaud has also proved very valuable, hitting .319 with an OPS of .906. If the Braves want to keep winning in spite of their struggling pitching core, these players will need to keep stepping up at the plate. Individual performances The biggest individual story of the year for the Braves so far has easily been the story of pitcher Max Fried. In the midst of the pitching rotation crisis, Fried has been the one constant player on the mound for Atlanta. While Fried did have tremendous upside, the curveball-forward southpaw has definitely filled Soroka’s shoes better than anyone could have hoped. Fried was a great pitcher in his own right last year, putting up an Earned Run Average of 4.06 and notching 17 wins for the Braves in 2019, according to Baseball Reference. In 2020, though, Fried has transformed into a bonafide ace—he leads the league in ERA with a sparkling 1.35 mark and has not yet lost a game for Atlanta. One more incredible stat sticks out, though: Fried leads all players in the Majors in WAR this season, having already accumulated a whopping 2.5 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. This puts Fried right in the middle of the Cy Young Award conversation for the season and boosts Atlanta’s struggling pitching in both statistics and morale. As the Braves try and keep rolling and make their way into the playoffs, pitching is a major concern. The Braves continue the season with important matchups against the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins to start September.
Major League Baseball has returned in the form of a 60-game season, and it has not disappointed so far. As the renewed MLB season continues to progress, it is becoming clear that this season will be wildly different from any we’ve seen before. The baseball diamond has so far featured all the typical excitement and rivalry fans are accustomed to, but both the regulations taken due to COVID-19 and the virus itself have impacted the season in an unprecedented way that goes beyond a shortened schedule. Here are two important storylines that have been at the center of the game thus far. Marlins and Cardinals suffer from outbreaks, Indians discipline pitching staff The most prominent storyline when it comes to this season is obviously the safety of MLB players, and while teams have largely stayed safe and avoided leaving hotels or coming into contact with one another, two teams have shown how quickly COVID-19 can change a team’s season and subsequently alter the league. The Miami Marlins suffered from a COVID-19 outbreak in late July, with at least 18 players testing positive, according to CBS Sports. The positive cases resulted in several of their games getting cancelled. Other teams that came into contact with the Marlins, such as the Philadelphia Phillies, also had games cancelled as a result. As for the cause of the outbreak? “Well, I think a couple of guys went out in Atlanta,” said baseball insider Bob Nightengale in a radio segment. “I believe some guys got careless. At least one guy did for sure, he went out, and came back positive and spread it around.” The Marlins have recovered from the outbreak, but lost valuable playing time as a result. The St. Louis Cardinals have suffered a more recent outbreak to begin the month of August and have yet to return to play as a result. These instances highlight how important it is to obey MLB’s protocol regarding COVID-19, as the remainder of MLB teams have remained healthy by staying in their hotels and continuing to distance themselves on the field. Cleveland Indians pitchers Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger were punished by team management for violating COVID-19 regulations, and both will miss playing time. These consequences just go to show how seriously MLB is taking safety this year. As teams attempt to avoid missing games so they are eligible for postseason play, safety is paramount. Astros still facing backlash for attitude and cheating After the scandal regarding their sign-stealing operation to win the 2017 World Series was revealed, the Houston Astros organization apologized and fired multiple executives and coaches. The team neglected to punish the players involved in the cheating, however, and many opposing players are enraged as a result. The lax consequences have resulted in two confrontations on the field this season, both of which resulted in opposing players receiving suspensions. In a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Astros, Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly pitched inside against Astros players, nearly hitting shortstop Carlos Correa. Whether the inside pitches were intentional remains to be seen, but the entire Astros dugout emptied and charged towards Kelly and the Dodgers. The instigation of contact or physical confrontation between two teams is strictly prohibited under MLB’s new COVID-19 guidelines, but no Astros players or coaches were suspended. Kelly, however, was suspended for eight games for his pitching. Fans and players alike were displeased with MLB’s disciplinary actions following the incident, but it paled in comparison to the Astros vs. Oakland Athletics’ matchup on Aug. 9. A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano was hit by two different pitches, but did not instigate a fight between the teams. Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron, however, mocked Laureano from the Astros dugout as Laureano walked to first and insinuated that Luareano should approach him. A brawl broke out as a result, and Cintron faced a 20-game suspension while Laureano was dealt a six-game punishment. The confrontations demonstrate the lack of discipline in the Astros clubhouse, but also exemplify how MLB’s new COVID-19 regulations can change how issues between teams are dealt with on the field. The Astros now have a target on their backs as well. Every game that has been played this year has been different, however, and players are adjusting as quickly as possible. As the season progresses, teams will attempt to solidify their shot at the playoffs while staging safe and healthy.
While many leagues are adapting to the coronavirus pandemic in interesting ways, the National Hockey League’s March Madness-style hockey tournament is one of the most intriguing returns of any sport. The NHL is using a 24-team playoff system to determine its new Stanley Cup Champion for the 2019-20 season, despite a long period of inactivity due to COVID-19. This system is reminiscent of the 68-team system used in the NCAA College Basketball Tournaments in March each year, a tournament that was also cancelled as a result of the pandemic. For the NHL, however, things are a bit different. The league is hosting the tournament in two hub cities, Toronto for the Eastern Conference teams and Edmonton, Alberta, for its Western Conference teams. The top 12 teams from each conference make up the 24-team playoff system. While round-robin qualifying games began Aug. 2, the official playoff tournament kicked off Aug. 11 after eight teams were eliminated from play. The teams remaining in the playoff bracket are Philadelphia, Montreal, Tamba Bay, Columbus, Washington, New York (Islanders), Boston, Carolina, Vegas, Chicago, Colorado, Arizona, Dallas, Calgary, St. Louis and Vancouver. These teams were either seeded highly enough in the original standings to gain automatic entry into the bracket, like the #1 seeded Philadelphia Flyers, or had to win in a qualifying round, like the surprise playoff-bound Chicago Blackhawks. Both of these teams have intriguing playoff stories already, with new chapters ready to be written. Philadelphia’s playoff story is an interesting one to watch: the Eastern Conference team was one of the hottest squads in the league prior to the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring, reeling off a 19-6-1 record between Jan. 8 and the play stoppage on March 12, according to NBC Sports. The Flyers look to capture the momentum they had back in March and translate it to a first-round win against the #8 seed Montreal Canadiens, a team that snuck its way into the playoffs. The Blackhawks are at the other end of the spectrum this season. They finished the regular season before the break with a 32-30 record and just 72 points, good for dead last in the Central Division of the Western Conference in the NHL. The Blackhawks managed to upset the Edmonton Oilers in their home stadium to gain entry to the playoffs, however, and now face the monumental task of taking on the #1 seeded Vegas Golden Knights. These two teams and their drastically different stories exemplify how the NHL Playoffs this year can truly give any team a shot at the Stanley Cup. NHL Tournament play continues through the month of August.
College football is on the brink of cancellation in 2020 due to COVID-19, and the debate surrounding it is a complex one. While some players are in vocal support of playing, the threat of COVID-19 remains as important as ever when tackling this difficult season. Beyond the immediate concerns of 2020, however, the virus’s impact brings to light even more questions about the sport’s long-term future in a variety of ways. What’s at stake this fall The Pac 12, Big 10 and Southern conferences — the latter of which includes Mercer — have all elected to shut down their Fall 2020 athletic programs. The ACC, SEC and other major conferences in NCAA sports have not yet made decisions. Many college football stars have protested the decision not to play. “People are just as much, if not more at risk, if we don’t play. Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract (COVID-19)” Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence wrote on Twitter. “Football is a safe haven for so many people.” Other players have supported Lawrence on Twitter, creating the hashtag #WeWantToPlay and advocating for a renewed football season with better safety protocols. This protest from players begs the question, though: is it actually safer for these players to participate in the season at their universities than it is for them to return home? Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist and emergency physician, says that it isn’t likely. “Football is a contact sport that involves a lot of closed quarters and activities where you’re generating more of these aerosols,” Marino told Forbes in an interview on COVID-19 and college football. Aerosols are floating respiratory droplets that contain live viruses. There is evidence that COVID-19 may be transmitted via aerosols, and these droplets have been collected up to 16 feet away from patients, according to The New York Times. “We know exercise is something that increases the spread,” Marino said. “So that is probably the big concern, and why that statement isn’t true.” Marino isn’t the only one that questions the safety of college football. Numerous players across the nation have opted out of this season due to coronavirus concerns, some instead deciding to begin their preparations for the 2021 NFL Draft in lieu of a season. Concerns about the safety of athletics were also validated when a group of men’s soccer players at the University of Louisville hosted a party that resulted in a coronavirus outbreak on campus, according to USA Today. The party led to 29 COVID-19 cases within the Louisville Athletic Department alone. That number mirrors the count of positive tests from within Mercer’s football program alone after participating in summer workouts. Twenty-nine student-athletes at Mercer tested positive between July 31 and Aug. 3, according to a press release from Mercer University. The future of football? But how will universities that depend on revenue from athletics survive if the fall 2020 season doesn’t occur? A program like Ohio State University’s can rake in tens of millions per year, as OSU football garnered nearly $60 million of revenue from ticket sales alone during the 2019 season according to Columbus Business Journals. For a program like Ohio State’s, there is less risk in losing this revenue, but for smaller mid-major schools that have prominent athletic programs — for instance, the University of Memphis or the University of Cincinnati — this could lead to serious financial trouble. On the topic of revenue, pandemic restrictions also remind fans of a question that has been persistent for years in college football: how are unpaid athletes to react to the cancellation of a season? Players are naturally concerned for their own safety, and COVID-19 simply adds to a lengthy list of injuries and risks players take by participating in NCAA football. These risks are ones that players do not get paid for taking, and yet, the NCAA has issued almost no rulings concerning COVID-19 regulations or testing. The Washington Post reports that some schools are testing for COVID-19 more often than others, and that this could potentially lead to unsafe circumstances within college football. “It just seems like everyone’s freelancing,” one Notre Dame player’s mother told the Washington Post. “The NCAA has rules and guidelines for everything under the sun. . . . How are they not making any rules for this?” As players, coaches and school administrators across the country assess the situation and attempt to make important decisions, only time will tell how the future of college football will develop.
The Southern Conference canceled all fall conference sports competitions Thursday, according to a press release by Mercer University. “It is the intention [of the Southern Conference] to move the fall sports’ regular-season competition and championships to the spring,” according to the press release. “Practice and competition for some sports that have their championships in the winter/spring but traditionally have fall practice will be determined by each institution.” The Southern Conference’s decision comes in the wake of the Pac 12 and Big 10 conferences canceling their fall football seasons for 2020. Other major conferences, such as the SEC and ACC, say their plans for football remain unchanged. "This decision was made with extensive evaluation and conversation," Southern Conference Commissioner Jim Schaus said in the press release. "Ultimately, we felt it necessary to ensure the health and safety of student-athletes, coaches and staff. This decision was also supported by the conference's medical advisory committee.” The sports affected by the delay include football, soccer, cross country and volleyball. These sports will be delayed, at least until spring. While only conference play has been canceled, Mercer will also delay out-of-conference play until spring. "Although disappointed by the move to the spring, I look forward to meeting with our student-athletes as soon as possible and charting a new path forward,” Mercer Athletic Director Jim Cole said in the press release. “The actions by the conference leave flexibility for a partial schedule this coming semester. I look forward to pursuing all options related to games in the fall." Mercer University will attempt to reschedule its fall sports in the future and make a decision regarding winter and spring sports that begin practicing this fall.
Mercer University has announced that 35 students have tested positive for COVID-19, including 29 student-athletes. The 35 positive tests result from 316 tests administered from July 31 to Aug. 3. “The 35 students that have tested positive are being cared for and will remain in isolation until being cleared by Mercer Medicine,” the university said in a press release Wednesday. “Close contacts are being notified and advised to monitor for and report any symptoms to the Student Health Center.” The release also reported that some students have mild symptoms, while most are asymptomatic. The press release also notes that residential undergraduate students are required to be tested upon returning to campus and that all students that test positive are required to stay in isolation for a certain amount of time. Those that have been in close contact with the infected students are also being offered COVID-19 testing options via the university’s Student Health Center. Mercer’s athletic programs, including its football team, have engaged in voluntary workouts, according to the Macon Telegraph. The teams have attempted to follow the same COVID-19 regulations and instructions presented by university president Bill Underwood to the rest of the students and faculty. This protocol includes social distancing regulations and masks being provided for all students. Students will continue to move back into their dorms leading up the beginning of classes Aug. 18 as Mercer continues to monitor its current COVID-19 cases.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball has shut down all of its operations, canceling spring training and delaying opening day indefinitely. This is necessary, of course, but still a heartbreaker for diehard baseball fans everywhere. It may be even more heartbreaking, however, for the players who no longer get to partake in the game they love. The news is not all bad, though. Some major league players realize the predicament that minor league players are in and are helping out. Shin Soo Choo, a professional player with many seasons’ worth of experience and pay, has pledged to donate $190,000 to minor leaguers who are not getting paid enough, according to SB Nation. According to the same article, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright also donated $250,000 to minor league players in need. While these are valuable efforts by major league players to help others during a trying time in America, players still must wait to take the field again in an effort to stay safe during the outbreak. As for when baseball will continue, it will likely be months from now, much like everything else that has been delayed as a result of the virus. This is an extremely difficult time for everyone, undoubtedly, but it is still harder for there to be no baseball to help fans through. So, even in the face of quarantine, the question must be asked: what is there for a baseball fan to do during these long days without the national pastime to keep us company? Well, MLB is doing a fantastic job of trying to fill the void for baseball-starved fans like us. Here’s a list of everything you can watch and do to try and sate that craving for the beautiful game during your time at home: Full-Length Broadcast Games on MLB.com MLB knows you miss baseball. They seem to miss it too because they’re compensating quite well for the delay of opening day by putting every single game from the past two seasons, including the postseason ones, on MLB.com for free streaming. Did your team have a crazy, memorable night within the past couple of seasons? Thanks to MLB, you can relive that. These are also great games to just throw on in the background if there’s work you have to do, making for excellent background noise if you’re working or learning from home. Livestreams of Iconic Games and Events on YouTube MLB is also live-streaming some fantastic baseball moments from recent years on its YouTube channel on a regular basis now. One of their most recent streams consisted of a replay of 2019’s exhilarating Home Run Derby contest, which consisted of one of the most exciting slugfests of all time between Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Joc Pederson. These live streams can not only let fans relive experiences, but also provide the bonus of live chat rooms with other baseball fans. These are especially fun if you just miss talking baseball with friends, as the YouTube chats during the streams are very active and fun to mess around with. Follow MLB Social Media MLB’s social media teams on Twitter, Instagram, etc. have been pulling their weight as well during the quarantine and lack of baseball. Trivia, new articles, votes for all-time teams, unique player facts, player interviews and much more are being posted regularly by the folks in charge of the league, and just scrolling through their Instagram or Twitter pages can lead to some great fun. Plus, sometimes they’re even giving away free baseball stuff as they did on Instagram with a giveaway of a few copies of the MLB The Show 20 video game. They’ve even held a tournament for MLB The Show between actual MLB players during the break that was endorsed by MLB and chronicled on MLB.com. If you are truly insatiable and these resources still don’t fulfill your desire for baseball, then so be it. Perhaps YouTube can provide the entertainment you’re missing. After all, in the face of baseball-lacking quarantine, one is left to their own devices. Here are some fantastic YouTube channels for baseball fans that provide amazing baseball content. Foolish Baseball This channel is arguably the king of all baseball content on YouTube, creating incredible analysis videos that focus on statistics and player values and tell amazing stories about baseball history along the way. A particularly fun video by them is the entry telling the story of why 24 players were drafted by now MLB superstar Mike Trout. Jon Bois/The History of the Seattle Mariners SB Nation’s Jon Bois has always been an incredible sportswriter and content creator, and his YouTube content has been no exception, especially his baseball videos. While there are many in his archive to provide entertainment during the break, Bois and fellow sportswriter Alex Rubenstein have an ongoing series titled The History of the Seattle Mariners that is not just exciting for baseball fans, but really for anyone due to its fantastic storytelling and weird anecdotes. This is a full-scale documentary series that is definitely not to be missed by any baseball fan. Made The Cut Baseball Don’t want all this fancy documentary stuff? Just want to watch straight-up highlights of awesome plays and memorable moments? Made The Cut is exactly the channel for that, providing numerous compilations of basically any type of baseball play you can think of, ranging from amazing outfield throws to moonshot home runs. This channel is great if you simply want to have your jaw drop at the athleticism required to be a pro baseball player.
As baseball season quickly approaches, the Atlanta Braves have some crucial adjustments to make before Opening Day rolls around. After an eventful but arguably lackluster offseason, Atlanta is left with a serious hole to fill at third base. This is a result of the Braves failing to sign All-Star caliber third baseman Josh Donaldson to an extension, which allowed him to receive offers from other clubs. Donaldson eventually declined the Braves’ contract offers and signed with the Minnesota Twins for a four year, $92 million deal. The Braves failed to sign another third baseman on the free agent market, and now face a difficult situation at the hot corner for the coming season. The options the Braves will have to choose between will be Austin Riley and Johan Camargo. Riley, while a formidable power bat that got off to a hot start after his debut last season, has had problems with plate discipline and pitch recognition. Even after his hot start last year, Riley accumulated just a .226 batting average in 274 plate appearances in 2019, according to Baseball Reference. This batting line also included a concerning 108 strikeouts. While Riley does have a great upside, he will need to make significant progress before he can be a legitimate piece of a contender such as the Braves. Atlanta’s other candidate is Camargo, a utility infielder that has been with the team since the 2017 season. While Camargo was inconsistent as a hitter in 2019, he did not start many games due to Donaldson’s presence, which likely impacted his ability and stats at the plate. His 2018 season was very solid in Atlanta, and he proved to have a great bat in the clutch, hitting .339 with a 1.023 OPS (On Base Plus Slugging) with runners in scoring positions that season, according to Baseball-Reference. The 2018 season of Camargo, combined with the fact that he has a cannon arm at third base, currently put him in a good place to make the push for the third base position. Spring Training can reveal things about any player, however, and the games played before the start of the season will be the real test to see whether Camargo or Riley lock up the hot corner. Another issue in Atlanta is pitching. The rotation has its promising young arms in the forms of ace Mike Soroka and the talented Max Fried, but beyond those two pitchers little is set for the Braves on the mound for the year. A long-time fan favorite pitcher for the Braves, Julio Tehran, was allowed to walk in free agency, signing with Los Angeles Angels on a one year deal. Numerous pitchers that would have helped boost Atlanta’s rotation, including Zach Wheeler and the menacing Gerrit Cole, were not pursued at all by Atlanta’s front office. The only two pitching acquisitions made by Atlanta were two very strange ones: one-year deals for both Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez. Both Hamels and Fernandez are aging pitchers who, while formerly intimidating foes on the mound, have notably declined in recent years. Hamels, a former World Series champion and World Series MVP that notably terrorized the Braves with the Phillies during their 2008 championship campaign, spent last season with the Cubs battling injuries and inconsistent performances. Fernandez, a career Seattle Mariner with a Cy Young under his belt as well as a perfect game, struggled tremendously in Seattle in recent years, notching an eye-popping 6.40 ERA in 2019 according to Baseball Reference. While it is good that Atlanta’s front office has made some moves, the fact that these two players are the biggest signings of the offseason is hopeful at best and very concerning at worst. The two veterans will undoubtedly provide valuable clubhouse leadership for the younger arms of Soroka and Fried, but beyond that little is sure. Their performances will likely make the front office of the Braves look incredibly cunning or very lazy. The Braves jump into action and try to solve these problems in Spring Training games on Feb. 22, while the regular season begins with Opening Day on March 26 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49rs with a score of 31-20 after entering the fourth quarter down by double digits in Super Bowl LIV. In a memorable comeback effort, Kansas City’s star quarterback Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs back from a 20-10 deficit with just over seven minutes left to play. The Chief’s chances of winning dropped as low as 3.9 percent prior to the team’s stunning come-from-behind win, according to ESPN. In a game featuring two high-powered offenses that both ranked in the top ten in the NFL in Average Yards Per Game according to NFL.com, the score was surprisingly low. This was partially due to Mahomes’ lackluster first half performance for Kansas City, but by the time the game was complete Mahomes had notched 286 passing yards for two touchdowns with 26 completions on 42 attempts, according to ESPN. The Chiefs comeback was the story of the game, especially following comeback victories from deficits of 24-0 and 17-7 in their previous two postseason games. "We have heart," Mahomes said in an interview with ESPN following the game. "We never give up and those guys around us, the leaders on the team , have that mindset that we never give up." Mahomes was awarded Super Bowl MVP after leading the team in the comeback win, adding to his list of accolades that includes NFL MVP, two Pro-Bowl appearances and, of course, now a Super Bowl ring. San Francisco was a formidable opponent for the entire game, but particularly the first three quarters of play. Touchdowns by Kyle Juszczyk in the first half and Raheem Mosert in the third quarter led the 49rs to a 20-10 lead entering the 4th. The lead was not enough, as quarterback Jimmy Garrapollo showed flashes of prowess in the pocket, but ultimately finished with just one touchdown pass and two interceptions accompanied by a 40.6 QBR according to ESPN. 49rs head coach Kyle Shanahan, a coach already well-known for his offensive collapse in Super Bowl LI while he was offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, had little to say about the teams shortcomings in the final quarter of play. “We'll lick our wounds and we'll get over this," Shanahan said after the game. A blown lead is not always so easy to overcome for some organizations, but time will tell if Shanahan’s squad is able to rebound following their 2020 Super Bowl loss.
Trash cans, stolen signs and redistributed trophies: What the Astros scandal could mean for Major League Baseball
Of all the sounds that roar to life inside of a sold-out baseball stadium, a bat hitting a trash can does not seem like it would be the most important one. In the case of the Houston Astros organization, however, this seems to be exactly the case. During the 2017 regular season and postseason, the Astros used audio cues such as banging on trash cans to steal signs from opposing teams, making opposing teams’ pitches easier to hit. These strategies were used in the Astros’ home stadium, Minute Maid Park, on a regular basis in 2017, according to Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic. In case anyone has forgotten, let it be known: The Astros won the World Series in 2017. Obviously, this scandal impacts Major League Baseball on a scale rarely seen. Its ripples will be felt in ways that haven’t occurred since the steroid scandals of the 2000s or the 1994 player strike. But what exactly will change? What should change, and how? The scandal is likely to break certain parts of baseball, and there should be an order behind the chaos that could ensue, particularly concerning two major fallouts that could mold the game for years to come: Players should be reprimanded Major League Baseball has already punished the Astros officials that organized the scandal via suspensions of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, as well as the stripping of draft picks and millions of dollars from the team itself, as summarized by the Houston Chronicle. The players involved, however, have not faced any consequences. In the eyes of both fans and other players who were negatively impacted by the scandal, this is ridiculous. While the managers were the ones who organized the technology and system itself, it was the players who consented to cheating and used it for their own personal benefit. “I’d like my career numbers against Altuve, Springer and Correa erased from the record books. Seriously though, it’s bad. Can they do that?” Phil Hughes, a former pitcher who faced the Astros during this season, said in a tweet following the surfacing of evidence against Houston. This quote, while humorous, reminds the fanbase and media watching of a crucial repercussion from this scandal: careers have been changed. Players were cut, traded and even sent down to the minors for their lackluster performances against the Astros. These players put themselves above the rules for personal gain, and as a result, negatively impacted their peers’ lives and careers. This should not be forgotten or forgiven. As difficult as it may be, MLB must punish at least some of the players complicit in this scandal. Electronics must be regulated harshly In an age of analytics where new statistics and tracking devices come out of the baseball woodwork on an increasingly regular basis, it is no surprise that electronics are becoming commonplace in MLB dugouts. The prevalence of digital information comes with a risk, however, and the risk may need to be more properly assessed by MLB’s officials. The Astros obtained their signs using an outfield camera zoomed in on home plate, then sent the signs that the catcher gave the pitcher to their home dugout via the video replay room, according to The Athletic. This system relies on a dugout not placed under strict supervision, as well as a large group of complicit players and employees working with electronics to relay signs at such a high speed. Why has technology as simple as this not been monitored before? The Boston Red Sox, one of the teams affected by the Astros’ cheating, broke these rules themselves in 2017 be using a smartwatch to steal signs with a similar video system, according to the New York Times. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred warned that future violations by teams would warrant harsh punishments, and yet no further actions of surveillance were taken. These occurrences all point to one decision: dugouts and press boxes should be closely watched to avoid cheating. With tech and communication as prevalent in baseball as they are, their abuse must be contained, and hopefully prevented, at all costs. With the reverberations of this scandal still incomplete, it isn’t fair to criticize MLB for punishments yet to be issued, but it is clear that fans and players alike have certain expectations of the league concerning these problems. As the scandal progresses, one can only hope that those responsible for tainting America’s pastime are held accountable.
The 1-7 Atlanta Falcons salvaged at least one part of their dismal 2019 season with a victory over the rival New Orleans Saints, earning a 26-9 win on the road in the Big Easy. The Falcons, who have been abysmal on defense during their 2019 campaign, stepped up against one of the best offenses in the NFL, holding New Orleans to just 310 total yards from scrimmage, according to ESPN. While Atlanta only managed 317 yards themselves, the team earned 24 first downs and performed when it counted on offense, converting 2-5 red zone opportunities compared to the Saints’ 0 for 3 mark when inside the 20-yard line. The Saints failed to score a touchdown over the course of the entire game despite averaging 2.5 touchdowns per game this season according to TeamRankings. Atlanta has had a dismal year thus far, notching just one win prior to Sunday’s road victory. That lone win came in a thriller against Philadelphia in Week 2, but since then the Falcons have steadily looked worse and worse. The main issue is the team’s defense, which head coach Dan Quinn has struggled to adjust against the high-octane offenses rampant in the NFL this year. Against New Orleans, however, those fears were alleviated — at least temporarily. The Falcons sacked Saints star quarterback Drew Brees six times over the course of the game, and fan confidence raised from 4% to 26% following the win according to SB Nation and FanPulse. “We’ve got to build off of this performance, definitely,” Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett told Associated Press. “It felt really good and encouraging and motivating.” Jarrett, a star defensive player drafted out of Clemson in 2015, woke up in New Orleans, downing Drew Brees multiple times and acquiring 2.5 sacks on the day, leading the Falcons in the stat category. The Falcons only had 7 sacks coming into the game against New Orleans but adjusted for the rivalry matchup. The Falcons defense looks to capitalize on the momentum of the upset win against the Saints headed into a Week 11 matchup with another division rival in the Carolina Panthers.