Expansion Series 6: Baltimore

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, every die-hard sports fan has missed out on some key events that otherwise would have occurred.

The possibility of not having a football season (college or professional) has me pinching myself to make sure that I’m not living in a dream. In an uncertain time in the sports world, it’s perfectly normal to let the mind wander when thinking about hypotheticals that otherwise would never happen.

Sports is what brings us all together, and one thing that every sports fan has in common is that the player, team, or coach that they cheer for represents something unique to them. The majority of fans resonate with a team regionally, and mainly reside locally. That being said, I will dive into each region that is craving a major sports team.

Baltimore is another city that has some potential for growth, but the majority of baseball and hockey fans cheer for the teams nearby in Washington D.C.

I say the more the merrier, and teams in close proximity have been known to forge great rivalries, i.e. New York against Boston. Given that Lamar Jackson was the youngest player to ever win the league MVP as well as being one of the most versatile quarterbacks the league has ever seen, let alone the entire league, this stroke of good fortune has certainly taken the eyeballs off of the misfortunate orioles.

The Baltimore Orioles have been significantly low performers in the last few years, trading away what little they had for prospects and seeing a steep decline in ticket sales. Regarding my earlier statement, the Baltimore area has not seen a local hockey team since the Baltimore Skipjacks, Baltimore Clippers and the Baltimore Bandits, which were members of a variety of different minor league associations until both were dissolved.

The story in regards to a history of Baltimore professional or even semi-professional basketball is even less prolific, but the Maryland Terrapins Division I basketball team has been a consistent powerhouse in the Big 10 conference.

In these strange times with an even foggier path going forward, Baltimore could benefit from another team to support. For more in this series, read why Las Vegas, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Houston and New Orleans also in need of expansion teams.

Expansion Series 5: New Orleans

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, every die-hard sports fan has missed out on some key events that otherwise would have occurred.

The possibility of not having a football season (college or professional) has me pinching myself to make sure that I’m not living in a dream. In an uncertain time in the sports world, it’s perfectly normal to let the mind wander when thinking about hypotheticals that otherwise would never happen.

Sports is what brings us all together, and one thing that every sports fan has in common is that the player, team, or coach that they cheer for represents something unique to them. The majority of fans resonate with a team regionally, and mainly reside locally. That being said, I will dive into each region that is craving a major sports team.

Shifting gears back to the south, there is one thing that each state in the southernmost region of the country is common: a divine love of sports and a consistent breed of talent.

SEC sports are treated as a religion in certain areas, and the state of Louisiana is no stranger. New Orleans has been on the brink of some serious breakthroughs in the world of football and basketball, but have been put through agony in the case of injuries and perhaps more serious, less-than-reputable officiating.

The Pelicans were so excited to be given the number one draft to take the promising and thunderous Zion Williamson from Duke, but injury issues relating to his monolithic size resulted in an early injury that he quickly rose above once he laced up and took the court consistently. Then when he started to heat up, the season was abruptly cut short.

Additionally, in 2018, the Saints were on the fast lane to the super bowl to face the ever-so-exciting Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs or the veteran and stress-tested defense of Bill Belichek and the New England Patriots. The only thing standing in the way of the biggest game of the season: The Los Angeles Rams. This postseason was some of the most exciting games in recent football history, with an unforeseen level of talent that presented endless possibilities. At the final hour, a questionable call, or shall I say lack thereof, caused a disappointing end to the game resulting in a loss. Each and every year, the Saints are an incredibly talented team that can never seem to reach the finish line.

In any case, the southern states are emphatic about sports, so there is more than enough room for a baseball team to expand. Unfortunately, the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins – and a contender for the best name in the league, the New Orleans Baby Cakes – closed its doors this year and relocated to Wichita. Even though the closest thing to professional baseball has left, there is still potential for a professional team to take its place. The hockey scene swiftly began and ended in 2002 when the New Orleans Brass emerged into the ECHL, so I doubt there would be any desire for a hockey team to return.

For more in this series, read why Las Vegas, Buffalo, Indianapolis and Houston are also in need of expansion teams.

Biggest Winner from the COVID-19 Fallout: The KBO

I have always been a “glass-half-full” kind of guy, so talking about who lost the most from COVID-19 brought no joy. Trying to remain optimistic about the stoppage of society as a whole, we will judge who or what came out of this pandemic stronger.

The jawn that prospered the most due to this pandemic is undoubtedly the Korean Baseball Organization (or KBO).

South Korea has a surprisingly long history of baseball. It was originally brought to the country in the 19th century by American missionaries and found its roots during Japanese rule. Up until the start of WWII, Major League sporadically sent teams in an effort to barnstorm in the country when it was a part of Japan. Babe Ruth actually led a team of MLB All-Stars in Japan, where Korean nationals played for the Japanese team.

Baseball picked up even more traction after the Korean War when Western ideals clashed with Eastern ideals. After the fighting stopped, a culture grew from the ashes left behind and baseball spawned a community in yet another Asiatic country.

It wasn’t until the 1980s however, when the first professional baseball league was launched in South Korea. Six teams were a part of the inaugural league, but it has grown to the ten teams today. In its entire history, the KBO has never reached a global audience until the circumstances brought on by this pandemic.

To fill slots on-air, ESPN picked up the televised rights to the KBO in America. On Opening Day, the broadcast drew in an audience of 173,000, gaining immeasurable exposure to a starving fan base.

The talent level is good, but not great. Some starting pitchers can barely break 90mph on their fastball. The batters don’t have much pop either, as the league actually had to “de-juice” the baseballs in order to give up less home runs.

The league specializes in the video-bites in America through it’s infamous bat flips, and viral presentation of the game (even without fans).

Despite the fact that the KBO will be a distant memory in a few months, the sudden rise in popularity will allow the league to grow. The exposure domestically in Korea will promote the culture within, because legitimizing the sport (remotely) from the Western Hemisphere can bring in funding and further talent to the sport.

Both the league and country has the chance to rival those in other established baseball hotspots, like Japan, Cuba, and the rest of Latin America. As a result of this interest, Korea will soon contend with the rest for a premier avenue for MLB-ready talent.

Is 2020 the Year of the Replacement Ballplayers?

It seems with each day, the disparity between the MLBPA and MLB widens. According to Jon Heyman, the two sides thought that they settled the issue when they agreed to a prorated salary… Whatever agreement they had on March 26 was lost in translation. The players perceived this agreement to mean that the salary per game stays the same, while the owners believed that this was predicated on fans attending the games. The two sides have taken to social media to air their grievances, and the conflict is souring by the day. Before a return to play, both sides need to mediate and hash out a plan.

The last time the labor union and league could not come together on a CBA was in 1994. Major league players went on strike on August 11th, and the season was ultimately canceled. For the first time since 1904, there was no World Series.

The strike lasted until hours before Opening Day in 1995, and baseball’s owners intended on using replacement players in the league. On March 30, 1995, future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor presided over a hearing between the player’s association and the owners that lasted for two hours. The players’ association protested the owners’ decision to unilaterally eliminate free-agent negotiations and salary arbitrations while negotiating a new CBA. Sotomayor, who was then the youngest judge in the Southern District of New York, took merely 15 minutes after hearing arguments to rule in favor of the players. She issued an injunction against the owners and the players agreed to return to work, effectively ending the strike.

Prior to this decision though, the owners had opened up training camps in February to retired players, minor-leaguers, and replacement players. Some of these replacements had no professional experience and were paid mere pennies. They went incognito to hide their intentions from the players’ union, some with aliases that were vastly different from their actual names. These replacement players were subjected to heated rhetoric from the unionized players, and were barred from membership to the MLBPA. No matter their reasons for crossing the line, they were opportunistic individuals in search of a chance to play.

When the strike ended, many replacement players saw their contracts terminated. Some of the lucky ones were reassigned to the minors, but a select few were kept on their major league teams. There are a few recognizable faces who got their start from these unfortunate circumstances.

Current analyst for the MLB network and host of the show, Intentional Talk, Kevin Millar, spent ten years in the majors. He was the heart and soul of the 2004 Red Sox run, coining the rally cry “Cowboy Up!” He posted a career slash line of .274/.358/.452.

Brian Daubach saw his eight-year career begin from the strike. He spent the majority of his career with Boston, with a career batting line of .259/.341/479.

Lou Merloni, the current co-host of the Ordwar, Merloni & Fauria on WEEI and baseball analyst with NBC Sports Boston, also obtained a shot at the big leagues after the strike. He played professionally for nine years, with some experience playing internationally in Japan. His career slash line is .271/.327/.388.

Even if the negotiations between the MLBPA and the MLB turn nuclear, the general consensus among fans is that we still want to see baseball. A strike would have far-reaching ramifications for the league and its subsidiaries, but fans are starved for games.

It is in no one’s interest to have a strike, but even the worst possible scenario happens, there are some positives to be taken out of it. There are athletes out there that are waiting for their shot at the big leagues, and some could have the ability to endure.

Biggest Loser from the COVID-19 Fallout: Mookie Betts

He was supposed to be baseball’s next $400 million dollar man, and rightfully so. Mookie Betts was in pole position to have a monster offseason, where he would become the most sought-after unrestricted free agent.

The Red Sox had reportedly made several attempts to restructure the contract with Mookie. In 2016, he declined a five-year, $100 million deal. Following the 2017 season, Betts again turned down an offer of an eight-year, $200 million dollar contract. After his 2018 AL MVP season, Mookie was offered a ten-year deal, worth $300 million in the offseason. Mookie counter-offered with twelve years at $420 million. In an effort to recoup something in return for Betts, Boston dealt him away after the 2019 season. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers after insisting on hitting the market in search of his desired price tag. 

Like every other business, the market for athletes is dependent on the total market revenue. With the stoppage of play, each team will be affected differently. According to the New York Times, the LA Dodgers are currently at $232 million in local losses, with teams like the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, and Boston Red Sox close behind with $214 million, $199 million, and $188 million in losses, respectively. 

Even if there is an abbreviated season, teams will lose out on a significant amount of revenue. This will take away from their ability to pay out contracts after the season, and the market will see an overall dip.  The Athletic’s Peter Gammons suggested that Betts would be “lucky” to earn a deal worth $250 million in the current market.

While it was unforeseeable during prior negotiations, Betts must be kicking himself over what could have been. He might not command the $420 million dollar price tag he was in search of, but he has a lot to prove if baseball is to be played this year. 

Does Boston now have the ability to offer Betts a competitive contract offer, due to the expected market dip?

What Happens When a City Supports You

Growing up outside of Boston, I’ve seen more than my fair share of sports stories slide across the kitchen table. One could say I was born in the golden age of Boston sports, where winning was treated almost as an expectation, and in the winter when the Pats, Celtics, and Bruins were all playing, if one team was losing, all I had to do was change the channel and one of the other two teams were more than likely winning.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of the best players in sports history wear a Boston uniform, and some of them have built their legacy here and gone onward, some have established an all-star status and celebrated their success with the city, and for an especially unlucky bunch, some were sent packing with no desired return.

In core sports environments, the location and the overall energy of the crowd can mean a lot which will be very interesting to observe just how much it matters. With the average sports fan starving for some sort of entertainment, the leaders of sports associations have been toying with the idea of resuming gameplay without the presence of fans. The reemergence of sports on television would provide those who have been starving for sports entertainment something to chew on, but the majority of fans would agree that enjoying a game at a ballpark, a stadium or a rink is much better than enjoying it from the living room. Before I go on and on about my memories from the various sporting events I have attended, I would like to discuss a few examples of players and how their careers were fashioned by the crowds that supported them.

The Boston Red Sox have housed all walks of life when it comes to talent, and the variance is even more skewed when it comes to the crowd’s reaction to this talent. For example, let’s take a look at Pablo Sandoval. To many Red Sox sports fans, that name brings little joy to those who know the back story.

Pablo Sandoval was brought into Boston with open arms given that his resume with the San Francisco Giants was very impressive. He was a two-time all-star, three-time World Series Champion and a world series MVP. However, once he put on the uniform, his gameplay had clearly deteriorated while reports of an eating disorder had started to reach the surface.

The Red Sox have indeed had a history of over-inflated contracts, some that they are still paying off and will be for some time, including Pablo Sandoval, but that resume surely warranted a good portion of that contract. This may be seen as an unfortunate error, but Sandoval’s tenure is Boston was short-lived before he was traded back to San Francisco. He belonged there, he was beloved by the people of San Francisco, and the crowd in Fenway couldn’t have been bothered to have him as an active member of the team.

Rafael Devers would go on to replace him on the team in some way given that he is a power-hitting third baseman, but Rafael is much younger and has a very bright future in this league, and his potential is absolutely recognized within the Red Sox organization. Sandoval will be sure to go down in history as a mere waste of time in the eyes of fans as well as being an even bigger waste of money for the organization.

On a brighter note, let’s shine a light on two individuals who had either some or no spotlight placed on them until they came to Boston and were universally loved by the public, and frankly would have been regardless of winning the 2018 World Series or not. At the beginning of the 2018 season, it was announced that J.D. Martinez would be coming over from Arizona to be an additional power hitter in the Red Sox lineup. The season went on and J.D.’s unconditional chemistry in the dugout was obvious as he quickly built a relationship with Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi, and once Hanley Ramirez began producing below expectations in the batting order, J.D. quickly filled that void. Going forward, the Red Sox began acquiring serious buzz around leading analytics, and their statistics behind their wins and their talent began creating a narrative of Boston being the team to worry about.

I remember coming home from class and turning on a game to see the Red Sox, and if they were down by four in the top of the fifth, I wasn’t worried because I knew that they could still more than likely come away with the win. However, something was still missing. They picked up Steve Pearce from Toronto midway through the season as another weapon to add, and it was during the series with the Yankees that the Red Sox went from being treated as a team that was interesting to a team that was a problem. Pearce would go on to win the World Series MVP in Los Angeles, and I don’t think that the Red Sox ownership core even knew what kind of offensive weapon they acquired.

My point in expressing the stories of these two athletes is that in the teams that they had previously been a part of – Toronto and Arizona, respectively – they had decent numbers, certainly enough to gain attraction from Boston. When they came to Fenway, they were welcomed with open arms and universally celebrated. Is it the power of the fans and the energy Fenway Park can provide that gave these two the grounds to flourish? In my opinion, absolutely.

In the Celtics locker room, there are several similar stories that require a slight history lesson. In the 2016-2017 season, the Celtics were a very strong team. The playoffs were incredibly contentious, the chemistry was binding, the talent was young, hungry, and focused on getting the finals. Isaiah Thomas was a strong leader of this squad, Jaylen Brown was an up and coming rookie whose potential level was seriously doubted up until everyone was proven wrong. Al Horford was a top center in the league with an innate ability to shoot the three-ball effortlessly, and Brad Stevens had developed a gameday routine that had been proven to be very strong.

However, the headline of this team was Isaiah Thomas for sure. He had been doubted ever since being drafted last in the 2011 NBA Draft because of his height but then came to a place like Boston where the phrase “Heart over height,” came to have meaning once again. Every game, every shot, and every minute was played intensively, and he gave every ounce of try each and every night in the TD Garden.

A prime example of Thomas’ tenacity and mindset is when tragedy struck his family when his sister unfortunately was killed in a car accident. He turned on the jets during the playoff game that was happening later that night and won the game in spectacular fashion. The season came to an end, and the Boston Celtics made an incredible move to acquire all-star Gordon Hayward from Utah for a very sizeable contract. Soon after, posts were being made about ‘Boston’s New Big 3’ in Isaiah Thomas, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. Thomas even released a video dancing in his apartment from the excitement of his new teammate but received some disappointing news shortly thereafter.

I remember listening to the radio live while I was at work, and the topic of discussion was an interpretive phrase Thomas used in an interview about his upcoming contract in which he stated something along the lines of wanting to “back up the Brinks truck,” or in other words, he’s looking to get paid. Did he put the last nail in the coffin with that statement? No, but it certainly didn’t help his case. A few days later, it was announced that Kyrie Irving was incredibly unhappy playing with LeBron James in Cleveland, and there was an unsurmountable amount of speculation as to why.

Some said that the relationship between Irving and James had gone sour, others implied that he had been a key cog in the Cavalier machine and wanted to be the star of the show rather than LeBron’s sidekick. Kyrie asked for a trade, and Danny Ainge, the current owner of the Celtics, saw that opportunity and jumped on it. Isaiah was traded to Cleveland in addition to having a season compromising hip injury in exchange for Kyrie. The aftermath for both of these all-star point guards in their own right could not be any more different, as well as being a very strange footnote in Celtics history.

Isaiah would go on to be traded to three other teams after Cleveland without receiving significant playing time in the slightest. He would move from Cleveland to the Los Angeles Lakers, then to Denver, and then to Washington to pick up the slack from John Wall’s season-ending injury. In conclusion of the Isaiah Thomas saga, he went from producing all-star numbers to being traded four times without being a starter. Is this because of the fallout from being traded out of Boston, or perhaps a looming injury with lasting effects? Perhaps both, or maybe something else.

The fact remains that Thomas still talks about his time in Boston and would more than likely return in no time to be reunited with his former teammates. In the case of Kyrie, he was the talk of the entire NBA for months and released a variety of Nike ads claiming that he would retire in Boston if given the chance, and was even the cover of the NBA 2K’s upcoming game cover in his brand new Celtics jersey. He got along with the team very well, and Celtics fans were in the mindset that Kyrie was here to stay, considering he came out publicly stating so. As time went on, some minor injuries plagued his performance, but something began to be seemingly fishy in the locker room.

As luck would have it, Irving was traded to the Brooklyn Nets, which was correctly speculated by leading analysts across the NBA, and Kevin Durant would be soon to follow. Irving would go on to campaign in press conferences as advocates for the young Celtics core that in my opinion, was abandoned by Irving, not because of “Leadership” in his own words, but personal goals that he felt would have been accomplished with the creation of a super-team caliber squad with the help of Kevin Durant. Durant and Irving were clearly in contact about playing on the same team, and the remaining Celtics core responded with a tenacious start to the season, as well as being rewarded with the added offensive weapon in Kemba Walker, the all-star point guard from the Hornets.

Lastly, the New England Patriots certainly have a passionate bunch of fans who let their opinion known about the players they choose to support, but frankly, I cannot think of any players that have been overtly disapproved of rather than an obvious and swift exit from the team. The combined list of Eric Decker, Tim Tebow, Chad Ochocino and Antonio Brown, just to name a few, are all phenomenally talented wide receivers that held a position on the Patriots for an almost comical amount of time.

These eyebrow-raising names joining the team would be a point of discussion for a week or a month or so, but no expectations were placed on these athletes because they simply don’t fit the narrative that is Bill Belichek. If a player comes to New England, there are expected to work towards a team goal and not a personal goal, and if a player has personal goals, they are well known far before the wear the jersey. The same goes for when a player is cut from the team. Although the reason never may be stated outright from Belichek or the organization as a whole, no one is ever surprised when a player gets cut or traded.

Remembering Athletes Who Served in the Military

On this solemn day, it is a time to remember the servicemen and women that made the greatest sacrifice possible. Throughout history, there are a handful of patriots who were both heroes on the frontlines, and in between the lines. In honor of Memorial Day, we will look at some notable athletes who risked their lives for our country.

Pat Tillman, defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Pat enlisted in the Army to serve his country. He passed up an opportunity to sign a 3-year deal worth $3.6 million with the Cardinals to enlist. Pat served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and he was subsequently deployed to Afghanistan. Pat tragically lost his life in 2004 due to friendly fire in the Khost region, near the Pakistan border. In the wake of his death, his family started the Pat Tillman Foundation, which provides aid, resources, and scholarships to support veterans.

Ted Williams, outfielder for the Boston Red Sox

Ted fought in two wars. After winning the Triple Crown in 1941, Ted was required to miss the prime years of his career due to selective service during WWII. Ted joined the Navy Reserve on May 22, 1942, and went on active duty in 1943 as an aviator. After returning to baseball, he was again recalled for service during the Korean War when he was in his 30’s.

He almost lost his life on one of his missions in Korea; he flew over a village and his plane was met by small arms fire. As his plane bled fuel, he refused the protocol to eject. He believed that if he ejected, he would damage his legs due to his large frame. His decision to land the plane was a precarious one… As he descended, his landing gear malfunctioned and his plane slammed into the runway. The husk of what was the fuselage skidded for more than a mile on the runway, but it came to a stop at the edge with feet to spare.

Rocky Marciano, Boxer

The heavyweight boxing champion was one of the few athletes to get his start in his respective sport from his time in service. He was drafted in 1943 and served with the 150th Combat Engineers on the European Front. He boxed regularly in amateur matches towards the end of his tenure in the Army. After he failed to break out of the Chicago Cubs’ minor league system, he began his career as a professional boxer.

Yogi Berra, catcher for the New York Yankees

Yogi enlisted after the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941 as a Gunner’s Mate in the Navy. At this time, his minor league career was picking up traction, but he still made the decision to enlist. He was among the many who stormed the beaches in Normandy on D-Day. He earned a Purple Heart for his actions and finally made his major league debut in 1946.

David Robinson, center for the San Antonio Spurs

As a first-round pick out of the U.S. Naval Academy, David was widely considered the best athlete in the 1987 NBA Draft. There was one caveat the Spurs drafted him with— it was that his mandatory military obligations could span up to five years. David spent most of his time at a submarine base in Georgia, but he trained often while on duty. He participated in some international basketball tournaments, and managed to stay in shape for his eventual NBA career. In the end, he only served two years of active duty, and in 1989 he was allowed to join the San Antonio Spurs.

Arnold Palmer, Golfer

Arnold served in the Coast Guard from 1951 to 1953. He joined as a means of escaping the pain associated with the loss of his college roommate, who died in a car accident while the two were enrolled at Wake Forest. In the Coast Guard, he served as a photographer but spent his weekends golfing.

Catchers Are Quietly Changing Baseball

One of the few good things to come out of this pandemic is that the hiatus in live events has allowed for a time for reflection. Re-runs of classic games have taken the primetime slots where live games would have normally aired.

One of the striking aspects of this unique situation is how it displays the full context of any given game without the soundbites or short clips associated with these famed moments in baseball history. It allows for the full breadth of a game to be watched in its entirety, and many differences can be seen when compared to today’s game.

One of the games recently aired was Roger Clemens’ 20 strikeout game. In the early innings, the announcers were ecstatic over the fact that Clemens had been throwing over 90 mph on the day and how his off-speed was working well.

Today, it is expected that every pitcher can consistently throw over 90mph. How has the game changed that much since then?

There are two players in frame for every pitch and it’s evident that pitchers aren’t the only ones who have changed.

If the act of receiving a ball would be interpreted as an art form, Tony Peña should be considered the Claude Monet of catchers. He displayed a strange stance back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but others didn’t start emulating it until recently. This catching style is here to stay and it is changing the very fabric of the game for the better.

Without runners on base, Peña adopted a bizarre and unorthodox stance. He had one leg stretched out while he kept the other leg tucked beneath his torso. He was never known for his bat, but his defensive qualities kept him in the game for all of his 19 seasons. His longevity is a remarkable feat, and surely his unique stance allowed him to endure at a physically demanding position.

Baseball has always been a traditional sport; there will always be a crowd that is opposed to change. Up until recently, catchers were conditioned to use traditional methods when receiving a pitch. 

Catchers had typically used the “formal” two-stance setup. When a catcher gives signs to the pitcher, his feet are closer beneath his torso to hide the calls from wandering eyes. When the pitch is delivered, the right leg shifts behind to a staggered position as the feet are widened.

Catchers have long been the recipients of physical trauma (see Buster Posey). Donning the “tools of ignorance” has weathered many, especially the lower half of their bodies. Few catchers finish their careers behind the dish due to the physicality of the position, and many see their knees wear down eventually. Deep squatting puts a lot of stress on the joint, as it pulls on the tendons and squishes the cartilage. Rising from this position can put even more pressure on the joint.

Peña’s unprecedented take on receiving pitches genuinely gives himself and his team an advantage over others. By using this “informal” setup, he conserves energy, saves his knees from great stress, and most importantly has the ability to better frame the ever-so-important low strike.

Many players today have adopted a similar stance from one knee. Salvador Perez, J.T. Realmuto, and Gary Sanchez are among the best catchers in the game. They are also some of the players that adopted this style of “informal” catching.

El Gary isn’t an elite defensive-minded catcher, so this offseason he aimed to improve his framing. According to Baseball Prospectus, he was a below-average blocker in 2017 and 2018, and only slightly improved for the 2019 season. The Yankees recently brought in new catching coach, Tanner Swanson, to aid his receiving abilities.

Swanson was stationed up in Minnesota during the 2019 season, where he drastically improved Mitch Garver’s defensive capabilities. Garver adopted this “informal” stance under Swanson’s tutelage. Garver consistently dropped down to one knee, even with runners on base.

The most important factor in using this new stance is the ability to “steal” the low pitch. 

Having a lower base gives the illusion to umpires that the pitch is higher than it really is. If the same exact pitch is thrown and someone with a higher stance stabs downward at it, while another from one knee sweeps upwards to catch the ball, the latter will always be called a strike over the former. 

It’s an optical illusion and learning to play to the umpires’ tendencies is something that is critical to finding success in the Sabermetrics Era.

Expansion Series 3: Indianapolis

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, every die-hard sports fan has missed out on some key events that otherwise would have occurred.

The possibility of not having a football season (college or professional) has me pinching myself to make sure that I’m not living in a dream. In an uncertain time in the sports world, it’s perfectly normal to let the mind wander when thinking about hypotheticals that otherwise would never happen.

Sports is what brings us all together, and one thing that every sports fan has in common is that the player, team, or coach that they cheer for represents something unique to them. The majority of fans resonate with a team regionally, and mainly reside locally. That being said, I will dive into each region that is craving a major sports team.

Next up, Indy.

The Colts have had a rocky history in the past 20 years with the empire of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison being preceded by the ever so talented Andrew Luck, up until his surprising and early retirement. They had an ‘in the hunt’ season under the leadership of Jacoby Brissett, and the upcoming season will surely have some level of interest now that the veteran Philip Rivers will be joining the team.

The Pacers have seen their days in the limelight as well, as they have by and large found themselves in the playoffs over the last few years. Victor Oladipo gave the team some energy with his all-around skillset until his gruesome injury left the team in an emotional drought.

In recognition of the two sports that Indianapolis is lacking, the Indianapolis Indians are the current Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates and were once home to the Indianapolis Racers, a professional hockey team. With little to go off of, I don’t see why Indy shouldn’t have a hockey team or a baseball team.

For more in this series, read why Las Vegas and Buffalo are also in need of expansion teams.