So is it shuffle off to Buffalo? Or dance the COVID-19 dance in Dunedin, Fla.?
While those two Blue Jays minor-league venues remain a possibility for the team now that its bid to return to Toronto has been denied, both have glaring weaknesses in the eyes of club management and the player-development department.
As a result, for weeks now the Jays front office has been exploring multiple options beyond those two. And as a source told the Toronto Sun on Saturday, the alternatives very much include other MLB stadiums, assuming schedules and logistical concerns can be worked out.
As they awaited the fateful federal government decision over the past couple of weeks, the Jays have been working in concert with MLB and commissioner Rob Manfred on contingencies. And it’s clear that the more creative of those alternatives involved are exploring locations other than minor-league parks.
“We’re looking at all options that provide the best circumstances for player safety and competitiveness,” a source familiar with the Jays’ contingency options said. “And major-league stadiums are certainly among the best fit for those variables.”
During a Zoom conference call on Saturday, Jays president Mark Shapiro was transparent about the issues related to the stadiums that have conventionally been assumed as the front-runners.
As the Jays spring training home, TD Ballpark is the stadium Shapiro called “the only one that’s 100% seamless right now and ready to go but, from a player health standpoint, has its challenges.”
In other words: Good for baseball, bad for living. The Jays don’t want to go anywhere near Florida right now. An undisclosed number of players already caught the virus last month and the numbers in that state are exploding off the charts. Shapiro has maintained all along that player health and safety is paramount.
While a terrific fan-friendly stadium, Sahlen Field in downtown Buffalo is sub-standard from a baseball standpoint. The batting cages and weight rooms are far inferior to what big-league players are accustomed to, the clubhouses lack space and the stadium lighting is inferior.
Shapiro said the Jays have been working on logistics to make Buffalo a viable home, but work remains. And more than once in his 22-minute press conference, the Jays president expressed concern about surrendering a competitive disadvantage to the opposition in this truncated 60-game campaign.
“It’s obviously not a major-league facility,” Shapiro said when asked specifically about Buffalo. “And the teams we are competing against are playing in major-league facilities as far as cages, weight room, training room, the sizes of those.
“We are weighing that against other alternatives, as well.”
At issue with sharing another big-league team’s venue is space. Clubhouses need to be spread out to ensure social distancing and not all stadiums have such room. That said, most have family rooms for wives and children of players and, since luxury suites won’t be used in empty stadiums, those could be options.
Shapiro said there is no drop-dead date to determine where the Jays will play their home dates — beginning with a July 29 game against the World Series champion Washington Nationals. Shapiro acknowledged there is an urgency to making the decision, however.
“We’re talking about alternatives with the commissioner’s office (and expect) clarity in the next couple of days,” Shapiro said. “I’m confident we’ll be in our best possible situation that satisfies player health and competitiveness when we start our season.
“We want to make sure we put the Blue Jays in the best position possible and we are all confident that can happen.”
The Jays fancy themselves among league leaders in high-performance developments and sports-science initiatives. With a young, developing team, the last thing the front office wants right now is to stunt that growth. And finding a shared, temporary home in a big-league arena is the best way to prevent it.
BLUE FOR RYU
In part because of the uncertainty with the team’s situation, for the most part Jays players have been careful not to say much about the non-Rogers Centre alternatives. But as opening day starter Hyun-Jin Ryu acknowledged on Saturday, The Show is The Show.
“It’s not the same type of environment if we do end up playing in a minor-league stadium,” Ryu said via Zoom, after pitching five innings in a Saturday evening intrasquad game. “We just have to adjust to the environment.”
The big, South Korean left-hander, who was signed to a four-year, $80-million US contract in the off-season, was eagerly looking forward to his first season in Toronto before the pandemic hit.
“Obviously, you play half the season at home, so there is definitely some sort of comfort level you develop over time,” Ryu said. “But right now, the situation itself, you just have to deal with it as players. One of our challenges is to adapt to new situations.
“COVID-19 still exists and there are hard-working people on the front line trying to battle the virus. So you have to respect the Canadian government’s decision to keep the public safe.”
SPLIT ‘EM UP?
Is it possible that the Jays would consider playing home games at more than one venue? On one level anyway, it may make some sense.
Take the Pittsburgh Pirates for example and compare their home schedule with that of the Jays. With just a handful of overlapping dates, could Toronto play day games on the conflicting days in Buffalo while mostly being based in the Steel City, a short flight or even bus ride away?
While it may sound like a stretch and would be a long shot, the pandemic requires creative thinking. And if the Jays are committed to avoiding a minor-league facility, you can expect that such options are being explored.
Why not swing for the fences?
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)