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Tao of Stieb: Notable addition would help Blue Jays fans believe again – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Blue Jays have reached an inflection point in their history. After three seasons of skittering backward in the standings, the coming year should be better. It needs to be.

There are signs that after the past few seasons’ strategic retreat, the collection of young and emerging talent assembled by the Blue Jays will be prepared to step up and move the team’s fortunes in a positive direction. Maybe not into contention just yet, but something better than 67 wins.

You’d be hard-pressed, though, to find much optimism for the state of the team among the fanbase lately. Maybe it’s the echo chamber of snark and negativity that thrives on social media, but the overriding sentiment is frustration, and maybe even worse, a growing disheartenment and apathy with where the Blue Jays stand.

Some of this is simply the turgid rot of modern sports fandom, where a segment of every team’s fans believes that if they aren’t in ecstasy, then they should be affecting agony at the top of their voice. But some of it runs deeper, and some of it is less cynical and more true, and it should be a concern for the brain trust and stewards of the franchise.

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The public trust in the Blue Jays is bottoming out, to a point where the management team can seemingly do no right. If they add starting pitchers like a Tanner Roark, or a Chase Anderson, it’s viewed as bargain shopping to raise the floor. And there’s not much reason to get excited about that.

If the Blue Jays take a serious run at players who may be slightly more skilled or revered, but come up empty, it feeds into the negative perception of the team. Either Toronto didn’t do enough to lock the player down, or nobody wants to come play for them. Both explanations leave fans demoralized and frustrated.

It has created a situation where, if the Blue Jays aren’t able to lock up a top player by the time they report to Dunedin in February, the season will begin to feel like another failure before it even begins.

This crisis of consumer confidence didn’t happen all at once. While there are arguments to be had over the team’s transactions in the past year, the messaging around the deals that sent long-serving players out of town for uninspiring returns helped to feed into a bitter pessimism about the team and those managing it.

From a purely rational perspective, one can’t blame the management team if they walk away from the off-season and pocket the “payroll flexibility” until a better player becomes available. But with the current perception of the team as low as it is, it’s hard to imagine how they could get away from the winter without making at least one big splash.

This isn’t an unprecedented situation. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that Alex Anthopoulos found himself in the same spot. Following a disastrous 2012 season, in which manager John Farrell left for his “dream job” with a divisional rival, shortstop Yunel Escobar walked onto the field with homophobic slurs written on his eye black and the team’s future core seemingly imploded in unison, something needed to change to save the perception of the team.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

By Christmas of that offseason, Anthopoulos had pulled off two mega deals to bring veterans, league-leaders, all-stars and a reigning Cy Young laureate. They brought back a well-liked manager (John Gibbons) and those blue uniforms — and their offseason boldness was rewarded with a level of reinvigorated fervor from the fans.

It didn’t actually work so well on the field, mind you. Not initially, at least, as the 2013 Blue Jays won just one more game (76) than the shambolic 2012 team. It took two more seasons before some of that massive haul could contribute to the moment when the team’s fortunes truly turned. But the big deals at least created the impression that the team could be bold if it needed to be.

There is some hazard in attempting to turn around the public perception all at once. The free agent market this year ran hotter and faster than any in recent memory, which left the Blue Jays – and many other teams – chasing after a scant few players at the top of everyone’s lists. It has left them in a situation where the decision of a single player could make or break their offseason, potentially sinking the customers’ trust that much more.

This is likely an argument for why teams shouldn’t wait until the perfect moment to begin adding substantively all at once when they are “ready”, and why they should always be looking to make their team better. But that’s another treatise for a another day.

It’s one thing to sneer at the notion of “winning the off-season,” but there comes a moment where if you don’t do something notable, you risk losing more fans’ faith.

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Tennis legend Serena Williams to retire after U.S. Open in September – CBC Sports

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Serena Williams’ appearance at the National Bank Open in Toronto will be the final one of her career.

The tennis legend said earlier Tuesday she is planning to retire from tennis sometime following the U.S. Open, which begins later this month.

Williams, who won her opening match at the National Bank Open on Monday, made the announcement in an essay released by Vogue magazine.

“I’m turning 41 this month, and something’s got to give,” Williams wrote in an essay released Tuesday by Vogue magazine.

She said she wasn’t sure she’d be able to look at the magazine when the issue hit newstands, “knowing that this is it, the end of a story that started in Compton, California, with a little Black girl who just wanted to play tennis.”

Williams, one of the greatest and most accomplished athletes in the history of her — or any other — sport, said she does not like the word retirement and prefers to think of this stage of her life as “evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.”

Williams is playing this week in Toronto, at a hard-court tournament that leads into the U.S. Open, the year’s last Grand Slam event, which begins in New York on Aug. 29.

WATCH | Williams advances to 2nd round:

Serena Williams advances to the 2nd round of the National Bank Open

1 day ago

Duration 0:33

Serena Williams defeated Nuria Parrizas-Diaz in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, her first singles win since the 2021 French Open.

The American has won more Grand Slam singles titles in the professional era than any other woman or man. Only one player, Margaret Court, collected more, 24, although she won a portion of hers in the amateur era.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her. If I’m in a Grand Slam final, then yes, I am thinking about that record,” Williams said. “Maybe I thought about it too much, and that didn’t help. The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus Grand Slams.”

I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair.— American tennis player Serena Williams

But, Williams went on to write, “These days, if I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”

Off tour for a year

She and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, have a daughter, Olympia, who turns 5 on Sept. 1.

“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair,” said Williams, who was pregnant when she won the 2017 Australian Open for her last Grand Slam trophy. “If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labour of expanding our family.”

Williams was off the tour for about a year after getting injured during her first-round match at Wimbledon in 2021. She returned to singles competition at the All England Club this June and lost in the first round.

After that defeat, Williams was asked whether she would compete again.

“That’s a question I can’t answer,” she said at the time. “I don’t know. … Who knows? Who knows where I’ll pop up?”

Williams hints in the essay that the U.S. Open will be her last tournament but does not say so explicitly.

“I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment,” Williams wrote. “I’m terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst.”

Plans to celebrate in Toronto

The announcement has already set off plans to celebrate Williams, along with ticket sales having skyrocketed according to tournament director Karl Hale.

“Tremendously (impacts everything with the tournament). Ticket sales have gone through the roof, we’ll be sold out by (6 p.m.) today, which doesn’t happen on a Wednesday, typically,” he said. “The media requests have been significant to say the least, everybody wants to see Serena and talk to her. Even the players in the players lounge, everybody’s talking about Serena.”

“Tomorrow night, we’ll celebrate her for sure.”

The American has won more Grand Slam singles titles in the professional era than any other woman or man. Only one player, Margaret Court, collected more, 24, although she won a portion of hers in the amateur era.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her. If I’m in a Grand Slam final, then yes, I am thinking about that record,” Williams said. “Maybe I thought about it too much, and that didn’t help. The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus Grand Slams.”

But, Williams went on to write, “These days, if I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”

She and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, have a daughter, Olympia, who turns 5 on Sept. 1.

News saddening to younger players

Despite Williams’ announcement being considered imminent, for younger players like American Coco Gauff, the news is still saddening.

“A little bit sad because I’ve always wanted to play her so I’m hoping my draw in Cincinnati or the U.S. Open or even here, can work out so we could play each other because that’s one of my goals,” the 18-year-old said.

Her legacy has been one to behold and one that Gauff believes may be untouchable.

“I think the legacy she’s left on the world just through her tennis career is something that I don’t think any other player could touch. I think the legacy she’ll continue to leave throughout her life is something that can inspire many more generations,” she said.

When asked about her impact on her being young Black tennis player, Gauff made sure to point out it wasn’t just Williams who made an impact, it was also her dad Richard Williams.

“I grew up watching her. That’s the reason why I played tennis. Tennis being a predominantly white sport, it definitely helped a lot because I saw somebody look like me dominating the game and it made me believe that I could dominate too.

“Mr. Williams and all that he’s done for both (Venus and Serena) of them, inspired my dad to continue to coach me and help me even though he didn’t (have much) tennis experience. He was like, ‘if Mr. Williams could do it, then I can.’ It’s not so much just what Serena and Venus have left, it’s also the whole Williams family in general.”

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Kevin Durant Didn't Previously Express Wish For Nets To Fire Steve Nash, Sean Marks – RealGM.com

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Kevin Durant met with Joe Tsai recently in London and it was revealed he expressed a lack of faith in the direction of the Brooklyn Nets. Durant reportedly issued an ultimatum that he is not interested in continuing with the Nets if Steve Nash remains as head coach and Sean Marks continues running the front office.

“The timing of it is also unusual,” said Brian Windhorst on Tuesday. “While star players have gotten coaches fired for decades and will get them fired for decades, he didn’t express this, as far as I’m aware to the Nets at the end of the season. And he didn’t express this to the Nets when he made his trade demand. So doing it now is a maneuver. A maneuver that I don’t think worked. 

“Because as I talk to teams out there, they don’t think his increased his trade value, they think this hurt his trade value.”

Windhorst also noted that Tsai statement of support for Nash and Marks also includes a sentence the league paid strong attention to stating “We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”

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Thousands of tickets still available for world junior hockey tournament in Edmonton – CBC Sports

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Odd summer timing and an ongoing sexual assault scandal at Hockey Canada could be the reason thousands of tickets to the world junior championship are still available on the eve of the tournament, says an Edmonton professor.

Prof. Dan Mason, who teaches in the faculty of kinesiology, sport, and recreation at the University of Alberta, said when Canada hosts, there are usually so many fans who want to see the home team take the ice that they are willing to buy Hockey Canada’s packaged games that include teams that are not Canadian.

“So Latvia vs. Slovakia, for example, those games will be sold out as well because in order to get the tickets to watch Canada play, you have to buy a package that includes some of the other games,” he said on Friday.

“The fact that there are still Team Canada tickets available, that tells you the demand is much lower than it usually is for this kind of event.”

WATCH l World junior tournament to go ahead amidst Hockey Canada controversy:

World junior hockey tournament to go ahead amidst Hockey Canada controversy

7 hours ago

Duration 2:07

Ticket sales for the World Junior Hockey Championships in Edmonton are below expectations as the tournament kicks of this week in the shadow of an ongoing sexual assault scandal at Hockey Canada.

The tournament runs from Aug. 9-20 at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

The initial 2022 championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., was called off Dec. 29 after just four days because of rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials, which forced game forfeitures.

The 10-country tournament will be minus Russia, barred from participating by the International Ice Hockey Federation because of that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Holiday tradition

Around 1,500 tickets are still available for purchase on Ticketmaster to the first game between Czech Republic and Slovakia on Tuesday. About 1,300 tickets are available for the next day when Canada takes on Latvia. About 1,500 seats for the final game are also available with hundreds of other tickets to watch the 11-day tournament.

This time of year, you probably already had plans to go to the lake … or do something summer-related.— Edmonton professor Dan Mason on poor ticket sales for an August world juniors

Mason said the timing of the games could be why interest is so low. The tournament typically runs over the Christmas holidays.

“Over the past 30 years or so, TSN has built the world juniors into this holiday event that people partake in,” he said.

“I watch it with my family over the [Christmas] break though so it’s kind of become part of our holiday tradition.

“This time of year, you probably already had plans to go to the lake, go to the mountains or do something summer-related. I don’t think we’re willing to give up those plans to watch hockey.”

Many people could also be waiting for a former judge on the Supreme Court of Canada to begin independently reviewing Hockey Canada’s governance amid calls for a change of leadership.

The review comes after members of the 2018 world junior team were accused of a group sexual assault after a gala event, and after Hockey Canada reached a settlement.

“I think there’s people who weren’t sure if they would go or not, and maybe deciding not to go because of that,” Mason said.

The CEO of Explore Edmonton, which promotes tourism in the Alberta capital, said in an email the marketing organization paused its promotion of the games in response to the allegations.

“As the host city for the upcoming tournament, we continue to have discussions with Hockey Canada officials about their plans to address the need for change,” said Traci Bednard.

Mason said inflation and less disposable income could be other factors working against the tournament.

“Canada may be more focused on that player development piece than trying to sort of make money off of a tournament being held in the summer,” he said.

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