It's finally opening day for a Major League Baseball season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic. The Yankees take on the World Series Champion Nationals at 7:08 p.m. — the country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is expected to throw the ceremonial first pitch. And as baseball prepares to kick off, Mookie Betts has reportedly said yes to a huge contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Betts and the Dodgers have struck baseball's first big-money deal since the coronavirus pandemic decimated the sport's economics. The 12-year, $365 million contract runs through 2032 and removes the top offensive player from next off-season's free-agent class. The 27-year-old outfielder was acquired by the Dodgers from the Boston Red Sox on Feb. 10, along with pitcher David Price for three players. His deal is baseball's second-largest in total dollars behind the $426.5 million, 12-year contract for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout covering 2019-30. The four-time Gold Glove winner captured the 2018 AL MVP award en route to Boston's World Series title. He hit .295 with 29 homers and 80 RBIs last year, down from a major league-leading .346 average with 32 homers and 80 RBIs in his MVP season.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania health officials won't allow the Blue Jays to play at PNC Park in Pittsburgh amid the coronavirus pandemic. The state is the latest jurisdiction to say no to the team as the baseball season begins this week. The state's secretary of health cited a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in southwestern Pennsylvania as the reason to bar the Blue Jays from playing their home games in the Steel City. Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said this week his team has more than five contingency plans for a home stadium and was in talks with other teams. He declined to name them. Atkins said if the Blue Jays can't find a major league park, their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, New York, would be their most likely site for home games.
In other major league news:
Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman has a torn muscle in his left calf and will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis. The All-Star right-hander was expected to follow two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom in a rotation that already will be without No. 2 starter Noah Syndergaard all year because of Tommy John surgery. He was 6-11 with a 2.96 ERA in 21 starts for Toronto last season before going 4-2 with a 3.77 ERA for the Mets.
Mike Trout has decided to play for the Angels in the shortened baseball season, although his year will be interrupted in a few weeks by the birth of his first child. The three-time AL MVP confirmed his decision Wednesday before his team's exhibition game against the Padres at Angel Stadium. Trout expressed uncertainty earlier this month about the safety of this unique major league season, saying he wouldn't risk his growing family's health to participate.
Rockies reliever Scott Oberg will start the season on the injured list because of back soreness. Oberg was 6-1 with a 2.25 ERA and five saves in 49 games for the Rockies last season. He got a $13 million, three-year contract last winter.
Royals outfielder Hunter Dozier has tested positive for COVID-19 and been placed on the injured list. The 28-year-old is coming off a breakthrough season in which he hit 26 homers, drove in 84 runs and tied for the American League lead in triples. He is expected to play a big role for the Royals during their abbreviated 60-game season, which begins against the Indians on Friday night in Cleveland.
Freddie Freeman is back and ready to anchor the Braves' lineup after a scary battle with COVID-19 earlier in summer camp. The 30-year-old Freeman had career highs last season with 38 homers and 121 RBIs. The four-time All-Star hopes to lead Atlanta back to the top of the NL East for the third straight season.
MLB players have the option of having a patch with "Black Lives Matter" or "United For Change" on a jersey sleeve on opening day of the pandemic-delayed season. Teams have the option of stenciling an inverted MLB logo with "BLM" or "United for Change" on the back of the pitcher's mound during opening weekend games.
Umpire Angel Hernández will serve as an interim crew chief this season after a dozen umps decided to sit out amid the coronavirus pandemic. Hernández sued MLB in 2017, alleging race discrimination and cited that he hadn't be assigned to the World Series since 2005 and hadn't been promoted to head a crew. Eight crew chiefs and four other umpires have opted out of working this season.
Yuya Kubo scored off a defensive mistake just before halftime, and FC Cincinnati added a second-half own goal on its way to a 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls in the MLS is Back tournament. Cincinnati picked up one of the biggest wins in its young franchise history, securing a spot in the knockout round of the tournament by beating the Red Bulls for the first time in four league matchups. Kubo’s goal came in the 43rd minute after New York had controlled most of the first half. New York wasn't officially eliminated but will need a lot of help on the final day to advance.
In women's soccer, Bianca St. Georges and Rachel Hill scored early and the Chicago Red Stars held off determined Sky Blue 3-2 to earn a spot in the Challenge Cup final. The Red Stars, who played last year in the National Women's Soccer League championship game but fell to the North Carolina, will meet the Houston Dash on Sunday in the tournament's title game. The Dash, who had never made the playoffs in seven seasons in the league, defeated the Portland Thorns 1-0 in the earlier semifinal.
Olympic gold medalist Justin Olsen retired from bobsled and immediately got hired by USA Bobsled and Skeleton as one of its start coaches. Olsen and fellow Olympic medalist Garrett Hines are now overseeing the start program for the Americans. They will be based in Lake Placid, New York — where the Olympic Regional Development Authority is building a state-of-the-art iced push track facility.
The NHL is prohibiting teams from disclosing injuries as a way to maintain player privacy during the COVID-19 pandemic. It's an even thicker veil of secrecy for a sport that already uses vague terms like upper- and lower-body injuries. Players asked for the nondisclosure policy to prevent individual coronavirus tests results coming to light. Saying nothing has led to rampant speculation when prominent players like Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby or Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford are missing from practice.
In other virus-related sports news:
The NFL Players Association says 95 players are known to have tested positive for the coronavirus. That number is up from 72 in the union's last report on July 10. The NFLPA and the NFL reached agreement Monday on COVID-19 testing as rookies begin reporting to training camps. Most veterans come in next week, though some players rehabbing injuries could report this week.
The NCAA football oversight committee is asking the association's Board of Governors to avoid making a decision later this week on whether to conduct fall sports championships. The board is scheduled to meet Friday as college sports leaders try to find a path to play during the pandemic. There has been speculation the board could decide to call off NCAA championship events in fall sports such as soccer, volleyball and lower-division football. That could increase pressure for conferences to cancel their seasons.
The International Tennis Federation plans to resume its lower-level World Tennis Tour the week of Aug. 17 and its junior and beach tennis tours two weeks later when the U.S. Open is scheduled to begin. All ITF tours have been suspended since March because of the coronavirus pandemic. The ITF also announced its COVID-19 protocols for its tournaments and players.
The PGA Tour Series-China season has been canceled. The China-based tour's executive director says attempts to move the qualifying tournaments to other sites in Asia were not practical and restricted access into mainland China made it too difficult to stage tournaments in 2020.
The head of the Tokyo Olympics says the delayed games could not be held next year if conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic remain as they are. But Yoshiro Mori says he expects conditions to improve and is hopeful a COVID-19 vaccine will be developed soon. The postponed Olympics open a year from now on July 23, 2021.
Houston Rockets star Russell Westbrook is set to practice with the team for the first time since revealing that he tested positive for the coronavirus. Westbrook did not travel with the Rockets on July 9 when they flew to Florida for the NBA's restart. The nine-time All-Star revealed on social media that he had tested positive for the virus on July 14 and he did not arrive in Florida until Monday. Westbrook had to quarantine upon his arrival at Disney but was cleared to join the Rockets for their practice Wednesday. He said his only symptom was a stuffy nose.
Also in the NBA, Zion Williamson could still make reopening night of the NBA season. The New Orleans Pelicans said Wednesday that Williamson is being tested daily for the coronavirus and continues showing negative results. If that continues, Williamson may have to quarantine for only four days when he returns to the team.
Prosecutors have dropped the drunken driving and illegal handgun charges against Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Ed Oliver, who had been arrested in May during a traffic stop in Houston's northern suburbs. A spokesperson for the Montgomery County DA's Office says the decision was due to lack of evidence after blood test results showed no intoxication.
In other NFL news, former Pittsburgh Steelers player Carlton Haselrig has died at age 54. Haselrig was a Pro Bowl right guard for the Steelers in the early 1990s and also the only wrestler in NCAA history to win six individual national championships. Pittsburgh-Johnstown wrestling coach Pat Pecora said Haselrig had been in declining health in recent years. Pecora molded Haselrig into a multiple heavyweight division champion at both the NCAA Division II and Division I levels in the 1980s Haselrig didn't play a down of college football after suffering an injury during his freshman year at Lock Haven. He spent five years in the NFL after the Steelers took him in the 12th round of the 1990 draft. His career was cut short in the mid-1990s due to a battle with alcohol and substance abuse.
David Law of Scotland shot a 7-under 64 to take a one-stroke lead over Oliver Fisher, Garrick Porteous and Renato Paratore in the opening round of the British Masters at Close House Golf Course near Newcastle on Wednesday. Aaron Cockerill, Rasmus Hojgard, Lee Slattery and Pedro Figueiredo were another shot back in a share of fifth, holding off a gaggle of nine players on 4 under. The tournament marks the start of the European Tour's "U.K. Swing," a series of six events played in England and Wales over the next six weeks devised primarily for ease of travel for players amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Also, the Women's British Open is keeping its title sponsor and getting a slightly different name. The R&A announced Wednesday that New York-based finance and insurance group AIG. And now that the R&A is charge on running the event, it said its official title will be the AIG Women's Open. It previously was called the Women's British Open.
© The Associated Press 2020. All Rights Reserved.