Category Archives: Sports news

Minor league baseball hits the showers

It’s official … there will be no minor league baseball in America this summer.

The dang pandemic has claimed a major casualty. I got word of the demise of minor league hardball in my morning newspaper, which reported that the myriad leagues around the country couldn’t pull it together in time to throw out first pitches.

I had hoped to attend a few games this summer in Frisco, where the Roughriders play ball. It won’t happen. What’s more, I had intended to cheer for the Amarillo Sod Poodles when they ventured to Collin County to play the Roughriders.

In fact, my heart hurts more for the Soddies’ fans than for the Roughrider fans. I mean, the Sod Poodles wanted to defend their Texas League championship, which they won in 2019 during their initial season in existence.

The Big Leagues are set to play a 60-game schedule that begins late this month. I hope they make the grade, although given current infection trends in many states I am not going to cash in my chips on it.

As for the minor league cities all across the nation that root hard for their Major League wannabes, let’s justsit tight and wait for next year to arrive.

No ‘hate crime,’ but the love should remain

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports 

Bubba Wallace quite suddenly has become NASCAR’s most visible driver. He is the only top-tier African-American driver in the racing circuit.

It was thought for a few days that someone had hung a noose in his garage at the track in Talledaga, Ala., spurring outrage among drivers, their owners, many fans and politicians. Then we hear from the FBI that the noose had been in the garage since October 2019, well before Wallace and his crew took up space in the garage stall.

He had made his mark by calling for the removal of Confederate flags at NASCAR events. NASCAR heard him and took down the flags, which themselves in the eyes of many of us are symbols of hate, oppression and treason.

No hate crime has been committed, said the FBI.

What now?

NASCAR showed its love and respect for Wallace prior to the race the other day in Talledaga. Drivers and their crews escorted Wallace’s No. 43 car to the front of the line. The race started and Wallace led several laps before finishing in 14th place.

Wallace said he won’t be silenced by any threats. This particular threat apparently has been deemed a non-starter. The outcome of the FBI probe into what they found in that garage stall doesn’t diminish the message that a single driver sought to deliver about his sport. Yes, it was born in the South. Yes, too, the Confederate flag has been a key symbol at NASCAR events. Bubba Wallace simply has told us what many of us have known all along, that the symbol represents a dark and evil chapter in our nation’s history.

The young man deserves the love that has poured forth from his colleagues and from fans around the country.

They’re going to play hardball after all!

Minor league baseball — the organized, Major League Baseball-affiliated version of it — appears headed for the scrap heap in 2020, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and MLB’s inability to cobble together an agreement to start an abbreviated season.

But get a load of this development: Some minor-league cities are going to play host to a collegiate league comprising players from colleges and universities. Amarillo gets to join the fun when it plays host to two teams, the Amarillo Sod Squad and the Amarillo Sod Dogs. I guess the names are a sort of offshoots of the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the AA Texas League team that has been shelved for the season because of the pandemic.

They’re going to start playing baseball at Hodgetown, the shiny new ballpark the Sod Poodles call home. Brett Wellman will manage the Sod Squad; Jimmy Johnson will manage the Sod Dogs. Wellman is the son of Sod Poodles skipper Phillip Wellman, so they’re keeping it in the family; Johnson is a longtime hitting instructor.

There is an interesting aspect of this league. The teams will play with wooden bats, not the metal sticks used in NCAA games featuring college teams. For those baseball purists — such as myself — the sound of a wooden bat hitting a fastball out of the park is damn near like music to my ears, compared to that tinny sound of bat striking ball we hear during collegiate games.

So, all is not lost after all for minor league baseball fans in at least one American city … which happens to be a place my wife and I called “home” for more than two decades.

The Texas Collegiate League begins play later this month. The teams will entertain fans who’ve been deprived of cheering on their beloved Sod Poodles, who won the Texas League pennant a season ago in their first season in existence but who have seen their second season slip away because of a killer virus.

This ought to work out well. Play ball!

So long, Confederate flag!

What do you know about that? Hell has this way of continually freezing over.

NASCAR, the Southern-based sports giant that features cars that roar around race tracks, has decided to ban the display of Confederate flags at its events.

It’s a response to the Black Lives Matter movement that has erupted around the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. What’s more, Floyd’s death is just the latest involving the death of African-Americans at the hands of police officers.

Race car driver Bubba Wallace, one of the few black drivers active with NASCAR, called on the sports giant to ban the flag. NASCAR heard Wallace’s demand and, by golly, acted on it!

In some way, this isn’t all that surprising. NASCAR has sought for years to expand its fan base beyond its Deep South roots. It conducts races at tracks all over the nation. It’s big in California, in New England, in the upper Midwest, in the Rust Belt, all along the Atlantic Seaboard, in the desert Southwest.

The Stars and Bars to some represents a symbol of Southern heritage. To others it represents slave ownership, repression of human beings, disloyalty to the United States … given that the Confederate States of America went to war with the U.S. of A. to preserve their right to continue slave ownership.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that the Confederate flags fly during Ku Klux Klan rallies or those events sponsored by neo-Nazis and assorted white supremacists.

NASCAR did what it had to do. I am delighted to see this news. I am glad Bubba Wallace’s demand did not go unheard. It remains to be seen, of course, how NASCAR will deal with fans who come to these races in the future carrying the Confederate flag or wearing it on t-shirts.

Striking the Stars and Bars colors from NASCAR events, though, is a constructive start in the effort to rid the nation of a symbol that means divisiveness and hatred.

Heart hurts for baseball fans

I might be one of the few and not-so-proud baseball fans out here who is concerned that Major League Baseball’s 2020 season is in dire peril.

It might not happen. The MLB’s owners have pitched a 76-game schedule that cuts deeply into the money the players would earn from a regular season and from a playoff system resulting in the World Series.

They’re still dickering, quarreling and negotiating over the terms of the season. It doesn’t look good, at least not to these eyes.

Furthermore, it’s beginning to look equally bleak for all those minor-league teams and the communities that support them for what they hoped would be a stellar season in 2020.

Yep, that’s you, my friends and former neighbors in Amarillo, those of you who root hard for the Sod Poodles, the city’s AA franchise affiliated with the San Diego Padres.

The Soddies won the Texas League title in 2019. They had high hopes of defending their title this season … until the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down.

This hurts fans all across the land. The big leagues have their faithful fanatics. So do the minor leagues. MLB has its players union. Minor league baseball isn’t affected so much by that governing body.

That damn pandemic is threating to wipe out an entire season.

My heart hurts for the fans who have been waiting … patiently.

No hardball for a lot of communities

Oh, I do hate exposing myself to being called a Negative Ned, but I believe I am hearing the death knell for the 2020 minor league baseball season all across the nation.

Reuters is reporting that “hundreds” of minor league baseball players have been released by their teams. They’ve been let go. No baseball for these fellows, at least not this year. The coronavirus pandemic has all but shut down minor league ball this season.

Meanwhile, the Major League Baseball gurus/moguls/tycoons are struggling to find a way to launch a dramatically shortened season by the Fourth of July. To do that, they are having to slash costs associated with running a big league franchise. Who pays for that? The folks in the minor leagues.

Now, this is where it cuts a bit close to the quick for yours truly. A team I have been following from some distance now appears to be in some peril. I refer to the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the AA franchise affiliated with the San Diego Padres.

I lived in Amarillo for 23 years. I have a lot of friends there. Many of them have become devoted fans of the Sod Poodles, who in their first season ever won the Texas League championship. They play in a brand new venue in downtown Amarillo. They draw full-house crowds on game day/night.

It appears that Season No. 2 is slipping away. This breaks my heart. It saddens me that the defending champs will have to wait a year to, um, defend their title.

I don’t want this to happen. I want my friends to be able to cheer on the Sod Poodles. Alas, it is looking — at least to me — as if it ain’t gonna happen.

Dang!

Hoping for a good outcome for Amarillo’s baseball future

The start of the Major League Baseball season remains a moving target.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown it all into a cocked hat. MLB hasn’t yet played a game that counts. The National Basketball Association suspended its season, along with the National Hockey League. The National Football League is supposed to start blocking and tackling, but there might not be fans in the stands.

As for baseball, there appears to be some serious tension building between the big-league clubs and their minor-league affiliates.

Pay attention, dear friends in Amarillo, Texas. I am about to talk about the beloved Sod Poodles.

There is some discussion about MLB shedding 42 minor league franchises. What in the world does that mean for the Sod Poodles, which are affiliated with the National League San Diego Padres?

Here is a small part of what Sports Illustrated is reporting:

Even as taxpayers help to keep teams afloat, several minor league affiliates reported that their MLB teams seem unconcerned about their plight during the COVID-19 crisis. Though MLB clubs are not allowed, by rule, to directly pump funds into their affiliates, several minor league executives chafed at not having received so much as a check-in phone call.

The frostiness comes amid months of tense back-and-forth between MLB and the minors over the Professional Baseball Agreement, which governs their relationship. Last extended in 2011, the deal expires this September and, as part of the negotiations, MLB is seeking to save costs by eliminating more than a quarter of affiliated teams by next season while pushing for other significant changes to its minor league partnership.

The SI article is titled “Minor League Baseball is in crisis.” So I’ll leave it to you to decide just how much of minor league ball is hurting.

As for the Sod Poodles, the franchise does not have a lengthy history. It has competed in just a single season. Granted, it was a highly successful season in 2019, with the Sod Poodles winning the Texas League championship.

Please do not accuse me of heightened negativity here. I want nothing more than for my friends and former neighbors in Amarillo to cheer the Sod Poodles on again and again.

We are faced, though, with Major League Baseball in the midst of a financial crisis created by a worldwide medical crisis. I don’t expect the baseball players union to give up the substantial sums of money that go the players. MLB, therefore, might have to face the harshest of realities if it cuts the enough affiliated franchises to save enough money to stay in business.

I am crossing my fingers. Please, let those savings not involve the Amarillo Sod Poodles.

Will there be a fan-less baseball season? Well … probably

At the risk of being called a Dickey Downer, or a Negative Ned, I need to suggest what is looking patently obvious to this baseball fan.

If the Major Leagues suit up for the 2020 season while we are fighting a deadly worldwide viral pandemic, the athletes will play in front of themselves and each other. No fans in the stands. No cheering from behind the dugout. No curtain calls after dramatic home runs.

MLB is considering an 82-game schedule to begin around the Fourth of July. I understand that the team owners have signed off on it, but need approval by the players union to close the deal.

Yes, we have all these beautiful baseball venues around the country that will be devoid of fans. Why? The answer is obvious: Social distancing requirements — which are essential to stemming the infection rate — will not allow fans to be crammed into the stadiums next to each other.

Am I OK with that, with playing these games before tens of thousands of empty seats? Absolutely. I want to see baseball return.

Now … I want to speak briefly to my friends in Amarillo, who have been awaiting the start of the Texas League AA season featuring their beloved Amarillo Sod Poodles. The last time I commented on the team’s immediate future, a sorehead among the Sod Poodles fan club accused me of being Mr. Negativity.

I hate to say this, but Hodgetown — the shiny new ballpark built along Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo — should remain empty, too, even if the Sod Poodles take the field for some hardball.

Yes, this pains me terribly. The ballpark came into being with considerable fanfare and much-deserved hype. It’s a first-class venue. The Sod Poodles’ fans packed the place for virtually every home game in 2019.

For the sake of community health — which at this moment appears to be teetering with a rash of outbreaks — the Sod Poodles should play their games before no one.

Baseball fans all across this great country are going to suffer the same withdrawal. If that’s what must happen, well, there’s always next season … or we can hope.

R.I.P., the great Don Shula

Don Shula has died at the age of 90.

He was a great National Football League coach. He led the Miami Dolphins to the only undefeated season in NFL history, coaching them to a 14-7 victory in the 1973 Super Bowl over the Washington Redskins. He would coach the Dolphins to a second straight Super Bowl victory the following year.

Now, I want to offer this little tidbit that has been lost as the pro football world has long saluted the greatness of Don Shula. I do not mean to disparage him.

But …

Don Shula also coached the Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl, the third such game pitting the NFL champs against the American Football League champs.

The Colts lost that game, 16-7, to the New York Jets, the team quarterbacked by that brash youngster Joe Namath who reportedly “guaranteed” that the Jets would beat the Colts and elevate the AFL to parity with the more established NFL.

I don’t recall whether the Colts were outcoached, or whether the Jets simply outplayed them.

Still, that one history-making loss did not do a single thing to diminish the great record — the winningest record in NFL history — that became the hallmark of Don Shula’s fabulous career.

R.I.P., Coach.

Looking toward a possible grim reality: no baseball in Amarillo

I am trying to equivocate as much as I can, using the word “possible” in front of “grim reality.”

I am fearing the worst for my former neighbors up yonder in Amarillo, where they are waiting for the start of the minor league season featuring the defending Texas League champion Amarillo Sod Poodles.

The worst is that there might not be a season to celebrate.

I watch the “Sod Squad” fan club on my Facebook page. It is full of hopeful statements from fans. I want their hope to be well-founded. I want them to be able to cheer the Sod Poodles into their second season in existence. Their first one was epic, winning the Texas League title against the defending champion Tulsa Drillers.

It’s just that the coronavirus pandemic has spooked athletic leagues and associations everywhere. Major League Baseball is trying to figure out how to play a 100-game schedule, how to split the two leagues into three divisions and how to play all their games in Florida, Arizona and Texas … with few if any fans watching in person.

Minor league ball isn’t that far along.

I want there to be baseball this spring and summer. I am leery of it returning this year given the loss of life that is occurring at this very moment.

The Sod Poodles have what must be one of the more devoted fan bases in all of minor league baseball. I love reading their Facebook posts. I draw from their enthusiasm.

Now that I live a good bit distant from Amarillo, I am hopeful to see the Sod Poodles play when they venture to nearby Frisco to play the Roughriders. Trust me when I say I would cheer loudly for them even as I am surrounded by Roughrider fans.

My gut is telling me it might not happen this year. Let’s start preparing for the worst.