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The Phillie Phanatic has gotten a spring training makeover

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One big rumor circulating around spring training camp this week: The Phanatic — the Philadelphia Phillies‘ green and furry mascot — may be getting a new look. While the details won’t be revealed until Sunday when the team hosts the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Phillies’ spring home opener at Spectrum Field, a few (very small) details have emerged: It seems the mascot may have new shoes and socks — and may be either thinner, wider, taller or shorter. Ooh, the mystery!

While lots of players changed teams during the winter, and new-look uniforms have been released for many teams — this is the very first mascot change we’ve heard about.



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Ex-Astros catcher Evan Gattis — We obviously cheated baseball, fans

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Evan Gattis, who won a World Series ring with the Houston Astros in 2017, said the team and its players “obviously cheated baseball and cheated fans” with the sign-stealing scandal that has rocked the sport.

“Everybody wants to be the best player in the f—ing world, man,” Gattis, who has since retired, told The Athletic’s “755 Is Real” podcast. “And we cheated that, for sure. And we obviously cheated baseball and cheated fans. Fans felt duped. I feel bad for fans.

“I’m not asking for sympathy or anything like that. If our punishment is being hated by everybody forever, just like, whatever. I don’t know what should be done, but something had to f—ing be done. I do agree with that, big-time. I do think it’s good for baseball that we’re cleaning it up. … And I understand that it’s not f—ing good enough to say sorry. I get it.”

Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were given one-year bans and subsequently fired in January following an investigation by Major League Baseball that confirmed the Astros had cheated by using a camera-based sign-stealing system during the regular season and playoffs of their World Series-winning 2017 season and during part of the 2018 regular season.

The Astros also lost their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and were fined $5 million. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in January that he would not strip the Astros of their World Series title.

Former Astros players Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran also lost their jobs as managers of the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, respectively.

“We didn’t look at our moral compass and say this is right,” said Gattis, who played catcher and served as designated hitter for the Astros in 2017. “It was almost like paranoia warfare or something. But what we did was wrong. Don’t get it twisted: It was wrong for the nature of competition, not even just baseball.”

The scandal came to light after former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who now pitches for the A’s, told The Athletic about the Astros’ wrongdoings in November.

“[Fiers] had something to say, so he had to f—ing say it and then we had to get punished,” Gattis said. “Because if not, then what? It’d f—ing get even more out of control. I mean, it’s a tough subject. Yeah, I think a lot of people feel duped, and I understand that.”

Gattis said players weren’t under any pressure from Beltran or any other players to participate in the sign-stealing scheme.

“Nobody made us do s—. You know what I’m saying? People saying this guy made us, that guy made us, that’s not it,” Gattis said. “But you have to understand the situation was powerful.

“You work your whole life to try to f—ing hit a ball, and you mean you can tell me what’s coming? It was like, ‘What?’ It’s a powerful thing, and there’s millions of dollars on line and s—. And that’s the bad of it, too, that’s where people got hurt. And that’s not right. That’s not playing the game right.”

While he said Hinch knew of the scheme, Gattis said “I don’t think he liked it.” Gattis also said other teammates were upset about what transpired.

“Some people are f—ing mad also on our team. Not mad at people hating us, just mad, like kind of on the fans’ side,” Gattis said. “Not everybody was super happy about the cheating. … They were teammates, and maybe they didn’t feel like they were in a position to say anything. And they’re living with it right now. I could have said some s—, I could have done something, but I did not. Definitely not.

“It got out of f—ing control. That’s why I’m actually glad that the objective truth is out there. We f—ed up, and it was not right. It was wrong. It’s a little easier to see it being f—ed up afterwards. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy we won the World Series. … But once that all fades, now it’s kind of different. That happened and we cheated. You can’t feel that good about it. As I grow up, this is a story now, this is gonna be a story next year, and this going to be a story in a decade and longer.

“I’m trying to come up with something positive out of this, other than now we know. But f—, MLB punished us — I guess not the players — but everybody’s gonna have to wear the boos and all that s–t and be a punching bag, I get it. I understand why you’re mad.”

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Cooperstown’s annual baseball dreams in jeopardy

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The story that baseball was invented in Cooperstown, New York, is only a myth, but there is no denying that the game sustains the place.

Each summer, tens of thousands of baseball devotees from across the country travel to the area to take part in a series of youth baseball tournaments and to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

The influx of baseball pilgrims keeps many locals — innkeepers, Vrbo and Airbnb entrepreneurs, restaurant and souvenir shop owners, waiters and clerks — economically afloat for the entire year. Now, all that is jeopardized by the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re all sort of holding our breath up here and wondering how we are going to make it through this year,” said Lori Fink, owner of Tin Bin Alley, a sweets shop on Cooperstown’s picturesque, 19th century-era Main Street. “This is a big deal for us. We’re sort of one day at a time now.”

Stores and other businesses in Otsego County that collect sales taxes averaged a total of $21 million a month in business last baseball season, opposed to $16 million a month in the offseason. The additional county tax revenue resulting from the surge in baseball business is estimated to be about $6 million a year, a figure roughly equivalent to one-half of Otsego’s property tax receipts.

“If people don’t come this summer, many businesses in the area are going to get absolutely crushed,” said Otsego County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, adding: “We are going to get hit hard too. It is going to be devastating.”

For the moment, things are looking bleak. The Hall of Fame is closed indefinitely, and its highly anticipated July 26 induction ceremony featuring Yankees great Derek Jeter is in limbo. The Hall has already canceled special events scheduled for May, including its Hall of Fame Classic weekend, which would have brought a group of retired major leaguers together to play an exhibition game on historic Doubleday Field.

Meanwhile, the Cooperstown Dreams Park, a youth facility that draws more than 17,000 players and coaches at $1,300 per person, plus an estimated 50,000 other family members over the course of the summer, has canceled its entire 2020 season.

In past years, stars like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, David Price and Odell Beckham Jr. — who was a multisport standout before turning exclusively to football — were among the youngsters who graced the Dream Park’s 22 carefully manicured diamonds. This year, the facility’s owners have offered its barracks-style buildings, which normally house a stream of starry-eyed young ballplayers and their coaches, to the state of New York to house those gravely sickened by the coronavirus. The owners also offered to establish a food pantry and soup kitchen to help the many local residents sure to be economically devastated in the crisis.

“Cooperstown Dreams Park was hoping to avoid this outcome, but it is the only responsible course of action,” Dreams Park officials said in a statement. “Like the rest of the nation, we have never experienced anything like this.”

Local officials worry that the Hall’s decisions and the elimination of the Dreams Park season are only the beginning of a crushing wave of coronavirus-related cancellations. Three other large youth baseball facilities in the area — Cooperstown Baseball World, Cooperstown All Star Village and Cooperstown Baseball Camp — that together draw an estimated 50,000 summer visitors to the area, are also weighing canceling their seasons, even if they are holding on for now.

There are many places where the cancellation of sports caused by the coronavirus outbreak is causing bigger economic disruptions in raw-dollar terms. Atlanta, which was scheduled to host the Final Four the first weekend in April, is missing out on an estimated $106 million of new spending, although that is just a small sliver of the region’s $350 billion-plus economy. But few places are being hit as hard as Cooperstown, which relies heavily on baseball to pay the bills.

Cooperstown-area officials and businesspeople worry that if the coronavirus prevents the usual flow of baseball tourists, the local economy will suffer greatly.

“Those three months of the summer are the lion’s share of our business,” said Art Boden, general manager of Upstate Bar and Grill, Bocca Osteria and New York Pizzeria, a family-owned group of restaurants located at the southern gateway to Cooperstown. “If you take away the mashed potatoes, then gravy becomes your main entrée.”

Fink, owner of Tin Bin Alley, estimated that 75% of her business is generated in the summer. This year, she was planning on hiring eight young people to help out in the shop, but those plans are on hold. “We certainly have a lot of local support, but without Dreams Park I won’t be pouring nearly as much fudge, or scooping as much ice cream. That is going to impact our household, our livelihood,” she said.

The entire Cooperstown region is bracing for a severe economic blow if things do not return to normal shortly. The area has been known as the home of baseball for over a century. In 1905, a commission created by sporting goods titan and former pitcher A.G. Spalding determined that baseball had been invented in Cooperstown in the 1830s by Abner Doubleday, who later went on to become a noted Civil War general. The commission’s claim was later found to be a total fabrication, but that did not stop Cooperstown from capitalizing on the national pastime.

The Hall of Fame was established in 1936, marking Cooperstown as a bucket-list stop for ardent baseball fans. That has intensified in recent decades as several large youth baseball tournaments and camps were opened in the rural communities just outside Cooperstown, drawing young baseball players and their families from across the country and, sometimes, from other nations.

“We’re an absolute economic engine for Central New York,” said Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh. “The sports parks that have developed here did so because of their proximity to Cooperstown. We certainly lend our name to companies that are not located in the village, but benefit from being close to it.”

It is a mutually beneficial arrangement. The village’s Main Street is lined with mom-and-pop restaurants as well as baseball-themed shops. There are stores selling vintage baseball caps and gift shops peddling autographed baseballs. Others sell baseball cards or commemorative bats.

The traffic drawn by those businesses not only keeps the shop owners going, but also generates $400,000 a year in parking revenue for the village of 1,800 people.

Meanwhile, other business owners benefit from the annual baseball-fueled influx. The kayak outfitters and boat rental shops that line the shores of nearby Otsego Lake see a surge of business from the baseball tourists, as do the wineries, breweries, cider mill and distillery along the Cooperstown Beverage Trail.

“It is an active group of people who come here for baseball. And us being where we are and having the natural assets that we do only makes it better for the people who come here,” said Cassandra Harrington, executive director of the Destination Marketing Corp. for Otsego County.

Last year, Otsego County hotel and lodge owners and short-term renters did about $50 million of business, and nearly $30 million of that amount was collected during baseball season, according to Ruffles, the county treasurer.

During baseball season, a three-bedroom house rents for as much as $2,500 a week, and during Hall of Fame induction weekend, some homeowners fetch as much as $10,000 a week, Ruffles said.

“Maybe 20% of the residential properties here convert to short-term rentals in the summer,” said Mayor Brian Pokorny of Milford, a 400-population village near Cooperstown. “The majority are people’s primary residences. They simply vacate or, sometimes, camp for the summer.”

This year’s induction weekend promised to be especially lucrative. The ceremony was expected by some to draw a near-record crowd — maybe 80,000 or more — because Jeter is among those to be enshrined. For now, the ceremony is still on the schedule, although the Hall of Fame said it is closely watching the situation.

“Discussions regarding this public health emergency’s potential impact on 2020 Induction Weekend will take place in due time as we all learn more about the course and impact of this pandemic,” museum spokesman Jon Shestakofsky said in a statement. “In the meantime, our plans will continue forward with an Induction Ceremony in July. We share the hope of Americans and the global community for a return to normalcy as soon as possible.”

Tim Haney, president of the Cooperstown Bat Company, runs two stores on Main Street, as well as a mill and a factory where chunks of lumber known as billets are transformed into baseball bats. He employs 18 full-time workers, and another 30 each summer to handle the increased crowds. He sells roughly 65,000 bat billets and 40,000 bats a year, and good share of that bat business comes from tourists.

“It is hard to say what this place would be like without baseball,” Haney said.

Despite the pervasive gloom, some businesses are clinging to hope. Cooperstown All Star Village is expecting 70 teams a week for its 12-week season this year. About 945 players a week pay $1,095 to compete on 11 fields with LED scoreboards and lighting for night games. Many of the fields are designed to evoke the big leagues: Some have artificial turf, one is called Yankee Stadium, and two others have an 11-foot-high version of Fenway Park’s Green Monster. All Star Village employs 250 people during peak season and eight year-round.

When players are not on the field, they can hang out at the game arcade or lounge in the glove-shaped swimming pool. So far, All Star Village has not canceled its upcoming season, and its owner said he would make a determination four weeks before each week of its season, which begins in early June.

“The kids have made all their arrangements. I don’t want to steal this remaining glimmer of hope from these 12-year-olds,” said Martin Patton, who owns All Star Village. “We are going to take it a week at a time.”

He said if the games go forward it would require “careful compromise.” By that, Patton means players would spend nights at hotels with their parents, rather than in bunkhouses with their teammates and coaches. Also, there would be no high-fiving on the diamond, and he would somehow try to enforce social distancing. If he can pull it off, he said, it would be a small price to pay to play ball.

“We’re hopeful that we can do it,” Patton said.

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Betting roundtable – Our experts reflect on their most regrettable bets

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With major U.S. sports either canceling or postponing their seasons, the sports betting world is essentially on hold.

Future wagers that may have been winners — or at least had a shot at a good hedge — may be refunded. Other futures in college basketball and the XFL, for example, have already been refunded.

ESPN betting analysts Joe Fortenbaugh, Preston Johnson, Doug Kezirian and Jordan Schultz, and Matt Youmans of the Vegas Stats & Information Network share some of the ups and downs from the past year in sports betting.

Note: This is part three of a five-part series.

Jump to:
Most heartbreaking refunds |
Uplifting futures bets
Worst overall bets

What is one (or a couple) of the worst bets you made in the past year?

Youmans: Almost every bet on the New York Giants ended with regret. I bet the Giants six times last season and went 1-5 ATS. We all have at least one NFL team we should avoid. Don’t ask why I had a weakness for the Giants — especially when I disliked the coach, Pat Shurmur — but I always look for value with underdogs and got fooled by the Giants more than a few times.

Fortenbaugh: Laying -2 with the Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia back in Week 16. Why I ever thought the spineless Cowboys would show up in that spot will haunt me until the end of time. To make matters worse, I’m an Eagles fan, so my stupidity seriously tainted what should have been a glorious celebration. I hate Dallas. Always have, always will.

In the NBA, Joel Embiid to win the MVP award at 12-1. This was a razor-sharp wager except for the fact that Embiid had missed 21 games entering the hiatus, was embroiled in a war with the great fans of Philadelphia, couldn’t get along with fellow teammate Ben Simmons and was overseeing a Philadelphia 76ers roster that was once again woefully underperforming its preseason expectations (sixth place, 14 games back of first place when play was suspended). If there’s talk of bailing out the airlines, we might as well put the American taxpayer on the hook for this ridiculous bet as well. But let this serve as a lesson to all you aspiring sports bettors out there. This is precisely what a die-hard Sixers fan like myself gets for betting with his heart.

Kezirian: I would classify my last wager as the worst, and it was also my last “Best Bet” on Daily Wager. The North Carolina Tar Heels were laying 3 to Syracuse in the second round of the ACC tournament. The Tar Heels never led, as Syracuse opened the game with a 7-0 run and led by 21 points at halftime. I was not the biggest UNC backer throughout the season and actually dislike laying points with Roy Williams because I think his teams are typically soft, but I got sucked into a healthy Carolina team that was the victim of recent buzzer-beating losses. Plus, I was probably chasing money as I was kicking myself for not backing UNC in the tournament opener against Virginia Tech.

I also need to point out two horrendous NBA futures I made that will be refunded. I backed the Grizzlies under 25.5 wins and the Thunder under 31 wins. Both teams already breezed past those, but I fortunately will get my money back, per house rules, because the season will not last 82 games.

Johnson: I made a large wager on the 76ers to win the Atlantic Division this season at -162. I was buying into a Philly team that re-signed Tobias Harris and turned Jimmy Butler walking out into Al Horford and Jason Richardson. The Sixers were an iconic Game 7 Kawhi Leonard bounce from potentially winning the East and the NBA championship a year ago. What a whiff. I still think the Sixers would have been a tough out again come playoff time, but 65 games into the regular season they were 7.5 games back of Toronto and 4.5 back of Boston and looking at the 6-seed in the East.

In MLB, I had the Tampa Bay Rays under 84.5 wins. The Rays won 96 games, which isn’t anything completely disheartening; I’ve missed by 11-12 games on season win totals before. It has stuck with me because of just how short-sighted I was with how Tampa Bay started doing things in 2018, utilizing opening pitchers and bullpen games to its advantage. I didn’t think it was sustainable, especially with how weak the Rays’ bats looked to be heading into 2019. I was dead wrong, and learning from miscues is important to one’s betting process. I went from betting the Rays under 84.5 to shipping it all-in with Tampa Bay over 90.5 wins, AL East +600 and AL pennant +1400 bets this season. Unfortunately, that 2020 MLB preview won’t see the light of day.

For college football, it was the Ohio State Buckeyes under 10 wins. I was doubting Justin Fields transferring from Georgia to take over under center, and I was doubting Ryan Day in his first season as the head coach. The Buckeyes proved me incompetent and went 13-0 before finally losing a game to Clemson in the College Football Playoff.

Finally, in the NFL, Cam Newton to win MVP at 50-1. I won’t let the Daily Wager producers live this one down. I had flown into Bristol to shoot a few shows live and participate in the fantasy football summit on campus. We were taping an NFL futures segment for SportsCenter, and they wanted me to pick a long shot to win the MVP. I proposed two high variance options at 50-1 that I thought were worth the price: Newton — and Lamar Jackson. They decided to roll with Newton. While I had a Jackson ticket in my personal pocket and cashed it, I would have loved to have given out the NFL’s MVP at 50-1 for SportsCenter (it was as high as 100-1 at some sportsbooks at the time). It will likely be a few years before we have another opportunity like that again.

What is the worst NCAA futures bet you made that now will be refunded?

Youmans: In November, I bet the Wichita State Shockers at 200-1. That futures ticket had no shot, as the Shockers were in NCAA bubble trouble. Not a terrible bet, but I’ll take that refund. At different times, I almost made futures plays on Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State, and those probably would have been losers. The flip side of a bad beat is getting off the hook on a bad bet.

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