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Yankees’ James Paxton ‘full strength’ after back surgery



New York Yankees left-hander James Paxton, who had back surgery in February, said he’s “back to full strength” and ready to go whenever the season begins.

Paxton, who was 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA for the Yankees in 2019, underwent a microscopic lumbar discectomy Feb. 5 in which a herniated disk was repaired and a peridiscal cyst was removed.

“I think I’ve thrown probably 12, 14 bullpens,” Paxton told the YES Network on Friday. “It’s my back feeling really good. My back is a non-issue. I feel totally healthy, so I’ll be ready to go as soon as the season comes about. … I think I’m back to full strength.”

Paxton said he’s been doing the rehab work at his home in Wisconsin while Major League Baseball has been shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was nervous going into it,” Paxton said about throwing again. “… It’s always different when you get on the mound. So I was really interested to see how it was going to feel the next day and it turned out feeling really good. I never really had too many issues with the back after I kind of got going, but it’s been getting better and better.

“The velocity is getting better and better, breaking balls and stuff like that, getting a feel for my pitches, so everything is going really well. I’ve seen some good results there, so I’m continuing to try and improve over this time, even though we’re not playing.”

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Cincinnati Reds’ Amir Garrett opens up to teammates about racial injustice



CINCINNATI — With so few Black players in the major leagues, Cincinnati Reds reliever Amir Garrett was afraid to talk openly about racial discrimination. He kept his thoughts — and his stories — to himself.

He wouldn’t speak of the time in high school in California when he and another Black classmate were on their way to basketball practice, playing their music in the car. Police pulled them over, shoved them against the car, frisked them aggressively, emptied the car while claiming to look for drugs, then them go.

They received no ticket, Garrett said, but a threat.

“They say, ‘OK, you can go, but next time don’t play your music so loud around here because next time we’re not going to be so nice,'” Garrett said Monday.

Silent no more, the 28-year-old pitcher is trying to bring awareness, starting within his own team.

When George Floyd, a Black man, died on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes, Garrett texted the video to first baseman Joey Votto, the Reds’ most prominent player. Votto watched it the next day and was brought to tears.

Votto responded to Garrett and started a conversation. Votto then began reaching out to others to hear their experiences and eventually wrote a column in The Cincinnati Enquirer about his changing views.

“I think I’ve changed as a man. I feel my perspective has changed,” Votto said Friday on a video conference call. “I didn’t want to [speak up], but I couldn’t sleep. There was a long stretch where I couldn’t sleep. When it affects me that deeply, I felt strongly about saying something and learning. Every day I’m trying to learn.

“It’s wild. We have the very same issue back home in Canada. The very same issue.”

Garrett had been reluctant to speak out for a different reason. He saw what happened when Colin Kaepernick tried to focus attention on racial injustice — the quarterback hasn’t played again in the NFL.

“I was scared to talk about these injustice issues we were having because in baseball, there’s not a lot of African Americans that play the game and I was nowhere near Kaepernick [in prominence],” Garrett said. “I felt I could be pushed out of the game. That was really scary for me.

“But now I felt in my heart I was ready to handle the consequences of whatever may have come from this.”

The Reds organized a video session Saturday with Tru Pettigrew, an inclusion and diversity advocate. Roughly 130 players and organization members participated in the two-hour session, with honest conversation encouraged.

Garrett was among those who shared experiences.

“It really took a lot for me to get vulnerable with my teammates like that,” Garrett said. “I never want somebody to feel sorry for me, or I never want to feel a victim. It took a lot for me to open up to those guys.

“I feel we’re so much closer than we were just two days ago. I felt people understood what I was sharing with them and even though they may never fully understand what it’s like to be Black in America, I felt I got my point across and they felt everything I was saying.”

Manager David Bell encouraged the discussion. In the past few months he’d been talking to friends, players, former teammates and other colleagues about their experiences with race.

“I have to say for the first time I truly asked questions and understood experiences that people I’ve been close to in my life, I never took the time to truly understand or truly listen,” Bell said. “It’s been a process. I think it’s just scratching the surface. It’s a step but I certainly have a long way to go.”

And Garrett wants to be part of the process for as many people as possible.

“Though my voice might not be as big as some other players’ that we have, it’s a start to look past baseball, to look at the bigger picture of the world problems we have,” he said. “My following might not be as big as others, but all I’m doing is trying to change one person at a time.”

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Donald Trump defends Redskins, Indians team names



President Donald Trump criticized the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians on Twitter for considering changes to their respective team names, accusing the teams of “trying to be politically correct.”

Trump tweeted Monday that the NFL’s Redskins and MLB’s Indians are “fabled sports franchises.” He also taunted Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has claimed Native American ancestry and has been a frequent target of barbs from Trump.

It was the second racially charged, sports-related tweet of the day from Trump, who earlier Monday called out NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag and accused Bubba Wallace, the sport’s only Black driver, of perpetrating a “HOAX” involving a noose in his garage last month at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Redskins appear likely to change their name amid a nationwide movement to erase racially insensitive symbols, given the national focus on human rights and social justice after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Washington coach Ron Rivera told The Washington Post on Saturday that he has been working with team owner Daniel Snyder on a new team nickname in recent weeks. The Redskins announced Friday that they will “undergo a thorough review” of the nickname after several sponsors, including FedEx, which owns the naming rights to the team’s stadium, urged the franchise to change a nickname that has been deemed offensive for decades.

The Indians also released a statement Friday, saying the organization is “committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.”

Trump has previously defended the Redskins’ name on Twitter. In October 2013, he tweeted that presidents “should not be telling the Washington Redskins to change their name” and accused then-President Barack Obama of “harassing the privately owned” franchise.

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Cubs’ Kris Bryant says coronavirus testing delays a safety issue



Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant has issues with MLB’s coronavirus testing protocols, saying his team gets tested too infrequently.

“I don’t want to be insensitive to people who haven’t been able to get tests but as the country gets access to more of those, it’s appropriate to talk about our situation here,” Bryant said on Monday afternoon from Wrigley Field. “What we agreed to was testing every other day and we’ve had guys who showed up on Sunday (June 28) and hadn’t got tested again (until) seven days later. And you don’t get the results until two days later. That’s nine days without knowing.

“If we want this to succeed, we have to figure this out. I wanted to play this year because I thought it would be safe. Honestly, I don’t really feel that.”

Bryant’s fears echo those of many around the league as teams have canceled or delay workouts while the league sorts out testing issues. Cubs’ manager David Ross took matters into his own hands.

“I voiced my opinion to MLB and they assured me they are working as diligently as they can,” Ross stated. “They assured me they are cleaning things up.

“When my players are asking to be tested more, a red flag goes off in my head.”

Bryant had a baby during the shutdown and is worried about bringing home the virus but decided against opting out, thinking the protocols would keep him safe — if they’re being followed. He stressed that tougher days are ahead once teams start to travel.

“If we can’t really nail the easy part — which is right now — just our players, we have a big problem,” he said. “I go home every day and I just think, what if I were to get it and bring it home. It would be awful. There’s so much that could go wrong.”

The Cubs third baseman is set to be a free agent after the 2021 season but perhaps has a different mindset between having a newborn and dealing with the pandemic. He was asked if signing a long term deal was more in the cards now than previously.

“I would say ‘yeah,'” Bryant said. “You look at things differently. I feel like I’m a lot more calm. Things that really matter to me before, don’t matter to me as much….If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

Before anything else can happen, the league has to get through a unique season. There are many doubters.

“It’s not guaranteed that we’re going to play and finish the season,” Bryant stated. “Everyone involved kind of knows that. We have to do more and do what we agreed to.”

Ross added: “The protocols they have in place are for a reason. They need to get these tests done.”

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