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Blown call still haunts Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce

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Editor’s note: This story on Armando Galarraga’s almost-perfect game was originally published on Jan. 5, 2011. Today is the 10-year anniversary of the game.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Jim Joyce’s garage smells of old cigarettes and motor oil. It’s early December, and he is at home playing solitaire on his laptop, which sits on a folding table that doubles as a desk. The wafting odor belies the comfort that the two refrigerators, flat-screen TV, Harley, bunny rabbit, countless Winston Light cigarette butts and solitude provide.

The space has become a necessary refuge for the man whose action on the night of June 2 — and reaction — brought instant fame.

“What normal used to be,” Joyce says, “isn’t normal now.”

Seven months ago and 2,400 miles away, the veteran Major League Baseball umpire cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game in Detroit. And every day, something trips Joyce’s memory about his devastating mistake and the subsequent fallout: from the death threats he and his family received and the security team that greeted him on every road trip to the piles of heartwarming e-mails and letters saved by his wife of 28 years, Kay.

“I want us to remember,” Kay says, as her hands smooth over the plastic casings of scrapbooks holding the correspondence.

But what if the memories only reinforce what Joyce calls the biggest mistake in umpiring history? What happens when one action not only annihilates a career-long, concentrated effort at invisibility and accuracy but also wholly contradicts it? What happens when you’re Jim Joyce and you try to resume your normal life?

“I think about it still, almost every day,” Joyce says. “I don’t want to be known as Jim Joyce, the guy that blew the perfect game. But I think that’s inevitable.”

Why?

“Because I’m Jim Joyce,” he says, “the umpire who blew the perfect game.”

He is sure he got it right. Positive.

The three-game series is nondescript; it starts on a Tuesday, during the first week of the month, and features the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers, two teams that would combine for 174 losses by season’s end. As is always the case when Joyce works in Detroit, he stays at his childhood home about an hour away in Toledo, Ohio, with his 86-year-old mother, Ellouise.

The trip is Joyce’s first assignment in Detroit since his father’s death a year earlier. Ahead of the series, he and Ellouise visit his dad’s grave. An avid baseball fan, Jim Joyce Sr. loved Ted Williams and umpired amateur games. He worked in management at a local Jeep factory his entire life; Jim Jr. even worked there for a time after graduating from Bowling Green, where he pitched for four years.

On Tuesday, Joyce worked second base. Tonight, he’s at first base. The game is speeding by — it’s the eighth inning and not even two hours have passed.

The 17,000 fans in the park know Detroit’s Galarraga is throwing a perfect game. By the ninth inning, they’re on their feet, readying for the 21st perfect game in major league history. Joyce had witnessed such history just a few weeks prior, when he worked second base for Oakland pitcher Dallas Braden’s perfect game. He knew Braden had a perfect game as it was being thrown, just as he knew — sometime around the seventh inning — that Galarraga had one going, too.

The ninth starts with a first-pitch fly out. Four pitches later, Joyce makes the call at first base on a weak grounder to shortstop. One more to go. Joyce knows he’s ready. Twenty-three years’ experience brings such confidence that Joyce treats each pitch as routine, but the refrain — “just don’t be the one to miss the call” — runs through his mind, too.

Just like that, Indians shortstop Jason Donald — the final out — is running down the first-base line like a scared deer. Joyce is thrown by how fast he is running — in Joyce’s mind, players don’t run all that hard on a groundout to end a game. Even so, if it’s close, Joyce thinks, the runner will probably be out.

Joyce moves slightly to his right and zones in on the bag. Marvin Hudson, the plate umpire, is following Donald up the line, but his view is restricted; Joyce is in perfect position to make the call. As Donald gets to the bag, Joyce splays his arms outward.

“Something just instinctually, instinctively, told me he was safe,” Joyce says.

And he is sure he got it right. Positive.

Hudson thinks Joyce got it right, too, and tells himself, simply, “Well, there goes the perfect game.”

But when Detroit players start yelling from the dugout a few moments later, experience tells Joyce they saw the replay and are probably right. Yet Joyce’s confidence doesn’t waver. Another ground-ball out at first, this time routine, and the game is over. As Joyce runs off the field, Tigers veteran manager Jim Leyland approaches Joyce.

“Jimmy!” Leyland barks. “You blew it! You blew it, go look at the video!”

Boos cascade from the stands as Joyce walks back to the umpires’ locker room, telling himself over and over that he hopes he got the call right. He asks the locker room attendant to cue up the replay. By the time Joyce reaches the changing area, he’s now yelling, “I hope I got it right! I hope it got it right!” His colleagues, crew chief Derryl Cousins, Jim Wolf and Hudson, don’t say a word. Before seeing the replay, they surround Joyce by his locker. Joyce turns to Cousins and asks whether he made the correct call.

Cousins pauses, then says, “I think he was out, Jimmy.”

Joyce throws his hat, rips off his shirt and pants and paces the room, yelling and cursing. He then watches the replay — the only time he’s seen it — and rages more.

“He was beside himself,” Hudson says. “I felt tremendously bad for him.”

Death threats, tears and decisions that transform a mistake

Back in Oregon, Keri Joyce, Jim’s 21-year-old daughter, returns home from a restaurant to an inbox full of Facebook messages. Many are offering support, but at least two dozen are nasty. Some are worse.

“I hope your dad drinks himself to death,” one reads.

One message threatens to burn her family’s home; another wishes her AIDS. Jim’s son, Jimmy, receives death threats, too.

Keri is shocked, but she also is angry. Later, she posts a status update on her page: I love my dad. You a——- who can’t realise he’s a human can f— off.

In Detroit, unaware of what his children are being subjected to, Joyce’s actions and words begin to alter how his mistake will be remembered.

He chooses to give the media rare access to the umpires’ locker room. He takes full responsibility for kicking the call. When the media leave, Leyland comes in for a beer. He tells Joyce that he blew the call and that he needs to move past it. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski visits, too, concerned for Joyce’s well-being. Both men have known Joyce for decades and, like the players in the league who voted him the top umpire in an ESPN The Magazine poll, hold enormous respect for him.

Joyce appreciates the gestures, but his mind is on one person. He asks Dombrowski whether he can talk to Galarraga.

Dombrowski leaves, and a few minutes later he returns to the umpires’ room with the 28-year-old pitcher from Venezuela. Galarraga walks up to Joyce and while hugging him says, “We are all human.” Joyce, crying, apologizes in English and Spanish and then leaves the room, unable to speak.

“I can’t even explain the feeling, because there are no words,” Joyce says. “It’s almost worse than my dad’s death. That’s how bad I felt.”

Kay, at home in Oregon with their three dogs, has yet to talk with Joyce but is crying, too. She knows how hard her husband will be on himself. She watched the game on TV, blurting, “No, Jimmer, no!” when she saw him make the call.

The phone rings. MLB security is promising a local police patrol outside the house. Kay says she’s fine; she worries about her kids, she worries about Jim.

When Jim leaves the ballpark and drives to his mother’s house in Toledo, the first call he makes is to Kay. She tells him, whatever you do, as soon as you get to your mom’s house, just delete your Facebook account. She tells him their grown children are receiving death threats.

Joyce’s cell phone is stuffed with voice mails and texts. His mother, however, is unaware of what has occurred. The two sit in the living room, and Jim tells his mom he made the biggest mistake of his life.

The local news recaps the play, and as his mother watches it for the first time, he turns his back, hearing but not seeing his mistake.

“That was you?” she asks him. “Why are they so mad at you?”

Ellouise eventually goes to sleep. Joyce deletes his Facebook account without looking at it. He tries to sleep at 5, and closes his eyes for about 30 minutes. He later leaves for Comerica Park. It’s the final game of the series, a day game, and Joyce will work home plate.

Joyce’s routine on game day is to be the last umpire to walk out of the tunnel. But today, he doesn’t want the focus of being last out. “I didn’t want it to appear like I was making an entrance,” he says. “I was kind of hoping I’d just blend in.”

On the way out, Joyce’s steps are a bit slower; he’s listening for the crowd reaction. He thinks he hears boos, he thinks he hears cheers. Tears are welling in his eyes. (Joyce likes to remind people that he’s Irish; he’s emotional and he can’t help it.)

He gets to home plate to exchange the lineup cards, and that’s when Galarraga appears out of the dugout. The crowd stands and applauds, and when Galarraga hands Joyce the lineup card, Joyce can’t even read it, the names a fuzzy blur through the tears. The images from that moment, captured live and broadcast across the country, will change how Galarraga and Joyce will be remembered.

‘Nobody feels worse than we do’

On Friday morning, when he leaves Detroit for his next assignment in Philadelphia, Joyce has a police escort through the airport. He walks by a restaurant and sees every television tuned to “SportsCenter,” showing his face. The cop alongside him says, “You better get used to it.”

When he arrives in Philly, he retrieves his luggage and discovers notes on the luggage tags: “We are all human — Good Luck” and “You gave your best God Bless.” They are signed: “DTW baggage.” Joyce carefully takes them off his bags and places them in his briefcase. He carries them with him for the rest of the season, careful not to check them in case his luggage gets lost.

Hundreds of similar notes, e-mails, cards and letters are sent. Children from an elementary school in upstate New York each write a note telling Joyce how they admired his ability to “man up” and take responsibility for his mistake. Clergy, judges, a Secret Service agent and strangers from around the world write. One person creates his own “Certificate of Appreciation,” prints it and sends it along. Two major league pitchers write notes expressing their respect. Ex-classmates and teammates and long-ago friends say they always knew Joyce to be a person of integrity.

A baseball chaplain sends Joyce his own engraved Bible; a boy with cerebral palsy writes the night of the game, encouraging Joyce to not belabor his mistake. The boy and Joyce would meet in person later in the summer before a Rays game in Tampa Bay and still e-mail regularly. Front-office executives, current and former, e-mail Joyce in support, as do MLB executives.

Bob Delaney and Steve Javie, veteran NBA referees, send along e-mails, as do NHL ref Tim Peel and NFL official Carl Cheffers. Peel, a 13-year veteran, says he doesn’t know Joyce personally but felt compelled to reach out.

“I can sympathize,” Peel says. “When we miss a call in a game, nobody feels worse than we do.”

But an e-mail from Mark Wunderlich, another veteran NBA ref, is one of the most compelling:

I have admired your work for years and I have been thinking about you the last couple of days. Last season in the Play-Offs I missed a take foul in Dallas in the Conference Finals that cost a team a game and had a few sleepless nights that I’m sure you’re familiar with. These are difficult times that only umpires and refs know. It shall pass and the only thing people will remember is the class you showed during this time. From one professional to another, I’m proud of you buddy.

The messages weren’t all positive, though. A letter with a return address was forwarded by MLB to Joyce in late June when Joyce was in Houston. After arriving at his hotel, he opened the letter, which read, in part, the next time Joyce was in Texas, “you will be shot.” The people at MLB thought, not illogically, that a death threat letter would never include a return address, so off it went in a package with other correspondence. Joyce says he was told the FBI visited the author.

Kay kept the death threat, has it sealed in plastic. It’s there in the scrapbook just like all the others, just like the luggage tags.

Still looking for meaning

When the weather is nice and it isn’t raining, Joyce takes his Harley out of the garage. He rides when he can, rides because it’s fun, because it’s freeing, and it’s something to do. Joyce, who’s 55 years old, thinks about his mistake every day. It isn’t just the luggage tags and the notes and the e-mails that remain as reminders. It’s also when he’s out in public. A few weeks before Christmas, he and Kay were shopping at a toy store when Joyce noticed a man following him down each aisle.

Finally, the man sheepishly approached and asked whether he was the umpire. He wanted to shake Joyce’s hand and thank him for his integrity.

Platitudes about sportsmanship, honesty, character, integrity, perfection and imperfection likely will follow Joyce and Galarraga to their epitaphs. Galarraga’s instant reaction — that memorable wry smile after the call — and shrewd recognition later that the blown call and the aftermath made him more famous and generated more good than a perfect game would have — changed both men.

“A lot of positive has come from this,” Joyce says. “And I can’t say enough about how Armando handled this. The positive has helped offset the negative that came with making the mistake. Unfortunately, you can’t have one without the other.”

MLB officials suggested Joyce might benefit from seeing a therapist. But Joyce says his therapy comes in discussions with his wife. He also relies on a sense of humor. He still laughs about the fan in Detroit the day after the blown call who held a sign behind home plate with a photograph of blind musician Stevie Wonder that read “Today’s umpire is … “

Even so, Joyce wrestles with negotiating his new identity.

“I wish I was still invisible, I really do. I wish that I could go back to being the old Jim Joyce, that this didn’t happen … and that everything was normal, and I know that’s not going to happen.”

Kay has watched his struggle. When Joyce first returned home this season, he was spending much more time alone in the garage. Normally an outgoing, lively person, he retreated. When they went out in public and saw friends, it was agonizing, because he knew friends were acting differently; he knew they didn’t know what to say.

“What do you say?” says Katy Robinson, a close family friend. “What do you say to someone who’s just been through something like that?”

It was not until after the World Series ended that Kay noticed he started to change. Joyce spent less time alone in the garage, his refuge.

“He came out of his shell,” Kay says. “I think he thought, ‘OK, I can go out now, baseball is over.'”

In just a few weeks, it will be back. Joyce will return to umpiring games during spring training. He says he’ll be a bit nervous, not sure what to anticipate.

He’s still trying to make sense of it all. He says there must be some larger meaning for all of this, but he’s not yet certain what that is.

What Joyce does know is that for him, the word “perfect” means something entirely different now.

“It means one guy was, and one guy wasn’t. I happen to be the guy who wasn’t. … But what does the word ‘perfect’ mean? Sometimes the word ‘perfect’ means be able to accept imperfection.”

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.

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Tim Kurkjian’s Baseball Fix – Baseball players’ irrational love of their gloves

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You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1981, second baseman Brandon Phillips was born.

He was a good player, especially defensively. He would carefully place five gloves in his locker, three of them practice gloves, all significantly smaller than his game glove.

“You can touch my practice gloves, but no one touches my game glove,” he said. “I put a batting glove on top of my glove so I’ll know if someone touched my glove. [Pitcher Mat] Latos held my glove once. If he had put his hand in my glove, we would have fought.”

The full “On this date …” archive

Gloves are the most personal piece of equipment. Players nourish their gloves, they protect them, they treat them like a loved one, not a piece of leather. No one was allowed to touch second baseman Roberto Alomar’s glove or shortstop Mark Belanger’s glove. Former Oriole infielder Rene Gonzales carried his glove in a Wonder Bread bag because its slogan is “no holes.” Former shortstop Walt Weiss used his glove for so long, it was so beaten and weathered, he called it “The Creature.” Ex-infielder Nick Punto kept his beloved glove lubricated, not floppy, by spraying it with suntan lotion, Aqua Net, Glade, etc.

“This is my baby,” he said. “I have to take care of it.”

Former utility man Jeff Manto used to carry 13 gloves on road trips, including two catcher’s mitts and two first baseman’s mitts. “The guys call me, ‘Store,”’ Manto said. “The equipment man hates me.”

Utility man Jeff Baker used four different gloves: one to play second base, one to play third, one to play the outfield and a mitt for first base. No one was allowed to touch the gloves for second or third, but he had teammate pitcher Kerry Wood break in his first baseman’s mitt because Wood loved playing first during batting practice. And he had the team’s video guy, Naoto Masamoto, break in his outfielder’s glove.

Former second baseman Darwin Barney carried five gloves, the exact same make and model, on every road trip. Each one was strategically broken in to someday become his game glove. He never used his game glove except in the game, “I don’t even play catch with it before the game,” he said. “If I play catch with it too often, it can make the pocket too deep. The other four gloves, I rank them. My No. 2 glove is next in line.” One game, he didn’t make a backhanded play. “I threw the glove away — in the trash can — and I never used it again,” he said. “It lasted a year and a half, but I just couldn’t use it anymore.”

Infielder Mike Gallego, a career .239 hitter, was in the A’s clubhouse when the earthquake hit at the 1989 World Series. “The lights went out, everything was dark,” Gallego said. “The place was shaking. Guys are running all over the clubhouse, trying to get out. I was halfway out when I realized I had forgotten my glove! I ran back into the clubhouse — a security guard said I couldn’t go back in, it might all collapse — but I found my locker. I got my glove. I couldn’t leave my glove behind, that’s my livelihood, my glove.”

Other baseball notes for June 28

In 2007, Craig Biggio got his 3,000th hit, a single, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. He is the only player to record his 3,000th hit in a game in which he got five hits. The same day, Frank Thomas hit his 500th home run.

In 1960, John Elway was born. He was drafted out of high school by the Royals in 1979, but went to Stanford, played football and baseball there, and was drafted by the Yankees in 1981. He played one year of minor league baseball. Several years later, one of Elway’s former baseball teammates, Rangers third baseman Steve Buechele, told me, “Man, he had a great arm.”

In 1976, Tigers pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych beat the Yankees, 5-1, to raise his record to 8-1. The game was televised nationally on Monday Night Baseball. I remember it like it was yesterday. He talked to the ball. He was so entertaining. He was a phenomenon.

In 1964, outfielder Kevin Reimer was born. He was a good hitter. Teammate B.J. Surhoff, who was an expert on bats — as a catcher, he knew what model every player used — said Reimer once broke 12 bats in one day: four in batting practice, four in the game, and four that he angrily snapped the handles off of after making each of his four outs in the game.

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MLB now faces its biggest challenge of 2020 — playing during the pandemic

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Watching Major League Baseball start a second “spring” training now, amid surging coronavirus infections in the states where many hundreds of ballplayers reside, is like climbing into a sailboat just as the outer bands of a hurricane swirl closer on the horizon.

But this is where baseball is in this moment, and if you work in the industry, you almost feel a need to avert your eyes, given the staffers and players and family members who will be at increased risk in the days ahead for the sake of a handful of games. If you are part of the army of folks assigned to make this work, there’s nothing you can do but your best, without any real precedent, training or substantive preparation on which to rely. All teams and players have been given the 100-plus pages of health and safety protocols, with color-coded charts, social-distancing workout diagrams and diagnostic questionnaires, but the material is entirely new and unfamiliar.

There is a lot of ground to be covered in the text, but there is so much more that cannot be accounted for, such as the moving virus hot spots through which each of the 2,000-plus team members could pass to unknowingly become carriers. We know from the national example that there is no real-world guidance to be given when some players and staffers don’t share the same social-distancing vigilance as their peers, even as the number of new positive cases nationwide grew from about 18,000 on June 15 to almost 45,000 reported on Saturday.

Everybody in the game naturally has fingers crossed that this could work, fingers crossed to get through the summer camp, the 60-game regular season and the postseason that could be especially lucrative for Major League Baseball. But among some at field level, there is enormous skepticism that they will all get through this, as planned, and concern that they will court tragedy along the way.

The science of infections is daunting, and the math is overwhelming. As one team official noted, the National Basketball Association will attempt a restart of its season in a bubble of containment in Orlando, Florida, attempting to wall off the coronavirus and outsiders at risk for infection. Major League Baseball, on the other hand, will try to conduct business in dozens of venues, and after their workouts, players will return to their homes and apartments and hotel rooms to loved ones who have been exposed to others outside of any theoretical bubble.

The NBA will try to do its work under one roof, with access restricted. MLB’s season will be one long wade through humanity, with roving bands of players moving from state to state, city to city, hotel to hotel under the best circumstances. At worst, players will venture outside of the safe zone — something that staffers fully expect will happen on a regular basis.

In Houston, hospitals are near or at capacity because of those infected with the coronavirus. Carlos del Rio, an epidemiologist at Atlanta’s Emory University Medical School, was asked by ESPN’s Willie Weinbaum about the return of Major League Baseball to Houston in this moment. “I think Houston should not have anything like that happen,” he said. It might require months, Dr. del Rio said, to get the COVID-19 emergency under control. “I realistically don’t think you’re going to be able to play in Houston.”

Oakland A’s reliever Jake Diekman joined the Baseball Tonight podcast Friday and discussed the reality that peer pressure will be important, that in a sense, players will have to police one another from slipping out at night to do less than social distancing. There are club officials, however, who believe that this is a high bar of conduct that is probably out of reach. The sport’s best chance is for everybody to pull in the same direction, but you’d sooner expect labor peace in baseball than for all of the polarized perspectives to merge at once. Wearing a mask is like choosing not to drink and drive — it’s about protecting not only yourself but also others whom you might put in harm’s way — but there is no unanimity about how to regard COVID-19.

At this stage, it’s impossible to point fingers of blame. Commissioner Rob Manfred is a lawyer, not a health expert. General managers are masters of player development, contract negotiations and talent valuation; none of them expected to become chief operating officer of COVID-19 management, and they are learning how to execute testing and isolation on the fly. Managers are trained in employee relations and at recognizing tiring pitchers, not in social-distancing discipline. As one agent noted, players have learned to trust the math and science of baseball analytics, but to understand and adapt to a pandemic is something way beyond their experience — or anybody’s experience.

But as Jeff Passan wrote Friday, Manfred does have the power to pull baseball off this path. In the face of the mounting numbers of infections in some states and the in-the-trenches complications of trying to get players and protocol in place, he should consider at least pausing the start of baseball’s clock in the hope of some stabilization. He needs to be ready to make the really difficult decision to call the whole thing off.

There would be no shame in that. The most powerful nation on earth has been overrun, at extraordinary cost in lives, devastating illnesses, jobs and wealth. The United States has sometimes mirrored baseball in its evolution, with the Civil Rights movement gaining momentum after the arrival of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers and in the national grief and response after 9/11 playing out at Shea Stadium and other ballparks.

But in the year of the coronavirus pandemic, Major League Baseball seems to reflect a stalled and fractured country that is desperately searching for better days amid a fog of precariousness.

• There is a sentiment among some players that transparency about the total number of positive tests league-wide and team-to-team is incredibly important right now, as they weigh participation decisions that might affect their welfare and that of immediate family members.

To date, some teams have declined to offer precise numbers of how many players and staffers have tested positive, sometimes merely acknowledging that there have been positive tests.

Under the current circumstances, some players think teams should be ethically obligated to immediately make public exactly how many have tested positive so that the day-to-day context is crystal clear.

After weeks of suspicion and distrust in the labor negotiations, the players are concerned that all of the positive tests won’t be revealed to players first, before teams, and that this information won’t be forwarded immediately, regardless of the competitive situation.

• MLB rosters were unfrozen Friday, and teams are now allowed to make moves, but club officials believe that the deal-making will be slow at the outset, for a few reasons.

First, general managers have been consumed by logistical questions related to the return of baseball, so there haven’t been a lot of proposals kicked around.

Second, it’s just about impossible to assess and ascribe value to any player under the current circumstances. GMs don’t really know whether the 2020 season will be one game or 60 in the face of a pandemic. For example, if the Dodgers had known what was going to transpire this year, they probably would not have invested the kind of resources required to deal for Mookie Betts.

Lastly, because scouts are not allowed to attend scheduled team workouts in the second “spring” training, they aren’t really in position to evaluate whether a particular player can help their teams.

Some GMs believe that if the season plays out and confidence grows so that the sport can reach the finish line, there will be a flurry of moves leading up to the Aug. 31 trade deadline.

• With the universal designated hitter probably here to stay, it might be time for the Hall of Fame to track down Gerrit Cole’s bat from Game 5 of the 2019 World Series, when baseball might have seen the last at-bat ever by a pitcher. Cole faced Sean Doolittle in that game and struck out after grounding out in his first two plate appearances.

Baseball Tonight Podcast

Friday: Oakland reliever Jake Diekman, who has had multiple surgeries related to colitis, talks about the return of baseball amid coronavirus concerns; Eireann Dolan, who is married to Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, talks about the concerns and risks; Todd Radom brings his weekly quiz and a discussion about Skydome and Exhibition Stadium.

Thursday: Marly Rivera of ESPN and Bob Nightengale of USA Today discuss the return of baseball.

Wednesday: Tim Kurkjian gives some predictions about the 2020 season, including dangerous teams and possible MVP picks.

Tuesday: David Schoenfield discusses MLB’s implementation of a 60-game season, and Paul Hembekides talks about Trevor Bauer’s tweets.

Monday: Sarah Langs talks about the Hall of Fame chances for Yadier Molina, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds and Justin Verlander’s chances for 300 wins; Karl Ravech talks about the possible return of baseball.

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Sources — Nationals to host Yankees on Opening Day

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The reigning World Series champion Washington Nationals are slated to host the New York Yankees when baseball returns, sources confirmed to ESPN on Saturday.

The matchup between last year’s champion and this year’s co-favorite is set to take place on Opening Day at Nationals Park, however MLB has yet to finalize an official schedule.

The New York Post was first to report the Opening Day matchup.

The league began to move forward on a 60-game regular season that will run from July 23 or 24 through Sept. 27 after the MLBPA signed off on final details of the proposal Tuesday.

Players and staff members will start traveling to training camp sites — most of which will be held in home stadiums — for a July 1 check-in.

While the official schedule is not set, teams will play their four divisional opponents 10 times and the other 20 games against interleague opponents in the same geographical area (i.e. National League West teams vs. American League West teams).

The Opening Day matchup between the Yankees and Nationals could also serve as Gerrit Cole‘s debut in pinstripes. Cole and the Yankees agreed to a record nine-year, $324 million contract this past winter.

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