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Kansas City T-Bones renamed Monarchs in move to honor Negro League team

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City T-Bones of the independent American Association are being renamed the Kansas City Monarchs after the team that played in the Negro Leagues.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum signed a licensing agreement with Mark Brandmeyer’s MaxFun Entertainment, owner of the minor league team.

The original Monarchs were founded in 1924 and won the first Negro League World Series in 1920. The team played in the Negro National League from 1920 to 1931 and the Negro American League from 1937 to 1961, with independent stints from 1932 to 1936 and 1962 to 1965.

“This exciting partnership celebrates Kansas City’s rich baseball heritage and becomes an important extension of the work we’re doing to educate the public about the history of the Negro Leagues,” Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick said in a statement Thursday. “We are thrilled that the proud legacy of the great Kansas City Monarchs will take the field again and look forward to sharing our story through a myriad of opportunities made possible through this historic alliance.”

A museum satellite exhibit is planned to travel with the team, which intends to establish a Monarchs youth academy for baseball and softball.

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DJ LeMahieu thrilled to play in front of crowd, knows ‘how much it means to a lot of fans to watch the Yankees’

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TAMPA, Fla. — DJ LeMahieu and the New York Yankees are happy there will be a little bit of baseball normalcy when spring training games begin on Sunday.

As in, fans in the stands when the Yankees host the Toronto Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field.

Due to restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, it will be the first time fans will see the Yankees play in-person since a spring training game last March 12.

“To me it’s just Major League Baseball with fans,” LeMahieu said on Saturday. “Last year I’m glad we played. Glad we were able to get in as many games as we could and I thought the playoffs was cool but just missed that adrenaline and excitement.”

The limited crowd due to safety protocols for Sunday’s game is expected to be around 2,800 in the ballpark that has a capacity of over 10,000.

“You can definitely tell how excited people are to go to baseball games, especially to watch the Yankees and that’s what I’m excited about,” LeMahieu said. “I enjoy the game but I know how much it means to a lot of fans to watch the Yankees and baseball.”

Social distancing and mask wearing rules are in place and there will be no close interaction between players and fans like signing autographs.

“I definitely miss that,” said LeMahieu, who led the majors in batting last year. “It’s not always my favorite thing to do but I know how much it means. It’s something I look forward to. Hopefully that kind of interaction returns.”

The Blue Jays will also be playing before fans for the first time in almost a year.

“In just watching other events, whether it was college football, NFL games, different games where fans were there in limited capacities, it does change the look and the feel even watching it on TV I felt like,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I’m sure it will be nice for the guys to have that environment and atmosphere that only the fans can create.”

Boone said the first time the lack of fans last year really hit him hard was the initial series with the Boston Red Sox.

“Where there’s just that normal extra buzz, angst and intensity in a regular-season setting,” Boone said.

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Albert Pujols reiterates he’ll decide future after season with Los Angeles Angels

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Albert Pujols woke up from a nap last Monday in Arizona to find several hundred messages and missed calls on his phone.

While he was sleeping, the Los Angeles Angels slugger’s wife, Deidre, had put up a complimentary Instagram post about her husband that was widely interpreted to mean Pujols had decided to retire after this season, his 21st in the majors.

“Hey, that’s the life we’re living on social media,” Pujols said Saturday with a chuckle. “It’s sad that everybody just had to run with it.”

The 41-year-old slugger quickly reiterated what he has been saying for months: He hasn’t decided whether he will continue playing after the conclusion of his 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels this fall, and he won’t make or announce a decision until after the season.

“I think our organization, my friends, people that follow my career for 21 years deserve better than just me or her posting something on Instagram,” Pujols said in his first interviews of spring training. “This thing just got blown out of proportion. My mind is not even there. My mind is on staying focused, healthy, and hopefully trying to help this ballclub win this year, and that’s it. If I feel at the end of the year that that’s it, I’ll announce it [and] go home. But I’m not even there yet.”

The fifth-leading home run hitter in major league history says he has more pressing concerns on his mind, primarily the chase of his first playoff victory with the Angels. Not playing in October will never stop grating on Pujols, who begins the new season with 662 homers along with 2,100 RBIs, third-most in baseball history.

“I don’t even get to watch [the postseason], because I get so mad because we should have been there,” he said.

Pujols has at least one more chance to get the team success he craves alongside Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani. The 10-time All-Star is in the midst of five consecutive losing seasons and six straight non-playoff campaigns with the Angels, but there is cautious optimism around the big-budget franchise heading into manager Joe Maddon’s second season in charge.

Even if Pujols attempts to play in 2022, he knows he is close to the end of the underwhelming second act of his career after 11 stellar seasons in St. Louis. He batted .328 with 445 homers while winning three NL MVP awards for the Cardinals, but has been a .257 hitter with 217 homers over nine years in Anaheim.

Last season, Pujols batted .224 with a .665 OPS — both the worst marks of his two-decade career — while playing in just 39 of Los Angeles’ 60 games.

This season also brings the distinct prospect of even less action for Pujols, who has remained injury-free and fairly effective as a fielder at first base over the past two years.

He’s certain to split playing time at first with Jared Walsh, who batted .337 with nine homers and 26 RBIs in 22 games as a rookie last September, and with Ohtani as the Halos’ designated hitter.

Pujols says he’s fine with whatever role he gets in 2021 from Maddon, who praises the veteran slugger for his maturity and leadership.

“It’s going to be a meritocracy always, and he gets it,” Maddon said. “We’ve had the conversations. Of course he wants to play. Of course when he doesn’t play, he might not like it. He’s wired that way, and that’s how you want him to be. But he understands what’s going on. He accepts it well. Regardless of the role we put him in, I know he’s going to react to it well.”

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Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera hopes to reach 500 home run, 3,000 hits in 2021 season

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DETROIT — After a difficult few seasons for Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers slugger has a chance to remind fans just how much he’s accomplished in his career.

Specifically, Cabrera has an opportunity to reach two major milestones in 2021. He is 13 home runs shy of 500 and 134 hits short of 3,000. And yes, he’s aware of those numbers.

“I hope so. We can do both,” Cabrera said Friday with a laugh. “I hope I can get to 500, 3,000 this year. It’s one of my goals this year. Mentally, I feel good. I feel mentally strong. I’m trying to go day by day and trying to play hard.”

It’s been a while since Cabrera resembled the player who was the American League MVP in 2012 and 2013. The last time he was really impressive with the bat was in 2016, when he hit .316 with 38 home runs. From 2017-19, he played just 304 games as an assortment of injuries limited his availability.

In the meantime, the Tigers entered a major rebuild, trading away many of their top players. Cabrera, who turns 38 in April, is still on the team, which says a lot about his declining production and huge contract.

Only a half-dozen players have reached both 500 homers and 3,000 hits: Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Willie Mays, Rafael Palmeiro and Eddie Murray.

Cabrera certainly has a chance to reach both this year. He did manage to play in 57 of his team’s 58 games in the shortened 2020 season, and he hit 10 homers. In 2019, he had 139 hits in 136 games.

“I want to be healthy, and I want to do my best, and I want to do whatever I can to help the team to win games,” Cabrera said Friday.

Cabrera didn’t play in the field last year, but new manager A.J. Hinch said he’s open to him playing some at first base.

“He wants to play first. I didn’t know he voiced it near as much as I learned after I even said it,” Hinch said. “My plan for him is to make an opportunity for him to be a little more of a complete player, and not just fall in the DH category.”

Cabrera said he’s talked to Nelson Cruz about some of his work habits — the 40-year-old Cruz is still one of the game’s top home run hitters.

“I love playing baseball,” Cabrera said. “I love having fun in the field. I love going out there every night.”

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