ATLANTA — With the Braves in the midst of trying to get past the high-powered Los Angeles Dodgers and into the World Series for the first time since 1999, it might be easy, from the outside, to forget that they are incomplete.
They’ve been that way since July 10, when star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. went down for the season with a torn ACL.
While Acuna can’t help his teammates on the field, he’s been present in the clubhouse, and was on the field before Sunday’s Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, chatting up teammates and fans, and providing a rare bit of insight into his ongoing rehab.
“I feel really good, and I’m really happy to be here with my team now that they’ve made it to this point,” Acuna said, through Braves interpreter Franco Garcia. “This is what it’s all about.”
Acuna’s season ended in a game at Miami in July, when he landed awkwardly in pursuit of fly ball off the bat of the Marlins’ Jazz Chisholm Jr. It was an emotional scene as Acuna was helped off the field, but the next day he told reporters that his goal was “to come back stronger than ever.”
That’s a higher bar for Acuna than most players. At the time of his injury, Acuna was an MVP candidate with a .283 average, 24 homers, 52 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. Despite the emotion surrounding his injury, he said he entered the recovery process ready to lean into the work. He underwent surgery to repair the ACL on July 21.
“I don’t think I really ever lost sight of [the recovery],” Acuna said. “My mind never wandered to that place where it was negative. Always positive, always strong. After it happened, I immediately looked at our medical staff and training staff and said, ‘Let’s get straight to work.'”
Acuna said that he felt “about 70%” physically, though he emphasized that was just his opinion and that he will continue to heed the directions of the Braves’ medical and training staffs. While original estimates on Acuna’s recovery were in the range of nine to 10 months after the injury, he says he does not have a target date in mind.
“The knee, it’s a big focal point as far as the structure and stability,” Acuna said. “I’m going to take my time with it, that’s for sure. But I know that once I feel like I’m ready to go, I’ll express that.
“As far as the timetable is concerned, if the trainers say ‘May’ then May, if the trainers say ‘April’ then April. Whatever the doctors and team and medical staff say.”
Acuna added that the plan is for him to begin jogging and other light activity in November or December, with a possible move into baseball-related activity in January or February.
In the meantime, he is occupying himself by playing cheerleader as his teammates try to win the National League pennant, a goal which they fell one win short of achieving a season ago. It’s a bittersweet experience.
“It’s one of the hardest moments of my career, to be honest, to be here at the stadium and not be able to be out on the field with my teammates and play with them,” Acuna said. “Nothing you can do about that. For me, it’s just about being here, continue to give them support as if were playing and continue to give 200% [in my rehab].”
MLB Players Association to make counteroffer to league in Monday meeting
The Major League Baseball Players Association plans to make an in-person labor proposal to the league on Monday, sources told ESPN, countering MLB’s offer last week that did little to loosen the gridlock that has gripped the sport after the league locked out the players Dec. 2.
Should the players’ offer do little to advance the negotiations that thus far haven’t yielded any substantive progress, the scheduled start to spring training in mid-February will grow that much unlikelier. And the longer discussions on a new collective-bargaining agreement last, the more they jeopardize Opening Day on March 31.
The gap between the players and league remains significant, with the union seeking major financial gains in a number of areas and owners trying to hold firm with what they currently pay in salaries. Other issues players have said remain a priority include anti-tanking measures and fixing service-time manipulation.
Any concessions players make in their offer could provide a roadmap to the negotiations. Before implementing the lockout, the league asked the union to drop three areas of discussion: earlier free agency for players, salary arbitration after two years instead of three and changes to the revenue-sharing plan. The union did not agree to the condition when presented with it Dec. 1, and the league left the bargaining table, locking out the players hours later.
Forty-three days later, the league returned to the union with an offer that included paying players with two to three years of service based on a formula, slight modifications to the draft lottery it previously had proposed and a mechanism that would reward teams with draft picks when top prospects who started on opening day rosters win awards.
The proposal did little to entice players, who after losing financial ground during the previous labor agreement want to make gains this time around.
News of the MLBPA’s expected counterproposal was first reported by The Associated Press
Robot umpires at home plate moving up to Triple-A for 2022, one step away from major league baseball
NEW YORK — Robot umpires have been given a promotion and will be just one step from the major leagues this season. Major League Baseball is expanding its automated strike zone experiment to Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues.
MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball-Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.
The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game in July 2019 and experimented with ABS during the second half of that season. The system also was used in the Arizona Fall League for top prospects in 2019, drawing complaints of its calls on breaking balls.
There were no minor leagues in 2020 because of the pandemic, and robot umps were used last season in eight of nine ballparks at the Low-A Southeast League.
The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed in its labor contract that started in 2020 to cooperate and assist if commissioner Rob Manfred decides to use the system at the major league level.
“It’s hard to handicap if, when or how it might be employed at the major league level, because it is a pretty substantial difference from the way the game is called today,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, said last March.
MLB said the robot umpires will be used at some spring training ballparks in Florida, will remain at Low A Southeast and could be used at non-MLB venues.
Tampa Bay Rays say split-season plan with Montreal rejected by MLB
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays‘ proposed plan to split the season between Florida and Montreal has been rejected by Major League Baseball.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the news on Thursday.
“Today’s news is flat-out deflating,” Sternberg said.
The idea of playing in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal has been discussed over the past several years after attempts to build a new full-time ballpark locally failed.
Montreal had a big league team from 1969, when the expansion Expos began play, through 2004. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals for the 2005 season.
The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season.
Since Sternberg took control in October 2005, the once-struggling franchise has been a success on the field but not at the box office.
Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have annually ranked near the bottom in attendance. The Rays averaged about 9,500 for home games last season, 28th in the majors and ahead of only Miami and Oakland.
St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch feels a new stadium in his city remains a possibility. Governmental officials have been working on a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.
“We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals,” Welch said in a statement. “With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”
Sternberg said the team will definitely explore options in the Tampa Bay area.
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