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MLB All-Fun Team 2021: Fernando Tatís Jr. leads team of baseball’s most joyful, exciting players

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MLB All-Fun Team 2021: Fernando Tatís Jr. leads team of baseball's most joyful, exciting players

What does it mean to have fun?

Is it epic performance? Flash? Pizzazz? Excitement? Humor?

Whatever it is, Major League Baseball hasn’t had a lot of it throughout its history.

While baseball — the “kid’s game” — is constantly in danger of being hijacked by traditionalist blowhards who want the sport to be as entertaining, plodding and painful as a trip to the proctologist, there is a new generation of star players coming up who don’t believe in such conformities.

MORE: Ranking baseball’s five dumbest unwritten rules

The only pain in the ass here, though, is that baseball could still, all these years later, do better by its athletes to showcase their unique talents and personalities. They’ve absolutely made strides in that area, but we have a ways to go.

After all, gone are the days of telling rookies to shut up and carry bags. Players come up and they’re being themselves more and more, and hopefully we’ll reach a point where it’s the norm and not the outlier. Do they still get crucified for it at times? Absolutely. But these guys won’t be denied.

So, SN has come up with a list of MLB’s All-Fun team ahead of the 2021 season — some of the best talent with the personalities to match. 

Talk your smack. Hit a jack. Moonwalk back.

Here’s the 2021 MLB All-Fun team:

MLB All-Fun Team 2021

First base: Pete Alonso, Mets

Who says Polar Bears are going extinct?

Whether it’s the dad bod, his openness with his personality, the epic “LFGM” speech or his pure fire when playing, Pete Alonso has absolutely cemented his status as one of baseball’s most fun and watchable players in the short time since he entered the league in 2019.

Runner up: Freddie Freeman, Braves. Freeman has long been one of baseball’s most underrated, and, in turn, one of its most fun players. He’s also very gif-able. 

Second base: Ozzie Albies, Braves

Albies is one of three Braves on here, and while he’s exciting himself, his bromance with fellow Brave Ronald Acuña Jr. is the stuff of baseball legend, and quickly becoming one of most fun things to watch in baseball.

Just watch this. It’s so wholesome, and will warm your cold, chiseled hearts.

Runner up: Jose Altuve, Astros. Yes, we get it, he’s short … but it never really gets old, does it? Altuve is a firestarter, and though he had a down 2020, expect him to bounce back in a big way.

Third base: Alex Bregman, Astros

Regardless of how you feel about the Astros and their past transgressions, no one gets the people going quite like Alex Bregman. 

Bregman is never short on words and he has the talent to back it all up. 

Runner up: Manny Machado, Padres. It isn’t often when you can hijack another player’s catchphrase, but “Manny being Manny” is a very real thing in San Diego, and alongside Fernando Tatís Jr., the pairing is one of the most electric in baseball.

Shortstop: Fernando Tatís Jr., Padres

Come on. 

Fernando Tatís Jr. has slammed his way on the scene and become one of the preeminent faces in baseball in such a short amount of time, and it’s not just for his ridiculous on-field play. His style, flair and flash have all played into his aura as a baseball player, and for the first time in what seems like a very, very long time, San Diego is relevant again. Sure, some of that came when Manny Machado signed, but Tatís is the reason fans stick around.

Runner up: Javy Báez, Cubs. From the second that Báez came up with the Cubs and took hacks like an untrained Jedi, he’s captured the attention of fans everywhere.

Catcher: Willson Contreras, Cubs

Catchers get the crap kicked out of them non-stop for more than 100 games in a season, so it’s probably hard for backstops to really showcase that pride, emotion and fun. That’s not the case for Willson Contreras, though, who has one of baseball’s most electric personalities.

No one showcases as much pride in his arm as Contreras, and when he’s on, oh is it fun to watch. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt when Javy Baez is snagging outs at second, too.

Runner up: Willians Astudillo, Twins. “La Tortuga” plays more than one position, but he absolutely deserves a spot on this list. Therefore, he is going here.

Outfield: Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves

Hustle, hustle, hustle — Who cares? 

As long as a guy can hit a baseball to the gosh darn moon, then he can take as long as he wants around the basepaths. 

There’s something about Acuña that’s just exciting: It’s probably a combination of the youth, the hair, the hamburger meat hangin’ out (before his offseason haircut, anyway), the chains and the pure, electric talent that eminates from his pores. 

Outfield: Juan Soto, Nationals

The stare. The shuffle. The Soto. 

Soto is quickly emerging as one of baseball’s best, if he’s not already there, and he just turned 22 in October. Twenty-two. 

He’s got some quirky in-box mechanics, but no one really cares when he’s walloping balls over the right field wall in Nationals Park, something he’s done a lot in his career: Soto has 69 very nice home runs in 313 career games, and he’s got a pretty fair shot to make it to 100 dingers early in his career if he stays healthy in 2021.

Outfield: Mookie Betts, Dodgers

“See, that’s where all the trouble began. That smile. That damn smile,” the Red Sox front office, somewhere.

Mookie Betts and his million-dollar smile were traded to the Dodgers last year, and he parlayed that million-dollar smile (and his otherworldly talent) into a 12-year, $365 million extension with Los Angeles.

There are few more fun players in baseball than Betts. You hate to overuse the word swagger, but Mookie’s definitely got it, and he has that rare charisma that baseball greats all seem to have.

Runners up: Bryce Harper, Phillies. Say what you will about Harper, but the man who once spearheaded a “Make Baseball Fun Again” campaign is still one of the more passionate and fun players to watch. 

Mike Trout, Angels. Sure, his personality might not be what everyone wants it to be (and he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone, anyway), but Trout is putting together a Hall of Fame career right now, 

Starting pitcher: Johnny Cueto, Giants

Baseball is worse when Johnny Cueto isn’t on his game. The shuffles, the shimmies, everything he does on the mound is pure entertainment. It’s nothing new, either: Cueto is one of baseball’s most entertaining people.

And if you think Cueto is fun during the season, just check out his Instagram page during the offseason and check out all the amazing food he cooks. Cueto is one of a kind, and we should all be glad to have him back again this season.

Runner up: Noah Syndergaard, Mets. While “Thor” is on the shelf while recovering from Tommy John surgery to start the year, arguably no one has used social media to their advantage more than Syndergaard.

Relief pitcher: Jordan Hicks, Cardinals

Relief pitching in and of itself is an exciting thing in baseball, especially when everyone and their mother throws 100 mph coming out of the bullpen now. Hicks, who hasn’t pitched since 2019, was throwing over 100 in spring outings this year. So, much like John Wick, we’re thinking he’s back.

While the game is lacking a Grant Balfour, José Valverde or Francisco Rodriguez right now, let the pure, disgusting stuff be your entertainment instead.

Runner up: Liam Hendriks, White Sox. Any time a reliever leaves the A’s, an angel loses his wings. The Aussie reliever heads to Chicago for 2021, but his personality was pure Oakland before the move.

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ESPN’s Holly Rowe speaks French and English in WNBA Draft interview; Twitter reacts

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ESPN's Holly Rowe speaks French and English in WNBA Draft interview; Twitter reacts

ESPN reporter Holly Rowe received many a “tres bien” from her confrères in media for conducting a bilingual interview with WNBA Draft pick Iliana Rupert, a France international, on Thursday night.

Rupert was chosen 12th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. With the draft being a virtual event for the second year in a row because of COVID-19, Rowe conducted the post-selection interview in an ESPN studio while Rupert was on camera remotely.

MORE: Why Paige Bueckers was ineligible for ’21 WNBA Draft

Rowe began the interview with “Bonsoir,” or “Good evening,” and asked Rupert in French whether she spoke English. Rupert responded in the affirmative and the interview proceeded in English.

“It’s always been one of my dreams and it’s amazing being recognized,” Rupert said. “I’m really happy to [represent] my country and I’m just excited to finally start this journey.”

After two more questions and responses in English, Rowe switched back to French for the interview’s conclusion, telling Rupert “Bienvenue,” or “Welcome,” to the WNBA. She also gave her regards to Rupert’s family.

Rowe’s media colleagues were quick with the compliments.

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‘It shows how exciting we can be!’ – Saka says Arsenal have real chance of winning Europa League after Slavia rout

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'It shows how exciting we can be!' - Saka says Arsenal have real chance of winning Europa League after Slavia rout

Bukayo Saka says Arsenal have a real chance of winning the Europa League after their rout of Slavia Prague, and claims their latest performance “shows everyone how exciting we can be”.

Arsenal bounced back from a disappointing 1-1 draw against Slavia in the first leg of their quarter-final tie at Emirates Stadium by picking up a comprehensive 4-0 victory in the Czech Republic on Thursday night.

Saka was among the scorers as the Gunners booked a last-four clash with Villarreal, and he is confident they can now go all the way in the competition after flexing their attacking muscles at the Sinobo Stadium.

What’s been said?

“It was fantastic from start to finish. We did it for all the fans, they all deserve it for all the support they give us. We are really happy to progress,” the Arsenal winger told BT Sport.

“We showed real character. The first one was disallowed, Emile deserved a goal, we kept going and got the first one again. We pretty much killed the game in the first half.

“In the first leg we played well but weren’t clinical, credit to the manager and coaching staff, the way we set up, pressed, they couldn’t get out.

“It shows everyone how exciting we can be, when we play like this it is so amazing to be involved in. We have a chance of going to the final and winning this competition, it is up to us. We look forward to the next opponent.”

Arsenal put Slavia to the sword

The Gunners went at their Czech opponents right from the first whistle in the second leg clash, and found themselves in front after just 18 minutes when Nicolas Pepe dinked the ball into the net after being teed up by Emile Smith Rowe.

Alexandre Lacazette then doubled the visitors’ account from the penalty spot after Saka was fouled in the box, and the teenager got his goal moments later when he cut in from the right-wing before firing the ball low past the goalkeeper at his near post.

Lacazette added extra gloss to the final scoreline with a trademark finish 13 minutes from time as Arsenal progressed to the semi-finals 5-1 on aggregate.

What’s next?

Arsenal will now turn their attention back to the Premier League, with a home fixture against Fulham scheduled to take place on Sunday.

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What pressure? Arsenal sweeps Slavia Prague aside to set up a reunion with Emery

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What pressure? Arsenal sweeps Slavia Prague aside to set up a reunion with Emery

Slavia Prague 0-4 Arsenal: Match statistics

What was all the fuss about?

It was billed as the game that would define Arsenal’s season, a night that could even shape Mikel Arteta’s future at the club.

The pressure was supposed to be on against Slavia Prague but within 25 superb minutes, the Gunners were in cruise control.

Last week’s 1-1 draw at Emirates Stadium had left the Gunners with a very simple equation going into the second leg of their Europa League quarterfinal in the Czech capital: score a goal.

Arteta’s side knew failure to find a way through a Slavia side that was unbeaten at home in all competitions this season would send it crashing out of the tournament and leave an already disappointing season in tatters.

Serious questions were being asked of the players after the way in which they threw away a lead in the closing stages of the first leg to hand Prague the advantage going into Thursday night’s return fixture.

But in the space of six scintillating first-half minutes, those questions were answered in emphatic style.

The brilliant Emile Smith Rowe had already had a goal ruled out for the tightest of offside calls before Nicolas Pepe gave the visitors the lead on 18 minutes, thus canceling out Slavia’s away goal.

Alexandre Lacazette then struck from the penalty spot three minutes later to make it 2-0 on the night before Bukayo Saka added a classy third goal – all within 24 minutes of the game getting underway.

It was game, set and match Arsenal before we had even reached the half-hour mark.

Even in his wildest dreams, Arteta would never have imagined such an impressive start from his side, especially with his captain and talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missing due to contracting malaria while away with Gabon on international duty.

This was a major statement from his side and another example of why there is genuine belief within the club that things are heading in the right direction under the Spaniard.

Getty/Goal

The abject performances throughout November and the majority of December may have led to a hugely disappointing Premier League campaign, but the improvement since Christmas has been undeniable.

Since beating Chelsea 3-1 on Boxing Day, Arteta’s side sits fourth in the form table, with only Manchester City, Manchester United and West Ham picking up more points.

And now the Gunners have booked their spot in the Europa League semifinals, where they will meet Unai Emery’s Villarreal.

Clearly, there is still much for Arsenal to improve on and failure to go on and win the Europa League will more than likely leave it facing up to a season without European competition for the first time in 25 years.

For a club of Arsenal’s stature, that is not good enough, but there are still plenty of reasons for optimism and they were all on show as Prague was blown away in its backyard.

Arsenal’s homegrown youngsters have been the catalyst for the improvement since Boxing Day and one again they led the charge – with academy graduates Smith Rowe and Saka proving far too good for the Czech champions.

Immediately after seeing a goal ruled out for offside, Smith Rowe waltzed through the Slavia defense before working the ball to Pepe, who showed wonderful composure to score his fifth Europa League goal of the season.

Saka then took center stage, winning a penalty, which was converted by Lacazette, before scoring the third himself with a fine finish from the edge of the box.

At that point, the game was done and dusted. Arsenal had done its job and it cruised through the remainder of the quarterfinal, with Lacazette putting the gloss on a fabulous night’s work with a fourth goal on 77 minutes.

All eyes now turn to the semifinal against Villarreal and the return of Emery, the man Arteta replaced just over 16 months ago.

Emery led Arsenal to the Europa League final in 2019 and now he is the man standing in their way of repeating the trick two years later.

A return to the Champions League is now within touching distance for Arsenal. Just three games stand between the Gunners and a seat back at Europe’s top table.

They went to Prague with their season on the line and they return to London with the dream still alive.

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