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Nolan Arenado’s homer caps day of big steps in return to normalcy



Nolan Arenado's homer caps day of big steps in return to normalcy

ST. LOUIS — The journey back to normalcy — or whatever the new normal will look like in a world where vaccines are available and our ability as a society to lessen COVID-19’s impact has increased — is a bit different for everyone. There are small steps and big steps along the way. 

For me, Thursday represented two big steps. Giant steps. Long-, long-awaited steps. 

After dropping our kiddo off at daycare, I drove a couple hours down Interstate 44. At a drive-thru vaccination site on a Phelps Health Center parking lot in Rolla, Mo., I got my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at 9:53 a.m. 

MORE: O’s Trey Mancini, who beat cancer, receives standing ovation in return to Camden Yards

Two words kept rolling around in my head as I waited the recommended 15 minutes before heading back to St. Louis: “Almost there. Almost there. Almost there.”

Full immunity — or close to it — from the Pfizer vaccine kicks in between one and two weeks after the second dose. My wife has her first dose, and her second one is scheduled for a few weeks from now. We have a long list of travel plans for this summer. Almost there. 

The second big step happened at 12:21 p.m.

That’s when I walked into a MLB ballpark for the first time since Oct. 30, 2019, when I left Houston’s Minute Maid Park a couple hours after the last pitch of a thrilling Game 7 of the World Series. Obviously, I had no idea it would be so long between trips to a big league ballpark. Heck, about a month before Game 7, I’d moved with my wife and daughter back to St. Louis, primarily so I could cover MLB from Busch Stadium on a daily basis in 2020. 

That seems like a decade ago. 

I cannot tell you how good it was to be back at a ballpark for a regular-season game. I was in Florida for spring training in early March last year and returned home a few days before Rudy Gobert tested positive and the NBA shut down. For the next several months, “normalcy” did not exist. As a company, we did not cover events in person once it became apparently how the pandemic would impact 2020. I fully agreed with choosing safety over everything else.  

One of my favorite things about being at the ballpark — or basketball arena or football stadium — is watching the stands fill up as game time approaches. That obviously didn’t happen today. Busch Stadium is operating currently at 32 percent capacity; the announced attendance of 13,328 was officially considered a sellout. 

Looking around the stands as the home opener ceremonies happened — honoring legends like Bob Gibson and Lou Brock who have passed since the last time fans were in attendance — was strange. It’s just odd to see 13,328 fans socially distanced and spaced out. 

And yet, it was wonderful just to see any fans in the stands. The same two words hit me: “Almost there. Almost there.” 

I brought packs of baseball cards to the game. Baseball cards, diving back into collecting, helped in 2020. It just seemed right to bring them to the game, to pass out in the press box and to fans who happened to follow me on Twitter. 

MORE: Card collections evolved in midst of pandemic in 2020

It was a bit chilly in St. Louis, with temps in the mid-50s. And it felt a bit colder than that, considering temps have been in the 70s for the past few days. But every window in the Busch Stadium press box was wide open, because there were baseball sounds to be heard. Everything felt familiar, hopeful. Even the roar of the crowd on a fly ball that had no real chance of clearing the outfield fence? I loved that, every time. 

And then, Nolan Arenado happened. 

This was his first game in a Cardinals uniform at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals traded for the All-Star third baseman this offseason, in a deal that some have called a heist in the team’s favor. The Rockies are paying a large chunk of Arenado’s salary, and the return that headed to Colorado was seen as light by most talent evaluators. And rumors have connected Arenado to the Cardinals for a long time, so this is a fan base that was very excited to welcome its new superstar, finally, to its home ballpark.

MORE: Is the Arenado-Goldschmidt corner combo the best in MLB?

Arenado stepped to the plate with the game tied 1-1 in the eighth inning. Austin Dean was on first base, with one out. Arenado hit the first pitch from Drew Rasmussen over the wall in left field, the sound of the bat connecting with the baseball leaving very little doubt where the ball was headed. 

Just like that, the Cardinals led 3-1. 

The roar of the 13,328 fans screaming with joy sounded like at least 26,656 fans. Hopefully, soon enough, there will be 25,000 fans in the ballpark. Then higher and higher capacities until, maybe, at some point this season, we get to 100 percent. 

Almost there. Almost there.

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White Sox’s Carlos Rodon completes no-hitter after losing perfect game in 9th to HBP



White Sox's Carlos Rodon completes no-hitter after losing perfect game in 9th to HBP

Carlos Rodon went through elbow surgery two years ago and shoulder issues last year. The White Sox non-tendered him last offseason and then re-signed him about two weeks before the start of spring training.

He was perfectly healthy for his second start of 2021, to the point he almost made history.

Rodon on Wednesday threw a no-hitter against Cleveland, beating the Tribe 8-0 on a 45-degree night in Chicago. He was two outs away from becoming the 24th MLB pitcher to throw a nine-inning perfect game.

MORE: Teams’ most recent no-hitters

Unfortunately for him, he lost the perfecto when he hit Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez on the foot with a breaking ball with one out in the ninth. Perez did not make much of an effort to avoid the pitch but there was no argument from the White Sox.

After that, the 28-year-old left-hander struck out Yu Chang and retired Jordan Luplow on a ground ball to third baseman Yoan Moncada to complete the no-hitter. Rodon threw 114 pitches (75 strikes), his highest pitch count since throwing 116 on July 29, 2018 (per 

Rodon almost lost his perfecto bid on the first batter of the ninth. Josh Naylor hit a slow bouncer to first baseman Jose Abreu, who slid into the bag to barely beat a diving Naylor. First base umpire Brian Knight, who was no Jim Joyce on this night, called Naylor out. A rapid replay review upheld the call.

“That was a hell of a play, man, hell of a play,” Rodon told the White Sox TV crew in an on-field interview.

Rodon rejoined the Sox on Feb. 1 — he said it was a “pretty easy” decision to come back, knowing that Chicago was set up to win now — and then pitched his way into the rotation in spring training. Wednesday’s start was just his fourth since suffering the elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery in May 2019. He threw 95 pitches over five innings in his 2021 debut, April 5 vs. the Mariners.

He almost became the fourth White Sox pitcher to throw a perfect game; he would have joined Philip Humber (2012), Mark Buehrle (2009) and Charlie Robertson (1922). Instead, he completed the 20th no-hitter in franchise history (rotation mate Lucas Giolito no-hit the Pirates last Aug. 25).

And he threw the second no-no in MLB in less than a week. Joe Musgrove threw the first no-hitter in Padres history Friday night against the Rangers in Texas.

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PSG star Neymar wants to be professional poker player when he retires from football



PSG star Neymar wants to be professional poker player when he retires from football

PSG star Neymar has expressed his desire to become a professional poker player when he retires from football.

The 29-year-old started playing poker during the 2014 World Cup and has developed a passion for the game since then. 

Neymar said he played with Gerard Pique during his time at Barcelona and now counts Keylor Navas and Leandro Paredes among his poker rivals at PSG.

What was said?

When asked by CNEWS if his goal was to be a professional poker player when he retires from football, Neymar said: “It’s true, it’s true. It’s one of the things I love to do the most. 

“I feel very comfortable and I think that after playing football I will be able to do tournaments, travel to play tournaments that I have always wanted to participate in and could not do because of my agenda and my career. 

“So when I finish my football career, that’s one of the things I’m going to do, travel to play this type of tournament.

“Among the similarities between poker and football, I think focus is one of them. The way you read your opponent and the game is also very important. 

“I think one of the most important things in football, and what I do on the pitch, is to read the game, read your opponent, and see where you can attack, where you can move to create a chance for your team. 

“And in poker it’s the same, you have to read the game, read your opponents and know the right time to attack your opponent.”

What’s next for Neymar?

The Brazilian still has plenty to accomplish on the pitch before his playing days are over, starting with his quest for a treble with PSG this season.

Neymar helped PSG past Bayern Munich in the Champions League this week, setting up a semi-final clash with Manchester City.

PSG are also three points back of first-place Lille in Ligue 1, while they have a French Cup quarter-final date with Angers later this month.

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‘Heading into one’s arm is not punishable’ – Dortmund boss Terzic slams penalty decision vs Man City



'Heading into one's arm is not punishable' - Dortmund boss Terzic slams penalty decision vs Man City

Borussia Dortmund manager Edin Terzic hit out at a crucial penalty call that went against his side on Wednesday in their Champions League elimination against Manchester City.

With Dortmund leading 1-0 on the night and poised to advance to the semi-finals on away goals, Emre Can was whistled for a handball in the box 10 minutes into the second half. 

Can headed the ball off his outstretched arm, which Terzic insisted meant the spot kick should not have been awarded. Riyad Mahrez would convert the ensuing penalty to send City on their way to the last four.

What was said?

“To be fair, you have to congratulate Man City,” Terzic told Sky Germany. “They played brilliantly and deservedly go one round further.

“After three of four halves, however, we were through – then it’s annoying that we end up conceding two goals like this. At the referee training it is clearly stated that heading into one’s arm is not punishable.

“Let me put it this way: We weren’t very lucky with decisions in the two games. We had a big dream, it is now unfortunately over.”

What other decisions went against Dortmund?

Jude Bellingham had what appeared to be a valid goal taken away in the first leg after he stole the ball from Ederson and rolled it into an empty net.

The referee ruled the teenager had fouled Ederson and blew his whistle before Bellingham put the ball into an empty net, meaning the play could not be reviewed by VAR. 

Replays showed that Bellingham had robbed the ball in mid-air from Ederson while hardly making contact with the goalkeeper.

What happened after Mahrez’s goal?

The Algerian drew City level on the night after Bellingham’s opener for Dortmund, and his spot kick put City ahead 3-2 on aggregate. 

City would then go on to control possession as they looked to take away the Germans’ chances of equalising.

With 15 minutes to play, Phil Foden then grabbed another goal to put the tie out of reach for Dortmund as City advanced with a 4-2 aggregate win.

What’s next for both teams?

Dortmund will face Werder Bremen on Sunday as they continue their pursuit of a top-four spot in the Bundesliga, currently sitting in fifth place. 

City take on Chelsea in a FA Cup semi-final on Saturday before they face PSG in the Champions League semi-finals later in April.

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