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Baseball players get a peek at playing without fans

Baseball players got a sense of what the game will be like without fans in the stands upon returning for workouts last week.

They’re getting a more realistic glimpse this week as teams begin holding scrimmages.

Yes, it’s very strange.

“It was surreal. … just sitting behind the dish at a major league stadium with major league players on the field and no one else there and playing in competition,” Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns said Thursday. “Occasionally, you’ll see that for a small BP when media isn’t around or cameras aren’t around, but it was really weird to see Christian Yelich in the batter’s box in a major league stadium in competition in an empty ballpark.”

Baseball returned for workouts last week after the season was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic during spring training. Teams have started ramping up their workouts in preparation for a 60-game season set to begin on July 23.

The season will start without fans in the stands and will likely remain that way for a while as coronavirus hotspots continue to pop up across the country.

“We’ll remember this season, going through it, for a long time because these are very unusual feelings for all of us to experience when we’re watching games like this,” Stearns said. “In terms of the actual game and the way that the game played out, I think it looked like normal baseball.”

The Boston Red Sox will try to make the atmosphere a little closer to normal by experimenting with piped-in noise, like leagues in Taiwan and Korea have done.

“So hopefully it won’t be quite as quiet. It is quiet today,” Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said. “I think we’re just constantly adjusting to things and trying to figure it out.”

UMPIRES RESPOND TO WEST

Umpire Joe West faced backlash earlier this week after he said he doesn’t believe all the deaths attributed to COVID-19 were from the virus.

The Major League Baseball Umpires Association stepped back from West’s comments with a statement issued on Thursday.

“Recent public comments about the current Coronavirus pandemic do not in any way reflect the position of the Major League Baseball Umpires Association,” the statement said. “Our nation, and our world, has suffered greatly from this deadly virus. In the midst of continued suffering umpires are attempting to do our part to bring the great game of baseball back onto the field and into the homes of fans everywhere.”

POSEY STILL OUT

San Francisco catcher Buster Posey was gone from Giants’ workouts for a second straight day and third in all while dealing with a personal issue.

Posey said last weekend he still had some reservations about playing this year amid the pandemic. Manager Gabe Kapler wouldn’t say whether Posey had indicated that was the reason for his absence.

“Buster is still working through a personal issue. I want to respect his privacy,” Kapler said.

CESPEDES HOMERS

Yoenis Cespedes launched a two-run homer off Seth Lugo during the Mets’ intrasquad game at Citi Field. Rather than trot around the bases after the ball cleared the fence, Cespedes simply walked back to the dugout.

The 34-year-old slugger missed last season and most of 2018 due to a string of injuries. He had surgery on both heels and then broke his ankle in a fall at his Florida ranch. The two-time All-Star said in February he finally expected to be ready to play this year, and he’s looked healthy and dangerous in the batter’s box since summer camp opened last Friday.

It seems his only remaining hurdle is showing he can sprint full speed without issue.

REYES APOLOGIZES

The Cleveland Indians kept outfielder Franmil Reyes away from camp after he was spotted on social media attending a Fourth of July gathering.

Reyes was allowed to resume on-field activities on Wednesday after being re-tested twice and apologized for putting himself and his teammates at risk.

“I really apologize, because I was not protecting myself and my teammates,” he said on Thursday. “I learned from it and it won’t happen again. I really don’t want to stop practicing. I really apologize and I swear it won’t happen again.”

HOPEFUL RANGERS

Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said All-Star slugger Joey Gallo and lefty reliever Brett Martin are both feeling good but still haven’t been cleared to start working out with the team.

Both tested positive for the coronavirus during intake testing last week. Daniels said Gallo was still asymptomatic and that Martin, who has Type 1 diabetes, is feeling better every day after initially having mild symptoms, including congestion and fatigue.

“I am hopeful they won’t be out much longer,” Daniels said, without elaborating.

NO SPITTING

One of the new rules during the pandemic is the prohibition of spitting to prevent the virus from spreading.

Following the rule is not as easy as it sounds. Players have actually been practicing not spitting.

“That’s a big thing for me. I do dip some tobacco. I’ll have to change that up, maybe go to gum more often,” the Marlins’ Garrett Cooper said. “That’s the natural thing for a baseball player to do, spit. That’s what they’ve been doing their whole lives — gum, sunflower seeds, a lot of guys dip tobacco. It’s part of your normal protocol. Maybe it helps people calm down. I’ve caught myself a few times. I start to spit and go, ‘Oh man, I can’t do this now.’ It’s something you’ve got to get used to.”

EXTRA WORK

Altanta starter Mike Foltynewicz looked sharp in three innings of a controlled scrimmage, which he credited to workouts he participated in at nearby Campbell High School with Mike Soroka and Sean Newcomb, during the long break. He’s been throwing six times a week and pitching bullpens.

“We got really lucky to be able to go to that school and throw every day,” Foltynewicz said. “It was difficult just to get in gyms and get in the parks to throw. It was tough. Me, Newk, Mike. We had a bunch of guys come in, left- and right-(handed hitters), just to stay ready. At any time MLB could’ve started us back up and we could’ve had to ship right out to spring training.”

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Red Sox dogged by claims of racism, sexual abuse

NEW YORK (AP) — Last month, when former Major League All-star Torii Hunter said he’d been called the N-word “a hundred times” at Boston’s storied Fenway Park, the Red Sox were quick to back him up with a promise to fight racism.

“Torii Hunter’s experience is real,” the team said in a June 10 Twitter post, adding that there were at least seven incidents as recently as last year where fans used racial slurs. The team promised to do a better job dealing with racism: “As we identify how we can do better, please know we are listening.”

But those words rang hollow for more than a dozen Black men who have spent the last several years trying to get the Red Sox to listen to their claims that they were sexually abused by a former Red Sox clubhouse manager who died in 2005.

The former clubhouse manager, Donald “Fitzy” Fitzpatrick, pleaded guilty to criminal charges of attempted sexual battery in 2002, admitting that he used Red Sox team memorabilia to lure young, Black clubhouse workers into secluded areas of the team’s Florida spring training facility, where he abused them. Fitzpatrick did not admit to abusing young boys in other ballparks.

Since then, a growing number of men have stepped forward to allege that they, too, were abused by Fitzpatrick at Fenway Park and at major league stadiums in Baltimore and Kansas City, when the Red Sox were playing on the road. Because their claims date to the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, they are too old to be included in civil lawsuits, and the men say their requests for out-of-court settlements have fallen on deaf ears.

Gerald Armstrong, 65, said he believes the team knew that Fitzpatrick, who worked for the Red Sox for decades, was molesting youngsters hired as bat boys, ball boys, and club house attendants. “You can’t tell me that you can have 30 or 40 guys traveling around with him and observing his behavior and not know what he was doing,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said that former Red Sox first baseman George Scott, known as the “Boomer,” frequently told him to “stay away from Fitzy.” Scott died seven years ago.

“It was another slap in the face for me,” said Charles Crawford, 45, an African American from Taunton, Massachusetts after hearing the most recent Red Sox statement about combating racism at Fenway Park. Crawford alleges that Fitzpatrick abused him in a locked storage room and in the team showers at Fenway Park when he was 16 years old, in the summer of 1991.

“Now would be a good time for the Red Sox to show everyone they mean what they say,” said Armstrong, who claims he was the first Black youth to be hired in the visitors’ clubhouse by the old Kansas City Athletics — only to be allegedly abused by Fitzpatrick multiple times in a stadium storage room and the historic Muehlebach Hotel in downtown Kansas City.

When contacted by The Associated Press, Daniel Goldberg, an attorney for the Red Sox, re-issued a statement the team released in 2017, noting that Fitzpatrick pleaded guilty to criminal charges under the team’s previous ownership.

“The Red Sox have always viewed the actions — which date back as long as six decades ago — of Mr. Fitzpatrick as abhorrent,” the team statement says. “When the team, under prior ownership became aware of the allegations against Mr. Fitzpatrick in 1991, he was promptly relieved of his duties.”

Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney representing 21 men who claimed they were abused by Fitzpatrick — 15 of whom are Black — has been pushing for out-of-court settlements with the Red Sox, three other teams and Major League Baseball for years, but to no avail. Recently, following the death of George Floyd and statements about combating racism issued by the Red Sox, Major League Baseball and several teams, Garabedian has tried again to open negotiations, without success.

“It’s inconceivable to me that they wouldn’t want to help these victims in this day and age,” said Garabedian, who is known for his work representing victims of Catholic clergy sex abuse, including those who took part in a 2002 settlement with the Boston Archdiocese.

Forbes Magazine recently pegged the value of the Red Sox at $3.3 billion, third among the 30 major league ball clubs. In a recent ranking of billionaires, the magazine also estimated principal owner John Henry’s net worth at $2.6 billion.

Today’s Red Sox, led by Henry, who also owns The Boston Globe, have labored to shed the team’s racist past since buying the franchise in 2002.

Under the late Tom Yawkey, the team’s former owner, the Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, signing infielder Elijah “Pumpsie” Green in 1959, more than a decade after Jackie Robinson smashed the color barrier by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In addition, the Red Sox had a chance to sign Robinson before he went to the Dodgers, and they took a pass on signing fellow Hall of Famer Willie Mays.

Two years ago, the Red Sox tried to step away from the team’s racist legacy when it asked the City of Boston to drop Yawkey’s name from a street that runs alongside Fenway Park. The request ignited opposition from a group of civic leaders who said the move would tarnish Yawkey’s record of charitable giving. But the Red Sox prevailed and today Yawkey Way has reverted to its original name, Jersey Street.

Crawford and Armstrong, who have long accused Fitzpatrick of abuse, said the former clubhouse manager used official team caps and baseballs to draw them and others into private settings in major league ball parks and at other locations.

Garabedian said three of the 21 alleged victims claim Fitzpatrick molested them after showing up at little league games in Boston and nearby Brockton and telling them he was a scout for major league baseball.

“He was very active,” Garabedian said.

Garabedian is seeking $5 million for each of the 21 alleged victims.

But Armstrong said he’s speaking out in large part to encourage all Black men who are victims of child sexual abuse to overcome the shame or embarrassment they may feel so they can acknowledge what was done to them and get the counseling they likely need.

“I think a lot of black men have been molested and for cultural reasons they just don’t come forward to deal with it,” he said. “And if you don’t deal with it, you’re looking at a lot of emotional problems.”

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The Latest: Titans letting season-ticket holders opt out

Count the Tennessee Titans among the NFL teams offering season-ticket holders the option of opting out of this season and putting that money toward 2021 or getting a refund.

The Titans sent a letter to their season-ticket holders Monday. The team also posted a notice on its website.

Tennessee told season-ticket holders the team suspended any payment plans July 1 for this season.

Team officials will be working with state and local governments on how many fans will be allowed to attend games at Nissan Stadium, which seats approximately 69,143.

But the Titans say the coronavirus pandemic makes it “increasingly likely” that NFL teams will be playing in front of fewer fans this season.

The National Hockey League says 35 total players have tested positive for the coronavirus over roughly the past month.

The league says 23 of 396 players checked for COVID-19 at team facilities have tested positive since voluntary workouts began June 8, a 5% rate. In that same period of time, it is aware of 12 additional positive test results.

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association on Sunday night agreed on protocols to start training camps and resume the season. That includes daily testing once games get under way for players, coaches and staff.

Resuming is contingent on each side approving an extension of the collective bargaining agreement and the return to play agreement.

Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell says shortstop Luis Urias and pitcher Angel Perdomo tested positive for COVID-19 before the intake process.

Counsell says both players are asymptomatic.

This marks the second setback for Urias since the Brewers acquired him from San Diego in November. Urias, who is expected to compete with incumbent Orlando Arcia for the starting shortstop job, underwent surgery in January to repair a broken bone in his left hand.

Major League Baseball and the players’ association announced Friday that 31 players and seven staff members tested positive for COVID-19 during intake for the resumption of training, a rate of 1.2%. Teams resumed workouts Friday for the first time since the coronavirus interrupted spring training on March 12, two weeks before the season was to start.

The Washington Nationals have canceled Monday morning’s team workout because of COVID-19 testing delays.

Players and staff were tested Friday, and general manager Mike Rizzo says the team still hasn’t received its results. Rizzo said it’s not safe to continue holding camp without accurate and timely testing and that the workout was canceled to prevent putting players and staff at risk.

Rizzo says: Major League Baseball “needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab. Otherwise, summer camp and the 2020 season are at risk.”

Two players on the Indiana Fever were among the seven positive tests for the coronavirus across the WNBA, the team announced.

The league and teams didn’t reveal who the players were. All 137 WNBA players were tested over the past week as the teams prepared to head to Florida on Monday for the upcoming season, which will be played at IMG Academy.

The Fever will delay their travel by at least five days to self-quarantine in case any of them came into close contact with the infected players.

The WNBA hopes to start training camp later this week, with the regular season set to begin around July 24.

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MVP plaque presenters to discuss Landis’ name on MLB trophy

NEW YORK (AP) — The baseball organization that presents the annual MVP awards will consider whether the name of former commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis should be pulled from future plaques.

“The issue is being addressed,” Jack O’Connell, longtime secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, said Wednesday. “It will definitely be put up for discussion.”

Former NL Most Valuable Players Barry Larkin, Mike Schmidt and Terry Pendleton this week told The Associated Press they would favor removing Landis’ name because of concerns over his handling of Black players.

“I could not agree more,” decorated writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons tweeted.

Meanwhile, a lively debate has popped up on social media about whose name should be on the plaque, if anyone at all. Among those being suggested are Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, the only player to win the MVP in both leagues, Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson and Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, who signed Jackie Robinson.

Landis was hired in 1920 as MLB’s first commissioner. No Blacks played in the majors during his tenure that ended with his death in late 1944 — Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 and Larry Doby followed later that season.

Landis’ legacy is “always a complicated story” that includes “documented racism,” official MLB historian John Thorn said.

Every AL and NL MVP plaque since Landis’ death has carried his name — in letters twice as big as the winner — and an imprint of his face. Landis gave the BBWAA control of picking and presenting the MVPs in 1931.

“We are trying to work out the mechanics of dealing with the topic amid a pandemic,” O’Connell said. “It will just be a matter of what form.”

“It is safe to say that we would prefer to settle this matter before the Winter Meetings,” he said.

The BBWAA’s next scheduled meeting is at the winter meetings in Dallas in December. The MVP winners are usually announced in November.

Landis’ name has been on the plaques for 75 years, but it is not pledged to remain there under the BBWAA constitution. A vote by the membership could lead to a redesign by the end of the coronavirus-delayed, 60-game season set to start in three weeks.

“I don’t know that it needs a name,” Larkin said. “MVP says it all.”

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Tigers give $8.4M deal to Torkelson, who joins player pool

DETROIT (AP) — No. 1 overall draft pick Spencer Torkelson and the Detroit Tigers agreed to a minor league contract on Tuesday, and the team said the infielder will join its player pool for this abbreviated season.

Torkelson’s deal includes an $8,416,300 is a signing bonus, which is $1,000 above slot value, and a $2,500 contingent bonus for days on the roster of a minor league affiliate, which cannot be earned until 2021. He is to receive $100,000 within 30 days of the deal’s approval by Major League Baseball, and 50% of the rest on each July 1 in 2021 and 2022.

Detroit had the top pick for the second time in three years after drafting right-hander Casey Mize in 2018.

Undrafted out of high school, Torkelson hit 54 home runs at Arizona State. The Tigers took the slugging first baseman with the top pick, then said they intended to try him at third.

He’ll get a chance to show what he can do, sooner rather than later. Detroit announced 58 selections for its player pool Sunday, leaving two spots open. On Tuesday, the Tigers said Torkelson will be added to that group.

The Tigers also included Mize and several other top pitching prospects in that player pool, meaning it’s possible that some of Detroit’s biggest young names could reach the majors at some point this season.

Torkelson hit .340 with six home runs and 11 RBIs in 17 games this year during a college season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Teams not able to disclose who goes on IL due to virus

Trying to find out the status of a baseball player coming back from an ankle injury definitely will be easier than learning whether someone tested positive for the coronavirus.

Major League Baseball said Tuesday that a team will not specifically announce a COVID-19 injured list placement for a player who is removed from the club after testing positive, just an IL trip.

MLB’s operations manual says a positive test, exhibiting symptoms that require isolation for additional assessment or exposure to someone who has had the virus are cause for placement on the new COVID-19 IL.

“It would be a speculating circumstance,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told media during a conference call.

Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement states that for any medical condition not related to employment “a club may disclose only the fact that a medical condition is preventing the player from rendering services to the club and the anticipated length of the player’s absence from the club.”

Cashman noted the situation continues to evolve as MLB and the players’ union continue discussions. Testing of players and staff will begin Wednesday as they report to their teams to resume workouts. They will be tested once every two days.

Last week, Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies became the first MLB player known to have tested positive. According to reports, the All-Star outfielder was one of three Colorado players to have a positive test.

Numerous other teams have said they have players who have tested positive for the virus without identifying any of them. The Philadelphia Phillies announced seven, while the Detroit Tigers said one player who was living in Florida but not working out at the team’s spring training facilities in Lakeland also tested positive.

Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said a few players have tested positive but declined to specify how many. Several Toronto Blue Jays players and staff members also have tested positive.

Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said remaining educated about best practices is going to be crucial for everyone.

“Leadership really is going to be the difference-maker for the teams that are able to best handle this and best cope with the challenges that we face,” he said. “And that really is the accountability that needs to be shared by all of us — not just baseball, but our whole society.”

Baltimore general manager Mike Elias said the Orioles have had no reported cases and that no one on the team has decided against playing in the shortened season.

He’s hoping for a smooth start to the camp that’s scheduled to begin Friday at Camden Yards.

“We recognize that this will be fluid and everyone is having to make personal decisions and circumstances might not be fully understood until the season starts, but so far we are expecting full participation,” Elias said. “You see in the news around the league that’s not the case everywhere and I wouldn’t be shocked if that ends up happening, but that’s going to be part of this.”

“We’re not pressuring anyone or shaming anyone that feels they shouldn’t be here. We’re making that known, and I think it’s well-received,” Elias added. “Our players have been itching to play for a while. I think the whole delay was frustrating for them, for us, and everyone just wants to go play.”

Marlins CEO Derek Jeter is hoping the return of baseball can provide some solace, much like the Yankees did when they returned after 9-11.

“We were thinking as players, ‘Do we even play? What does it mean? We’re playing a game.’ Talking to family members who had lost family members and them thanking us — ‘What are you thanking us for?’ They said, ‘We’re thanking you because you’re giving us something to cheer for. There haven’t been too many happy days around here,’” Jeter said. “Baseball played a big role, at least in New York, in the healing process. It’s not saying you’re ever going to forget what happened. But at least for three hours a day we have the opportunity to give them something to cheer for. We hope that’s the case here when we get going in a couple of weeks.”

AP Baseball Writers Ronald Blum, Mike Fitzpatrick and Ben Walker, and AP Sports Writers David Ginsburg and Steven Wine contributed to this report.

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Rebuilding MLB clubs hope to keep developing top prospects

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto had at one point expected former first-round pick Logan Gilbert to be pitching at T-Mobile Park by the time June rolled around.

He also believed Jarred Kelenic, one of the top prospects in all of baseball, would likely soon follow him to the big leagues, set to join a group of prospects expected to be at the core of the Mariners’ rebuilding project.

“Eventually, our players are still going to hit the ground running and achieve whatever ceiling they were able to achieve,” Dipoto said. “It may just take a little bit longer.”

From Seattle to Kansas City, Baltimore to Miami, rebuilding teams that were hoping to see their young prospects play in the majors this season are reevaluating their plans.

The challenge: figure out how to get a substantive season in for some of the top talent in the minor leagues that these clubs are banking on to eventually become contributors if they ever want to climb out of division basements. And do it amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is likely to knock out all minor league play this year.

Is it worth starting the clock on the career of a top prospect for a truncated 60-game season? What about the taxi squad each team will keep? Is there enough of an opportunity for meaningful at-bats or innings to pitch? Could there be an expanded fall league option in Arizona, presuming health and safety concerns allow for that?

All key questions. None with straightforward answers.

“It is affecting all 30 clubs,” White Sox GM Rick Hahn said. “And it is something that as we head into the fall, winter, the 2021 season we’re going to have to adjust our expectations in terms of guys’ pacing, in terms of guys’ likelihood and timing at making an impact at the next level.”

The list of teams facing a significant rebuild is short. Seattle is there. So, too, are the Royals, Orioles and Tigers in the American League. In the National League, it’s more muddled outside of the Marlins, with a mix of teams good enough to stay in the race for 60 games but also looking ahead to the future.

The Marlins thought top prospect Sixto Sanchez might pitch in the majors this year. Now, is it worth it? Same for their top draft pick, Max Meyer out of Minnesota.

Will the Royals bring up Bobby Witt Jr.? What about Adley Rutschman in Baltimore or Kelenic in Seattle?

“You want to be 100% sure a player is ready to help you at the major league level before you add them. … There’s no minor leagues to send them down to if they struggle at the major league level,” Royals GM Dayton Moore said. “So it’s a unique situation, a unique challenge that we’re looking forward to, but we also have to think big picture as well.”

The teams caught in the middle are those who expected 2020 to be a springboard. They may have had key players who had a taste of the big leagues in 2019 and were hoping this season would be the transition into becoming contenders in 2021.

A prime example is Hahn and the White Sox.

“I’m of the mindset, and have been of the mindset, is what we’re building here is a multiyear project. It’s a multiyear endeavor,” Hahn said. “This was going to be sort of that first year of transitioning from the rebuild into that competitive stage, so it’s extremely important from our perspective to get these guys out there and competing.”

“We obviously have a young club, a team that’s only going to grow and benefit from playing experience during the regular season and hopefully the postseason, so getting a taste of that this season was of the utmost importance,” he said.

For the White Sox and others on the fringe of contention, it could mean taking a different approach to a 60-man group that includes the taxi squad. As in, would it be better to have players with big league experience available immediately if need be, or prepare prospects for the future?

In Seattle’s case, Dipoto said he’s now viewing the development of their prospects in a 17-month window. Whether it’s on the taxi squad or in some sort of fall league, what can they get accomplished this year? And how does that alter the time frame for where they should be in their development come 2021?

For a club that expected to start turning the corner next year, the developmental loss this season could be significant.

“We are viewing this as almost the beginning of an onboarding for the next 17 months and messaging it to the players like that,” Dipoto said. “We have your best interests in mind. We are going to preserve your health and well-being above all other things, and along the way we’re going to compete our butts off and try to win as many of these 60 games as we can win.

“And who knows what can happen in a season like that, when it’s 60 games. Anybody can get hot and make a run. And I guess to that extent we have as good a shot as anybody, but we’re also highly focused on the big picture and it will stay that way.”

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A long-overdue ‘Tip of the Cap’ to baseball’s Black pioneers

Barack Obama tipped his cap. So did three other former U.S. presidents and a host of prominent civil rights leaders, entertainers and sports greats in a virtual salute to the 100-year anniversary of the founding of baseball’s Negro Leagues.

The campaign launched Monday with photos and videos from, among others, Hank Aaron, Rachel Robinson, Derek Jeter, Colin Powell, Michael Jordan, Obama and fellow former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter at tippingyourcap.com.

On the receiving end of those tributes are many of the Negro Leagues’ greatest alumni: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, “Cool Papa” Bell and Jackie Robinson, who began with the Kansas City Monarchs and went on to break the color barrier in the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Not long after, with many of its best players gradually following Robinson’s path, the Negro Leagues ceased operations.

Singer Tony Bennett, showing his heart, tips a San Francisco Giants cap. Californian Billie Jean King opts for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Clinton said he chose a Chicago Cubs cap in honor of Ernie Banks, the late Hall of Famer who got his start in the Negro Leagues.

But, Clinton added: “This cap is for Hillary, too, when finally, the Cubs won the championship. Long before that, the Negro Leagues made baseball better and America better.”

The celebration was moved online after a major league-wide tribute to baseball’s Black pioneers scheduled for June 27 was shelved — along with the games — because of the coronavirus pandemic. At first, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick worried that his longstanding plan to honor the men and women who battled long odds for a game of their own would have to be postponed, at best.

“In our game, there’s nothing more honorable than tipping your cap,” Kendrick said. “And once I realized that national day of recognition was going to fall by the wayside, I thought, ‘OK, maybe we can do it next year.’ But that didn’t really do it.

“So then I thought, ’How about a virtual tip of the cap?‴ Kendrick paused, then chuckled. “And let me say here and now, there is no way I could have done this myself. I could not be more proud of the response.”

Kendrick got the lift he was looking for from communications specialist Dan McGinn and longtime NLBM supporter Joe Posnanski, a sports writer for The Athletic and author of “The Soul of Baseball,” chronicling his yearlong road trip promoting the Kansas City-based museum and the stories behind it with legendary Negro League star, the late Buck O’Neil.

O’Neil was the driving force behind the museum for decades. The NLBM has expanded several times since Rube Foster, as skilled an executive as he was a baseball pitcher, founded the first Negro National League at a YMCA on the same site in 1920.

Kendrick said his personal favorite tribute came from Jackie Robinson’s family.

“It’s Rachel tipping her cap, but there’s four generations of Robinson women in that video talking about our common cause and it evokes the kind of emotion at a time when our country really needs it,” he said.

“And you know,” he added a moment later, “it’s funny how this whole thing worked out. I always felt if there was going to be conversations about race in sports, the Negro Leagues should be at the center, because that’s the story: They triumphed over adversity.

“I got to know so many of them, and not a single guy that I met ever harbored ill will, at least to the point where they let it block their path. Everybody else thought the major leagues were better, but you couldn’t convince them,” he concluded. “They just wanted the chance to prove they could play this game as well as anybody else.”

They did, forging a rich legacy that will echo with a new generation thanks to something as simple as the virtual tip of a cap.

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Nats star Ryan Zimmerman’s AP diary: To play or not to play?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ryan Zimmerman is a two-time All-Star infielder who has played 15 years in the majors, all with the Washington Nationals. He holds most of the team’s career hitting records, and his two homers and seven RBIs last postseason helped the Nationals win their first World Series championship. Zimmerman has been offering his thoughts — as told to AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich — in a diary of sorts while waiting for baseball to return. In the 10th installment, the 35-year-old Zimmerman discusses what’s on his mind now that there is a plan in place for a 2020 season.

I’m still deciding whether to play.

When it comes down to it, it’s a decision not just for me, but for my family as well.

I have a 3-week-old baby. My mother has multiple sclerosis and is super high-risk; if I end up playing, I can pretty much throw out the idea of seeing her until weeks after the season is over.

There’s a lot of factors that I and others have to consider. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer; it’s everybody’s individual choice.

At the end of the day, does a player feel comfortable going to the field every day and — in my case, more importantly — feel comfortable coming home every day and feel like they’re not putting anyone else in danger?

I am by no means someone who thinks we all need to hide in our houses until a vaccine is found. That’s not feasible for anybody. We just need to do things in a sensible, smart way.

I don’t want to be a pessimist about this. I hope that, whatever I decide, the season goes off well, nothing happens, nobody gets seriously sick.

But there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of variables we’re not going to be able to control. That’s what we need to assess.

There’s a lot of talk about rule changes for extra innings and the DH; in my mind, what better year to try some of this stuff out?

With a 60-game season, there’s going to be people who think certain things about this year, anyway. So if you’re thinking about changing things in the game at some point, this is the perfect year to see if people in baseball and fans like it, see if they don’t.

But I’m thinking more about the health and safety perspective — and the toughest part for us is going to be the travel aspect of it.

That includes for “spring training,” when people are going to be flying in from all across the country and from out of the country, as well. It’ll be interesting to see just how that part of it works out, with so many people going from wherever they are and gathering together all of a sudden.

We haven’t seen a schedule yet, but I’m going to assume 30 games are on the road. I don’t know how long the trips are going to be, but it’s a significant amount of travel and staying in hotels and going places that are outside of where we’ve been allowed to go the last few months.

Once games begin in the NBA and NHL, they’re not going to travel from city to city. Once they’re in their places, they’re there.

And I’ll tell you this about baseball: The owners aren’t going to be traveling with us. I’m pretty sure they’re going to be hanging out at their houses, watching baseball on TV.

We’re going to be the ones out there, if we decide to play. We’re the ones taking all the risk.

If you’re going to participate, there are rules you have to follow. The “bubble” is only as good as the people inside of the “bubble.” It’s not like there’s going to be COVID police on our hotel floors.

So it will come down to the players and everyone involved and what they do with each and every second of their day.

When you start thinking about it like that, it starts becoming a little more complicated.

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For openers: MLB tries again with short season, skewed rules

NEW YORK (AP) — So, where were we?

Mid-March, a spring training exhibition between the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. Even before the final out, both sides had gotten the official word: Major League Baseball was shutting down immediately because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It felt like the most meaningless baseball game in the history of the sport,” Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter said.

So now, they’ll try again.

A skewed, 60-game schedule, rather than the full plate of 162, with opening day on July 23 or 24. A shortened, contorted season ordered by Commissioner Rob Manfred on Tuesday night after billionaire owners and multimillion-dollar players couldn’t come to a new economic agreement against the backdrop of the virus outbreak.

“What happens when we all get it?” Milwaukee pitcher Brett Anderson tweeted this week.

From the start, a sprint to the finish. Got to come out strong. Remember last year: The Washington Nationals began 27-33 and wound up hoisting the World Series trophy.

Perhaps it’s the perfect setup for outsiders like the San Diego Padres or Seattle Mariners to sneak into the championship chase.

Let’s not forget those Houston Astros, either. They were the biggest story in baseball when we last saw them, with fans taunting José Altuve, Alex Bregman and their accomplices following the trash can-banging, sign-stealing scandal that made national headlines over the winter.

Some things, chances are, won’t change when the games resume.

No minor leagues this year, tough luck there. The majors, meanwhile, give new meaning to short-season ball.

A look at what’s on deck:

ODDBALLS

An automatic runner on second base to begin all extra innings. Designated hitters in NL games. Pitchers with their own personal rosin bags.

This season will look like no other in baseball history, the price for trying to play amid a pandemic.

“So long National League. It was fun while it lasted,” Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright tweeted.

The extra-inning rule, that’s bound to bring new strategy, different stats to dissect and an innovative twist on the old game. It’ll be — aw, heck, who are we kidding? It will be Major League Baseball meets Central Park softball.

Just hoping that experiment doesn’t stick around in ’21.

To date, Bruce Maxwell is the only major leaguer to take a knee during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a game. The backup Oakland catcher did that at the Coliseum in September 2017, following the lead of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Maxwell saw limited time with the A’s in 2018, played in Mexico last year and doesn’t have a job with a big league team this year.

Major leaguers have not, in general, been the first set of players in pro sports to speak out on issues of social injustice. We’ll see what stances they take on and off the field when games return.

FLY IT HIGH!

OK, say Francisco Lindor helps Cleveland win a most elusive World Series title. Or Christian Yelich leads the Brewers to their first flag.

Fans will certainly argue: Is it a legitimate crown or more like a prize won during some European soccer tournament?

Kay Kenealy, a 59-year-old from Waukesha, Wisconsin, who has a 20-game ticket package to Brewers games, took a meaty swing at the debate.

“The season’s the season. It’s kind of like with the Bucks in the running for an NBA championship. A championship’s a championship,” she said. “If the season’s a month long, you play for that month.”

“Whether it be the Brewers or the A’s or someone like that that wins the World Series, I don’t think that requires an asterisk. I think everybody for the next 100 years is going to know that this was a pandemic year.”

THE BIG FOUR-OH-OH

The huge stat question: Could someone hit .400 in this shortened season?

NL MVP Cody Bellinger got off to a scorching start last year, batting .376 after the Dodgers’ 60th game. He finished at .305.

Chipper Jones was the most recent to top .400 through 60 — he was at .409 in 2008. Larry Walker (.417) and Tony Gwynn (.403) both started fast in 1997, the Elias Sports Bureau said.

Fewer games, a lot of walks, a couple of infield knocks, yep, it’s possible. But there’s a reason Ted Williams remains the last player to hit the hallowed mark in a full season, batting .406 in 1941 (always splendid, he was at .407 after 60).

A CAN OF CORN

Shucks! Might not be a game in the “Field of Dreams” cornfield this summer. MLB did a great job building a diamond next to the movie site near Dyersville, Iowa, to host the Yankees and White Sox on Aug. 13, but fans can’t come.

Also scrapped: Matchups in London, Mexico City and Puerto Rico. No official word yet on the All-Star Game, which was set for July 14 at Dodger Stadium.

OUCH

All-Star aces Chris Sale, Luis Severino and Noah Syndergaard are out while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

But these extra months might’ve given Aaron Judge, Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels and more time to fully recover. Who knows, maybe even Yoenis Céspedes has healed up.

And additional time off could’ve given Shohei Ohtani a cushion to build up his arm strength. Sure is neat having a two-way star to track in the majors.

So your family takes a road trip each summer, hitting a new ballpark every time. You want to extend your 11-year streak, but there aren’t any tickets for sale. Don’t fret, just get creative.

Oracle Park in San Francisco provides a tremendous opportunity, for free. Fans can gather behind the right field wall, look through a fence and see the Giants. And if a home run sails out that way, it’s fun to watch kayakers scramble for a Splash Shot souvenir.

The Roberto Clemente Bridge by PNC Park is a popular watching spot, the rooftops outside Wrigley Field are classic and a hotel in Toronto offers rooms with a terrific view from the outfield.

Hot dogs, however, are not included.