Kansas City Royals v St Louis Cardinals

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Major League Baseball has told Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong that he has to get rid of the colorful arm sleeve he’s been wearing, pictured above, that pays tribute to his native Hawaii and seeks to raise awareness of recovery efforts from the destruction caused by the erupting Mount Kilauea.

Goold:

[Wong] has been notified by Major League Baseball that he will face a fine if he continues to wear an unapproved sleeve that features Hawaiian emblem. Wong said he will stash the sleeve, like Jose Martinez had to do with his Venezuelan-flag sleeve, and find other ways to call attention to his home island.

Willson Contreras was likewise told to ditch his Venezuela sleeve.

None of these guys are being singled out, it seems. Rather, this is all part of a wider sweep Major League Baseball is making with respect to the uniformity of uniforms. As Goold notes at the end of his piece, however, MLB has no problem whatsoever with players wearing a non-uniform article of underclothing as long as it’s from an MLB corporate sponsor. Such as this sleeve worn by Marcell Ozuna, supplied by Nike that, last I checked, was not in keeping with the traditional St. Louis Cardinals livery:

ST. LOUIS, MO – MAY 22: Marcell Ozuna #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates after recording his third hit of the game against the Kansas City Royals in the fifth inning at Busch Stadium on May 22, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

If Nike was trying to get people to buy Hawaii or Venezuela compression sleeves I’m sure there would be no issue here. They’re not, however, and it seems like creating awareness and support for people suffering from natural, political and humanitarian disasters does not impress the powers that be nearly as much.

Halladay's legacy lives on through this dog

The good boy wanted to go to work. He sat under the table. His tail wagged. His tongue hung from the corner of his mouth, like a stray piece of corned beef. When he’s at home, Doc, a 4-year-old English lab, is playful and sweet and maybe a little lazy. When he’s at work, at the Pasco County Sheriff’s office in the greater-Tampa area, he’s a lot like the man who funded his addition to the K-9 unit and after whom he’s named.

“When he goes to work, he has – it’s kind of almost like you look at Roy Halladay and the way he had his tenacity,” said Deputy Brian Hernandez, Doc’s handler. “That’s his tenacity to work. Like, he’s happy-go-lucky when he’s not working, but when he’s working – you’ll see it in a minute when I tell him to go to work. He’s all about work.”

As baseball mourned the loss of Halladay in a November plane crash, it hit the sheriff’s office every bit as hard. Here they were investigating the death of their friend, their benefactor. It wasn’t just Doc, the drug-sniffing dog who joined the department in March 2016. The officers still talk about the time a friend of Halladay’s in the department said they were putting on a fundraiser for two deputies with cancer. Halladay loaded up the back of an SUV with jerseys and gloves. He signed a pair of spikes. The department wound up raising around $20,000.

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Doc, a 4-year-old English lab, is playful and sweet and maybe a little lazy (Jeff Passan)

It’s hardest on days like today, when the Toronto Blue Jays visit the Philadelphia Phillies for the first game of a series that pits the two teams for whom Halladay played over his 16-year career. Reminders of him are everywhere – not just in the rafters at Rogers Centre, where his jersey is retired, or Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies will add him to their Wall of Fame in August, but in the right arm of his eldest son, Braden, or in a room at the sheriff’s office filled with tables and chairs and a dog who’s clamoring to work.

A few minutes earlier, Hernandez had taken a plastic zip-top bag with a washcloth inside and slipped it in the sliver of space between two chairs stacked on top of one another. The washcloth had been warehoused in a container full of drugs so it would absorb the odor. To the human nose, it was scentless. Doc was ready to show otherwise.

Ever since Halladay and his wife, Brandy, donated the $10,000 for Doc and his training, he has proven himself a valuable asset. On his fourth day with the department, he accompanied Hernandez to a storage unit to investigate a tip about a car belonging to a man who had tried to run over a policeman a few days earlier. Doc went unit to unit until he stopped at one and stared at Hernandez. They secured a warrant, cut the lock and found the $80,000 Porsche Panamera they were looking for, given away by the small amount of marijuana that Doc sniffed out. Last year alone, Hernandez said, Doc’s work helped lead to 38 arrests.

When Doc realized he was about to go hunting for the washcloth, he tugged at the leash attached to his harness. “Ready to work?” Hernandez said. “Go find dope!” He bounded to one corner of the room, found nothing and reversed course, his nose sniffing all the while. He gravitated back to Hernandez, who gave him the order to find dope once again, and strolled past a copy machine. Doc walked slightly past the chairs where the plastic bag was wedged before finding the scent, at which point he snapped his neck to the left and fixed on the spot. He turned his head sideways, trying to jam his muzzle into the space and extract the bag. When he couldn’t, he simply sat and alternated his eyes between Hernandez and the bag.

Hernandez rewarded Doc with a toy to chew – his favorite treat is actually an ice cube – and some rousing praise in a voice best described as cop-does-falsetto. It works particularly well, Hernandez said, to troll people he arrests. “They’re like, ‘Oh, great, I got busted by the lab and the guy with a really high-pitched voice,’ ” Hernandez said.

Before he worked with Doc, Hernandez was a school resource officer and coached the junior-varsity baseball team. Prior to that, he was in the military for eight years as a medic. Everybody called him Doc.

So when he met Halladay and learned the department was renaming the pup – in the Netherlands, where he was born, the dog was called Rolex – all of it seemed so perfect to Hernandez. Halladay visited the department with Braden, and he autographed Doc’s first collar as well as Hernandez’s favorite hat, and it was all surreal, this exciting new job getting to work and live with a dog who would bring others such joy. Hernandez took to calling Doc the EMB: employee morale booster.

“What Doc does and who he is to the agency, and the community, you can’t put a price tag on that,” Hernandez said. “When he walks, you see when people walk in and see him, it’s like their crappy day, if they’re having a crappy day, it’s almost like it’s erased because of the two minutes they spend with Doc.”

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Roy Halladay’s memory lives on in Pasco County, Florida. (Jeff Passan)

He sees this outside the department, too, and he’ll never forget one particular moment. Doc attended a memorial service after Halladay’s death, and he and Hernandez walked up to Brandy to offer their condolences. An advocate of rescuing dogs, Brandy fell in love with Doc.

“She was on the floor and he was sitting on her lap in this memorial,” Hernandez said. “A room full of people, and he’s just sitting there and she’s just loving on him, and he’s literally just sitting on her lap, just kind of hanging out.”

Hernandez wants to do everything he can to honor Halladay, so a few months ago, he commissioned a special decal to put on the rear windows of the truck he and Doc use. On the left side is the Phillies’ logo and the number he wore for them, 34, and on the right is No. 32 with the Blue Jays’ emblem.

Sandwiched between are six words that resonate in Toronto, in Philadelphia and across small towns in Florida, where his legacy lives on through a good boy that just wants to go to work: In Memory of Roy “Doc” Halladay.

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Orioles' Chris Tillman on DL stint: 'I think it is a blessing in disguise'

The usual nameplates are still on the lockers inside the Orioles clubhouse at their spring training facility, but the atmosphere is much different than it was when the team was finishing camp two months ago.

At that time, right-hander Chris Tillman was looking forward to a rebound season, to proving doubters wrong. But since then, Tillman’s performance has only produced more questions. Theyinclude the mysterious way he was placed on the disabled list two weeks ago with a lower back strain after back-to-back horrendous starts.

Now, Tillman is back here — and Thursday morning inside the empty clubhouse — he offered some clarity on his injured back and his focus moving forward.

Throughout his on-field struggles, which date to the final weeks of the 2016 season, Tillman has repeatedly said he’s healthy, always distancing himself from using any discomfort as an excuse.

But a day after Tillman recorded his best performance this season on April 27, when he threw seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball against the Detroit Tigers, he said he hurt his back dodging a foul ball that was lined into the Orioles dugout.

“It almost killed me,” Tillman said. “It was [Tigers right fielder Nick] Castellanos. [Orioles right-hander Andrew] Cashner was pitching, backup slider, he hit a missile into our dugout. I didn’t see it until [it was five feet away]. It could have been much worse. … I jumped out of the way and it completely locked up.”

Tillman tried to pitch through it, making two starts in which he failed to get out of the second inning, before he said decided to go on the disabled list.

“I’m not going to use it as an excuse,” Tillman said. “[The discomfort] was there. I was good enough to pitch. I don’t think it was really on my mind when I was pitching by any means. But you know, it’s good to get away from it, get it better and get back to feeling good and get back sooner than later rather than have it nag and keep on having to worry about it.

“I was able to fight through it for a couple [starts], but it just wasn’t getting any better. It kind of started hitting a plateau and it started bothering me more and more and now I feel like I made the right decision because it feels a lot better now.”

Tillman said the discomfort in his back is now gone, and on Thursday, he threw his third catch session this week. His hope is once he gets his strength back and resumes throwing off a mound, he can speed up progress. But at this point, the timetable for his return is unclear.

In the meantime, Tillman will utilize this time as a sort of sabbatical, trying to figure out how he can reverse his regression. Over a five-year span from 2012 to 2016, Tillman was the Orioles’ most dependable starting pitcher. But since the beginning of the 2017 season – right when shoulder issues started – no pitcher with more than six starts owns a higher ERA than Tillman’s 8.42.

“I think I’d be really stupid not to look at it that way,” Tillman said. “I mean, no one ever wants to get hurt, but if it is going to happen, you might as well take the time to iron some things out and get back to doing what you’re capable of doing.”

Tillman said he hopes this is where he can recapture fluidity to his delivery, which he believes is the root of his struggles. He’s never been one to dot his fastball with consistency, but his command has been an issue. Since the beginning of 2017, he’s averaging 5.1 walks per nine innings, a significant spike over his career average of 3.4.

“I think so,” Tillman said when asked whether his mechanics are the issue. “I actually believe it. You pull up video from ’12 to ’16 and you look at ’17, it’s different. I can see it, but I can’t feel it. I’ve started to feel it the past couple days playing catch and being able to get away from it and not having to worry about certain things. I think it is a blessing in disguise.It’s going to be a work in progress but I like where it’s heading.”

At the same time, Tillman must find his new normal, how to get hitters out with reduced velocity on his four-seam fastball. In May 2016, his fastball averaged 93.5 mph and this month, it was at 89.3 mph. The result has been using his four-seam fastball less and gradual increased use of his two-seam sinking fastball and a sudden 18-percent increase in throwing his slider.

“It’s frustrating,” Tillman said. “I liked where I was this offseason. You see it sometimes, not really feel it, but you’re getting some results and you kind of get caught in between because a lot of the success I was seeing was with two-seams and sliders and that’s not me. I get caught in between.

“I learn by feeling it and then you get the results and then all of a sudden, here we go,” Tillman added. “And I think that’s a big part of it. First, you have to realize it ain’t right and then you have to fix it and know what you have to fix, understand how it works and how you’re going to get there.”

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No. 17 minus No. 87 means Davante Adams equals Packers' No. 1 WR

No. 17 minus No. 87 means Davante Adams equals Packers' No. 1 WR

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Davante Adams couldn’t remember when he started jumping over people, which explains why he didn’t view it as a big deal when he leapfrogged one of the referees who stood near the Ray Nitschke Field sideline during organized team activities this week.

But there was the Green Bay Packers receiver, who didn’t practice because of a hamstring injury he described as minor, using his 39.5-inch vertical to sky over 85-year-old Larry Van Alstine, a retired local who has officiated practice for years.

“That’s just to show people who see me standing on the sideline, I don’t want them getting scared,” Adams said. “If I’m jumping over people things are going to be OK.”

It was last season when Adams leapfrogged Jordy Nelson and became, as coach Mike McCarthy put it, the Packers’ “best perimeter player.” That’s when teams began matching their best cornerback on Adams more than Nelson. The Vikings did it with Xavier Rhodes, and the Saints did it with Marshon Lattimore.

“It’s been a lot of the same for the last … pretty much full year,” Adams said. “So it won’t really change.”

Even with the added attention as teams shifted their defensive focus from Nelson, Adams finished tied for second in the NFL with 10 touchdowns even though he missed the final two games because of his second concussion of the season. He still hasn’t put up a 1,000-yard season — he missed by a measly 3 yards in 2016 — or been voted into the Pro Bowl (he made it as an alternate last season), but those don’t seem far off.

It’s no wonder the Packers don’t think much will change for Adams this season even though Nelson is gone — they cut him in March — and Adams moved into the top 10 on the receiver pay scale with the four-year, $58 million contract extension he signed in December.

“I don’t really see any [changes],” Packers receivers coach David Raih said this week. “My whole focus — whether it’s Davante or any of the guys in the room — is really just to find any way I can to help them improve. So changes for Davante, I mean, I really haven’t even thought of any other than every day trying to find a way for him to be an even better player than he already is.”

If anything, Adams and Randall Cobb must provide more leadership — the kind they received from the likes of Nelson and James Jones early in their careers. Adams, 25, is entering his fifth NFL season and Cobb, 27, his eighth. They’re the elder statesmen of the Packers’ receiver room, which saw the addition of three draft picks this year: fourth-round pick J’Mon Moore, fifth-rounder Marquez Valdes-Scantling and sixth-rounder Equanimeous St. Brown. The de facto No. 3 receiver at this point, Geronimo Allison, is just 24 and entering his third season. Fellow returning receivers Trevor Davis (24 and entering his third season) and Michael Clark (22 and entering his second season) don’t have much experience.

“I embrace it 100 percent,” Adams said. “I love any opportunity, I think more so, when I first started this thing off, I felt like I had a lot to offer people. But it’s more of like stepping on toes and a respect factor, especially around here. You just kind of buy into that. It wasn’t a problem I had … it’s not like I was like, ‘Dang, I really want to be do this or do that.’ You just kind of fall in line and do it the way it’s supposed to be.

“Now, I’m the second-oldest guy in the room with a guy who has been here for eight [years], and it doesn’t feel like it’s been eight for him and it definitely doesn’t feel like it’s been five for me. But we’ve been together for going on five years now so we have that shared mindset of how we’re going to tackle the room.”

It was during training camp last summer when Adams first showed off his ability to jump over people. One day, he rocketed over the head of an unsuspecting Alonzo Highsmith, a then-Packers scout who was watching practice.

“I don’t even remember doing that,” Adams said. “Y’all keep saying it. I don’t even know if I did that. … I don’t know [when] the first time I jumped over a person was.”

That Adams wasn’t on the field when OTAs opened this week might have alarmed some, particularly considering his concussion history. But the Packers completed his extension even as he missed the final two games of 2017 following the controversial Thomas Davis hit, so clearly they were not concerned about his long-term availability. Neither was Adams, whose agent told ESPN earlier this offseason that his client was cleared by multiple neurologists before the deal was finalized.

“Davante is a tremendous student of the game,” McCarthy said. “He watches a ton of film. The communication between himself and David Raih, Randall Cobb — those guys have really taken an extremely active, forefront approach to leadership in the receiver room and even more so on the perimeter. Unfortunately, he’s battling a couple things so he’s in a limited state right now as far as practice, but I really like what he’s offered to the younger guys, because there’s been some change. There’s been change for everybody and it’s no different for the receiver position.”

After tumultuous year, Elliott wants to put the work in

After tumultuous year, Elliott wants to put the work in

Ezekiel Elliott rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last season despite missing six games. “I’m excited for this year, and I have high expectations for myself,” he said. 

FRISCO, Texas — On the final snap of 11-on-11 running drills, Ezekiel Elliott made sure he carried the ball to the end zone, some 30 or 40 yards away. It’s a normal habit for the Dallas Cowboys running back, something he has done since his rookie year.

During organized team activities open to the media on Wednesday, Elliott added a new twist to his routine.

At the end of every 11-on-11 drill, whether he got the ball or not, Elliott ran to the end zone.

After practice, Elliott spoke about wanting to be more of a leader as he enters his third year — vocally or by example.

“I just want to show them how to work,” Elliott said.

Last season was a struggle for Elliott for all the wrong reasons. Under investigation by the league for more than a year for an alleged domestic violence incident involving a former girlfriend while in Columbus, Ohio, not long after he was drafted in the first round by the Cowboys, the NFL announced a six-game suspension during training camp.

Through a legal fight that was expensive and tainted his perception, Elliott managed to stay on the field for the first eight games. He could have fought through the courts longer, but he accepted the punishment and missed six games.

“Obviously, what went on last year is distracting to anybody,” coach Jason Garrett said, “I thought he handled it really well, fought through it, came back and did a good job for us at the end of the year.”

Elliott finished 17 yards shy of 1,000 yards despite missing the six games, still good for 10th in the NFL. If not for an 8-yard, nine-carry effort in a Week 2 loss to the Denver Broncos, Elliott might have recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

As the Cowboys start their on-field preparation for 2018 with these OTAs, there is an anticipation about what Elliott can do without the looming threat of a suspension. Jerry Jones said recently he believes Elliott will be freed up and look more like he did as a rookie, when he finished as the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,631 yards.

Elliott agrees.

“I’m excited for this year, and I have high expectations for myself,” he said.

After his rookie year, there were talks about 2,000-yard seasons and breaking records, but those discussions were tabled because of the suspension.

As a rookie, Elliott’s personality shined through — from his feed-me celebrations to his jump into the Salvation Army red kettle. In 2017, he was more sullen and seemingly less engaged, even though at the time his coaches and teammates said he was no different.

“The emotional roller coaster he was going through last year — ‘Was he playing?’ ‘Was he not playing?’ — and then to have the game taken away from him for the time he did, it takes a toll,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “It takes a toll on anybody that cares and loves what they do. And not only that, loves their teammates and the organization they play for. So just having that freedom, coming in this year, being able to work and knowing he’s going to have every game ahead of him is going to do wonders for him. He’s been great out here at OTAs, being a great leader, showing guys the way to practice and the way to run.”

After a rookie season in which he was named to the Pro Bowl and earned first-team All-Pro honors, he was ranked seventh in the NFL Network’s Top 100 list as voted on by players across the league. While it is by no means an official rank or meaningful other than to raise debate, Elliott fell to No. 54 in the 2018 rankings.

“I mean, it is what it is,” he said. “I missed six games, you know?”

Regaining his spot as one of the league’s leading rushers means more than the ranking.

“I mean, I think I know the player I am. You guys know the player I am. Everybody in the league knows the player I am. I don’t need verification from a top-100 list.”

But will the 2019 ranking better be higher?

“Should be,” he said.

Which is why he runs to the end zone whether he has the ball or not.

“He’s just showing those young guys the way to practice, with the ball, how to be great with the ball in your hands and how to be great without the ball in your hands,” Prescott said. “He’s one of those guys that doesn’t have to say too much on the field, just the way he carries his business, the way he goes about it and the way he practices. It speaks for itself, and the young guys look up to it. I look up to it. The older guys look up to it. That’s the way to practice and the way to be a pro in this league.”