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Either the Vegas Golden Knights or the Florida Panthers will win the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history to end this remarkable NHL postseason. But which one of their players will be crowned as the most valuable player?

Welcome to the final Conn Smythe Watch of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Keep in mind that in the NHL, the playoff MVP is based on a player’s performance during the entire postseason, not just the championship round. The award is voted on by an 18-person panel of Professional Hockey Writers Association members.

We polled a dozen writers, including many who will cover the Stanley Cup Final, to get a sense of which players are leading the way for the Panthers and Knights. Needless to say, it’s a razor-thin margin at the top.

Based on the writers’ rankings, here are the top 10 candidates for MVP honors:

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Kansas gov. signs effort to entice Chiefs, Royals

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Kansas gov. signs effort to entice Chiefs, Royals

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signed legislation Friday enabling the state to lure the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and Major League Baseball’s Royals away from neighboring Missouri by helping the teams pay for new stadiums.

Kelly’s action came three days after the Republican-led Legislature approved the measure with bipartisan supermajorities — an unusually quick turnaround that signals how urgently Kansas officials consider making the offers.

Missouri officials have argued that discussions about building new stadiums are still in the early stages. They said construction of a new one typically takes about three years and pointed out that the lease on the existing complex that includes the teams’ side-by-side stadiums doesn’t end until January 2031.

The measure Kelly signed takes effect July 1 and will allow bonds to cover 70% of a new stadium’s cost. Kansas would have 30 years to pay them off with revenues from sports betting, state lottery ticket sales, and new sales and alcohol taxes generated in the area around each proposed stadium.

The Kansas-Missouri border splits the 2.3 million-resident Kansas City area, with about 60% of the people living on the Missouri side.

Kansas officials began working on the legislation after voters on the Missouri side of the metropolitan area refused in April to continue a sales tax used to keep up the existing stadium complex. The Royals outlined a plan in February to build a $2 billion-plus ballpark in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, that would be ready for the start of the 2028 season while the Chiefs were planning an $800 million renovation of their existing home.

Attorneys for the teams told Kansas legislators that they needed to make decisions about the future soon for new stadiums to be ready on time. Some critics suggested the teams are pitting the two states against each other for the biggest government subsidies possible.

“The Chiefs and the Royals are pretty much using us,” said state Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Democrat from the Kansas City, Kansas, area who voted against the bill.

Supporters of bringing the teams to Kansas warned that if neither state acts quickly enough, one or both teams could leave for another community entirely. Several economists who have studied professional sports were skeptical that a move would make financial sense for either a team or a new host city, and both the NFL and MLB require a supermajority of owners to approve franchise moves.

The plan had support from throughout Kansas, including about half of the lawmakers from western Kansas, 200 miles away from any new stadium.

Kansas lawmakers approved the stadium financing plan during a single-day special session Tuesday. Although the financing law doesn’t specifically name the Chiefs or Royals, it is limited to stadiums for NFL and MLB teams “in any state adjacent to Kansas.”

“It’s fairly clearly about how you poach,” Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas said during a news conference after Kansas lawmakers approved the measure. He added that his city would “lay out a good offer” to keep both teams in town and that the teams “are in an exceptional leverage position.”

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Mays, Negro League tributes abound at Rickwood

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Mays, Negro League tributes abound at Rickwood

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — As Ajay Stone strolled around historic Rickwood Field and gazed at tributes displayed in honor of Willie Mays and other Negro Leaguers, he clutched a cherished memory under his arm.

It was a picture from 2004 of Mays holding Stone’s then-10-month-old daughter, Haley, who was wearing San Francisco Giants gear. In Mays’ hand was a chunk of a chocolate chip cookie, which he was handing over for Haley to eat.

“Willie gave her that cookie,” Stone remembered. “She had no teeth. But we took the cookie and we kept it in her stroller for a year and a half. The great Willie Mays gave it to her, so it was special to us.”

Stone and his wife, Christina, traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina, to be in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday for a moment they deemed just as special.

It was hours before Rickwood Field hosted its first Major League Baseball game, with the St. Louis Cardinals beating the Giants, 6-5. The game, which MLB called “A Tribute to the Negro Leagues,” was meant to honor the legacies of Mays and other Black baseball greats who left an enduring mark on the sport.

MLB planned a week of activities around Mays and the Negro Leagues, including an unveiling ceremony Wednesday of a Willie Mays mural in downtown Birmingham. Those tributes took on a more significant meaning Tuesday afternoon when Mays died at 93. As news of his death spread throughout Birmingham, celebrations of his life ramped up.

You could hear the celebration at Rickwood Field on Thursday even before arriving: the rapid thumping of a drum echoing from inside the ballpark, excited murmurs from fans skipping toward the music and frequent bursts of laughter.

Inside, there were reminders of history all around.

There were photos and artifacts of baseball Hall of Famers who played at the 114-year-old ballpark, including Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. The original clubhouse of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues, where Mays got his pro start in 1948, was open. A memorial of Mays was at the front, with bobbleheads, a signed glove and his Black Barons and San Francisco Giants jerseys on display.

Outside, fans stood in line to hold a baseball bat used by Mays in 1959. They took photos sitting inside an original bus from 1947 that was typically used during barnstorming tours by Negro Leagues teams. They danced to live music and ate food from concession stands featuring menu boards designed to reflect the look and feel of the 1940s.

Eddie Torres and his son Junior wore matching Giants jerseys as they took pictures inside the ballpark. They’re lifelong Giants fans who came from California for the game.

“I never even got to see Willie Mays play, but as a Giants fan, you knew what he meant to the game of baseball,” Torres said. “My son, he’s only 11. Willie Mays had such an effect on the game that even he knew who Willie Mays was.”

Musical artist Jon Batiste strummed a guitar while dancing on a wooden stage near home plate just before the first pitch. Fans stood as former Negro Leaguers were helped to the field for a pregame ceremony.

Shouts of “Willie! Willie!” broke out after a brief moment of silence.

For Michael Jackson, sitting in the stands at Rickwood Field reminded him of the past.

The 71-year-old Jackson played baseball in the 1970s and ’80s with the East Thomas Eagles of the Birmingham Industrial League, which was a semi-professional league made up of iron and steel workers that was an integral form of entertainment in Birmingham in the 20th century.

Jackson’s baseball journey took him to Rickwood Field many times. After all these years, he was just excited that it’s still standing.

“It’s nice seeing them redo all of this,” he said, “instead of tearing it down. We played in the same ballpark they named after Willie Mays out in Fairfield [Alabama]. And then I had my times out here playing at this ballpark. It’s all very exciting.”

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Judge returns with HR, Torres exits in Yanks loss

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Judge returns with HR, Torres exits in Yanks loss

Aaron Judge returned to the New York Yankees‘ lineup Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles and hit his major-league-leading 27th home run of the season.

Judge, playing two days after being hit on the left hand by a pitch, hit a 395-foot two-run homer to right center in the third inning off Orioles starter Cole Irvin. Judge added an RBI single in the fifth, but the Yankees were blown out 17-5 to drop the three-game series and see their lead over the Orioles in the American League East sliced to a half-game.

Judge started in center field and played seven innings before being lifted.

“It felt good,” Judge said. “There’s still some swelling, some soreness and stuff like that, especially on foul balls, but if you square it up, it feels pretty good.”

The Yankees also had second baseman Gleyber Torres exit in the fifth inning because of tightness in his right groin.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he didn’t believe Torres suffered “anything major.”

“It just started to tighten up on him, and I think just being cautious with it, kind of getting him out of there,” Boone said.

Torres committed his major-league-leading 11th error when he failed to field a grounder by Jordan Westburg in the top of the fifth. Ben Rice was on deck when his spot in the lineup came up in the bottom half. Oswaldo Cabrera moved over from third base to replace Torres, DJ LeMahieu shifted from first to third and Rice entered the game at first base.

A free agent at the end of the season, Torres has struggled this year. He hit his seventh homer in the second inning and is batting .221 with 28 RBIs.

Judge sat out Wednesday as the Yankees lost 7-6 in 10 innings.

He was struck by a 94.1 mph fastball from Baltimore starter Albert Suarez during New York’s 4-2 win Tuesday night. The slugger left the game an inning later. X-rays and a CT scan were negative, though Boone had said Judge had some swelling and discomfort.

“Playing a division rival, a must-win game to try to clinch the series,” Judge said. “So we got to be out there.”

Judge is batting .306 and also leads the majors with 67 RBIs. The 32-year-old outfielder is a five-time All-Star and was the 2022 AL MVP after hitting 62 home runs to break the AL record of 61 by Roger Maris set in 1961.

In 2018, Judge missed 45 games with a broken right wrist after he was hit by a 93.4 mph pitch from Kansas City‘s Jakob Junis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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