Monday, August 15, 2022

Juan Soto puts on a Home Run Derby show | Dodgers stars headline All-Star Game in L.A.

Happy Tuesday, everyone. The MLB All-Star game is finally here, and the fun began Monday in Los Angeles with the Home Run Derby.

We’ll get into last night’s dingers and more on the Midsummer Classic, along with rumors about the future of Notre Dame and Rob Gronkowski. 

Let’s dive right in. 

Good morning to everyone but especially to…

JUAN SOTO

The 2022 MLB Home Run Derby was the first to feature two players ages 23 or under in the finals, and it was Nationals wunderkind Juan Soto who came out on top over Mariners rookie sensation Julio Rodriguez. Soto (23 years, 266 days) is now the second-youngest Derby winner of all time, only a day behind Juan Gonzalez when he won in 1993. 

  • In the quarterfinals, Soto topped Guardians slugger Jose Ramirez, 19-18. 
  • Soto stumbled a bit in the semifinals, registering only 16 homers to beat Albert Pujols‘ 15 (more on Pujols’ memorable night in a moment).
  • Then, in a matchup of two of the game’s brightest young stars, Soto hit 20 home runs to knock out Rodriguez — who, at age 21, would’ve been the youngest Derby winner ever — in the finals. 

Along with being the second-youngest Derby champ, Soto became the second Nats player to win the event (Bryce Harper was the first in 2018) and the first Dominican-born player to do so since Robinson Cano in 2011. 

While the Derby win will likely be the highlight of Soto’s week — barring an MVP performance in the All-Star game — it hasn’t been the easiest few days for the 23-year-old. Soto recently rejected a 15-year, $440 million contract extension, and as a result Washington added him to the trade block. Speaking to reporters in Los Angeles on Monday, Soto explained he wasn’t exactly thrilled to see his name publicly dangled to other teams

“A couple weeks ago, they were saying they will never trade me,” Soto said. “And now all these things come out. It feels really uncomfortable. You don’t know what to trust. At the end of the day, it’s out of my hands what decision they make.”

Three years after winning the World Series, the Nats now own the MLB’s worst record (31-63) and have managed to alienate their franchise player. Quite the fall from grace. But hey, at least the Derby champ is in town — for now. 

And not such a good morning for… 

KYLE SCHWARBER

Kyle Schwarber Getty Philadelphia Phillies

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As a runner-up in the 2018 Home Run Derby, Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber entered the 2022 event with what seemed to be a solid chance of knocking off back-to-back champ Pete Alonso of the Mets. Schwarber is, after all, the NL’s leader in home runs this season with 28. 

Instead, Schwarber flamed out of the quarterfinals in spectacular fashion, creating a special moment for a player who’s had many over his legendary career: Albert Pujols. 

  • Pujols batted first, and after an ugly start — he had as many timeouts as he did home runs through the first 56 seconds, a.k.a one — managed to hit 13 dingers. 
  • Then Schwarber, even with a minute of extra time, just matched Pujols with 13 home runs of his own, leading to a swing off. 
  • With an electric Dodger Stadium crowd supporting him, Pujols hit seven home runs in the swing off to eliminate Schwarber, who fell one short with six. 

Pujols eventually lost to Soto in the semifinals, but getting to that round was a massive accomplishment in itself for the Cardinals slugger. At 42, Pujols was the oldest Home Run Derby participant in the event’s history — and the first player in his 40s to compete. It was a fitting send-off for the three-time MVP and two-time World Series champion, as the 22-year pro has said he’s retiring after the season. 

MLB All-Star Game lineups: Betts, Kershaw, Turner starting at Dodger Stadium ⚾

Mookie Betts Getty Trea Turner Dodgers

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It’s been over four decades — 42 years, for those keeping score — since the Dodgers last hosted the MLB All-Star Game. The Midsummer Classic is back in Dodgers Stadium today, and L.A. fans have been rewarded with a starting lineup featuring some very familiar names. Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Clayton Kershaw will all start for the NL, giving the Dodgers the most All-Star starters of any team. 

For the complete All-Star lineups, click here

This will be the ninth All-Star Game for Kershaw, who’s played in only one over the previous four seasons. Here’s our MLB scribe Mike Axisa on the three-time Cy Young winner’s inclusion: 

  • Axisa: “A Dodgers legend gets the ball at the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium. How cool is that? Kershaw is the first pitcher to start the All-Star Game at his home stadium since Max Scherzer started at Nationals Park in 2018. Marlins righty Sandy Alcantara and Kershaw’s teammate Tony Gonsolin would have been worthy All-Star Game starters as well, but Snitker couldn’t pass up Kershaw in L.A. Hard to think of better baseball theater.”

Kershaw took a loss in his last All-Star Game in 2009, as the RBI double Michael Brantley hit off him in the third inning broke what was then a scoreless affair. He’ll be looking for redemption in the only ballpark he’s called home over his 15-year MLB career. 

Rob Gronkowski’s girlfriend says the four-time All-Pro may return to the NFL 🏈 

Rob Gronkowski Getty Camille Kostek

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Move over, Brett Favre. Another NFL star has emerged as the leader in the the will-he-or-won’t-he retire game, and that’s Rob Gronkowski. The four-time All-Pro tight end announced his retirement — for the second time — on June 21, and rumors of him rejoining Tom Brady and the Buccaneers midseason have swirled incessantly since. 

Gronkowski’s girlfriend — the actress, host and model Camille Kostek — is the latest to add fuel to his unretirement fire.

“I am an honest lady, and honestly, in my heart, I didn’t feel like this one is a forever one. So, I think maybe he’ll come back again,” Kostek told Sports Illustrated. “I feel like him and Tom [Brady] are just having fun like, ‘Retired, not retired, retired, not retired.”http://www.cbssports.com/”

Here’s a quick timeline of how Gronkowski and Brady are “having fun.” 

  • March 2019 – Gronkowski, then Brady’s teammate on the Patriots, retired at age 29 after New England’s Super Bowl-winning 2018 season. 
  • April 2020 – After a year away from the game, Gronkowski unretired to sign with the Bucs, eventually helping Brady win a Super Bowl in his first season in Tampa. 
  • February 2022 – Brady announced his retirement from the NFL, earning congratulatory messages from Peyton Manning, J.J. Watt, Shaquille O’Neal and just about the entire sports world.  
  • March 2022 – A month into his “retirement,” Brady announced he’d lace up his cleats for the Buccaneers again in 2022. 
  • June 2022 – Gronkowski retired for a second time, only for his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to tell ESPN moments later he “would not be surprised” to see Gronk return during the 2022 or ’23 seasons. 

So, going off Kostek’s formula, we can expect Brady to retire and unretire a second time in the near future. As for Gronk, his status will definitely be worth watching as the season moves along as well. 

Notre Dame’s hopes of remaining independent rest on its media rights revenue 🍀

Notre Dame Getty Football Helmet Fighting Irish

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After UCLA and USC’s stunning move to the Big Ten earlier this month, calls for Notre Dame to join a conference grew deafeningly loud compared to the chatter usually surrounding the topic. Notre Dame, though, remains adamant about keeping its independent status — and a path to do so is available. 

According to our college football expert Dennis Dodd, Notre Dame can stay independent if it earns $75 million annually in media rights revenue from NBC, its current broadcast partner.

  • To reach that valuation, NBC hopes to secure “shoulder programming” from a Power Five conference in the form of college football games played before or after Notre Dame contests. 
  • One option for NBC is partnering with Fox, which is expected to announce a $1 billion media rights deal with the Big Ten 
  • The Big 12 is also an appealing option, as its media rights deal expires in 2025 — the same year Notre Dame’s does

If Notre Dame stays independent, it could be missing out on millions annually. The Big Ten’s new media rights deal is expected to pay each member institution between $80 million and $100 million annually, a vast improvement over Notre Dame’s current deal with NBC, which averages $15 million per year. 

NBC, the rights holder for Notre Dame home football games since 1991, is expected to continue negations over the next two to three weeks. The fate of the Golden Domers’ TV home and independent status could very well hang in the balance. 

What we’re watching Tuesday 📺

⚽ MLB All-Star Game, 8 p.m. ET on Fox — Stream on fuboTV (try for free)

🏀 Fever at Sparks, 10:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network

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