This season marked the 13th year without a 28th championship for the New York Yankees. Despite an ALCS appearance, their success is measured by whether the Yankees win the World Series, and losing to the Houston Astros for the third time in six years certainly leaves a bitter taste. With a roster that has many holes, and a series of important decisions to make - most notably re-signing Aaron Judge - it's time the Yankees build a roster with reliable long term players.
Championship teams in baseball are constructed of guys who are already, or will be foundational pieces for years to come. The Yankees once appeared to have a true core of homegrown players, and big names such as Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole were supposed to be the final piece. Even though those "final pieces" have played exceptionally well, the Yankees as a team have shifted their roster more than expected. This year's team had too many stopgap players and while it may have resulted in regular season success, it's certainly not a way to win in the postseason.
One way the Yankees have always looked to make major upgrades has come through free agency. Although Yankees are known to spend millions each year, they recently have not been as active on the market compared to previous years. If there's a good time to live up to their reputation, this offseason is the perfect time.
For this year's free agency, the Yankees have to be active and while re-signing Anthony Rizzo is a good start, bringing back Aaron Judge is their biggest priority. Fresh off an A.L. record 62 home runs along with his first MVP award, it's imperative the Yankees bring him back considering how he was their only consistent performer. Another player they should resign is left fielder Andrew Benintendi who gives them an additional lefty that's a contact hitter as well as a solid fielder.
As for acquiring players, the Yankees will have a bevy of talented shortstops who are all the primes of their career. Although there are plenty of big names, Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson should really be the top of their list. Besides the fact that both of them have gotten significantly better over the years and won a World Series, they're both in their late 20s. Signing one of them would stabilize one of the most important infield positions for years to come.
While the idea of constructing a winning roster through free agency is always appealing, the most recent teams to win the World Series have had a healthy portion of homegrown talent. But other than Aaron Judge, the Yankees' roster doesn't feature many players from their farm system. However, they have a few intriguing players worth fully investing in.
One player that deserves more playing time is Oswaldo Cabrera. He was called up in mid-August and would slowly play his way into becoming a consistent starter through his stellar play in the field. His hitting is still a work in progress but that should change once he gets more experience. Although he's capable of playing plenty of positions, Cabrera should be the third baseman given that Josh Donaldson turned out to be a major disappointment.
In addition, the Yankees have two infielders who could make an impact in Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza. Although they both play shortstop, the Yankees should give one of these guys a legitimate shot whether it's Volpe, Peraza, or both of them. They could do this by passing up on some of the shortstops on the market. But the best case scenario is to trade Gleyber Torres to make room at second for either Volpe or Peraza once the Yankees do sign a shortstop.
What allowed the Yankees to have their last dynasty is that they had a sustainable nucleus of players that led the way each year. With the perfect mix of draft picks and free agent signings, the Yankees roster was able to stay intact. If the Yankees want to replicate that success, they must make moves that will give them a foundation along with some direction.
With the Yankees' season ending in the hands of the Houston Astros yet again, all eyes will focus on Aaron Judge's looming decision in free agency. After rejecting a $213 million offer before the season, Judge significantly raised his value by hitting an A.L. record 62 home runs, while knocking in 131 runs. As for the Yankees, they looked like World Series favorites going into the all-star break, but after another postseason disappointment, re-signing Judge may not be so certain. Regardless of where he signs, and for how much, Judge is already a winner of free agency.
There is still a strong possibility of him returning to the Yankees. Although he's only been on the team for six years, Judge has easily been the best player to wear pinstripes after Derek Jeter. He is a homegrown player who has represented the organization as well as anybody could for the last six years. Since Judge's rookie year, the Yankees have never missed the playoffs. Re-signing Judge would make him a Yankee for life which is a very good honor for any ballplayer. With Judge on the roster, the Yankees will certainly be playoff contenders every year. Whether he wins a World Series or not, 99 will certainly be retired someday by the organization.
However, it's worth wondering if Judge would really want to continue playing for an organization that has constantly came up short time and time again. From the team's second half slump to their playoff collapse, Judge has every right to question whether it's worth staying with a franchise that seems to be more known for their disappointment rather than their success as of late.
In this postseason, Judge might've slumped at the worst time, but he wasn't the one who couldn't convert a potential double play in an elimination game. He didn't choose to take Gerrit Cole out of the game when he was still at 95 pitches. He also wasn't the one who assembled a roster that consisted of guys who are viewed as "stopgap" players. As for the fans, Judge has every right to question whether he wants to play for a fanbase that shockingly booed him during the playoffs.
Going elsewhere would be a fresh start, and maybe even a homecoming for Judge if he signs with the hometown San Fransisco Giants who are rumored to have interest. Whereas the Yankees always seem to be stubborn in their approach towards winning, Judge may have a better chance of winning if he signs with a team that's willing to adapt year in and year out.
I think another year without a championship definitely complicates Judge's status as a Yankee. If there's anything their front office is good at, it's resigning players in free agency. However, the Yankees have thrown Judge under the bus at times, and that could haunt them this offseason. Fans should at least prepare for possibility of seeing number 99 in new threads.
It is not even three full years into this decade, but if there's any recurring trend, it's that plenty of teams were finally able to overcome years of mediocrity and make the playoffs. Whether it has been adjusting to COVID, a major acquisition, or a well timed winning streak, teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, and Phoenix Suns finally managed to break long standing playoff droughts. The Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies also recently added their names to the list.
Here's why this pattern continues:
Surprisingly, the first cause has been the effects of the COVID pandemic. Although all teams were challenged with adapting to empty venues, COVID actually might've helped teams who were previously struggling.
Some teams who benefited from these unusual circumstances include the Cleveland Browns, who allowed more fans and only played three games in empty stadiums, unlike many of their opponents whose stadiums were empty all season. In another example, the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres. were particularly fortunate to play in a shortened season. While some might see these seasons as fluky, it is fair to say that they benefitted from these unusual circumstances as both teams underachieved the following year.
Regardless of COVID, there were other teams who were already well-positioned to break their playoff droughts and were just one player away.
In 2019, the Buccaneers boosted a talented roster that was competitive, but missed the playoffs for the 12th straight year. However, their progress was enough to lure Tom Brady in free agency. The rest was history, as Brady won an seventh Super Bowl in a convincing 31-9 triumph. The following season saw them lose in Divisional Round but there's no question Brady has changed the culture in Tampa Bay.
The Phoenix Suns, with a young roster led by Devin Booker, went 8-0 in the NBA bubble but narrowly missed out on the play-in tournament. Despite this, they established a foundation and would soon trade for Chris Paul whose greatest ability is elevating his teammates. Since then, the Suns not only broke their 10 year drought, but have won more games than any other team, and made the 2021 Finals.
If there's one thing great teams have in common, it is the ability to embark on a winning stretch at the right time. This is also how some teams were finally able to get over the hump to make the playoffs. Just as they would slowly start to fall out of the playoff picture, they heated up at the perfect time.
The 2021 New York Knicks are a perfect fit for this category. While they had already showed significant improvement, it looked like their luck was starting to run out with just over a month left. What followed was a nine game winning streak, culminating into 16 wins in their last 20 games: good enough to clinch the fourth seed. Their first playoff series in eight years against the Hawks lasted only five games, but witnessing their game 2 win in person was an incredible experience for me.
Unlike the Knicks, this year's Seattle Mariners were looking to take the next step after falling short of the playoffs the previous season. They started slow but found their stride in July: the exact time baseball games become significant. Seattle won an amazing 14 consecutive games, which boosted them into the wild card picture, a position they would not relinquish. Last Friday, they finally put an end to their 21 year drought; the longest out of any American sports team at the time.
Every NFL season has seen some huge surprises, from injuries to unexpected turnarounds. Going into last year, no one thought the Cincinnati Bengals would narrowly miss out on a Super Bowl victory or that the Seattle Seahawks wouldn't come close to the playoffs. With this season getting closer by the day, here are my three hot takes for the AFC.
Note: This article is part two of a doubleheader that included AFC Predictions.
1. The Saints Will Have a Better Record Than the Buccaneers
Tom Brady has proved me wrong countless times before as a Jets fan. Last year, he had of the best seasons of his career, but after turning 45 years old, it's fair to wonder how many years he has left. I wouldn't be surprised if he experiences a decline similar to Peyton Manning's in his final season.
Meanwhile, the Saints quietly had a strong offseason despite the retirement of Sean Payton. The offense will get back Jameis Winston who went 5-2 before suffering a season ending injury. His weapons will include Alvin Kamara (if he's not suspended), a healthy Michael Thomas, rookie Chris Olave, and free agent signing Jarvis Landry. Defensively, the Saints added all pro safety Tyrann Mathieu to an already strong unit that includes Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore. New Orleans won't be a powerhouse, but given that they finished 9-8 despite a number of injuries, a division title is not out of sight.
2. Justin Jefferson Will Win Offensive Player of the Year
Although Offensive Player of the Year has only been handed out four times to three receivers (Jerry Rice won it twice), two of the last three seasons have seen receivers take home the award. It is true Michael Thomas and Cooper Kupp both needed historically great seasons to win the award, but Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings is no stranger to that. He set a rookie record for receiving yards and proceeded to improve his receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns the following year. His final numbers were 108 catches for 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns. Additionally, Jefferson is only 23 years old and is entering the prime of his career. If he not only improves all of his numbers, but leads the league in two out three major receiving categories, Jefferson should be a heavy favorite to win Offensive Player of the Year.
3. Trey Lance Will Outperform Jalen Hurts
The Philadelphia Eagles and San Fransisco 49ers view Hurts and Lance, respectively, as the quarterbacks of the future, and rightfully so. Both teams are coming off playoff appearances, and will be competitive again, but I think Trey Lance is in for a better season than Hurts.
Jalen Hurts wasn't asked to do much in his first year as the Eagles' starter besides protecting the football and using his mobility. While his first taste of playoff football was an ugly defeat to the Buccaneers, the Eagles continued to surround him with more talent by trading for AJ Brown.
Out west, Trey Lance will be starting for the San Fransisco 49ers after watching them make the Championship game as a rookie. Lance was played sparingly as a backup, with his only start being against an awful Texans team. However, he's surrounded by a talented roster with playmakers in George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, as well as one of the best offensive lines in football. While Hurts also has a strong supporting cast, the biggest factor influencing my take comes from the head coaching.
Kyle Shanahan is considered one of today's best coaches for his ability to maximize his players' strengths in his schemes with the 49ers. In a league where many coaches build their offenses around the strengths of their quarterback, Shanahan will certainly look for ways to utilize Lance's rocket arm and mobility outside the pocket. Given that most quarterbacks from Matt Ryan to Robert Griffin III enjoyed career years under Shanahan, it's likely Lance will enjoy similar success.
Every NFL season has seen some huge surprises, from injuries to unexpected turnarounds. Going into last year, no one thought the Cincinnati Bengals would narrowly miss out on a Super Bowl victory or that the Seattle Seahawks wouldn't come close to the playoffs. With this season getting closer by the day, here are my three hot takes for the AFC.
Note: This article is part of a doubleheader that will also include NFC Predictions.
1. Von Miller will be the Final Piece Buffalo Needs
The Buffalo Bills have established themselves as contenders during the last two years. With plenty of talent on both sides of ball, the Bills have gone 34-15 in the last three years, winning the AFC East twice in that span. However, they have yet to reach the Super Bowl, with a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Chiefs leaving a bitter taste. In free agency, the Bills successfully agreed to a six year $120 million contract with defensive end Von Miller.
While Miller is 33 years old, he still has plenty left in the tank after logging four sacks during the playoffs, en route to his second Super Bowl championship. What made his performance last year even more impressive was that he missed all of 2020 with a torn ACL. The Bills have a talented defense, but their pass rush lacks a difference maker which proved costly in their recent playoff losses. Miller will probably not play out his entire contract in Buffalo, but his experience and productivity is exactly what the Bills need to get over the hump to finally win it all.
2. The Raiders Won't Make the Playoffs
Last year's Raiders surprisingly made the playoffs with a 10-7 record before losing a tight contest to the Bengals. They then proceeded to make big offseason moves, signing defensive end Chandler Jones and trading for all pro wide receiver Davante Adams. These moves will make the Raiders competitive again this year, but in a stacked conference, it still might not be enough.
In their four game winning streak that propelled them to the playoffs at the end of the year, they beat two teams with backup quarterbacks and another whose quarterback didn't practice that week. That's not mentioning their four overtime wins as well. Teams who won a large portion of close games usually take a step back the next year which is why I'm not sold on the Raiders despite high expectations. I think that they simply won't be as lucky this year.
3. The Jets will have Two Rookie of the Year Winners
In the 55 year existence of the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year award, only two teams had players from both sides win the award. However, I believe there's a strong chance my Jets will become the third team to accomplish this feat. While some of this prediction has to do with my fandom, plenty of other people applauded this year's Jets' draft.
Their notable selections are cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson, defensive end Jermaine Johnson, and running back Breece Hall. Gardner has a strong chance to win Defensive Rookie of the Year thanks to his tall, athletic frame, that allows him to excel in man coverage. He's also likely to make an immediate impact compared to many of the pass rushers selected. Offensively. Hall has a pretty good chance at winning the award. He'll have plenty of opportunities to succeed in a run-first offense and with only one quarterback taken in the first round, the award is wide open. As a franchise notorious for missing out on young talent in the draft, this kind of feat could hopefully change their reputation.
Every NFL season has seen a few players experience a breakout season shortly after their rookie year. Often, they have shown promise before eventually playing to their full potential the following season. Prime examples of last year's breakout stars include running back Jonathan Taylor and cornerback Trevon Diggs. With training camp underway, many players are ready to showcase their full potential after showing upside last season. Here are my four breakout candidates, not including quarterbacks:
1. Devonta Smith
Last season, Devonta Smith was one of the top rookie receivers for the Philadelphia Eagles, tallying over 900 yards and five touchdowns. While those numbers sound decent on paper, they are very impressive for a rookie receiver who was the only bright spot on one of the league's weakest receiving groups last season. Smith managed to turn short completions into long runs with his speed, and caught a ton of contested passes despite his small frame. With the acquisition of fellow receiver AJ Brown this offseason, Smith should see a lot more single coverage which will increase his production.
2. Patrick Surtain II
Patrick Surtain II of the Denver Broncos was certainly the most impressive defensive back to come out of last year's draft class, given that a large number of rookie cornerbacks started last season. He intercepted four passes and returned one of them for a touchdown, but that's not all. Surtain II also surrendered only 545 yards along while allowing a 61 passer rating. Some of his best games came against pass-happy offenses where he made guys like Tyreek Hill and Ja'Marr Chase non-factors. Although Micah Parsons' historic rookie season kept Surtain II from winning Defensive Rookie of the Year, he still has plenty of upside going forward.
3. Javonte Williams
Denver gets another nod on this list with running back Javonte Williams coming in at three. Although Williams was part of a running back committee with Melvin Gordon, he still managed to total 903 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He was almost impossible to bring down as 31% of Williams' rushing attempts saw him break tackles - 63 to be exact. Williams will likely be the starting running back for Denver. With Russell Wilson now in town, Williams will be in an even better position to excel, since defenses will devote less attention to him.
4. Amon-Ra St. Brown
As a fourth round pick for the Detroit Lions, Amon-Ra St. Brown went into last season with the least hype out of all the players mentioned on this list. He had a few solid games, but it wasn't until the final six weeks of the season when St. Brown began to showcase his potential. In that stretch, St. Brown had 474 yards and five touchdowns which included a game winner against the Vikings. St. Brown's increased usage makes him a heavy favorite to be Detroit's starting receiver going into this season.
5. Elijah Moore
With high upside as a second round receiver, Elijah Moore recorded over 500 yards. These stats are decent at best, but considering that Moore was either injured or barely targeted in the early portion of the season, his progress in his final six games has given Jets fans plenty of optimism. From weeks 8-13, Moore had 459 yards and five touchdowns. Even more impressive, Moore posted these numbers while playing without fellow rookie Zach Wilson who was injured for four of those games. With a bigger role and more young talent, it's very likely Moore's play will take a huge jump in year two.
Fans who generally like alternate uniforms were certainly happy when the NFL gave teams the green light to create an additional helmet, allowing teams to become creative in the process. This rule change has also prompted teams such as the Giants and Falcons to create alternate uniforms to go along with their new helmet designs. Many teams are currently having fun with this rule change and while it won't be a surprise if more teams join in, here's my ranking of all the new designs we have seen thus far.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals alternate helmets and jerseys are one of the most anticipated color rush designs this upcoming season. Cincinnati already debuted new uniforms last season but these alternates are a perfect addition. With these all-white helmets and a young core that went all the way to the Super Bowl, everything about this team is new and fresh. As one of the more fun teams last year, fans will certainly enjoy Cincinnati's color rush design when they face the Dolphins in week four.
2. Atlanta Falcons
This might be controversial for Giant fans, but I'm a big fan of the Falcons' decision to bring back their classic red helmets. Their throwback jerseys also match up very well with their helmets. Although Atlanta will only be wearing their attire for one game, it's cool combination between old school and new school.
3. New York Giants
While the Giants technically brought back their helmets from the 80s and 90s for the 2016-18 seasons, this is a lot better. Not only did they bring back their classic helmets from the Lawrence Taylor and Bill Parcells era, but they also reintroduced their old time jerseys which were worn in the same era.
4. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have always had solid uniforms with their teal jerseys standing out in particular. However, they've taken their attire to another level with these black helmet which perfectly complement their black uniforms. While their Thursday Night matchup against the Falcons is far from one of the most anticipated games, the black helmets and uniforms will be a bright spot.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Like the Panthers, the Eagles' new dark helmets will be a great addition to their black uniforms. While fans are more excited to see their Kelly green uniforms in 2023, I look forward to seeing these helmets match up with the black uniforms.
6. Washington Commanders
Unlike most of these teams, I like how every element of the Commanders' new uniforms stick out. Their home, away, and alternate attire brings something different to the table whether it's the "W" in the center of the black helmets or the golden numbers on the away jerseys.
7. New York Jets
A white background also would've looked very good but I have no problem with the black background complementing their green logo and face mask. While watching the Jets can be challenging, they always seem to wear the right jersey combinations on game days which is why I look forward to seeing their new alternate helmets when they play the Patriots, Bears, and Jaguars at home. Hopefully they'll also win for a change.
8. Dallas Cowboys
With these new helmets, the Cowboys will pair them with their old alternate uniforms which they would wear on Thanksgiving in previous years. It isn't new, but it's one of the few things involving the Cowboys that I actually don't have a problem with.
9. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals' new helmets which consist of a black background is the cherry on top for their black color rush uniforms. While it's not good enough to be in the upper half, the matching color scheme of the helmets and uniforms keep this design in the top 10.
10. New Orleans Saints
I've always been a fan of the Saints' attire, with their white and gold jerseys (pictured above) standing out. Their new alternate helmets are solid but they would be a lot higher if they didn't have all those small fleur-de-lis forming a stripe.
11. Houston Texans
The Texans will be in for a rough go in 2022 but at least their first uniform/helmet change was a good one. They will pair their new "battle red" helmet with their alternate red uniforms. Personally, I think this is a cool combination as their red uniforms will look even better compared to the dark blue helmets.
12 New England Patriots
While many people like the Patriots' decision to bring back their throwback uniforms which were worn for three decades, I've never liked these uniforms. Some of that admittedly has to do with my Jets fandom, but the logo of the Patriot snapping a football is way too corny. The strips on the uniforms also make them look like Buffalo Bills' attire.
13. Chicago Bears
Chicago had the right idea of creating an alternate helmet to match up with one of their uniforms. The only problem is that orange isn't the right color to go about this idea. A different helmet background such as white would've looked a lot better.
14. San Fransisco 49ers
The 49ers made some minor changes to their uniforms by going back to three stripes along with a saloon font in the center. Bigger changes would make this ranking a lot higher however.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
When you’re going to an event for the first time, there’s probably a ton of thoughts racing through your mind.
Will I enjoy it, what am I going to get out of it, and will I want to go again?
For me, those were some of the things I was wondering about before going to Tuesday night's Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) game between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces with the New York Times Sports Storytelling course. As someone who has gone to plenty of Knicks games for the last 10 years, I was curious about what type of experience I would get from watching a WNBA game for the first time. Forty minutes later, I left Barclays Center hoping for another chance to attend a game.
Las Vegas emerged victorious last night as they extinguished the Liberty’s burning torch, leading throughout the entire contest. The Aces improved to 16-7 while the Liberty fell to 9-14. In a game that featured a combined six all stars, four of them on Las Vegas, the Aces barely broke a sweat in the first half, leading 53-28 at halftime thanks to a balanced scoring attack led by All Star MVP Kelsey Plum. However, the Liberty fought back valiantly in the second half, scoring a WNBA record 73 points in a single half. With superstar Sabrina Ionescu on the bench, her fellow all-star Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb trimmed the Aces lead to single digits by the end of the third quarter. Ionescu joined the rally in the fourth quarter by scoring 21 of her 27 points, but the Aces hit key shots down the stretch and ultimately emerged victorious.
After the game, Liberty coach Sandy Brondello credited the team for their ferocious rally, but stated that if they continue to replicate their first half performance, “We’ll lose against every team.”
While watching, I tried to observe more than any other basketball game I’ve previously attended. What I witnessed was tons of off-ball movement with all five players working as one. Yes, there were still one on one baskets whether it was from Ionescu or Plum, but more often than not, each basket involved an off-ball screen, a cut to the basket, and the extra pass. As someone who has seen lots of basketball, I would rather see possessions where everyone plays as one compared to sequences where someone tries to dunk it over everybody. There’s plenty of times in the National Basketball Association where teams have a sequence involving all five players working together, but that tends to come during the first minutes of action or when a coach draws up an out of bounds play.
When an NBA game is free flowing, players will try to use their athleticism to outsmart their opponents which can only do so much. In last night’s game, the possessions that saw lots of passing were more frequent. The most impressive part is the fact that they aren’t running a specific play, but rather trying to outsmart the opponent by using their brains.
In a question surrounding the play style of teams, third year player Jocelyn Willoughby has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury but still finds the WNBA teams to be “more team oriented” and “fundamentally sound”.
If more NBA teams could adapt the playstyle WNBA teams play with, the game as a whole would be more beautiful because everyone would have a significant role on each possession. As a matter of fact, it would open more opportunities for highlight reel plays since players will be in a better position to make those spectacular plays. Everyone, including myself, understandably enjoys watching the entertaining moments of an NBA game but if good ball and player movement can lead to a great play, it’ll be the best of both worlds.
In my first time going to a WNBA game between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces, I was curious to see what the atmosphere was going to be like. For 10 years I've been going to Knicks games and even during the highest and lowest points, Madison Square Garden has always provided fan entertainment so there were lots of questions racing through my mind given that this was also my first time going to Barclays Center. By the time the final buzzer sounded, I was very impressed.
The atmosphere at Barclays was very exciting from start to finish. There were over 5,000 fans at Barclays which might not seem like a lot, but, given the nosebleed sections are usually covered up, that’s a very respectable number of fans. They also did a very good job keeping the fans engaged during breaks, and having been to a Lakers home game, the entertainment the Liberty provided was way better in my opinion. My favorite source of entertainment was when they did a Liberty chant in a style replicating the J-E-T-S chant. However, they were most engaged in the early stages of the Liberty’s rally where Sami Whitcomb had a three point barrage to conclude the third quarter.
When asked about the fans, Vice President of Communications Alesia Howard said, “People have been very receptive. If you know anything about New Yorkers, you know that they love basketball and they’ve been very supportive of the women.”
She also gave credit to Ionescu for improving the team’s marketing, noting that “It’s great when you have the talent, performance, and skill to back it up because that’s what people want to see.”
For anyone that has yet to see her play in person, I definitely recommend it. Especially after she practically couldn’t miss in the fourth quarter.
As for the long term outlook of the WNBA, there is still plenty of growth. They have already made significant progress as they are the longest standing professional league for women. Given the lack of coverage it receives however, going to a game seems to be the only way to get a true glimpse of the action in a WNBA game. Meanwhile in the NBA, you have a variety of ways to watch whether it’s your team’s channel, ESPN/ABC, or TNT. If I hadn’t gone to last night’s game, I wouldn’t have truly known how talented some of these players are.
During warmups, I got to ask Jocelyn Willoughby if she thinks NBA players have done enough to help improve the WNBA’s recognition. She replied, “I think there’s been growth in that area but more can be done. I don’t think it’s just NBA players. I think it’s valuing women more…NBA players’ engagement in the WNBA is definitely an important step.”
For the WNBA, the support from NBA players is one of many important steps toward the league’s quest to become more popular.
There are many American athletes who have made a groundbreaking achievement in sports, and Kelsie Whitmore’s name should be added to the list. As a left fielder and pitcher of the Staten Island Ferryhawks in the Independent Atlantic League, she is the only woman on the roster and the first female to play in a league partnered with Major League Baseball since 1994. Although the Independent Atlantic League doesn’t get the same attention compared to other minor leagues, Whitmore has made it clear that she is here to play ball.
It wasn’t long in the season before Whitmore would get her chances with the Ferryhawks, as she made her first appearance as a pinch-runner in the Ferryhawks’ opening game. Nine days later, she made her first start as a pitcher. However, this is nothing new for Whitmore. Before going professional, she was the only woman on her high school baseball team all the out west in sunny Temecula, California.
Last Friday my program in the New York Times Sports Writing course got the chance to speak to her before the Ferryhawks' matchup against the Charleston Dirty Birds, so I was able to get a first hand perspective on her journey toward becoming the only woman in a leagued with the MLB.
When I asked her about what’s different compared to high school, she replied, “I’d say the competition is a lot higher. There’s guys who are former major leaguers. Some played in minor affiliate ball so being against and with guys at that level is definitely what makes a difference out of it.”
Even with the increased level of competition, Whitmore is not one to shy away from intimidation.
As for her on-field performance, Whitmore’s hitting has remained a work in progress, given she has yet to get a hit in 22 plate appearances. She has made some strides in her pitching however as she managed to retire a former MLB player in a relief appearance.
As a team the Ferryhawks have only won 22 games so it’s easy for fans to suggest that Whitmore was signed in an effort to gain popularity, but general manager Gary Perone denied these claims. He stated that Whitmore was signed because of her skills on the diamond rather than trying to sell more tickets. While this might be true, Whitmore has been an inspiration to others. Perone noted that he sees a ton of young girls who look up to her when they come to the ballpark. In a city that fields plenty of stars playing for the Yankees and Mets, it’s a pretty impressive accomplishment for Whitmore to be recognized as a role model by many young fans.
Over the last few months, Whitmore’s support has only continued to grow. Although she noted the atmosphere is different compared to California, she described the fans as “very supportive and great to be around.” For someone like Whitmore to receive more attention compared to other players in the Independent Atlantic League, she conducts herself in a very professional manner which isn’t always seen from all athletes.
In a response to a question regarding how her journey might be different compared to others, she thinks that “Part of it is really just not giving up. A lot of people think it’s hard, and they go in an easier route…I’ve been through those moments and you need to fight your mind, and I feel it’s not stopping.”
She additionally credited certain people, such as her father for building a foundation where she can make the necessary steps toward achieving her dreams. Perone said she will have a career in some way and after speaking to her, it's more than likely Whitmore will have tremendous success.