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Helene Elliott on how the coronavirus scare is beginning to impact the major sports leagues in the U.S. An excerpt:
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North America’s major sports leagues have crossed the next fearful frontier in fighting the incursion of the coronavirus.
A ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people was issued by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department late Monday, leaving the NHL’s San Jose Sharks with the possibility of playing their next three home games in an empty SAP Center, playing at a neutral site or postponing those games until public health officials deem it safe for large crowds to assemble again. The ban will take effect Wednesday and last three weeks, affecting the Sharks’ games March 19 against Montreal, March 21 against Boston and March 29 against Arizona. Arena officials said in a statement they will review each event scheduled at SAP Center and provide an update “in the coming days.”
Some college basketball and college hockey games have been or will be played in arenas without fans in an effort to keep players safe, but this is the first time a major professional sports team has been affected by extraordinary actions intended to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Sadly, it won’t be the last of measures that were considered unthinkable not so long ago.
Earlier on Monday, the NHL, NBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer announced they will temporarily ban media from locker rooms before and after games and will limit locker-room access to essential personnel. Although the media corps is small compared with the number of fans in an arena or stadium, reporters and videographers often are within arm’s distance of players. Frequently, at the end of that arm is a germ-bearing cellphone that’s recording players’ comments from the distance of a foot or two.
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When pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, the two options the Dodgers were considering to start on opening day, met with manager Dave Roberts to discuss the prestigious assignment, Kershaw emphasized one point: He didn’t want his candidacy to be based on the past.
“We kind of all got together,” Kershaw said, “and I was like, ‘I don’t want a charity opening day. If you want me to do it, great, but if you want Walker to do it, great too.’”
Buehler is the Dodgers’ ace-in-the-making — if he’s not there yet — after several resounding performances in important games over his first two full seasons as a big leaguer. Kershaw’s peak is behind him, but he remains one of the top pitchers in baseball.
On Monday, Roberts announced Kershaw would get the start against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on March 26. The manager added that Buehler, David Price, Julio Urías and Alex Wood will follow Kershaw in the rotation, in that order.
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Reliever Mike Mayers, 28, added a cut fastball to augment what he could offer left-handed hitters. The effort has paid off. Mayers has turned heads and become a front-runner for a spot in an Angels bullpen thin on experience.
He is one of eight relievers in the Angels’ spring training clubhouse whose fastball can touch at least 96 mph and produce a generous number of whiffs. Of course, velocity means little without the ability to throw strikes, so Mayers has spent camp refining that skill.
“Not that I wasn’t a strike thrower,” Mayers said. “I just felt like I kind of fell maybe as the guy that gets [an 0-and-1 count] and then is immediately 1-1 or the 0-2 guy to 2-2 guy. So just try to be aggressive in all counts, not just when I need to be.”
Manager Joe Maddon believes Mayers, who has a 7.03 ERA in 73 major league games but a more respectable 3.48 ERA in 129 minor league outings, could pair well with Keynan Middleton, Hansel Robles and Ty Buttrey in the back end of the Angels bullpen.
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Marcus Morris missed all nine shots in Sunday’s 112-103 loss to the Lakers, who also pursued him before the trade deadline. After losing him to the Clippers, the Lakers signed his twin brother, Markieff, who proved slightly more productive (four points, five rebounds) in their first matchup in the rivalry.
“I need to be better regardless of what my role is,” Marcus Morris said. “I’m a veteran, a pro. I just need to be better. I didn’t feel like I impacted this game to the best of my abilities, even without scoring, just doing other things.”
That Morris’ points per game have fallen from 19.6 in New York to 9.5 with the Clippers is no surprise. But a dip in his accuracy was not expected.
“It’s tough when you go from a place where you touch the ball probably every possession to every other, every five,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s a role he can do, I have 100% confidence in that, but it takes some getting used to and he will.”
Mick Cronin was named the Pac-12 Conference’s John R. Wooden coach of the year Monday in a vote of conference coaches after guiding a team picked to finish eighth in the conference to second place.
Cronin becomes the first UCLA coach to win the award since Ben Howland during the 2005-06 season, when the Bruins advanced to the national championship game. Cronin, 48, is also the first coach to win the award in his debut season in the Pac-12 since Washington’s Mike Hopkins two years ago.
Mikey Anderson scored his first career goal, Jonathan Quick made 21 saves and the Kings beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 for their sixth straight win.
Austin Wagner and Alex Iafallo also scored for the Kings, who are on their longest winning streak of the season. Los Angeles is 7-1-1 in its last nine home games, including five straight wins.
Horse racing, already in the midst of a crisis over the number of equine fatalities in the sport, was dealt another severe blow to its credibility when federal authorities charged 27 people in a horse drugging scheme. Among those was Jason Servis, trainer of Maximum Security, the recent winner of the $20-million Saudi Cup.
Federal prosecutors in New York put forth the indictments alleging “widespread, corrupt schemes by racehorse trainers, veterinarians, [performance enhancing drug] distributors, and others to manufacture, distribute and receive unadulterated and misbranded PEDs and to secretly administer those PEDs to racehorses.”
No California-based trainers or veterinarians were named in the indictments. The doping scheme was alleged to have occurred in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky and the United Arab Emirates.
WOMEN IN SPORTS
Game Changers is a nine-month project that originated with Sammy Jo Hester, whose job as Times sports photo editor gives her a daily window into the delta between men’s and women’s sports coverage. A climber, a surfer, a runner herself, the 28-year-old Hester is constantly looking for fresh ways to tell the story of the women whose performative brilliance too often goes uncaptured by the pen or camera lens.
She found those messengers in Times photographer Christina House and columnist Helene Elliott. House shot 23 of the 32 women whose advocacy and athleticism are celebrated in these pages. Elliott wrote 10 of the profiles that appear on our website.
Hester, House and Elliott — together with a team of about 30 writers, editors, designers and developers — have assembled a formidable lineup, through whom much of the history of the modern female athlete can be told.
TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE
Brooklyn at Lakers, 7:30 p.m., Spectrum Sportsnet, 710 ESPN
Clippers at Golden State, 7:30 p.m., TNT, AM 570
Ottawa at Ducks, 7 p.m., PRIME, AM 830
Angels vs. Seattle (exhibition), 1 p.m., FSW, AM 830
BORN ON THIS DATE
1938: Football player Ron Mix
1943: Golfer Sandra Palmer
1948: Basketball player Austin Carr
1956: Golfer Janet Alex-Anderson
1961: Gymnast Mitch Gaylord
1962: Football player Andre Waters
1965: Football player Rod Woodson
DIED ON THIS DATE
2007: Football player/wrestler Ernie Ladd, 69
2012: Boxer Julio Gonzalez, 35
Highlights of Sunday’s Lakers-Clippers game. Watch them here.