FRANK FRANGIE: Sports are back

FRANK FRANGIE: Sports are back

By: Frank Frangie

On the sports front, this has been a good weekend. All things considered, about as good a weekend as we’ve had in a long time.

Yes, the pandemic rages, without much end in sight. We are losing way too many lives, admitting way too many folks to hospitals, watching the positive case count go higher and higher. I hope people wear masks. I hope they take social distancing seriously. I pray every day for another flattening of that awful curve.

But man is it good to see baseball back. It is good to see that the NFL and the NFLPA agreed on a plan to try and get training camp launched. It is good to see the NBA scrimmages off and running as the association gets set for its relaunch.

It is good to sense that college football seems to have a plan, or, because of the disjointed nature of the sport, a collection of plans. But I get the sense this week all of those plans will be unveiled.

The point is that, such as it is, sports is back. And man did we miss it. …

It is glorious turning on the TV and tons of baseball games — real, live MLB regular season games — are on. Looks a little different, feels a little different. The stands are empty. There are cardboard cutouts of fans in some stadiums, there is artificial crowd noise gleaned from a video game in all of them. Coaches and some players are wearing masks, even during the action. Broadcasters are calling the games from remote locations and studios.

But who cares? At least we have hardball. And as such, we are reminded how different baseball is — on the field — than it was not that many years ago.

It’s clear the ball is as juiced as ever. Forget any thought they were going to soften it up after last year’s home run explosion. As former Gator star, seven-year MLB veteran hitter and new JU assistant coach Brad Wilkerson said on our show last week: “I held one. It is smaller, it is wound tighter. Man would I like to be hitting that thing.” THAT was a telling comment from someone who would know.

And it’s clear that bombers and blazers rule, maybe more than ever. Yes, home run hitters and fastball pitchers always have been all the rage. Ruth, Aaron and Mays; Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson. Those are the names you know, the names everyone knows.

But it’s more important than ever. Everyone’s ace sits at 95 mph and touches 97 or 98. Every team that is good has a bunch of guys who can leave the yard. As an old school baseball guy, I’d love to tell you its about fundamentals, base-running, defense, bunt when you have to, hit the ball the other way. For pitchers, get ahead, throw strikes, induce ground balls.

But it’s not. It’s about strikeouts and home runs. Particularly home runs. The Yankees have eight players in their everyday lineup who hit 20 or more home runs last year. Eight. The Dodgers and Astros both have five regulars who hit 27 or more. Think about that.

The Yankees now have Gerrit Cole. The Dodgers still have Clayton Keyshaw, plus two guys — Walker Buehler and Dustin May — who may be better. The Astros have Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. Baseball is the ultimate haves and have nots. But who cares? It’s back and it’s glorious. …

As for the NFL’s return to football, we now know the plan. Report to camp on July 28, a very long acclimation period, either 90 or 80 players during that period, then 80 players in camp when pads go on August 17 and the season begins around the second week of September, as originally planned.

It appears, as of now, the league is planning to start with fans in the seats. They will be there in a limited capacity — essentially 25 percent — but they will be there. There is much more to be discussed, no doubt. But at least there is a road map. And as with free agency and the Draft, all held near the beginning of the pandemic, the NFL generally sticks with its plan. So expect it all to go off as scheduled. …

That said, the NFL is going to lose some players to positive tests, just like every other sport. It’s inevitable. But I truly like the efforts to minimize that as much as possible. According to Pro Football Talk, this year’s CBA — agreed upon by both the league and NFLPA — prohibits players from attending indoor night clubs or bars, indoor house parties with more than 15 people, indoor concerts, professional sporting events or church services that allow more than 25 percent capacity.

According to the Pro Football Talk report, players can be fined for violating any of these rules. And, if they test positive after engaging in it, they are not paid for the game they missed. And their future guaranteed money can be voided.

Who knows if it will work? Or how the teams will enforce it. But I admire that they aren’t afraid to put stringent, common sense policies in place to ensure that the players stay healthy and that the games go on. …

With college football, here is what we know. The Big 10 and Pac 12 are playing only conference games, probably 10-game schedules. The SEC, ACC and Big 12 are likely to play all conference games plus one added non-conference game. That protects all four SEC-ACC rivalry games, plus a number of other SEC-ACC and SEC-Big 12 games. Early reports are surfacing that those leagues may land on 11 games total.

The big story is that it is being reported that Notre Dame, which already has six games scheduled against ACC teams, now may play a full league schedule and can qualify for the ACC title. Crazy times, indeed.

We also know that some fans likely will attend, but we don’t know how many. Much of that will depend on state guidelines, but you can assume limited capacity even in the stadiums that allow fans.

Finally, the one group from whom we haven’t heard is the College Football Playoff. The CFP really is a collaboration of the big conference decision-makers. But I wonder if they will add teams to the playoff, much like baseball did. I would not be surprised to see an 8-team field this year. Stay tuned. This is a huge week for college football. …

I’m glad the Republican National Convention got canceled. I’m not very political and would have felt this way regardless of which party was staging it. And I appreciate the city leaders who were trying very hard to make it work, to aid our city’s economy, etc. I really mean that.

But given the pandemic, the attracting of so many people into congregated areas — attendees, protesters, organizers, volunteers, security, staff — everyone, just felt a bit risky. I think they got it right. …

Glad they played the Jacksonville Amateur Championship at Jacksonville Beach Golf Club. One more piece of evidence of what a nice job they have done with that historic, public track. …

Still wondering what will happen with high school football this season. Now that the FHSAA has reversed course and said teams can’t practice until August 24 and can’t play until well into September, I’m wondering if we now are looking at 7 or 8-game seasons instead of all 10. Stay tuned. …

Please say a prayer for Blaine Thomas, the son of former Times-Union sports writer and longtime FSU Sports Information representative Bob Thomas. Blaine is a wonderful young man, studying to be a chaplain at the acclaimed Duke University seminary school.

On Friday, Blaine was helping a friend who had locked his keys in his car when a vehicle pulled up and started firing a gun randomly. Blaine was hit in the stomach. He was rushed to the hospital and has undergone various surgeries the past few days. He is listed in critical condition.

Bob is one of the good guys — funny, soft-spoken, kind, gentle spirit. We worked together at the T-U back in the day. He began as a high school beat writer and later was assigned the FSU beat. He then made connections in Tallahassee and went to work for the school’s athletic department.

Bob was recently laid off at FSU as the school has gone through massive cuts in the athletic department. There is a go fund me page set up to help with Blaine’s medical costs that you can access through many of our Twitter feeds. Please help if you can. …

There are so many good players from the Jacksonville area playing in the big leagues these days. Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick, Austin Hays, Mike Clevinger, Darren O’Day, Dane Dunning and probably others I am missing. But one guy to really watch is Ben Gamel of the Brewers.

The former Bishop Kenny star has been in the Yankees and Mariners’ organizations, but you get a hunch he could thrive in Milwaukee. The left fielder didn’t play in Friday’s opening day game against the Cubs. They lost 3-0. Yesterday, when he finally got to play, he had two RBI and the Brewers won 8-3. Really good kid, too. He’s one you should follow. …

The new movie, The Old Guard, with Charlize Theron, isn’t very good. Kinda disappointing. But if Charlize is in it, I’m probably gonna watch. Just sorta how it is. With full approval from the wife. She has never missed a Mark Wahlberg film and there are approximately 78 trillion of those. Fair is fair. …

Despite the business struggles of some food and drink providers during these crazy times, every time I look up a new Starbucks is being built. Are caramel macchiatos still a thing? …

Not counting opening night when only four teams played, the baseball season is two days old. In those two days, 27 of the 30 teams have already won at least one game. The three that haven’t — the Mariners, who played maybe the best team in baseball in the Astros — the Diamondbacks. And, yes, the Pittsburgh Pirates, God bless their little souls.

In the age of offense, my Buccos had three hits in yesterday’s 9-1 loss to the Cardinals. All singles. In two games, they have one extra base hit. Between spring training in February/March and summer camp exhibitions last week, they were 3-18-2 in pre-season games. Three, eighteen and two. That and the scintillating 0-2 start so far in the real ones.

Gonna be a fun summer.