Joe Mauer knew there were some ballparks where fans would be tougher to play in front of than others. The former American League Most Valuable Player specifically put Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago in that group.
“There are some hostile environments,” he said.
Mauer also mentioned day games in Oakland, where there could be just a few thousand fans in attendance. Those days, a player could hear everything that was said, so maintaining focus was a different challenge.
Most of the abuse was verbal. Mauer said he didn’t have objects thrown at him very often during his 15-year career. He’s aware of recent sporting events during which NBA players have been on the receiving end of more than just verbal abuse.
“Those guys are there to compete and do their job,” Mauer said. “If you get thrown at, it’s just unfortunate.”
The welcome-the-fans-back period of the pandemic has not gone well, particularly in the NBA. One fan threw a bottle of water at Kyrie Irving in Boston. Another threw popcorn on Russell Westbrook in Philadelphia. Ja Morant’s parents were verbally abused in Salt Lake City.
A U.S.-Mexico soccer game in Denver last Sunday was halted as some Mexico fans used an anti-gay chant, forcing the game to be paused until they ceased. And players from both teams were pelted by bottles and other objects thrown from the stands. USA forward Gio Reyna fell to the ground and needed medical attention after a bottle hit him in the head.
It didn’t take long for some fans to cross the line upon the relaxation of restrictions and the reopening of stadiums. Everyone is excited to be able to attend sporting events and hear the roar of the crowd and see positive interactions between players and spectators. We are also witnessing some people wrecking that atmosphere.
Credit officials in Boston, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City for taking swift action to remove and ban fans for their unruly behavior. Fans mean so much to games, from the atmosphere they provide to the revenue they generate from buying tickets, concessions and gear. But sports teams across the country have had to adopt a fan code of conduct over the years to hold unruly spectators accountable.
More steps need to be taken, such as banning overzealous fans from stadiums, pulling season tickets from those who misbehave and possibly pressing charges against those who hit athletes with objects. The 19,995 fans at a game should not have their experience ruined by the five who have been waiting for the shutdown to end so they can act foolishly.
Fans have been missed during the pandemic. Miscreants have not.
“I hope they get it managed because it’s just uncalled for,” Mauer said. “You can come in and heckle and be a fan, but you have to keep it within reason.”
Shoemaker a notable bust
If Matt Shoemaker had thrown enough innings to qualify for the league leaders, he would have the highest ERA of any starter in baseball.
The righthander was demoted to the Twins bullpen on Friday with a 2-7 record and 7.28 ERA. Young righthander Bailey Ober takes over. Shoemaker’s low-90s fastball, slider and split finger mix gave him little room for error. When he was off, which was too often, he paid the price.
Shoemaker is one of the least productive free-agent pitching signings the Twins have made over the past 25 years. The worst on the list — yes, there is a list — is Sean Bergman, who went 4-5 with a 9.66 ERA in 2000 before being released in June. The most expensive miss was Ricky Nolasco, who signed a three-year deal with the Twins but went 15-22 with a 5.44 ERA before being traded in 2016 to the Angels with Alex Meyer for Alan Busenitz and Hector Santiago.
Young soccer team impresses
Fans of the U.S. men’s soccer team finally got a glimpse of the future last week when it played Honduras and Mexico in the CONCACAF Nations League. It was the first time the new generation of men’s soccer players were together for a tournament, and they didn’t disappoint as they beat Mexico 3-2 in the final. Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna played up front and gave Mexico fits. Weston McKennie played a strong midfield and scored off a header. Mark McKenzie might be a revelation as a center back. Sergino Dest is a fullback who loves to attack.
The best part about this is that none of the aforementioned players is older than 22. Reyna is just 18. And there are others in the 18-23 age range who will help form the backbone of the national team.
The group has not been tested in many national tournaments but will be worth tracking in qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup.
Lightning will play Canadiens for Cup
We are looking at two fabulous matchups in the Stanley Cup semifinals. Look for the Lightning to hold off a feisty Islanders team and return to the final. There Tampa Bay will face the Canadiens, who will put a stop to the Golden Knights after their delayed sweep of the Avalanche.
Twins will sink further in Central
The Twins entered the weekend 13 games behind the White Sox in the AL Central. The teams face each other in Chicago at the end of the month. By the time that series is over, the Twins will be trailing the White Sox by at least 16 games.