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Ricky Bottalico recalls the last time Major League Baseball shut down

Ricky Bottalico recalls the last time Major League Baseball shut down

Prior to the indefinite suspension of the 2020 season, the last time Major League Baseball completely shut down was September 2001. No games were played for a full week following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

NBC Sports Philadelphia Phillies analyst Ricky Bottalico was in his second stint as a Phillies reliever in 2001. He shared his recollections of that unique experience, beginning with the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. 

"We were in Atlanta to play the Braves and one thing I remember was getting phone calls in the morning to turn on the TV," Bottalico said. "We're baseball players so we're not necessarily up at 8:30 in the morning. You turn on your TV, you see what's going on and then the panic strikes. When is this going to affect us? Is this coming here? Atlanta has a heavy dose of planes coming in and out every day, do we have to do something different? We didn't have answers, at least in the first 24 hours we didn't have any answers. We all congregated in the hotel lobby and tried to get a better idea of exactly what was going on. At some point that morning you knew it was terrorist attacks." 

Bottalico and his teammates knew they weren't playing baseball that night. But the plan for the rest of the week was unclear. 

"As the days went on we got a feel for 'Ok we're not playing this series, we have a series in Cincinnati coming up, what are we going to do here?'" Bottalico remembers. "If anyone knows Larry Bowa, he's not real patient. Larry was like 'Come on get on the buses, we're going (to Cincinnati)'. Doug Glanville and myself were the (MLBPA) player reps at the time and we were in contact with our union. They were telling us most likely we're not playing the next series so if you're going to take a bus make sure you wait for us to tell you where to go. Well Bowa didn't want to wait, so we end up taking a bus to Cincinnati. Three hours after we started our trip we found out that series was cancelled. We were heading northwest to Cincinnati so we couldn't really turn back towards Philadelphia. 

"I remember getting into Cincinnati late at night and they told us they had a plane (to Philadelphia) for us the next morning. This was four days after 9/11. We went to the airport that morning, got on a charter jet, and nobody said a word on that flight. You could've heard a pin drop. Obviously it was a tense situation."

But unlike this present day scenario, Bottalico and the rest of the Phillies knew the 2001 season would resume at some point in the not too distant future. 

"We knew we were going to play," Bottalico said. "We knew this wasn't going to hold us back from playing for the whole season. We eventually got word that we were starting back up (the next week). I think from a player's standpoint then, we felt responsible to try to help get the nation back on its feet, be a distraction from what was going on in every day life. 

"We had to play again. There wasn't any danger of planes flying into stadiums, so we ended up playing and I think it helped America heal a little bit."  

Uncertain Times

The 2001 Phillies wanted to play again to help provide a sense of normalcy. But the week away from baseball was unnerving, especially that bus ride to Cincinnati.  

"I had a young daughter who was with the grandparents in Connecticut so it was scary in that sense," Bottalico admits. "My wife at the time was on the road trip. We had other wives on the trip who were pregnant so that was kind of scary. They're six or seven months pregnant at that point and you're talking about a 10 or 11 hour bus ride to Cincinnati. It was tough for them."

Some players were still trying to come to grips with what exactly the country was going through. 

"There were a lot of guys who were in disbelief," Bottalico said. "You're on a bus for 11 hours trying to figure out in your mind what could happen and what should happen. In my case obviously thinking about my daughter who was with her grandparents. It was a trying time. But after a few days of that, we felt an obligation to get back on the field."

First Game Back

The Phillies resumed their season on Monday, Sept. 17. They welcomed the first place Braves to town for a four-game series at Veterans Stadium. The Phillies entered that series just 3.5 games behind Atlanta in the NL East standings. 

But that first game back was about far more than baseball. 

"The greatest thing I remember from that night was the guy who had the American flag and he was walking around the whole stadium," Bottalico recalled. "That pretty much went on for that whole series. The guy with the American flag just kept walking around, and the chants of 'USA! USA! USA!'. It made you proud to be in that stadium that night. 

"There was an unbelievable tribute video which still plays in my mind because right at the end of it they showed a Jimmy Rollins at-bat and he starts running and as he rounds first base it transforms into a Little League kid running to second base. And the kid gets to second base and they pan out and behind second base its a shot of the New York City skyline with the World Trade Center towers. At that point there couldn't have been a dry eye in the stadium. 

"To be completely honest whether you won or lost that night, and it was odd because it was the Braves and it was the team we were chasing in the division, but it didn't matter what team you were on. I think everybody was just proud to be on that field."

The Phillies beat the Braves 5-2 that night behind a pair of Scott Rolen home runs off of Greg Maddux. 

Division Race

The Phillies won three of four against the Braves in that series to pull within a game and a half of the division lead. But the Phillies went 5-7 over their next 12 games and ultimately finished two games behind the Braves in the NL East.

Of course, Bottalico understands why the 2001 season was halted for a week following 9/11. But he wonders if things might have ended differently if the season would have played out without the delay. 

"I just remember being extremely fired up for that series in Atlanta (that was postponed)," Bottalico said. "We had an off day before the Tuesday that was 9/11 and I remember going in there and we were fired up, ready to play those guys. We didn't have the greatest pitching staff but I think going into that series we really felt like we had a shot. 

"I know we beat them up a little bit when they came to Veterans Stadium the following week after the break. But then we knew in the back of our minds that we had to go back to Atlanta (to make up the postponed series) at the end of the year. So things definitely changed a little bit. 

"We lost some adrenaline as that week unfolded. We had it early on when we first came back but we sputtered at times towards the end. We stayed right on their heels but I just really believe if things would have gone a little differently maybe the season would have ended a little differently."

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Drafting Villanova's Saddiq Bey could reverse bad trend for Sixers

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Drafting Villanova's Saddiq Bey could reverse bad trend for Sixers

With the NBA season suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, there's a strong possibility that the playoffs will begin immediately if play resumes. That would be good news for the Sixers in terms of the 2020 NBA Draft. 

The Sixers do not have their own first-round pick in this year's draft. They included that pick in a package sent to the Clippers in the trade to acquire Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, and Mike Scott.

Thanks to a 2016 trade that sent Jerami Grant to Oklahoma City for Ersan Ilyasova and a conditional future first-round pick, the Sixers owned the Thunder's first-rounder in 2020. They then traded it to Orlando to move up in the 2017 draft to select big man Anzejs Pasecniks before getting it back from the Magic in the Markelle Fultz trade. That pick is protected 1-20, but since the Thunder's pick is currently 21st, it would convey to the Sixers.

That should allow them to add a very good player to help the organization chase a championship in both the short and long term. It would also potentially give them the opportunity to reverse a trend that has developed in recent years. 

In each of the last three drafts, the Sixers have passed on prospects from Villanova. They could change that by selecting Saddiq Bey.

In 2017, they drafted Fultz and Pasecniks before the Lakers selected Josh Hart with the 30th pick. In 2018, the Sixers drafted Mikal Bridges but traded him to the Suns for Zhaire Smith and a future first-round pick. In that same draft, they also passed on the opportunity to draft Donte DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson. Then in 2019, they had several chances to draft Eric Paschall before the Warriors took him with the 41st pick. 

Hart, Bridges, DiVincenzo, Brunson and Paschall were all key parts of a nucleus that led Villanova to two national championships in three years. The Sixers undoubtedly were familiar with all of them, given that Villanova plays half of its home games in the Wells Fargo Center.

Here's a look at how those Villanova guys have played this season:

Hart (Pelicans): 57 games, 27 minutes per game, 10.2 points, 6.5 rebounds

Bridges (Suns): 65 games, 27 minutes per game, 8.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals

DiVincenzo (Bucks): 59 games, 23 minutes per game, 9.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals

Brunson (Mavericks): 57 games, 18 minutes per game, 8.2 points, 3.3 assists, 36 percent from three

Paschall (Warriors): 60 games, 28 minutes per game, 14.0 points, 4.6 rebounds

They have all developed into very solid NBA performers and a couple of them play valuable roles for playoff teams. They aren't stars, but they're all reliable rotation pieces. They all would have been helpful in the Sixers' ongoing quest to surround Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with an effective supporting cast.  

The Sixers might have another opportunity to draft a Villanova player with that 21st pick. Bey hasn't officially declared for the NBA Draft, but is projected as a mid-to-late first round pick. Villanova head coach Jay Wright said on a video conference on Wednesday that he expects Bey will go through whatever pre-draft process the NBA has to offer given the league's uncertain timeline. At the end of that process, Bey would decide whether to remain in the draft or return to Villanova for his junior season.

Bey just wrapped up a breakout sophomore season, establishing himself as one of the best players in college basketball. He led Villanova with 16.1 points per game and a 45.1 three-point field goal percentage. He was named First Team All-Big East and is one of five finalists for the Julius Erving Award, given to the best small forward in the country. 

At 6-foot-8, Bey has terrific size for an NBA wing player and is an outstanding defender capable of guarding multiple positions. Perhaps most importantly, he's still getting better. He's cut from the same cloth as previous Villanova NBA prospects — a team-first guy who wants to win. 

Bey will be a good NBA player. If he decides to start his professional career this summer, the Sixers should take a long look at him with the 21st pick. They've passed on enough good Villanova players in recent years.

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Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

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Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

It's been 12 days since Villanova's season ended abruptly due to the coronavirus crisis. Jay Wright held a video conference on Wednesday to discuss a number of topics. 

Here are the major takeaways from Wright's session with the media.  

This March is different

Villanova missed out on opportunities to win a fourth straight Big East Tournament and participate in the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The Wildcats won eight of their final nine games to clinch a share of the Big East regular season title. Not having a chance to shine in the postseason stings. 

"Missing the NCAA Tournament is obviously tough for our guys," Wright said. "We felt like we were playing great basketball, coming on strong. I always say we want to play our best basketball at the end of the year, and I think we were doing that. It is what it is, our guys get it. 

"It's a great example of our mantra 'attitude'. We try to teach our guys that you don't have control over what happens in life. What you do have control of is your response to what happens to you. 

"I don't know if there's even been a March where I wasn't either in (the NCAA Tournament), watching it or recruiting during it. I'm testing myself on what else is there in me? Being a better father, being a better husband. Spending more time with the kids, watching more movies, reading more, trying to be more worldly. I'm not very good at it but I'm trying."

Will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA? 

Arguably the biggest question concerning Wright's team heading into the offseason is will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA or will he return for his junior season at Villanova? Wright mentioned that Bey was especially disappointed when this season was cut short. He realizes that he has a big decision to make on his future. Wright discussed Bey's future plans as well as freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who is also considered an NBA prospect. 

"The NBA is still on hold," Wright said. "They don't have a plan yet for what they're going to do with the pre-draft process or the draft yet. Saddiq and Jeremiah probably both will go through that process when we find out what it is. They're waiting on us for information, should they start working out? We're trying to get them as much information as possible. 

"If we were in a normal timeline, they would both go through the process. As we learn what the NBA is going to do there are so many possibilities. Just to take it to an extreme, there's a possibility they might not have a pre-draft process and just have the draft with no workouts, using the evaluations they had during the season. 

"We're communicating with both of them daily. Saddiq is having a tough time trying to find a place to work out in [his hometown] Washington D.C. He just got a gym to get into so he can shoot, he can't find a gym to get into to lift. Jeremiah is trying to find a place around here to get into to shoot."

2020 Summer Olympics postponed

Wright was supposed to spend a portion of his summer as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team in Tokyo. But with this week's announcement that the Olympics are postponed, his plans have changed. 

"It's the right decision," Wright said. "I feel bad for all of those athletes that it's once in a lifetime experience. I really feel bad for them. For basketball guys it's not as difficult. I talked with [U.S. head coach Greg Popovich] yesterday. It's postponed, obviously not cancelled, postponed until some time next spring or summer. There's a lot of questions there. They could do it late spring, when you might not have NBA players. If they did it in the summer maybe you do have NBA players. We have to wait for the IOC to make those decisions. 

"For us personally (at Villanova), it's kind of crazy because we thought we came up with this great plan. I was going to have to leave our offseason program for the Olympics. We had a plan to work around that, and now it doesn't matter. We'll be here in June and July. Now we don't even know if the players will be here. We worked so hard to put this plan in place for me being away and now it doesn't even matter."

Phillies season on hold

A Bucks County native, Wright is a huge Philadelphia sports fan. He had Phillies season tickets as a kid and is a regular at Citizens Bank Park during the summer months. Like all Phillies fans, he's disappointed the baseball season isn't starting this week.

"The end of the basketball season was always sobering," Wright said. "But what always saved us was the start of the Phillies. Opening Day and the start of baseball season in our family is a big deal. 

"We watch the spring training games, we'll even joke, 'Who do the Phillies play tonight?' It's really surreal. Spring time without baseball, especially the Phillies, is bizarre. It's really the way myself and my family get ourselves out of basketball mode. We go to Opening Day, we go to the Phillies games, we love 'Bark in the Park', we always bring the dogs. We're really going to miss it."

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