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Orioles prospect Grayson Rodriguez turns to dad, brother to help him prepare for baseball during quarantine

Orioles prospect Grayson Rodriguez turns to dad, brother to help him prepare for baseball during quarantine

Like all athletes right now, prospects in the Orioles organization are looking for unique ways to stay in baseball shape while stuck inside their own homes. Luckily for top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, staying at home still means access to a baseball field.

Baseball America spoke with Rodriguez on their podcast about life under quarantine and what he's been doing to stay ready for the eventual return of the season. The question of what he can do to mimic actually being on a baseball diamond was answered quickly: he doesn't have to.

"We got a lot of space to do things," Rodriguez explained while describing his family's land in East Texas. "When I was 7 years old my dad built a baseball league behind our house, and we have a bullpen set up for me."

The 35th-ranked prospect in all of Minor League Baseball, Rodriguez is coming off a terrific first full season. He went 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA at Low-A Delmarva, flashing command of his mid-90s fastball, improving offspeed pitches and displaying a great physical and mental makeup.

The issue facing Rodriguez, and countless others, is how to maintain momentum in his development without being with his trainers during what he calls "Offseason, Phase 2."

"It’s tough," he said, a sentiment echoed several times throughout the interview. "Your pitching coach is like your best friend, he knows you just about as well as you know yourself. And having that extra set of eyes on you when you’re throwing a bullpen, sometimes it’s tough when you’re out there throwing and something’s not working right, you can’t figure out what it is, and having somebody else there that knows you and knows your delivery, to be able to see you and tell you, fix what’s going on... I mean it’s tough, but at the same time, we’re still able to get stuff done over video."

Like many organizations, the Orioles have turned to video to stay connected. In the case of their players, it's also to give them access to coaches.

"Our communication has been great. We’ve had lots of Zoom meetings like I’m sure everyone has. We have one-on-one meetings with our coaches, being able to send them videos and stuff," he continued. "I actually have a couple video cameras at the house that I’ve been using to be able to video my bullpens, like pitch design, pitch shape, being able to see the ball release out of the hand...being able to use different tools to be able to keep my game in check."

That communication has also extended to workouts, though Rodriguez explains the Orioles have allowed him, and others, the flexibility to work on what they feel least comfortable with. One thing Rodriguez has always done is turn to long toss sessions to build his arm strength. That's something he's been able to do with his younger brother, though the two aren't exactly evenly matched at the moment.

"Lucky for me I have a little brother who’s 12 years old, and I’m able to play catch with him every day. He can’t catch my bullpens," Rodriguez said with a laugh."But you know playing catch is a big part. Happy to have him around."

His brother was on the receiving end of one famous toss when Rodriguez launched a ball over a large pond on his family's land.

Rodriguez's dad built not only the baseball field and bullpen in their backyard, but also built strike zone targets for practice, something that's helped the pitcher focus on hitting his spots without a hitter in the box. 

"I feel like my dad can build anything," Rodriguez praises. "All these training tools he’s come up with I feel like he could get a patent and sell them."

Sometimes, though, his dad will help with the mental side of things as well, by calling out a pitcher or standing behind the screen to be an umpire, even though he "tends to get a little tight" with his strike zone, something Rodriguez knows is probably a good thing.

As blessed as Rodriguez knows he is to have his family helping him out, he also knows he got lucky in another way: not having to go through the draft process while under quarantine.

Rodriguez himself was a late riser, someone who was never considered a future first-round pick until after his senior season. That's an opportunity that won't be afforded to any seniors in the class of 2020, something that isn't lost on him.

"I would not have been taken anywhere near where I was without my senior high school season," he admits. "You really feel for those high school seniors, especially those guys that really had a shot at proving themselves. It’s kind of tough because the draft is just a lifechanging experience. And some of those guys that won’t get to experience it because of this pandemic that’s going on. You have to stop and think and feel for those guys because it’s tough. If this happened my senior year I’d be in College Station right now, without a doubt. It’s just very unfortunate."

Rodriguez, who has also taken to late-night broadcasts of the KBO just to get his baseball fix, sums it up best with the way most fans feel too.

"I don’t know, you just miss it," he said. "That’s really all I can say."

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Cleveland Indians release statement saying team is having discussions in regards to name

Cleveland Indians release statement saying team is having discussions in regards to name

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Amid new pressure sparked by a national movement to correct racial wrongdoings, the Cleveland Indians said they will review their long-debated nickname.

"We are committed to making a positive impact in our community and embrace our responsibility to advance social justice and equality," the team said in a statement Friday night. "Our organization fully recognizes our team name is among the most visible ways in which we connect with the community."

The move mirrors one by the NFL's Washington Redskins, who earlier in the day said they are embarking on a "thorough review" of their name, which has been deemed as offensive by Native American groups for decades.

There have been previous efforts to get the Indians to rename themselves. But following the death George Floyd in Minnesota and other examples of police brutality against Black people in the U.S., there has been a major move nationwide to eradicate racially insensitive material.

RELATED ARTICLE: REDSKINS TO CONDUCT 'THOROUGH REVIEW' OF TEAM NAME

In 2018, the Indians removed the contentious Chief Wahoo logo from their game jerseys and caps. The grinning, red-faced mascot, however, is still present on merchandise that can be purchased at Progressive Field and other team shops in Northeast Ohio.

"We have had ongoing discussions organizationally on these issues," the Indians said. "The recent social unrest in our community and our country has only underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization on issues of social justice. With that in mind, we are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name."

"While the focus of the baseball world shifts to the excitement of an unprecedented 2020 season, we recognize our unique place in the community and are committed to listening, learning, and acting in the manner that can best unite and inspire our city and all those who support our team," the club said.

The Redskins' decision came in the wake of FedEx, which paid $205 million for naming rights to the team's stadium, and other corporate partners calling for the team to change its nickname.

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Orioles hold first ‘odd, just random, weirdest’ practice of summer camp at Camden Yards

Orioles hold first ‘odd, just random, weirdest’ practice of summer camp at Camden Yards

Wade LeBlanc signed a one-year deal with the Orioles in early February that, if he made the major league roster out of Spring Training, was worth $800,000. He was set to join a crowded rotation with a shot to pitch in the major leagues.

But over the last few months, LeBlanc found another way to pitch -- and other batters to pitch to. 

Instead of pitching to major league hitters in the spring and early summer, he pitched to the seven year olds on his son’s coach-pitch travel team due to the coronavirus pandemic and the delayed major league season.

Now, he’s able to give up that job as the Orioles held their first “summer camp” practice of July at Camden Yards, three weeks from the start date of the 2020 season. But the return to the field wasn’t a normal practice for anyone involved.

“It’s pretty weird to say the least,” LeBlanc said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Today we went out, stretched, played catch, I threw a bullpen today. Get ready for a sim game in a couple days. Washed my hands before and after I was in the bullpen, which was kind of strange. We did some conditioning, took care of some arm exercises and all that kind of stuff.”

RELATED ARTICLE: SELF-POLICING IN CLUBHOUSES WILL BE KEY FOR MLB SEASON TO WORK

The Orioles, like every team across Major League Baseball, have taken exhaustive measures to ensure the safety of the players in the organization. 

Some of those measures include hand-washing stations scattered across the field, coaches keeping their distance while still giving instruction, and spaced out clubhouses.

For first baseman Chris Davis, one of the biggest adjustments is going to be the act of not sharing the baseball around the infield like he normally does.

“I think probably the weirdest thing for me is going to be throwing the balls out in between innings or even in between just warming guys up and stuff like that,” Davis said. “I think there’s going to be like a recycling ball station on the field where you toss it and they’ll throw it in a bucket. That to me is going to be the hardest or the biggest adjustment, just the attention to detail of not sharing a ball too much.”

Manager Brandon Hyde said everyone, with the exception of Dominican players who had just arrived, reported as scheduled. He declined, however, to say if anyone in the organization tested positive for COVID-19.

“When you’re out on the field, it feels normal,” Hyde said. “It’s definitely different in the clubhouse. It’s different in the coaches’ room. There’s just a lot more protocols that we’ve all bought into to really make this a safe, healthy season, and do everything we can to keep us safe as well as the players and the coaches.” 

As of now, no players or coaches are expected to remove themselves from the Orioles’ roster for the upcoming season. 

Both LeBlanc and Davis said that was never particularly under consideration for either of them. 

“With so many unknowns there’s always going to be some reservations here and there, but outside of that you understand you have a job to do and for the last 13, 14 years this is kind of all I’ve known,” LeBlanc said. “It’s wanting to get back to normal for the most part. Normal as much as possible. It’s something that, as baseball players, we want to get out there and play baseball, so that’s what we’re hoping to do.”

Despite the unprecedented circumstances, the Orioles still have to be focused on the upcoming season. 

For players like Davis, it’s a chance to continue their hot streaks from back in Sarasota, Fla., during Spring Training, games and workouts that seem an eternity ago. 

For younger players on the roster, it’s a chance to earn an opportunity in the majors — despite the shortened season.

“We’re still trying to find out about a lot of guys on our roster,” Hyde said. “I was really encouraged by the momentum we had in camp. I thought we played well, I thought our work days were fantastic. We’ve talked about capturing that momentum again.”

And as Hyde pointed out, the Orioles are in contention from the day they step on the field for the regular season.

“We’re going to be in first place in late July,” Hyde quipped. “That’s really exciting for all of us.”

Through all the excitement, however, exists a new normal that no one on the field has experienced in their baseball careers. 

That includes Davis, a player who in his career has led the league in home runs, won a game as a pitcher, went on an 0-for-54 hitless streak and played a game without fans in the stands. 

Today topped them all.

“This is definitely the most odd, just random, weirdest thing that I’ve ever encountered on the baseball field,” Davis said. “I think it’s going to start to feel more normal the longer we are under all these protocols and guidelines, and that’s kind of my hope, that we develop some sort of routine where this becomes our normal for the time being.”

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