Angels INF Fletcher gets raise to $2M this year in $26M deal

ANAHEIM — Infielder David Fletcher will get a $2 million salary this season as part of his $26 million, five-year contract with the Los Angeles Angeles, up from a $615,000 salary in the majors and $296,760 in the minors under the one-year contract he agreed to in February.

The deal, announced ahead of Thursday’s opener, calls for a salary of $4 million next season, when he would have been eligible for arbitration for the first time. He gets $6 million each in 2023 and 2024, and $6.5 million in 2025, the first year he would have been eligible for free agency.

Los Angeles has an $8 million option for 2026 with a $1.5 million buyout. If that option is exercised, the Angels can exercise an $8.5 million option for 2027 with a $1.5 million buyout.

“It’s exciting to me to know I’m going to be playing at home for a while now,” Fletcher said after the deal was announced. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Ideally, if it was up to me, I’d play here my whole career, and I have a lot of work to do to make that happen, but I’m excited.”

US Soccer, MLS and NWSL to test concussion substitutes

U.S. Soccer, Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League are joining a trial program that will allow teams two additional substitutes for suspected concussions in each match.

The International Football Association Board, which sets the rules for the game, approved the trial for concussion substitutes last December. It is expected to run through August 2022.

U.S. Soccer is working with the top men’s and women’s leagues, as well as the United Soccer League and the National Independent Soccer Association, to implement the pilot program protocol across the sport in the United States.

“We do think it’s incredibly important for players and player safety, and it speaks to our role of being a leader in this area and prioritizing health and safety above really anything else that we do as a league,” said Jeff Agoos, vice president of competition for MLS.

Starting this season, teams can make two substitutions for suspected concussions. That’s in addition to the five substitutions already allowed because of the coronavirus. Normally teams are allowed three total substitutions.

Concussion substitutions can be made even if a player has returned to the field to play. If teams sub out a player because of concussion, the opposing team gets an additional sub — addressing competitive balance concerns.

Pinch-pounder: Black Keys drummer fills in at Indians opener

CLEVELAND — Patrick Carney wasn’t nervous before his first live drumming gig in more than a year, just honored.

A lifelong Indians fan and one half of The Black Keys, the Grammy Award-winning rock duo from Akron, Ohio, Carney filled in Monday at Cleveland’s home opener for drummer John Adams, who is recovering from heart surgery.

Adams missed his first home opener since 1973, ending a run that has featured him sitting high in the left-field bleachers and pounding a steady beat whenever the Indians are hitting.

Carney was thrilled to be able to sit in for Adams.

“I’m stoked to be here for John,” Carney told the Associated Press about two hours before the Indians hosted the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field. “It’s the best seat in the house and I wish John could be here, obviously. When I heard he wasn’t healthy enough to make it, I thought it was good way to pay some respect to him and show him some love.”

Before he could begin banging away, Carney was bestowed drumming duties by Adams during a video presentation in the first inning.

Carney’s appearance didn’t spark the Indians, who managed just three hits and were shut out 3-0 by the Royals.

Carney said he attended his first Indians game in Cleveland when he was “5 or 6” and that one of his close friends who accompanied him to that game decades ago was attending the opener.

 Like so many musical acts, Black Keys haven’t on a stage since just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down normal life.

“This is my first show since last January,” Carney said. “Crazy. This is gonna be fun.”

Carney said he’s looking forward to concerts resuming and that Black Keys and he and Dan Auerbach could have an announcement next week on their upcoming plans.

Larentowicz retires after 16 years in Major League Soccer

ATLANTA — Jeff Larentowicz has retired after a 16-year career in Major League Soccer that included more than 400 appearances and championships in Colorado and Atlanta.

The 37-year-old Larentowicz closed out his career with Atlanta United, helping the team win the MLS Cup title in 2018, its second season in the league.

United announced in November that Larentowicz’s contract had expired and he wouldn’t be back.

Larentowicz officially retired Monday in a statement released on social media. He also played for New England, Chicago and LA Galaxy during his MLS career, finishing with 437 regular-season league appearances — including 397 starts — as both a midfielder and a defender.

Among non-goalkeepers, Kyle Beckerman was the only player with more appearances (461). Beckerman (461) and Chadd Marshall (404) were the only field players with more starts than Larentowicz, who logged 39,206 minutes of playing time in league and playoff games.

“To the fans of New England, Atlanta, Colorado, Los Angeles and Chicago, thanks for your heart,” Larentowicz wrote in the statement. “Sometimes there were many of you, sometimes there were few, but if there’s one thing we as sports fans have learned over the last 12 months (during the pandemic), it’s that you make the game worth watching and playing. Thank you.”

Larentowicz also thanked his family, support personnel and coaches, including former Atlanta manager Tata Martino for “gently stoking the flames in the dying embers of my time in the league — it was remarkable to watch you work.”

Martino coached United during its first two seasons before leaving to guide the Mexican national team.

After playing his college soccer at Brown, Larentowicz joined the New England Revolution in 2005. He was traded to Colorado in 2010, helping the team win the MLS Cup title in his first season with the Rapids.

Another trade sent him to Chicago in 2013, followed by a single year with Los Angeles before he moved on to Atlanta’s expansion team in 2017.

Larentowicz became a highly respected figure on the field and in the locker room as United made the playoffs in its first season, won the championship in Year 2 and set numerous MLS attendance records.

Abbott won’t throw pitch, rebuffing MLB voting-rights stance

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday that he won’t throw the ceremonial first pitch as planned at the Texas Rangers’ home opener — the latest jab in a fight that’s pushing corporate America into the political battle over voting rights.

The Republican governor informed the Rangers via a letter, citing Major League Baseball’s decision to move the MLB All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to Georgia’s sweeping new voting laws, which include new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are run.

Abbott’s decision came hours before the team was set to take the field against the Toronto Blue Jays in the Dallas suburb of Arlington. 

In the letter, Abbott said he will no longer participate in and that Texas won’t seek to host any future MLB events. 

“It is shameful that America’s pastime is not only being influenced by partisan political politics, but also perpetuating false political narratives,” Abbott said.

Major League Baseball and the Texas Rangers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Liberal activists are putting pressure on companies to denounce nationwide GOP efforts to tighten state voting laws. A joint statement from executives at nearly 200 companies, including HP, Microsoft, PayPal, Target, Twitter, Uber and Under Armour, took aim at state legislation “threatening to make voting more difficult” and said “elections are not improved” when lawmakers impose new barriers to voting.

Up to 40,000 fans will be allowed in at full capacity at Globe Life Field following Abbott’s scaling back of COVID-19 protocols.

Welch becomes 1st woman to ref in English men’s pro league

HARROGATE, England — Rebecca Welch became the first female referee to officiate an English men’s professional league game on Monday, and the managers of the teams involved were full of praise for her performance.

The 37-year-old Welch took charge of Port Vale’s 2-0 win over Harrogate in the fourth tier.

She is on FIFA’s international list and has twice been referee for the Women’s FA Cup final, in 2017 and 2020. She took up refereeing 11 years ago.

Harrogate manager Simon Weaver said he hopes Welch’s display signals the start of more women officiating in the English Football League, which covers the three leagues below the Premier League.

“Hopefully it’s just par for the course that we see female referees and officials in the EFL,” Weaver said. “It’s about time.”

Port Vale manager Darrell Clarke said Welch was “focused and didn’t get much wrong.”

“We need to see more women referees and lineswomen moving forward,” Clarke said. “They should be judged like anyone else and she’s had a good start.”

Death of ‘Miracle on Ice’ standout Pavelich ruled suicide

ANOKA, Minn. — Last month’s death of “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey standout Mark Pavelich was ruled a suicide, a Minnesota medical examiner said Monday.

The Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Anoka County said in a news release that the 63-year-old Pavelich died of asphyxia. His body was found March 3 at the Eagle’s Healing Nest in Sauk Centre, Minnesota.

Pavelich was undergoing treatment at the home as part of a civil commitment for assaulting his neighbor in Cook County, Minnesota, in August 2019. Pavelich thought the man had spiked his beer.

He was charged with felony assault but Judge Michael Cuzzo found he was incompetent to stand trial because he was mentally ill and dangerous. The judge said psychologists found that Pavelich was suffering from delusions and paranoia. Experts also diagnosed him with a mild neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury, likely related to repeated head injuries.

Pavelich, the speedy center from the Minnesota Iron Range, assisted on Mike Eruzione’s winning goal against the heavily favored Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics. That U.S. team went on to win the gold medal. Pavelich sold his gold medal for more than $250,000 in 2014, two years after wife Kara died in an accidental fall.

Pavelich starred at Eveleth High School and was an All-America selection at the University of Minnesota Duluth before earning a spot on the Olympic team.

The 5-foot-8, 170-pound forward spent five seasons with the New York Rangers and played briefly for the Minnesota North Stars and San Jose Sharks, finishing with 137 goals and 192 assists in 355 NHL regular-season games. He had a five-goal game for the Rangers on Feb. 23, 1983, in an 11-3 victory over Hartford.

“As a kid growing up in Hibbing I used to go to the arena and hang out with gear in hand waiting to see if I could skate with the teams that rented the ice,” former Minnesota and NHL player Pat Micheletti tweeted after Pavelich died. “Mark Pavelich always let me join with the Eveleth guys. He taught me so much about the game.”

Brewers vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers announced the team received the COVID-19 vaccine over the weekend but wouldn’t disclose what percentage of players and staffers participated.

Major League Baseball has announced it would relax protocols for teams that had 85% of their players and primary field staff vaccinated. Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns declined to say whether the Brewers had reached that 85% threshold.

Stearns did say the Brewers who participated received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The Brewers also put out a public service announcement Monday promoting COVID-19 vaccination. The release of the video coincided with the first day that Wisconsin made vaccination available to everyone 16 and older.

The video featured star outfielder and 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich as well as pitchers Freddy Peralta and Brent Suter. During a Monday Zoom session with reporters, Suter noted that he and his wife had tested positive a couple of months ago.

“My experience was more like a medium flu that lasted for 10 days,” Suter said. “I’ve been sicker in my life, but I’d never been that out of it for that long.”

Nationals, Braves to make up postponed game in doubleheader

WASHINGTON — The Nationals and Atlanta Braves will make up their game that was postponed Monday because of Washington’s coronavirus outbreak as part of a doubleheader on Wednesday.

Major League Baseball announced the change Monday while Washington’s players were working out at Nationals Park.

Four players on the Nationals have tested positive for COVID-19 and seven more have been placed under quarantine after contact tracing determined they potentially were exposed.

The 2019 World Series champions have yet to play a game this season. Their opening three-game series against the New York Mets was postponed entirely.

Washington will begin play Tuesday against Atlanta. The teams then will play two seven-inning games back-to-back on Wednesday, with the first starting at 12:05 p.m. EDT.

NHL’s Canucks have 17 players in COVID protocol

The Vancouver Canucks now have 17 players in the NHL COVID-19 protocol with the addition of rookie forward Nils Hoglander.

It marks the fifth straight day the Canucks’ list has grown. The 17 players in the protocol at the same time represents the most by one NHL team since the New Jersey Devils had 18 on Feb. 12.

There are 22 players listed for a third consecutive day, which remains the highest total since 24 players were listed on Feb. 16. The NHL’s one-day high is 59 players who were in the protocol on Feb. 12.

Boston Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak also entered the protocol.

The additions of Hoglander and Halak increases the total to 190 NHL players who have spent at least one day on the COVID-19 list since the season began Jan. 13.

Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin was cleared after spending one day in the protocol. Los Angeles forward Brendan Lemieux was also cleared after a seven-day stint, which came after the Kings acquired him in a trade with the New York Rangers.

Sounders greenlighted for fans

The Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer have been given the go-ahead to have fans back at Lumen Field for the first time in over a year.

The Sounders are expecting to host approximately 7,000 fans for the first five home games. The team’s MLS season opener against Minnesota United is a week from Friday (April 16).

The team says season ticket holders will get priority access to tickets.

Face masks that fit within CDC guidelines are required for all fans age two and older but can be removed while eating and drinking. All tickets will be sold in pods between one and six tickets that must be purchased together and must be used by members of the same household or permissible quarantining unit, as permitted by regional health authorities.

All tickets are electronic, No paper tickets will be permitted or printed.

Some Mets players hesitant to get vaccinated

Some New York Mets players have hesitated to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, causing the team to set up education efforts.

Major League Baseball and the players’ association said in a March 29 memorandum to players that COVID-19 protocols such as mask use and restrictions on movement and gathering would be relaxed once 85% of major league players and primary field staff on a team are vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Players on several teams started to get the vaccine last week during the final week of spring training, when they became eligible.

“There has been some hesitation on the part of some players, and that is why we’ve set up the education,” Mets president Sandy Alderson said Monday.

Alderson said the Mets want to get as many players vaccinated as possible.

“I think that’s in the best interest of the team,” he said. “It’s in the best interest of their families. It’s in the best interests of those who work with the players. So I hope that in addition to their own, personal medical considerations, that they take all of those things into consideration, as well. We’re hopeful they will.”

South Dakota State vs. South Dakota football game canceled

South Dakota State’s home football game against South Dakota on Saturday has been canceled because of COVID-19 protocols involving South Dakota’s Tier 1 personnel, which includes players, coaches and staff.

The Jackrabbits (4-1) are ranked No. 4 in the Football Bowl Subdivision and are in a four-way tie for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference.

South Dakota (1-3) has lost three straight games.

The game will not be rescheduled.

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