What’s going on with all the veteran surges around baseball?

This is an article about surprising hitters, oodles of them, all over the place, like that video where the guy pokes the pile of black fuzz and thousands of baby spiders emerge DON’T GOOGLE THAT. These aren’t your typical April and May surprises, the kind you can chalk up to sample size, the kind that will go away by July. These are bizarre stories that make me reevaluate just how much I know about baseball.

It’s hard to remember Jim Thome as a third baseman because we’re so used to his years as a first baseman. But he played third for six years, and he was generally OK. Just not as good as Matt Williams.

Imagine an 18-year-old Thome, hitting .237/.314/.296 while making 15 errors at shortstop for the Gulf Coast League Indians. He must have been so skinny, so spindly. There’s no way he could have been America’s Baseball Dad back then, even if he was clearly America’s Baseball Dad before he turned 30. He was moved to third base the next year.

There were a lot of contenders for this spot, and I was tempted to go with Tim Raines. Heck, I wonder if Chet Lemon becomes a Hall of Fame candidate if he sticks at short, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Mike Schmidt could have handed the position, too. But I think we’ll all agree that Thome is the funniest choice.

The ’60s saw the mound get lowered because pitchers were too dominant, and the ’70s saw the rise of fake grass, roofs, and concrete. The ’80s were filled with stolen bases, and the ’90s were filled with hideous logos.

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Joe Maddon is wrong about home-plate collisions

Joe Maddon is supposed to be baseball’s cool dad, the one who shows up at the frat house barbecue and tosses beers around. He’s just like one of the guys, ha ha, there goes ol’ Joe. He’s going to shift his players over here! He’s going to shift them over there! He’s going to make his players wear onesies! Wacky ol’ Joe even showed up to his introductory press conference looking like the CEO of a company that sells organic chickpea snacks.

And, to be fair, it is nice to have a little variety in the managerial ranks. While it’s not unusual to have a cerebral manager really, it might be the default Maddon most definitely does stand out. It’s easy to dive into the backlash to the fawning praise, maybe even somewhat nourishing, but the sport is just a little more colorful with him in it.

There’s a dark underbelly to this image, however. While Maddon would love to rank IPAs with you at a Foo Fighters concert, he can also be a classic, old-timey, baseball dingus who believes in The Way Things Used To Be. If you’re not caught up on recent events, here’s a primer:

As a single tear rolls down my cheek, I proclaim this to be the most beautiful vision I have ever seen. Imagine the 1995 Indians, scoring 1,000 runs and allowing 1,000 unearned runs in the same season, with Thome at short and Manny at third. We deserve this alternate reality.

Alas, while he was drafted as a third baseman out of a New York high school, he never played an inning of infield in the minor leagues. We’ll just have to close our eyes and imagine what it would have been like.

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College World Series 2017: Schedule, game times & TV info for Saturday

The 2017 College World Series starts on Saturday, with a pair of games from TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.

Both games will be televised by ESPN, with online streaming available through WatchESPN.

No. 1 Oregon State starts things off on Saturday, battling Cal State Fullerton in the first game. The Beavers send to the mound Jake Thompson, who brings a 14-0 record and 1.52 ERA into the game. He was drafted in the fourth round on Tuesday by the Boston Red Sox.

Then, the worst possible outcome on a routine infield popup happened.

By rights, Davidson shortstop Max Bazin should probably have caught this ball. Third baseman Eric Jones has no business charging in like this, and second baseman Alex Acosta has second claiming rights to it. Pitcher Barry should just get out of the way.

But none of that happened. Jones and Acosta collide hard, with Acosta taking Jones’ left elbow directly in the face. It’s impossible to know whether Acosta thought he had actually caught the thing before dropping it, or whether he was so stunned that he just went and dropped the ball. Either way, this is the low point of what was already an atrocious eighth inning of defense for the Wildcats.

The play ended with two more Aggies crossing, and they took a 9-6 lead into the bottom of the eighth. A&M leads the best of three series, 1-0, so this is a win or go home scenario for Davidson.

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The Blue Jays have played themselves back into the race

Toronto is playing well, of course. The Rays are surprisingly a legitimately good team. The Orioles always stick around. The Red Sox have arguably the most talent of the group. Finally, the Yankees have been hot all season, and Aaron Judge doesn’t look like he’ll slow down. The AL East is going to be fun to watch this summer, and the Blue Jays are making sure they’ll be a part of it.

MLB has juiced baseballs before. The steroid era sure seems like it was the era of steroids, but it’s still probably improperly named, since there were plenty of other aspects at play that caused offense to rise: smaller ballparks, multiple expansions in the decade that (temporarily) diluted the talent pool in MLB, and juiced baseballs as proven by studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and written about by Jay Jaffe.

Now, we might be back to an era where the ball is livelier, and it’s because of a change in the design. That’s what Ben Lindbergh and a guy who blocked me on Twitter after I told him to log off are saying, anyway. A change to the seams has reduced air resistance on baseballs, and between that and the sudden desire of so many players to hit fly balls, we’ve got ourselves a whole bunch of dingers we didn’t have even just a few years ago.

There are some issues here, though. The pair even admit that this is a central question we can’t quite figure out, and also that some of this could just be inconsistency in the batches of balls themselves the fact they haven’t been able to test any balls from this year limits the scope, too. And if there was a change, was it intentional, or just one of those things that happens when the manufacturing process changes?

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It’s not like there’s a player on an 80-homer pace.

The rest of them? Jose Altuve is incredible. Carlos Correa is incredible. George Springer is incredible. Brian McCann and Evan Gattis complement each other extraordinarily well. Josh Reddick is just OK, but that’s been his thing for a while.

It’s not like there’s a player on an 80-homer pace. It’s not like Altuve is hitting .440, which would be absurd, even for him. These are quality players providing quality production.

And with all that written, it’s time to get to the part where the Astros can get better. Not in a .800 winning percentage sense, but in terms of building a quality team with less of the postseason left to chance.

The trade deadline. All of those problems will either be fixed or the Astros will be open to fixing them. Have problems with the back of the rotation, still? Here’s Jose Quintana. Or Johnny Cueto. Or Quintana and Cueto. Is Beltran still disappointing? Here’s Yonder Alonso, who is like the Marwin Gonzalez of first base. There are so many different ways the Astros can go.

Previously, Chicago was behind the Mets on our scale, and ahead of the group of 23 other non-villainous teams that the Padres, Pirates, and Brewers were meant to represent on this wheel. The whole explanation for all that can be found here.

All the above isn’t quite enough to move them past the Mets, given the Mets are still owned by the Wilpons and they’re still causing us to all write about Tim Tebow. (Would you people please lose interest in him? Man.) On the other hand, the Mets are basically the most pathetic team in baseball right now. Everyone is hurt and the manager was, at one point, barred from discussing any injuries, and instead had to say things like a start was being skipped because of the weather.

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Joe Maddon & Cubs acted quickly to get rid of Miguel Montero before things got worse

Miguel Montero walked into the Chicago Cubs clubhouse Monday, saw his wide locker alongside veterans John Lackey and Jon Lester, and yelled to a clubhouse attendant that it took him 12 years to earn that spot. Two days later, it took him five minutes to lose it.

Montero, who was designated for assignment Wednesday, is what Cubs manager Joe Maddon calls a Stage 5 player. Stage 5 guys, Maddon says, are usually the best types of players to have on your team because all they want to do is win. Behind them are Stage 4 players, consumed with making as much money as possible, and Stage 3 guys, focused on staying in the league for as long as they can.

On the other other hand, maaaaaaybe the Cubs shouldn’t panic just yet. Maybe they’re still one of the very best teams in baseball, if not the best team. Sure, they were just swept by the Padres, and there’s no silver lining to that boring cloud. Yes, they’re under .500, and, yes, they’ve been outscored on the season, nearly a year after a thousand drooling features about their ludicrous run differential. But they’re also 2? games back, with 110 games to go.

This isn’t to suggest that SI is being hypocritical, or that Verducci is out of touch. Home runs are up, up, up. Strikeouts are up, up, up. The sport is turning into whiffwhiffwhiffwhiffwalkdingerwhiff, and it’s different than what we’re used to.

For all its stodginess, though, baseball has changed plenty over its history. Home Run Baker got his nickname because he lead the league in homers for four straight seasons, but his career high was 12 homers. When he retired, he was teammates with Babe Ruth, who sloughed off dinger spores and reshaped the league in his own image.

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Baseball defense still lives.

Earlier in the afternoon, Cal State Fullerton and Oregon State met for a battle that ended 6-5 in the Beavers’ favor, thanks in large part to Oregon State’s defense pulling through on a pair of spectacular defensive plays that prevented certain Titans base-running shenanigans. Baseball defense still lives.

Anyway, the evening tilt between No. 4 overall national seed LSU and Florida State promised the most compelling action of the CWS’ opening weekend, as the Tigers and Seminoles matched well at the plate and their pitching staffs are deep enough to throw themselves into panzer strikes for innings on end. This thing could have been a marathon.

In the top of the first, FSU’s Dylan Busby got things started with a two-run slam into left center where Fullerton’s Timmy Richards had previously bashed a three-run homer of his own in the afternoon game. That stretch of the outfield wall runs notoriously deep, especially so since the wind traditionally blows in from direct center at TD Ameritrade. No bother, though, when you’ve got bats as big as FSU’s. That could have demoralized the Tigers into submission.

Maddon’s main concern Wednesday was that his young players would internalize exactly what they heard come out of Montero’s mouth the night before, when the catcher publicly criticized starter Jake Arrieta for his slow delivery leading to Washington’s seven stolen bases. The decision to cut Montero Wednesday afternoon wasn’t aimed at preventing friction between the catcher teammates like Arrieta or Anthony Rizzo; it was meant to send a clear message to the young core of Cubs who witnessed the fallout.

The Cubs in their current state have plenty of key Stage 2 players, from Willson Contreras to Albert Almora and Javier Baez to Addison Russell. Rookies Ian Happ, Jeimer Candelario, Mike Zagunis and Montero’s replacement, Victor Caratini, will be there soon.

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These 4 heroic Florida fans are committed to seeing the Gators advance to the College World Series

The college baseball tournament is annually plagued by foul weather, and 2017 has been no different. The skies have been particularly troublesome in Florida for the super regional weekend, with Gainesville undergoing a four-hour delay on Saturday and both Tallahassee and Gainesville currently under dangerous weather delays. Tallahassee, for its part, has been delayed nearly seven hours.

This inconveniences everyone involved in these games, most pertinently players and coaches, who have to tame the emotions of in-game preparedness to the tedium of sitting around and waiting for the weather to clear.

A Trekkie (or is it Trekker?) made the initial attack by pulling off some moves that you’d normally do at a wedding, while the Star Wars side had a breakdancing Jedi, making this totally unfair from the start.

By the end of this, the crowd decided Star Wars was the better franchise. But I call shenanigans. If we’re going to do this for real as in, not set up to be lopsided where one side has an actual breakdancer we need a dance-off among Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Felicity Jones, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, LeVar Burton, Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew, and Zoe Saldana. The winner will be decided by an anthropomorphic Rotten Tomatoes meter.

The Cubs and Diamondbacks each had a worthy starter at short in roughly half of their previous 20 seasons. Fair enough. But neither of them stumbled into even one All-Star-caliber season, according to WAR.

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Bruins’ Tuukka Rask pulled from loss to Penguins with migraine

As the season shifts from bad to worse for the slumping Bruins, goalie Tuukka Rask played only half of Sunday’s blowout loss to the Penguins because of a migraine.

Rask was pulled midway through the second period because he was not feeling well, the Bruins announced. He did not return.

Rask revealed to reporters after the 5-1 loss he was suffering from migraine symptoms, something he’s dealt with in-game previously.

Two Washington goals in the first 11:32 of the first period set the stage for the avalanche that was to follow.

Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, winner of 14 straight starts, was pulled after allowing five goals on 19 shots.

Columbus, which entered averaging an NHL-best 2.03 goals against, hadn’t given up more than three goals in a game since Nov. 12. Only twice has a team scored more than four against the Blue Jackets this season.

The power-play unit, which also led the league at 28.3 percent during the streak, failed to score on five chances against the Caps.

While it won’t make the NHL history book, the streak was fun while it lasted.

Columbus rode it to the league’s best record, 27-6-4 and 58 points, as the season nears its halfway point.

It’s the first time the Blue Jackets failed to earn a point in 18 games.

Brian Elliott, G ( Signed with Flyers ) — Elliott was having a brutal first season in Calgary but became one of the NHL’s hottest goalies down the stretch, salvaging his contract year. A poor playoff showing cost him some dollars (2 years, $5.5 million), so Philly gets a bargain to platoon with Michal Neuvirth while hoping Elliott, 32, might recapture the consistency that made him a stalwart with the Blues.

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Meeting Alex Ovechkin dream come true for UAE women’s prodigy

Meet Fatima Al Ali.

She’s from the United Arab Emirates and is a hockey prodigy at age 26. Her favorite team is the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin is her idol.

On Tuesday night, the phenom met the Russian superstar as part of Hockey Is For Everyone month in the NHL.

Her reaction to meeting Ovechkin is the kind of thing that makes you a sports fan:

The Washington Post reports former Caps great Peter Bondra met Al Ali during on a November trip to Abu Dhabi, where she plays for the national women’s team.

Crosby joined very rare company when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the Penguins captain as the 2017 playoff’s most valuable player. Following the Penguins winning their second consecutive Stanley Cup, Crosby was again awarded the Conn Smythe, making him one of three players ever (Mario Lemieux, Bernie Parent) to win the award in consecutive years.

Canada’s recent dominance atop the hockey world has coincided with Crosby’s reign as the game’s best player. Most recently, he captained Canada to gold at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, the rebooted best-on-best tournament that featured perhaps the most talented pool of players in an international tournament in hockey history.

Crosby scored three goals and added seven assists in six tournament games, including two assists in Canada’s gold medal victory against Team Europe.

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