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Blue Jays play Thursday games but MLB suspends operations


DUNEDIN, Fla. — Major League Baseball took its time on Thursday, but eventually followed the lead of other sporting leagues by shutting down for the time being.

Though the Toronto Blue Jays played split-squad games in Bradenton against Pittsburgh and at home in Dunedin against the Canadian junior national team on Thursday afternoon, you won’t see the Jays in action again any time soon.

“Following a call with the 30 Clubs, and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. today announced that MLB has decided to suspend Spring Training games and to delay the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic,” MLB announced on Thursday afternoon.

“This action is being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans.MLB will continue to evaluate ongoing events leading up to the start of the season. Guidance related to daily operations and workouts will be relayed to Clubs in the coming days. As of 4:00 p.m. (ET) today, forthcoming Spring Training games have been cancelled, and 2020 World Baseball Classic Qualifier games in Tucson, Arizona have been postponed indefinitely.”

The NHL had suspended its season earlier Thursday, joining Major League Soccer, the NBA (the first to suspend a season, on Wednesday night after Utah Jazz all-star Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus) and pretty much every other sporting league or tour.

“It’s a unique situation,” Blue Jays pitcher Jordan Romano said after he started and pitched an inning on Thursday. “I never thought we’d be in this situation. First and foremost it’s just keeping people safe. It wouldn’t affect guys like me that much, if I get it it’s not that big of a deal, but just thinking my grandparents were down here a week ago and they’re still in Florida so it’s just thinking of the older population and stuff like that.

“It’s definitely the right thing to do. Going forward, I really don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know how long we’re going to be delayed for, it’s just an unfortunate situation all around.”

Earlier in the day, Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo addressed a number of questions about coronavirus precautions and potential measures looming down the line before they were handed down.

“As a sports person, just like you guys (the media) I feel bad and sad that this happened but like, we’re following MLB guidelines and things keep changing from day to day so but again, as a fan, of course, I’m saddened by what’s going on but again, we’ll follow MLB, whatever they say,” Montoyo said before anything became official.

The second-year Jays manager said that even when the NBA was the only league to act, his players were talking a lot about what was coming.

“Some of the guys are talking just like we all are, like as sports fans … I think it’s a distraction for everybody, sports fans and everybody who loves sports. So we all feel the same way,” he said.

Former Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, now with the Detroit Pistons, had similar thoughts.

“It’s something that’s unprecedented,” Casey told The Athletic. “It’s always been where you could lean on sports to ease your nerves or ease the situation. But now, we’re just like everyone else.”

Montoyo said earlier Thursday that it was up to individual players whether they wanted to interact and sign autographs with fans or simply hand them pre-signed cards. Several Jays were still signing autographs during the game. But that all became moot hours later.

Before all that though, the players had expressed no concerns about heading to Bradenton to play or competing in Dunedin.

“No, I haven’t heard that. No, today, the bus left. Everyone’s ready to play. I haven’t heard that one,” Montoyo said.

Montoyo had stuck around instead of going to Bradenton with most of his more established players because “I really want to see our prospects.”

MLB said various contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule have been prepared and will be announced at “an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.”





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The best family board games for Christmas 2019



Peter Jenkinson is the UK’s leading board games journalist. His job takes him all over the world, attending toy fairs and board game expos. His expertise and ability to absorb rule books means that board game publishers often seek his input for their next potential best-seller.

No longer something you drag out of a dusty cupboard to banish Boxing Day boredom, board games are enjoying a mainstream renaissance. This year, we are truly spoilt for choice thanks to continued growth among smaller independent publishers and major innovation from more established board game makers.

Having attended a number of worldwide events devoted to board games over the past 12 months, it’s evident that an entirely new category has arrived on the scene too – shelf-worthy. These board games are so beautifully crafted, you’ll want to keep them on display even when they’re not being played. 

So here’s our new favourite games of 2019 – not too taxing on the grey matter but challenging enough to ensure they deliver on fun. Whether you’re looking for something high-tech, fast-paced or family-friendly, you’ll find it here. 

1. Bank Attack

 £20, Argos





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Barrie scores again, Leafs hang on for second win in as many games under Keefe


DENVER — Tyson Barrie might have a new answer the next time he is asked about his favourite memory at the Pepsi Center.

The Maple Leafs defenceman, in his return to the only home rink he had ever known in the National Hockey League, put aside his emotions and scored a power-play goal, helping the Leafs beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-3 on Saturday night.

The victory gave Sheldon Keefe his second win in as many games behind the Leafs bench since taking over from the fired Mike Babcock.

The Leafs, who don’t play again until Wednesday in Detroit, lost their final six games under Babcock.

Toronto managed to withstand a flurry of Avalanche chances in the final minutes before Zach Hyman scored into an empty net.

“While (the win) was ugly, what it did require was us to really battle and especially down the stretch,” Keefe said. “I’ve only been here a few days, but these guys have been on the road a long time, grinding, they’ve been through a lot. I like how we persevered, and found a way, how Freddy (Andersen) battled real hard in net. It was a good win.”

Andersen finished with 34 saves, including 15 in the third period.

With Babcock coaching, Barrie had little confidence and couldn’t get on track. When the change came, Barrie described it as “a new lease.”

We bet that Barrie, who was treated to a lengthy video tribute and a standing ovation, couldn’t have predicted such a quick change in his fortunes.

One of the moves made by Keefe was to put Barrie on the Leafs’ No. 1 power-play unit. Toronto had no power plays in Arizona on Thursday, but Barrie did score his first goal of the season.

Toronto got a power play 13 minutes into the game on Saturday. Barrie, who also had an assist, needed 22 seconds to score, the goal coming when he was fed by William Nylander and fired a shot past Philipp Grubauer.

“Felt really good to get that one here,” Barrie said of his goal. “Not that there is any ill will with (the Avs), but coming home in front of all the familiar faces, it’s nice to get one.

“(The standing ovation was) amazing. I was not sure how I was going to feel coming back but that really topped it off.”

For Keefe, it’s not just about having Barrie get some renewed belief in himself.

“Confidence is one thing, and being put in position to succeed is another,” Keefe said. “He has a unique skill set, he needs to be very involved and very active in the offence. When he is not, he is holding back, even if he were confident, it’s not going to help him. We need him to be engaged, be on his toes.”

GAME ON

With the Leafs up 4-2 and on a power play in the third period, Keefe called a timeout with 57 seconds remaining in a Nazem Kadri minor. “We have elite talent, so the more we can utilize them when their energy level is good, we’re going to do it,” Keefe said. “That was sort of the method to the madness of calling the timeout. It was a key point in the game and if we could find a way to score it would be really good for us.” That did not happen, but it was a nice bit of coaching on Keefe’s part and something we can’t recall Babcock doing … Valeri Nichushkin brought the Avs to within one goal when he scored at 6:54 of the third … Leafs captain John Tavares played 22 minutes 31 seconds, his most in a Toronto uniform … The Leafs’ four goals in the first period represented the first time this season they have had four in the opening 20 minutes. It was the third time the Leafs had four in a period … Former Av Alex Kerfoot also got a video tribute … Andersen was beaten 31 seconds into the game on a shot from the point by Nathan MacKinnon. The shot wasn’t hard and Andersen wasn’t screened. Andersen said he over-pushed and thought the shot was going to be harder … Denver native Nick Shore scored the Leafs’ first goal, tapping in a pass from Pierre Engvall. Engvall spun and fed Shore with a no-look feed … It was 2-1 Leafs 67 seconds later when Auston Matthews made a subtle move and then used a quick release to fool Grubauer … After Barrie’s goal, the Leafs got their fourth when Jason Spezza sent Kasperi Kapanen in on a breakaway. Kapanen went bar-down on Grubauer’s glove side … Pavel Francouz took over in the Avs net to start the second period and faced just 12 shots in the final 40 minutes … A power-play goal by Andre Burakovsky at 10:21 of the second cut the Leafs lead to 4-2 … Ex-Leaf Kadri had two assists … One area Keefe wants to improve is defensive-zone coverage, and as with all of the changes Keefe wants to implement, time is required. “We need to protect the middle of the ice a lot better and we’re trying to be a little more patient with our wingers in maintaining positioning in the inside of the ice, not getting them outside the dots too much,” Keefe said. “In the short term it might create a little more time in our end than we would like (as players get accustomed), but we are trying to prioritize the middle and make sure we settle things down there.”

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