Major League Baseball season is a Go

By Harry Lichtman/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Photo by Michael Smith/The Sports Pulse

WASHINGTON – On June 23, Major League Baseball (MLB) players agreed to report to training camp on July 1, resulting in the MLB season taking place in 2020.

For weeks, it seemed like a baseball season was not going to happen based on owners and players arguing over the number of games played and the amount of pay received in return.

On Monday, June 22, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) rejected MLB’s offer of a 60-game season, which resulted in league commissioner Rob Manfred taking matters into his own hands and implementing a season himself.

However, MLB officially announced a 60-game regular season that will begin on either July 23 or July 24, with a specialized “spring” training session starting on July 1st.

The shortened season will also include new rules for 2020: 

  • Active rosters will have 30 players for the first two weeks, 28 for the next two weeks, and 26 in week five.
  • A separate injury list for the coronavirus.
  • Teams will play 10 games vs. divisional opponents; four vs. opposite league divisional opponents.
  • Universal designated hitter (DH) for both NL and AL.
  • The trade deadline will be August 31.
  • The runner starts at second base in extra innings

Due to COVID-19 still sweeping the nation, players must follow a lot of safety measures, as they are not allowed to make deliberate contact with any other player aside from making tags. That means don’t expect anything like high-fives or fights between players.

In terms of COVID-19 testing, it will be implemented in three phases: prescreening, intake, and regular monitoring, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich.

For prescreening, players and staffers will be tested three or four days before arriving at camp. For intake, they will then undergo a temperature check, a saliva or nose-swab test, and a blood test for antibodies two days before reporting to camp.

Finally, for regular monitoring, players will have their temperature and symptoms checked twice per day.

As for the minors, the MiLB season has been on hold since April, as they are awaiting word from the MLB if the season will be played at all.

But for now, an apparent free agent league is in place, so that MLB players could quickly sign a fill-in player if necessary.

According to The Athletic’s Jayson Stark, MLB has talked with Nashville about having two teams of unsigned players there. Nashville is the home of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.

The players would serve as an emergency pool and would make $400 per week, as MLB teams would have to pay a fee to Nashville to sign one of those free agents.

According to Ken Rosenthal, Nashville might not be the only location for this free agent league, as Rosenthal stated that “MLB expects other minor league teams to do something similar to Nashville and allow major league teams to sign players for a fee, operating the same way independent leagues do.”

MLB is not the only North American pro sports league planning to return, the NBA and NHL are expected to begin their playoffs in late July/early August, MLS announced a tournament which will kick off in Orlando on July 8, the WNBA plans to tip off their season in late July, and the NFL is expected to start on time in the fall.

Nationals and Orioles draft for the future, CRCBL represented well

By Harry Lichtman/The Sports Pulse Contributing Writer

Photo by Michael Smith/The Sports Pulse

ROCKVILLE – While the 2020 MLB season has yet to be played due to the owners and players failing to find a solution on schedule length and amount of pay received, the annual MLB Draft took place on June 10 and 11.

The MLB Draft is usually 40 rounds, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s draft was shortened to five rounds, with 160 total players drafted.

While the Detroit Tigers had the first overall pick and selected Arizona State infielder Spencer Torkelson, we will mainly focus on the Washington Nationals, the Baltimore Orioles, and Cal Ripken League alums taken in the draft.

The Nationals are coming off an improbable World Series championship run after starting the season with a 19-31 record. They entered the draft with the 22nd overall pick in the first round.

With that pick, Washington selected Cade Cavalli, a right-handed pitcher from the University of Oklahoma. This became the fifth consecutive season where the Nats selected a pitcher in the first round, after Dane Dunning (2019), Mason Denaburg (2018), Seth Romero (2017), and Dane Dunning (2016).

According to MASN Nationals insider Mark Zuckerman, Cavalli is a big right-hander at 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds, can reach the upper 90s, and has some injury history.

In the second round, Washington chose another right-handed pitcher, Cole Henry, from LSU. As a draft-eligible sophomore, Henry expects to sign with the Nationals rather than return to Baton Rouge.

The 71st overall pick was a compensation pick for losing Anthony Rendon to the Los Angeles Angels, as Washington drafted shortstop Sammy Infante, a Florida high school player who committed to Miami (FL).

The Nationals’ next few picks were UCLA right-hander Holden Powell in the third round, Oklahoma catcher Brady Lindsly in the fourth round, and San Jacinto Junior College left-hander Mitchell Parker in the fifth and final round.

The Orioles have been very underwhelming unit the past few seasons, especially after losing over 100 games in 2018 and 2019.

That being said, it also means Baltimore has made very early first-round selections recently, as the team took Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the first overall pick in the 2019 draft.

This year, the Orioles had the second pick and drafted Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad.

As a true freshman for the Razorbacks, Kjerstad batted .332 with 30 extra-base hits, 14 home runs, and 58 RBIs, and helped lead his school to the 2018 College World Series final.

At the end of Day One, Baltimore had the 30th pick and took Jordan Westburg, a shortstop from Mississippi State.

On Day Two, the O’s selected Tulane outfielder Hudson Haskin, Ole Miss shortstop Anthony Servideo, Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS (FL) third baseman Coby Mayo, and Dowling Catholic HS (IA) right-hander Carter Baumler.

Finally, six Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League (CRCBL) players from the last few years were selected for the 2020 MLB Draft.

Orioles draft picks Westburg and Servideo both have Cal Ripken League experience, as Westburg played for the Gaithersburg Giants in 2017, while Servideo spent his time with the Baltimore Redbirds in 2018.

Two other Giants alums taken in the draft were LSU outfielder Daniel Cabrera and Louisiana shortstop Hayden Cantrelle. Cabrera was selected by the Detroit Tigers in Round B, while the Milwaukee Brewers took Cantrelle in the fifth round.

Two Bethesda Big Train alums were also drafted: East Carolina outfielder and 2018 CRL MVP Alec Burleson Virginia Tech catcher Carson Taylor. SMC California standout Gio Diaz was recently signed to the Nationals.

Burleson was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals with their compensation pick (No. 70 overall), and Taylor was taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fourth round.

MoCo and PG County athletes win MPSSAA scholarship awards

By Harry Lichtman and Demetrius Dillard/The Sports Pulse

GREENBELT — The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) has announced the winners of the 2020 Minds in Motion Scholar-Athlete scholarships, with a male and female recipient being selected from each of MPSSAA’s nine districts.

Back in March, the MPSSAA state semifinals had to be postponed and eventually canceled, along with the spring sports season, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic student-athletes were awarded nonetheless.

Two Montgomery County Class of 2020 winning athletes were Reece Petrolle of Damascus High School and Joanne Liu of Thomas S. Wootton High School.

Petrolle was a member of the boys’ lacrosse team at Damascus, as his senior season was unfortunately taken away from him due to the pandemic.

“It’s such a great honor for Reece to win the award,” said Swarmin’ Hornets Athletic Director Cliff Elgin. “He is a true student-leader and a great voice for our student body and supporter of all our athletic teams.”

While Petrolle mainly played boys lacrosse for Damascus, he was also on the football team until injuries prevented him from playing football any further.

Liu is also a multi-skilled athlete, competing as a swimmer and running track and field for Wootton, as she became the school’s first recipient of the award.

“We are all very excited,” said Patriots athletic director Alton Lightsey. “I was also able to teach her last year in Advanced Placement Language and Composition, where she impressed me with her analytical thinking and writing.”

Parkdale, Eleanor Roosevelt student-athletes honored with ‘Minds In Motion’ scholarships

David Onwonga of Parkdale High School and Jourdan Page of Eleanor Roosevelt High School have demonstrated outstanding initiative in the classroom and in their respective sports, prompting the MPSSAA to award them the ‘Minds in Motion’ student-athlete scholarships.

Of the 650 applicants throughout the state, only 18 were recognized, which speaks volumes as to how distinguished the honorees were. 

Each winner was awarded $1,000 apiece. According to the MPSSAA, applicants had to be seniors with a minimum 3.25 weighted GPA and “have participated in interscholastic athletic activities sponsored by MPSSAA.”

The Allstate Foundation has sponsored this thirteenth annual program since its inception in 2008. A total of $152,000 in scholarship funds has contributed towards empowering and supporting the education of tomorrow’s future leaders. 

Onwonga was beyond qualified for the Minds in Motion scholarship with a 4.1 weighted GPA and having excelled in outdoor and indoor track & field, basketball, and cross country between his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

Parkdale Athletic Director Brian Moore said he encouraged Onwonga to apply for the scholarship in early spring. Onwonga took a stab at it, and a few months later, MPSSAA sent an email notifying him that he was a scholarship winner.

“I knew he was certainly qualified for it,” Moore said.

“This goes to show, once again, whatever stereotype you have about Parkdale or Prince George’s County athletics, he (Onwonga) comes to dispel any of those myths…What he’s done with this particular award is put Parkdale High School on the map and in the conversation with other schools around the state that we produce stellar student-athletes.”

Of the 18 award winners, Onwonga may have one of the unique stories. He went from battling asthma to becoming one of the best long-distance runners in PG County. 

He endured a good deal of injuries and setbacks, but let none of the adversity hinder his success as a student-athlete.

As a sophomore, Onwonga tried out for the basketball team and was cut initially due to lack of stamina, he said, which of course, was a result of having asthma. However, the coach allowed him to participate on the team anyway and gave him a piece of sound advice at the end of the season that would change his high school athletic career.

“When the (basketball) season ended, he directed me toward track conditioning to get my endurance levels up,” Onwonga said.

“I trained for like two months… and I ended up winning county’s at the novice level.”

His sophomore season, Onwonga competed in the 800-meter run for Parkdale’s track & field program and won the county championships at the novice level. 

David Onwonga pictured above. Courtesy Photo.

As a junior, Onwonga ran cross country but unfortunately suffered a hip flexor tendonitis injury halfway the indoor track season, sidelining him for about four months, which means he missed the county championships, regionals, states and majority of the outdoor track season.

After recovering from the injury, Onwonga returned for the final three weeks of the outdoor season and set a personal record in the 800 with a time of 2:07.

“What drives me is not winning, but seeing my time improve,” Onwonga said. “When I see that I improve from a certain time, it makes me want to work harder.”

The summer before his senior year, Onwonga got hurt again: this time, a hamstring injury took a month to heal. Nonetheless, he was able to bounce back in the fall and place third in the county championship and at regionals. 

Onwonga went on to win the county title in the 800-meter run (time of 2:02) as a senior. 

Then arose another obstacle that unfortunately sidelined Onwonga for the regional and state meets: a plantar fasciitis injury.

Jourdan Page, an outside hitter for Roosevelt’s volleyball team, was a starter for three seasons after being bumped up from junior varsity as a freshman. Throughout her career with the Raiders, she has led her team to a regional championship, a county championship, and a 4A state semifinal appearance.

“It’s awesome to see someone recognize her for not only her athletic accomplishments but also the other parts of her Roosevelt achievements,” said Head Coach Scott Fifield.

As a junior and a senior, Page led Roosevelt in kills (170 this past season) and was second in digs.

Page, also a captain on the team, also recorded 52 aces, 34 blocks and 44 digs as part of a stellar senior campaign. Additionally, Page boasts a 3.8 weighted GPA. She applied for the scholarship in April, she said.

“I was honestly just looking for scholarships that I would qualify for, so I just saw this one, and I was like ‘Why not?’ It’s better that I apply for it and just see what happens than not go for it at all,” Page said.

“I was just very honored to receive (the award). Not just for the money, but the recognition is nice because it shows how much – being an athlete – you have to work on the court as well as off the court to be balanced.”

Page will head several miles north to compete for one of the better volleyball programs in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) at Morgan State University.

Page added to her athletic and academic accolades as a board member with the Student Government Association, the Black Student Union, and a volunteer with the Emerging Youth Leaders program and All America’s Youth Growth & Development program. 

According to Page, the fact that two PG County athletes were selected for the scholarship disproves any negative stigma attached to local athletics and academics. 

“I feel like people tend to look down on PG County sometimes, so it shows, you know, we have talent that needs recognition too,” she said.

Tommy Akingbesote commits to play football at UMD

By Harry Lichtman/The Sports Pulse Contributor

SPRINGDALE – Charles Herbert Flowers high school football star Tommy Akingbesote announced his verbal commitment to play at the University of Maryland on Wednesday night.

Akingbesote is a four-star defensive tackle at Flowers, who is part of the Class of 2021 and will play his senior season in 2020 before heading off to College Park.

“I feel great,” said Akingbesote. “I’m happy to be a Terp.”

The rising senior made his announcement on Twitter, via a 44-second video showing various logos of colleges that showed interest in him, and a poster with his Maryland commitment at the end, with Meek Mill’s song “Dreams and Nightmares” playing in the background.

Akingbesote is just another one of the DMV’s elite high school players committing to a local school, such as Our Lady of Good Counsel and UMD alum Stefon Diggs.

On 247Sports.com, the four-star defensive tackle has a 93 rating, while on Rivals.com, he has a 5.5 rating.

“The DMV raises young stars,” said Akingbesote. “I believe you should want to put on a show for your hometown.”

According to a scouting report, Barton Simmons, 247Sports Director of Scouting, described Akingbesote as a “long-armed, athletic-framed interior defender with big hands and the type of body that will need to add weight but has significant capacity to do it.”

Besides Maryland, East Carolina, Oklahoma, Penn State, and Virginia Tech thought he would be a good fit for their respective programs.

“The DMV raises young stars,” said Akingbesote. “I believe you should want to go on a show for your hometown.”

One person pleased about Akingbesote’s decision is Jaguars head coach Dameon Powell, who coached him during the 2019 season.

“I was excited for him,” said Powell. “He always wanted to stay home and be with his family and friends here, so it’s not surprising at all.”
The defensive tackle spent his freshman year at DeMatha Catholic High School before transferring to Flowers in Springdale.

However, Akingbesote was a late bloomer as basketball was his primary sport; he only started playing football in junior high school.

“When I first met him, he was on the basketball court,” said Powell. “He played football before, but he was also playing basketball. He showed us a lot. His athletic abilities, his weight, the way he can move from sideline to sideline, and the way he can move up the field.”

Akingbesote also loved playing for Powell, as he shows significant positivity around him.

“It feels great,” said Akingbesote, “because he makes sure you’re good on the field, off the field, and in the future. Also, playing for him just excites me because his drive to win is 100,000, so he always has positive energy.”
Heading into his senior season, Akingbesote’s goals are to “dominate his opponent” and to win States.

“It’s a big year,” said Akingbesote, “because I’m not just representing my high school, I’m just representing Maryland as well, so now I have to prove a point.”

“He’s got a lot to learn,” said Powell. “Once he starts to understand everything, he’s going to be a star.”

One of Akingbestote’s football idols is Chase Young, who also went to DeMatha and will begin his NFL career with the Washington Redskins in fall 2020.

Cal Ripken League cancels 2020 season

By Harry Lichtman/The Sports Pulse Contributor

BETHESDA – The Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League (CRCBL) recently announced the cancellation of its 2020 season, adding another to the list of sports cancellations and/or postponements in the country/world.

The announcement came a month after the summer baseball league originally announced a plan to start the season on July 1st.

“It was getting down to the safety of our players from all over the country,” said CRCBL commissioner Jason Woodward. “Small businesses have always made donations to our league, but the risk just didn’t outweigh the reward due to the canceled season.”

The Cal Ripken League is comprised of six collegiate baseball teams in the DMV area: Alexandria Aces, Bethesda Big Train, Gaithersburg Giants, D.C. Grays, FCA Braves, and Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts.

Woodward was completely aware of the government regulations regarding Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

“We just don’t have the technology to test everybody,” said Woodward. “We wanted to play, but we just couldn’t.”

The Big Train was coming off of four consecutive Cal Ripken League titles and hoping to add a fifth in 2020.

“I’m obviously disappointed and saddened by the fact that we need to cancel,” said Bethesda president and general manager David Schneider, “but this is also the right decision because of health and safety reasons.”

The Big Train has won a total of eight championships during their CRCBL tenure, and are managed by the great Sal Colangelo.

“There’s obviously disappointment on all different levels,” said Schneider. “This is tough for all the players who had their spring season partially canceled. College Coaches and players were eager to play this summer due to their shortened college spring season.”

Shirley Povich Field, the home of the Big Train, has been a staple for the players, coaches, fans, interns, and vendors for years, and they will have to wait until 2021 for baseball to return.

“It’s also disappointing for fans who have accustomed to spending their summers at Povich Field,” said Schneider. “Everybody was looking forward to those summer months where they get to see their summer friends. But we didn’t want to put anybody in danger.”

The Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts have played their home games at Montgomery Blair High School for the two other Montgomery County teams. In contrast, the Gaithersburg Giants have played home matches at Criswell Automotive Field at Kelley Park.

“Coaching the kids these kids every summer is a lot of fun,” said Giants manager Jeff Rabberman. “We have a chance of three of our former players to be drafted in the first two rounds of the MLB Draft this year, and I think you can see that year in and year out in our league.”

Rabberman believed that Gaithersburg’s roster for 2020 was slated to be one of the best teams the organization had assembled.

“Not to have the opportunity to coach this team is disappointing for sure,” said Rabberman.

Besides the Giants head coach position, Rabberman is also the athletic director for Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg. He also feels disappointed about Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) canceling the basketball finals and spring sports season.

“More than anything, I feel really bad for the kids,” said Rabberman. “As a coach and an AD, I will have many more seasons, but these kids miss out on this opportunity and really have no way of getting it back.”

Bethesda native Bella Alarie transitions into the WNBA

Exclusive interview with Dallas Wings CEO, partner and team president Greg Bibb

By Harry Lichtman/The Sports Pulse Contributor

BETHESDA – With the sports world on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the month of April resulted in the WNBA and NFL Draft to be held virtually.

The WNBA Draft took place on April 17 with Bethesda native Bella Alarie being taken fifth overall by the Dallas Wings.

Standing at 6-foot-4, Alarie played four years of college basketball at Princeton University and completed her high school basketball tenure at National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C.

“I think I have great versatility as a player,” said Alarie. “I’m 6-foot-4, but I can step out and shoot. I have a high basketball I.Q., I like to find my teammates for open shots, and I just play really hard.”

At Princeton, she averaged 16.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and had a 48.0 field goal percentage, but during her junior season, she averaged a career-best of 22.8 PPG and 10.6 RPG.

“I love the defensive end,” said Alarie. “I think I’m well rounded, and that’s modeled after the great players of the WNBA.”

Alarie also comes from a basketball family, as her father Mark Alarie played college hoops at Duke University and was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1986, spending five years in the NBA until retiring at the age of 27.

Alarie was one of the top five picks chosen in the WNBA Draft, along with University of Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu, who was taken first-overall by the New York Liberty.

One person pleased about the pick is Greg Bibb, Dallas Wings chief executive officer, partner and team president who expressed his thoughts on Alarie in an exclusive interview with The Sports Pulse:

HL: “How does it feel to have Bella Alarie on the Dallas Wings?”

GB: “We feel fortunate to have drafted her with the fifth-overall pick. Perhaps [because] she played at Princeton, that’s why she was a little under the radar. I believe she’ll have a very successful WNBA career.”

HL: “Bella is from Maryland, but she will be playing in Texas for the beginning of her professional career. How do you think she’ll adjust to playing there?”

GB: “She, like most other players, having experience playing in other places. As a member of USA Basketball, she’s accustomed to traveling around the world to play. I think the adjustment will be great. I think she’ll be the professional that she is.”

HL: “When the WNBA finally returns after the quarantine is likely over, how will it feel to have Bella on the court?”

GB: “I think Bella will be part of a young and exciting roster that will grow over time and win a lot of other games together.”

High School student-athletes and coaches reflect on coronavirus pandemic

By Harry Lichtman/The Sports Pulse Contributor

ROCKVILLE – When Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with COVID-19, a.k.a, coronavirus, on March 11, the NBA immediately suspended its season, which led to a ripple effect of suspensions among professional sports leagues and cancellations of college sports, including the NCAA basketball tournaments.

The coronavirus outbreak in our country also led to high school sports being postponed, with many student-athletes being affected.

One spring athlete whose season has been postponed is Leah Rubino, a senior at Winston Churchill High School who plays lacrosse and committed to playing at Butler University.

“I’m really disappointed that I’m not playing lacrosse right now,” said Rubino. “I was excited to start my senior season, but now I’m missing out on my last year of high school lacrosse.”

In addition to lax, Rubino was also on the Bulldogs’ girls basketball team, which made an incredible run in the playoffs and reached the state semifinals, only for that round to be postponed due to the pandemic.

“We worked extremely hard all season just to be stripped of our reward,” said Rubino. “We had a great season on and off the court, so it’s a shame that we didn’t get to end it properly.”

In the meantime, Rubino has been working out and practicing with her siblings at home. One of her siblings is former Churchill lacrosse player Jimmy Rubino, who graduated in 2018 and committed to playing at the Naval Academy.

“I have to try and stay in the best shape I can so that I can try to be competitive when I get to school,” said Rubino. “We also trained at the gym Healthy Ballers before it was closed as well.”

Another senior athlete who may not get to play for a while is Luke Trythall, who plays baseball at Poolesville High School.

“I feel that this delay is definitely necessary,” Trythall said. “But the players that are going to do well this season will find a way to keep working out and keep getting better. I think this season will separate the good players from the great players.”

Trythall has committed to playing baseball at UMBC, as he feels excited to return to the diamond.

“Being able to enjoy my senior season after committing is something I am looking forward to very much,” said Trythall.

Sherwood baseball head coach Sean Davis has led one of the best teams in the county, though his players are not happy with the current scenario.

“It’s more so a disappointment for the players,” Davis said. “When they first announced the postponements, you could feel the players were upset. They had a pretty good team. I’m not worried as much as them, though.”

Davis has four seniors who already committed to playing in college, such as Brady Andre (Wilson College), Joey Bowers (Salisbury), Ian Brady (Virginia Wesleyan College), and Luke Cheng (Illinois State).

“This should be one of the most exciting moments of their lives, and now they’re forced to sit at home,” said Davis. “I feel bad for the seniors. They haven’t canceled spring sports, but there’s a small glimmer of hope. Though Virginia canceled school.”

In the meantime, Davis is doing what everyone else in the nation has been advised to do.

“I’m just staying home,” said Davis. “I’m at home with my wife and kids, making sure they get their academics.”