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Everything you need to know about the Alliance of American Football
Who’s in this new league? Where can I watch? What are the major rules differences? We’re answering every question.

Steve Spurrier ready to bring the fun to Alliance of American Football
The Head Ball Coach is back, this time as the star attraction for the Orlando Apollos. And while it may be a new league, it’s going to be the same high-flying offense he’s known for.

A new football league is here: The AAF has big plans
The Alliance of American Football has a 2019 launch date, a TV contract, an eight-city blueprint and a vision for a league alongside the NFL.

Players aren’t getting rich — not on their three-year, non-guaranteed contracts worth $250,000. But it is a potential path back to a more lucrative payday. For the majority of the 416 players on the eight AAF rosters, they hold out hope of one day reaching the NFL again or getting there for the first time.

Almost everyone here — coaches, players, general managers and even co-founder Bill Polian — has been waived, fired or gone unsigned during their football careers. At some point, the NFL told them they were not good enough.

And yet, they still want to play.

“That’s why I call this league ‘football in its purest form,’ because money hasn’t affected this the way it does in professional football or other sports,” said San Diego coach Mike Martz, one of the few with little desire to return to the NFL. “It’s just enough. You’re playing this game because you love this game, and you like to keep playing it.

“That’s why I think it’s the purest. There’s no other influences other than the pure love for this game.”

Denard Robinson was home in Jacksonville, Florida. NFL teams stopped calling a long time ago. Once a star quarterback at Michigan, Robinson converted to running back because he wasn’t an accurate enough passer and the league had yet to embrace the type of offense in which he thrived with the Wolverines.

Robinson lasted four NFL seasons, but he hadn’t played since his rookie contract with Jacksonville ended in 2016. He had workouts — notably with Chicago and the Jets in 2017, where he said New York tried converting him to cornerback — but no one signed him. He appeared retired even if he wasn’t.

Denard Robinson rushed for 1,058 yards and five touchdowns over four seasons with the Jaguars. Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports
Then his agent called and told him about an upstart league. He was unsure. The CFL had called, but he had turned them down. The combination of pay, tax rates and being in Canada, far from his young son, was not palatable. This new opportunity was closer. The money was decent. But he knew nothing about the AAF.

The 28-year-old was sick of sitting on his couch in Florida and flying to Michigan to do the occasional appearance. Yet Robinson wasn’t fully ready to pursue post-playing plans. He had sketched out potential playbooks to use if he pursued coaching and had written his thoughts and memories down for a potential book about his life and his time at Michigan, where he’s still revered.

He was still uneasy about it.

“Started writing down a lot of stuff and, look, you have a chance to play football again and get paid for it, something you always dreamed about,” Robinson said. “Even though it’s not the NFL, it’s something. Something you could do for four months, and if it’s not what you want to do for the next two, three years, then get into your life.”

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LOS ANGELES — In trying to win their first World Series championship by beating the Dodgers in Game 6 on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, the Astros can put to bed their postseason heartaches of yesteryear.

• World Series Gm 6: Tue., 7:30 p.m. ET air time | 8 ET game time on FOX
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The Astros are positioned favorably to deliver a World Series championship to Houston, with Justin Verlander — unbeaten since joining Houston in a trade from the Tigers on Aug. 31 — taking the mound against Dodgers lefty Rich Hill. The Astros, coming off a thrilling 13-12 win over the Dodgers in Game 5 on Sunday night in Houston, won’t say it, but finishing off the Dodgers behind Verlander on Tuesday to avoid Game 7 is crucial.
• Dress for the World Series: Get Astros postseason gear
Verlander on Game 6 intensity
Verlander on Game 6 intensity
Astros pitcher Justin Verlander discusses the intensity surrounding Game 6 of the World Series as he gets the nod on the hill

Gm Date Air time/
Game time Matchup/
Results TV/
Video
1 Oct. 24 LAD 3, HOU 1 Watch
2 Oct. 25 HOU 7
LAD 6 (11) Watch
3 Oct. 27 HOU 5, LAD 3 Watch
4 Oct. 28 LAD 6, HOU 2 Watch
5 Oct. 29 HOU 13
LAD 12 (10) Watch
6 Oct. 31 7:30 p.m.
8 p.m. HOU vs. LAD FOX
*7 Nov. 1 7:30 p.m.
8 p.m. HOU vs. LAD FOX
All times ET | *- If necessary
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• Complete Postseason coverage
Since 1985, when the League Championship Series for each league changed to a best-of-seven format, the team going on the road up 3-2 in an LCS or World Series has won the series half the time (14 of 28), but the road team that loses Game 6 has come back to win Game 7 only twice on 16 previous occasions.
“I think when you consume yourself with too much ‘what ifs’ in the future, it will only complicate matters,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday. “So I’m going to proceed just trying to win Game 6. And if that means I have to use guys in a unique way, that’s fine. If the game warrants any decision to try to win the game, I think you have to try to win the game that you’re playing that day and not concern yourself with a lot of unknowns.”
Verlander is 4-0 with a 2.05 ERA in four playoff starts and one relief appearance this year. He allowed two hits, both homers, and three runs in six innings in the Astros’ Game 2 win over the Dodgers. He is 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 10 games (nine starts) with the Astros, giving the team plenty of confidence.
“To go back there, it’s not an easy place to play, but we’re giving the ball to Justin Verlander and that’s going to be awesome for us,” outfielder George Springer said.
The Astros had never won a World Series game prior to this year, so they will take the field Tuesday with a chance to win the championship for the first time in their history. For generations of Astros fans, postseasons past have been nothing but heartache.
There was the 1980 National League Championship Series that went to a decisive fifth game that the Phillies won in extra innings (only Game 1 didn’t go extra innings). There was the epic 16-inning Game 6 loss in the ’86 NLCS to the Mets, who avoided having to face NLCS Most Valuable Player Mike Scott in Game 7 in Houston by winning the series, 4-2.
The Craig Biggio-Jeff Bagwell-led teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s couldn’t get past the Braves (and Padres once), and the Cardinals sent Houston home in seven games in the NLCS in ’04 before Houston broke through to win the NL pennant a year later. The Astros were then swept in the World Series by the White Sox.
Previewing World Series Game 6
Previewing World Series Game 6
Tim McMaster, Jack Morris and Jeff Nelson analyze the matchup as Justin Verlander and Rich Hill take the hill back in Los Angeles for Game 6
Even the ’15 Astros blew a late lead and a chance to clinch Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Royals, who went on to win the World Series. The postseason disappointment of two years ago is in the rearview mirror, but it can serve as a reminder of how fickle October baseball can be. The momentum the Astros carry into Game 6 is palpable, but it won’t mean much after the first pitch is thrown Tuesday.
“I think it’s going to be an intense game regardless of how Game 5 ended,” Hinch said. “But there’s certainly some positive momentum. We are going to get on the plane today, excited to get to Los Angeles, and play the game as fast as possible. Once we get to the stadium and we start our pregame work, and get to batting practice and the preparation for the game, it becomes about Game 6 and not about how we won Game 5. And our team will continue to be focused on that.”
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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NEW YORK — The atmosphere for Game 3 of the American League Championship presented by Camping World between the Astros and Yankees tonight figures to be electric and possibly intimidating for those who haven’t experienced October baseball at Yankee Stadium before.

• ALCS Game 3: Tonight, 8 p.m. ET/7 CT on FS1
For Houston, it should rekindle some great memories.

Game Date Time Matchup/Results TV/Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 13 HOU 2, NYY 1 WATCH
Gm 2 Oct. 14 HOU 2, NYY 1 WATCH
Gm 3 Oct. 16 8 p.m. HOU @ NYY FS1
Gm 4 Oct. 17 5 p.m. HOU @ NYY FS1
*Gm 5 Oct. 18 5 p.m. HOU @ NYY FS1
*Gm 6 Oct. 20 8 p.m. NYY @ HOU FS1
*Gm 7 Oct. 21 8 p.m. NYY @ HOU FS1
All times ET | *- If necessary
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It was a little more than two years ago when the Astros stunned the Yankees by winning the 2015 AL Wild Card Game, spearheaded by a gem from that season’s AL Cy Young Award winner, Dallas Keuchel. Houston danced and celebrated on the Yankee Stadium infield and then drenched the visiting clubhouse with champagne.
• Dress for the ALCS: Get Astros postseason gear
Returning to the Bronx for the ALCS with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series has Houston feeling more confident than daunted.
“I don’t think we need any more belief,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I think we are right where we need to be in the belief category. From here on, we have the belief that we can be the World Series championship team. We need to play the game of baseball in the moment we’re playing. We control our own destiny. We control our own adrenaline level. We’re believers before anybody else will be.”
The Astros, in Hinch’s first season as manager in Houston, surprised many to make the postseason and beat the Yankees, 3-0, in the AL Wild Card Game in 2015. Keuchel threw six scoreless innings and Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez hit home runs. Of the players currently on the Astros’ postseason roster, eight played in that game two years ago: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Evan Gattis, Marwin Gonzalez, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, George Springer and Keuchel.
“It’s really relevant,” Keuchel said. “I think experience at any point is going to help you. No matter if you succeed or fail, it’s still experience and you can always learn from that. I was going to say there’s a lot of us, but there’s a few of us left, even from 2015. That just means, obviously, we’ve had some turnover, but at the same time, we’ve gotten better and better. I’ll take that every day of the week.”
Astros ready for Yankee Stadium
Astros ready for Yankee Stadium
Brian McTaggart and Alyson Footer discuss the Astros’ previous successes at Yankee Stadium and the team’s comfort level heading into Game 3
The Astros certainly aren’t lacking confidence, having won 101 games in the regular season and knocking out the AL East-champion Red Sox at Fenway Park in the Division Series. They could also clinch at Yankee Stadium by winning two of the next three games. Hinch said thriving in tense environments like Fenway and the Bronx is a testament to his team’s youthful exuberance.
“We’ve been the calmest team in the league during the postseason,” Hinch said. “Our at-bats, our pitchers, our defense, our ability to stay in the moment has been proven for the games we’ve played so far. Other than being excitable that we’re two wins away from closing out the series, I think our guys will relish in an environment like this.”
Hinch on laughing in the 9th
Hinch on laughing in the 9th
Astros manager A.J. Hinch discusses laughing in the 9th inning of Game 2 and taking the time to enjoy the moments with his team
Confident? Yes. Overconfident? No. The Yankees just battled back from a 2-0 deficit in the ALDS against the Indians with three consecutive wins.
“We’re tested enough and have enough players in the clubhouse that understand that there’s no celebratory toast going on around here,” Hinch said. “We won the first two games. We come here, really tough place to play, somewhere we have played well. But we don’t think the Yankees are going to concede, and they certainly didn’t concede against the Indians.”
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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HOUSTON — After the 2001 Yankees lost the World Series to the Diamondbacks on Luis Gonzalez’s broken-bat hit in the bottom of the ninth inning, a lot of the Yankees players were circumspect in defeat. Arizona had generally dominated the Yankees for the majority of that World Series, and New York was somewhat fortunate to even be in position to have a shot at a fourth consecutive title. Additionally, some of the older members of the dynasty understood that this would be the end for them; it was the last game ever played by Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius, the last game for Tino Martinez and Chuck Knoblauch before they reached free agency. Even Mariano Rivera — who allowed the Gonzalez hit — spoke evenly, in defeat.

Not Derek Jeter. Afterward, teammates recalled him stewing in the athletic trainers’ room — where he nursed what would be diagnosed as a broken foot — and absolutely furious over the defeat, enraged by the fact that the Yankees had lost despite being just a few outs away.

His competitiveness and confidence were at the core of what made him great as a player and will undoubtedly drive him as he assumes control of the Miami Marlins’ business and baseball operations. According to the Miami Herald, he has already dictated change, pushing out longtime Marlins staffers Jack McKeon, Tony Perez, Andre Dawson and Jeff Conine.

Perez and Dawson are Hall of Famers who have been with the Marlins for many years, and they were fired over the phone. Perez was the only Cuban-American staffer in their baseball operations department and was dumped almost a year to the day that Jose Fernandez died. Jeter has not commented publicly on the decisions and may not until his group is formally approved by other baseball owners.
Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Tony Perez are among those losing their jobs with the change of regimes in Miami. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
Even before Jeter finished his playing career, he had made it known to others that he wanted to own a baseball team someday, and it makes sense that Major League Baseball would want Jeter in a role like this. He was a superstar player, well-known to casual fans, and he would seem to have as good of a shot as anyone not named The Rock to rebrand the Marlins’ franchise.

But as Jeter begins his second career, two questions nag for me:

Why would Jeter want to take on the Marlins’ problems?

Since he’s the man in charge — and far more than a complementary figure — how prepared is Jeter to handle what might be baseball’s most complicated set of obstacles?

Because having a unique ability to hit the other way and excel in October baseball doesn’t necessarily translate into business success.

Others who have seen the Marlins’ books all say the same thing: The unpopular franchise is saturated with debt. The club’s current television contract runs out in a few years, and it’s unclear how much growth the Marlins can expect, given the club’s struggles on the field. A lot of Miami baseball fans have been unhappy with the way that the team’s relatively new ballpark was funded, and they have stayed away from a place that isn’t easy to access before games and isn’t easy to leave on those rare nights when a sizable crowd appears.

The challenge facing Jeter and the incoming owners is to completely alter a community’s perception of the organization, and change ingrained habits of fans.

Right away, Jeter and his group have an enormous and almost impossible quandary. A lot of the club’s debt is tied to the heavily backloaded contract of record-setting slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who will make $295 million over the next 10 years.

If the Marlins keep Stanton, they may have too little payroll left over with which to maneuver and build a winner. If the Marlins trade Stanton — who is likely to finish first, second or third in the NL MVP race — they’ll tear open old scars for Miami fans frustrated by years of seeing their best young players, such as Miguel Cabrera, traded away. Additionally, the work of dealing Stanton will be difficult in itself, because the Marlins might have to choose between eating a lot of money or taking a deal with few prospects just to dump the onerous contract.

The Marlins are a mess. If this were a horse race, Jeter has bought into a fat nag with a bad leg.

Through Jeter’s star power, he has been able to somehow convince folks with a lot of money to allow him to assume day-to-day control of the franchise without much of his own dollars at stake, so he’s taking very little financial risk.

However, Jeter has one shot to form a first impression as a baseball executive and part-owner. He’ll assume the challenge with his full complement of competitiveness and with confidence, and time will tell if he has the business acumen needed for this incredible task, or whether he has bet on a loser that will pull under his reputation as a businessman.

If Jeter in fact outsourced the firing of highly respected, well-known, modestly paid employees, he has made his first mistake under circumstances in which he’ll have very little margin for error.

Launch angle hitters are in trouble
Joey Votto sharpened his command of the strike zone to even greater heights. Is there a lesson there for other hitters? Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire
The electronic strike zone would crush a generation of ‘launch-angle’ hitters.

A really smart executive asked a really smart rhetorical question the other day as he discussed the high rate of home runs and strikeouts: If a hitter trains himself to angle his swing upward, what is the highest pitch he can consistently reach within the strike zone?

He wasn’t referring to the likes of Kris Bryant, who developed his unusual swing as a child, or Josh Donaldson, who has a special ability to lift the ball. He was talking about the average major leaguer, and he answered his own question.

“If you’re talking about getting to the ball with an angled swing,” the executive continued, “the highest — the highest — might be mid-thigh, or at the [groin].”

With that kind of swing, the executive continued, the launch-angle hitters are effectively conceding the upper half of the strike zone in an era in which umpires are calling more high strikes — and are graded on properly calling the high strike.

“It’s not working for the hitters,” said the executive, who believes, like many players, coaches and managers, that the baseballs are smaller and harder this year. “Home runs are way up, but I think that’s the ball. How about making contact? How about putting the ball in play?”

Last week, MLB hitters smashed the record for most homers in a season, crushing the mark set in 2000, in the heart of what will always be remembered as the steroid era. In that 2000 season, 101 batters hit 20 or more homers. This year, 111 batters have 20 or more homers, with a week to go.

But there’s a flip side to the homers this year: the explosion of strikeouts. During the 2000 season, 58 batters had 100 or more strikeouts. In 2017, 126 batters have 100 or more strikeouts.

These times are different, of course. Pitchers throw harder than they used to, and front offices prefer to use hard-throwing relievers rather than allow a lot of starting pitchers to face a lineup for a third time within a game. But a lot of evaluators believe that many players would be better served by trying to make contact instead of trying to angle their swings and hit a fly ball.

Many players love to pick the brain of Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is generally regarded as perhaps the smartest hitter in the game. On a podcast recently, Votto talked about how he came into this year devoted to the task of cutting down on his strikeouts. Votto had racked up 135 strikeouts in 2015 and 120 in 2016, and in his effort to reduce that this year, Votto decided to cut down on his swing as he got deeper into the count — choking up a little more after one strike, and even more on two-strike counts. At times, Votto seems to wield his bat like a tennis player at the net, volleying pitches foul just to stay alive.

The change in his walk/strike ratios has been exceptional:

YEAR WALKS RATE STRIKEOUTS RATE
2015 143 20.6% 135 19.4%
2016 108 16.0% 120 17.7%
2017 129 19.2% 78 11.6%
He is one of only three MLB batters qualified for the batting title who have walk/strikeout ratios of 1/1 or better, and along the way Votto has compiled 35 homers, the second-most in his career.

As detailed in a recent column, the rise in home run hitters may well diminish the value of that particular skill in the trade and free-agent market. And here’s another concern: If the electronic strike zone is implemented in the near future, with a higher ceiling than what has been called by most umpires, a generation of hitters who have designed their swings to lift the ball may be much more vulnerable.

“I think they’re [in trouble] anyway,” said one MLB staffer. “Pitchers are going to continue to carve them up. They are selling out for a home run … I would take gap power with hitters who have the ability to make adjustments. This launch angle thing is terrible for the game.”

Somebody is going to make a lot of money in the next few years as the launch-angle fixer: the hitting instructor who takes a page from Votto and teaches pupils to hit the ball hard and be able to cover more than the lowest portion of the strike zone.

Around the league

The debate about whether to extend the netting at major league ballparks effectively ended when three teams announced Thursday that they would do so. Now teams that aren’t committed to netting beyond the dugout cede the public-relations high ground, but those clubs also are at increased liability, as one baseball official noted, because of the tacit acknowledgment of the risk that has occurred: “If you’re the only team that hasn’t extended its netting and somebody gets seriously hurt because of it, how can you argue [in court] that you didn’t contribute to the risk?”

About the composition of the baseballs and the pervasive belief among a lot of players and staffers that they are different in 2017: Earlier this season, a veteran National League pitcher held out two baseballs that he said he had saved from his previous start, and he noted the obvious physical difference between them. One was notably smaller than the other.The same pitcher mentioned last week that he has taken to simply tossing aside the baseballs that he finds to be smaller than normal. “I’m probably throwing out 40 percent of the balls I’m given [by the umpire],” he said. “I’ve been holding baseballs my whole life, and I know what they’re supposed to feel like.”

Over the All-Star break, Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier talked with his wife about trying to push through the injury and discomfort he has felt in an effort to come back in 2017. Maggie Ethier knows a whole lot about competition: She was a gymnast earlier in life. “You’ve got nothing to lose,” she told her husband, and last weekend, Andre Ethier related that conversation in explaining his current mindset. He’s in the last days of his long-term deal with the Dodgers, and Ethier, 35, knows that the market for an aging hitter who has had only 55 plate appearances the past two years won’t be robust this winter. So he’s working through his ailments and focusing on doing whatever he can to help the 2017 Dodgers — and is intent on embracing whatever opportunity presents itself. It’s possible that he’ll get some time as the left fielder in the postseason, and it’s possible that he’ll be used as a pinch hitter — as he was the other day, when he mashed an opposite-field homer to help beat the Phillies.

When Bernie Williams began his career with the Yankees, Gene Michael protected him — from some bullying by teammates over Williams’s glasses and quiet demeanor and from owner George Steinbrenner, who grew frustrated during the slow start to the center fielder’s career. When Michael’s memorial service was held the other day, Williams was in attendance.

Baseball Tonight Podcast

Friday: Ross Atkins, Blue Jays GM, on the plans for Josh Donaldson, the area of need for 2018, and the work of fixing Aaron Sanchez’s blister issue; Karl Ravech on the issue of netting at ballparks, and the AL Wild Card race; and Jessica Mendoza on the Brewers and Cubs.

Thursday: Astros manager A.J. Hinch, on the conversations leading up to the Justin Verlander trade, and the impact of the former Cy Young Award winner; Boog Sciambi on the foul ball that hit a young girl Wednesday and the fallout; and Keith Law on the Dodgers’ bullpen and Jake Arrieta.
Wednesday: Eric Thames of the Brewers on why his team is like “The Bad News Bears”; Oakland’s Matt Chapman, about his defensive work and about playing wiffle ball with Nolan Arenado as a kid; Tim Kurkjian on the launch angle fad; and Paul Hembekides on the home run record.

Tuesday: Keith Law on the impact of the exploding home run numbers; Sarah Langs plays the Numbers Game; and Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald on the Marlins’ sale and the plans for Giancarlo Stanton.

Monday: Nationals catcher Matt Wieters and Jerry Crasnick on the Dodgers and Nationals, and the punishment handed down for the Red Sox; and Todd Radom picks the second-best MLB logo of all time before his weekly quiz.

And today will be better than yesterday.

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MIAMI — Ichiro Suzuki is a pretty safe bet to be enshrined in Cooperstown one day, and Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Cubs marked another day of history along the way for the international icon.

At 43 years and 246 days old, the Marlins outfielder started in center against the Cubs, making him the oldest starting center fielder since 1900, per Elias Sports. The record was previously held by Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, who made his last start in center on July 24, 2002, at 43 years and 211 days old, while with the Red Sox.
Full Game Coverage
Manager Don Mattingly had no idea of the feat when he penciled Ichiro’s name on the lineup card.
“Seriously?” Mattingly said. “I thought about it though in the first: ‘We have a 40-something out there in center.’ But he doesn’t play like that. He runs good, throws good, so it didn’t feel like that.”
And while the 17-year Major League veteran went 0-for-4, he didn’t waste time making his presence felt. His quickness helped force an error on a grounder to shortstop Addison Russell in the first inning, and he scored on a Marcell Ozuna single.
Ozuna’s RBI single
Ozuna’s RBI single
Marcell Ozuna lines a single to center field, scoring Ichiro Suzuki to give the Marlins a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st inning
As Miami’s fourth outfielder, Ichiro was in to give Christian Yelich a day of rest. It marked his 10th start this season and first since June 11 at Pittsburgh, a day after he replaced Giancarlo Stanton following a first-inning hit-by-pitch.
Mattingly could’ve easily shifted left fielder Marcell Ozuna to center on Sunday, but he opted to go with his 43-year-old instead. There wasn’t an ounce of hesitation in Mattingly’s mind.
“No, absolutely not,” Mattingly said. “I know he’s not as comfortable in center as he is in right, but you’re never afraid to put Ich on the field in any situation, because he’s prepared, he works every day like he’s going to play. You’re never even remotely worried about him being in the wrong spot or not throwing to the right base.”