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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Sean Doolittle is telling his celebrity story.

If you follow Obi-Sean Kenobi on Twitter, you might have heard it before. But Doolittle, standing in the middle of the Nationals’ clubhouse one morning during spring training, is happy to tell it again.

This offseason, the veteran reliever had just finished making an appearance at a team event in D.C. and was at the metro station on his way home when a group of kids stopped him and gave him the whole “you know who you look like?” business. Finally, thought Doolittle, I’m starting to get recognized.

It made sense. After all, Doolittle was a big deal in the District last season. After joining the Nats right before the trade deadline in a splashy swap, he grabbed the closer’s role — a role that, over the past few years in Washington, has proved slippery — and never let go. He converted 21 of 22 saves for the Nats during the regular season, then pitched three times during an epic, five-game playoff series against the defending champion Cubs. Between the high-profile job and the highly recognizable beard and glasses, of course people knew who he was.

Then came the punchline.

“Seth Rogen,” one of the kids said.

That Doolittle doesn’t mind reliving the embarrassing moment, right there in the middle of the locker room for all to hear, is proof positive of just how at peace he is these days.

“Mentally,” he said, “I’m in a good spot.”

And why wouldn’t he be?

On Jan. 13, Doolittle, who eloped with his girlfriend, Eireann, the day after the 2017 season ended, closed the deal with a wedding ceremony at Chicago’s Bridgeport Art Center. Three days later, he and his bride closed on their first home, a four-bedroom Dutch colonial in the Windy City suburb of River Forest. One month and one day after that, on Feb. 17, Doolittle closed the door on the closer’s job when new skipper Davey Martinez officially announced that the 31-year-old lefty would be the Nats’ ninth-inning guy.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a whole lot of closing in a very short time. But that’s what guys like Doolittle do.

“He’s got closer mentality,” said Martinez, who spent the past three seasons as Joe Maddon’s bench coach in Chicago and was in the opposing dugout last fall when Doolittle tossed three shutout frames over three NLCS outings. Despite the endgame attitude, Doolittle had never been The Closer.

Sure, he had 22 saves as a closer (not The Closer) for Oakland back in 2014, but that was only because Jim Johnson lost the job after getting lit up and only after Luke Gregerson didn’t do much better. Heading into 2015, Doolittle would’ve been The Closer, except he missed the first four months of the season with a shoulder injury, and by the time he got back, the gig belonged to Tyler Clippard. In 2016, Doolittle supposedly won the gig coming out of Cactus League play, but he quickly coughed it up and spent the remainder of his time with the A’s primarily in a setup role.

Now, for the first time in Doolittle’s career, right from the jump, the job is his. His, his, all his. No spring training competition. No committee. For the first time in his life, he’s The Closer. Not that those who know him are surprised.

“He’s always had that raw talent,” said hurler Tommy Milone, who was with Oakland in 2012. That’s when Doolittle, a UVA product who was drafted as a first baseman but converted to pitcher in 2011, made his big-league mound debut for the A’s.

Six years later, Milone finds himself in Nats camp, where he and Doolittle have been regular catch partners. In other words, he has a front-row seat for one of baseball’s most befuddling fastballs.

“It comes out like he’s not trying to throw that hard,” Milone said, “but it jumps at you right toward the end.” As a result, Doolittle’s four-seamer, which averaged 95 mph last season, good for 66th among relievers, plays up — way up.

“It’s the best lefty fastball I’ve ever seen,” said Nats reliever Ryan Madson, a 12-year vet who pitched in Philly alongside flame-throwing southpaw Billy Wagner. Now entering his third season as Doolittle’s teammate, Madson — who came to D.C. from Oakland last summer in the same deadline deal — was there in 2016, when Doolittle reeled off eight straight scoreless appearances in which 101 of the 102 pitches he threw were heaters.

Two years later, Madson goes into full SMH mode at the mere mention of Obi-Sean Kenobi’s cheese. “The whole stadium knows he’s going to throw a fastball, and hitters still can’t get on top of it.”

The scary thing is, now that Doolittle has been anointed The Closer and doesn’t have to spend spring training trying to impress anyone, he can afford to tinker with his repertoire. He says he wants to continue honing his changeup and claims to be working on his slider in hopes of having another reliable offering that could help keep hitters off-balance and avoid the foul-a-thons that have plagued him.

“There were times last year where I’d put up a zero, get the save and we’d be high-fiving on the mound, but I threw like 25 pitches because I get in battles with guys,” he said. “I’m still dictating the at-bat, they’re not taking great swings, but it takes me 10 pitches to dispose of guys sometimes. If I can have something to come off of the fastball and give them something to think about, over the course of a long season that could really help a lot.”

Who knows? Maybe Doolittle has absolutely no intention of using the slider. Maybe he’s just acting — channeling his inner Seth Rogen and throwing up a smokescreen to make his smoke scream even more than it already does. Maybe Obi-Sean is simply using Jedi mind tricks to get inside hitters’ heads.

As for his own head, it couldn’t be any clearer now that he’s finally The Closer.

“I feel really comfortable in that role,” he said. “I feel really confident in that role.”

If everything goes as planned, it could be his best role since “Pineapple Express.”



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MLB, players’ union meet for 1st CBA talks, sources say

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Leaders from Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association met Tuesday for their first official negotiating session a little more than six months before the sport’s collective bargaining agreement lapses, sources told ESPN.

The long-anticipated meeting between the sides marked the first foray into what many in the sport fear could be a contentious and protracted negotiation, with the possibility of a work stoppage upon the Dec. 1 expiration of the current deal. Relations between the league and players have grown combative in recent years, with both sides accusing the other of operating in bad faith amid multiple failed efforts to reach deals.

The league and union declined to comment on the discussions.

At the same time, baseball has found unprecedented economic success amid more than a quarter-century of labor peace, and players and officials likewise continue to express hope that the differences between the sides can be bridged during the next half-year of discussions. Owners and players both understand that the $10 billion-a-year industry could be gravely harmed by a labor dispute.

The meeting, held over videoconference, included dozens of people, including player leadership. It was the first negotiating session between the sides since the union turned down MLB’s offer for a paused-and-shortened season with full pay that included expanded playoffs. Between those discussions and the failed negotiations about when to resume the delayed season in 2020 that led to commissioner Rob Manfred implementing a 60-game season, mistrust between the sides deepened and fostered the pessimism about the chances of an on-time agreement that percolate around the game.

Negative feelings on the players’ side have festered since the last basic agreement was instituted Dec. 1, 2016, and further tilted the sport’s economics in favor of the teams. Player salaries have dropped for three consecutive seasons — and are expected to fall in 2021, too. While the best players in the sport continue to reap massive windfalls — from the $300 million-plus contracts of Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Francisco Lindor and Gerrit Cole to the $40 million salary this year for Trevor Bauer — MLB’s middle class has contracted significantly.

An overhaul of baseball’s core economic system is highly unlikely, sources said, citing the limited amount of time to strike a deal and keep labor peace uninterrupted since 1995. The union nevertheless intends to target spending and competitive integrity — particularly the promotion of competition by all teams — among its priorities with a new deal. Players are also in favor of funneling money to players earlier in their careers, the potential for free agency before six years of service and a solution to — or at least remedy of — service-time manipulation.

MLB, whose efforts to tie an expanded postseason to a pause this season were rebuffed by the union this spring, is expected to pursue a larger playoff field than the 10 teams that will participate this October. The league has also spent significant time and effort looking at potential rule changes that would help increase action in games and speed them up, measures that could be considered at the bargaining table.

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Derek Chauvin verdict reaction – The sports world responds on social media

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On Tuesday, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty to the charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, 46, died on May 25, 2020, while in Minneapolis police custody. Bystander videos showed that Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, and the county medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. After the release of the video, the Minneapolis Police Department fired Chauvin and the three other officers involved, and Chauvin was charged with the three crimes. He pleaded not guilty to all three.

Last summer, athletes boycotted games in multiple leagues to protest the deaths of Black men and women caused by law enforcement. Here’s what the sports world had to say about Tuesday’s verdict:



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Asked about negotiating a new deal during season with Atlanta Braves, NL MVP Freddie Freeman says it ‘would be a distraction’

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Freddie Freeman, the 2020 National League MVP, indicated Tuesday that he is apparently not interested in negotiating a long-term contract extension with the Atlanta Braves during the regular season. Freeman is eligible for free agency after the 2021 season.

“I don’t know if we could really even talk right now,” Freeman said on a Zoom call before Tuesday’s game at Yankee Stadium. “That would be a distraction, and I don’t like distractions. I don’t think there is going to be much talking any time soon.”

The Braves, who lost to the Yankees, 3-1, in the series opener, drafted Freeman out of high school in 2007 and he reached the majors in 2010 and has been the focal point of the Atlanta offense ever since. A four-time All-Star, he has finished in the top eight of the MVP voting five times. He already signed one long-term deal with the Braves, an eight-year, $135 million contract that ran from 2014 through this season.

Near the end of spring training, Freeman told MLB.com that the Braves, owned by Liberty Media Corporation, had yet to approach him or his agents about a new deal.

“There [are] no negotiations,” Freeman added Tuesday, indicating he was only worried about Jameson Taillon, the Yankees’ starter Tuesday night.

Freeman is hitting .233/.387/.517 after the loss to the Yankees, with five home runs and an NL-leading 14 walks. He turns 32 in September.

He went 1-for-4 on Tuesday.

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